Quotes from Two Great Americans

September 23, 2020

We have come a long way in recognizing the equality of women. Unfortunately, in some respects, it is not yet complete. But I firmly believe it will soon be so.

Fight for things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

I steadfastly favor the principle that women workers should have equal rights with men. I sincerely hope that this equality can be accomplished without unnecessary delay.

Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.

A people that values its privileges above its principles soon looses both.

You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Half of these quotes come from General Dwight Eisenhower.
The remaining half come from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In this context consider Trump calling Americans who died in war “losers” and “suckers.” These quotes are appropriate from a draft dodger like Trump, but they are certainly not appropriate for a President. Just on the basis of these statements alone, how can any decent person vote for Trump? There is a truth about Trump in what he said. He is not interested in representing the American people. He is using his office to enrich himself further.

People who vote for Trump have seriously unhealthy memories and unhealthy cognitive processes.

Two Wolves

September 21, 2020

One evening an Old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle
that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy jealousy,
sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“ The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth,
compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his
grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

HM is extremely disturbed from what he learned about the psychological make up of authoritarians. It is indeed a nightmare, but it provides an understanding of the people who support Donald Trump. Authoritarians are feeding the Evil Wolf. Take identity politics and white superiority. This is something that takes place in the reptile mind. It should not be taking place in a species named Homo Sapiens. But it explains how these people can regard Donald Trump as the greatest president who has ever lived, whereas any knowledgeable authority on the presidency will not equivocate in saying that Trump is, by far, the worst president who has ever lived.

In western society the Good Wolf is often called the better angels of our selves. It is this wolf that should set the standards for society. Let’s take a brief review of the history of Homo Sapiens. Initially, it consisted of very small groups. These groups fought with each other until they discovered it was much better to cooperate. This developed with larger and larger groups being formed. Initially different languages got in the way, but eventually they were overcome.

Still groups fought, usually for some lord for self protection rather than for benefit. Nobility was a con that people needed for protection. Yet monarchies continue to the present day, but they are constitutional monarchies.

Wars continued and more sophisticated weapons were developed. A war today could well result in the destruction of Homo Sapiens. The Good Wolf is certainly needed here. The Good Wolf is responsible for the development of effective societies.

But as was mentioned in previous posts, with technology the Bad Wolf could annihilate the Good Wolf.

Unfortunately, technology seems to benefit the Bad Wolf more than the Good Wolf. Talk radio is old technology that is used to spread misinformation. And the internet has bad multiplicative effects that benefit the Bad Wolf. But technology can also benefit the Good Wolf, and it does, but nowhere near the benefit it could provide.

The reason for this can best be understood in Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition. System 1 is our default mode of processing and is fast and requires little, if any, cognitive effort. System 2 is slow, and is commonly known as thinking. It is required to understand and develop new ideas, learn new things, and takes cognitive effort. Emotions are System 1 processes. System 2 processing is required to change them.

Readers of this blog should realize that The Bad Wolf is likely to suffer from dementia. The question is how can we transfer Good Wolf practices, like thinking and empathy, to the Bad Wolf?

The November 2020 Election Will Decide the Fate of Our Democracy

September 19, 2020

This is the title of the final chapter in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare. Trump has already driven the country into the crapper. In spite of what his supporters say, he is by far the worse president this country has suffered. This is before even considering how he has failed to take leadership against the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, he continues to provide misinformation about the pandemic. What makes this even worse is that Trump was apprised of the severity of this virus very early on. His excuse for not revealing this information is that he did not want to panic the country. This is the worst excuse ever. Even if so, why fail to provide information the public needed, and why, instead, provide misinformation that exacerbated the pandemic? This is indeed an Authoritarian Nightmare of Trump winning the election. The authors write, “If that happens, we believe it will be the end of our democracy, but no reader of this book should be greatly surprised if that happens. A large number of Americans stand ready to give Trump al the power he wants.”

Here is part of Trump’s Reelection Playbook as presented by the authors. Readers should already have seen most of this:

Fear and Loathing: The authors write. The first tactic in his re-election playbook is, Scare them out of their minds. When incidents of police killing blacks resulted in protests the Black community and many others took to the streets in protests. The president positioned himself as the protector of white Americans against what he said were violent Black and radical left-wingers out to loot and burn down our cities and then head for the suburbs to rape and pillage. The demonstrators were peaceful and non-violent. The violence came from radical right wingers, Trump supporters, who were attacking the peaceful protestors.

Smear Biden Tactics. Trump’s impeachment was primarily on his efforts to extort from the Ukranian leadership, dirt on Biden. There was none to spread, although Trump and his supporters are trying to create a false reality.

Voter suppression. This is already apparent in the appointment of a new Post Master General subservient to Trump. And Trump is arguing that votes against him will be futile.

Create an October Surprise. The authors write, “When a president wants something, he can make things happen like nobody else. Even things that did not happen, such as North Vietnam attacks on American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 that Lyndon Johnson used to escalate the war. Trump is almost certain to pull off an “October surprise.”

The Russians are doing everything they can to hack the vote.

Flagrant Breaking of Election Laws. The authors write, “If as election day draws near and all the president’s horses and all the presidents men cannot guarantee Trump a victory, should anyone doubt he will try to steal the election. Polling places in anti-Trump districts might be closed at mid-day because of technical problems with the voting machines or COVID-19 advisories. Or voting machines might be directly corrupted with every eighth Democratic vote converted to a Republican one. Tallies might be wildly wrong. Paper trails could be destroyed. Officials could be bribed. Trump has already told civil servants in less crucial matters that if they break the law carrying out his wishes, he will grant them a pardon. There is no way to predict what he might authorize, but those who want him out of the White House must brace for anything and everything.”

The authors write, Even if he loses the election, Trump will remain president until noon on January 20, 2021. He can try to stay in power lots of ways during that interval, even though no previous president has defied the wishes of the voters. He could call his attorney general William Barr, on November 4 and have him order federal attorneys in every state the Democrats narrowly won contest the election in the courts. The states must by law resolve any controversies over appointment of electors by December 8, 2020. If recounts are underway in states the Democrats narrowly won, and Trump is ahead when the counting ends on December 8, the state’s electoral votes could be awarded to him. There are yet further opportunities for “putting a thumb on the scale” in later activities of the bizarre Electoral College System, and you can bet that ‘fixer’ Trump has dozens of sycophants burrowing through the rules and procedures searching for ways to subvert them.

The picture is bleak, but none of us should abandon hope or do everything that can be done to assure that Biden is elected. The authors write, “There is thankfully a ‘Deep State’ in the American government, but it is not the subversive one Trump and his followers howl about. To the contrary, it consists of career public servants such as….and an extremely long list follows.

The authors note that George Washington warned in his Farewell Address: “cunning ambitious, and unprincipled men” who would “usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Trump’s Enablers

September 18, 2020

The title of this post differs slightly from the title of a chapter in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers, which was Trump’s Authoritarian Enablers. The reason for this will become apparent at the end of this post. Unfortunately, there are too many to mention, and readers are probably already familiar with many of them. Perhaps a key enabler who has been little noted is Mark Burnett who came along after Trump’s career—ending string of bankruptcies and created The Apprentice, reviving Trump’s fading persona into the image of the wildly successful New York real estate mogul that he was not, allowing him to flush out his authoritarian nature for reality television. Successfully playing an authoritarian personality on television appears to have made it easy for Trump to make it his public personality as well.

Michael Cohen was a key early enabler, who actually went to jail for doing acts ordered by Trump. His position as president precluded Trump from being charged and convicted with Cohen. Michael Cohen explained under oath to the U.S. Congress that Trump had become the worst version of himself, and reported the reason Trump sought the presidency:
Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make the country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation—only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.” He never expected to win the primary. He never expected to win the general election. The campaign—for him—was always a marketing opportunity.

Many, if not most, of Trump’s enablers are already convicted felons. If the future is just many others will become convicted felons. Three current enablers are Attorney General Barr, Mike Pence, and Mike Pompeo.

The obscenely wealthy Mercer family saved Trump’s foundering campaign. The authors write, “Trump understood that were was no Republican Party establishment he could turn to, so he attacked what did exist. Soon he would discover that with Bannon and Ailes, he had a direct pipeline to the authoritarian voters most interested in his campaign, the readers of Breitbart News and the viewers of Fox News. Both Bannon and Kellyanne were of the “Let Trump be Trump” school of campaigning, realizing that his demagogic and authoritarian style was key to his appeal, and Bannon loved his populist message. Both Bannon and Kellyanne knew the importance of data, Bannon as a board member of Cambridge Analytica and Kellyanne as a veteran of the polling business. They knew how to use the information Cambridge Analytica was providing, and to develop a campaign strategy that would give their candidate a win in the Electoral College. None of these people held Donald Trump in any esteem whatsoever, for they knew he was a fool with no grasp of how to lead anyone anywhere; rather they were fixated on Hillary Clinton not becoming president of the United States, for she could lead in a fashion they did not want. Mercer and Bannon are ideologues, radicals who want to keep white elites like themselves in control, with power.

Until HM read “Authoritarian Nightmare,” he was deeply confused by Republican behavior, because they were not acting like true Republicans. The fact that the Republican Senate did not convict Trump in spite of overwhelming evidence was the final straw. Before reading “Authoritatian Nightmare” he did not appreciate the depths to which the right wing had plummeted. So some Senators decided to ignore their Constitutional responsibility due to the demand of their constituents. Others had actually swallowed and digested Trump’s Kool Aid.

Although it is painful to admit, HM believes that it is the Democrats themselves that have been Trump’s largest enablers. They are lawyers and feel constrained by the Constitution and its supporting laws. Throughout his life, Trump has shown contempt for the law and a complete ignorance of the Constitution. Democrats kept asking for documents and for his tax returns and were rebuffed. They did not appreciate that they were in a knife fight and needed to behave accordingly.

A large question before the election was where did this individual get money for his projects given that a large series of bankruptcies and the failure of American banks to lend him money. One of Trump’s sons explained that this money was not needed because Russia provided ample funding. Why was this confession by his son ignored?

Even without the statement by Trump’s son, Democrats should have publicly asked this question. Demanding that Trump provide this information or the assumption that the funding came from the Russians would hold by default. This campaign should have been raised on the networks, on the news, and on billboards. If no answer was provided, then a reasonable inference was that the money came from the Russians and that he was controlled by the Russians. In other words, Trump was Putin’s bitch.

If Trump still loses the election in spite of his personal efforts and the efforts of the Russians on his behalf, he likely will refuse to accept the results. Cohen, and others, have already predicted that he will not leave office and will try to become President or dictator for life.

Knowing this, we should demand that Trump will accept the results of this election and behave as dictated by law. We should demand that he sign a declaration to this effect. Even the Republicans should agree to this. If they do not they should be accused of being complicit in the ending of democracy in the United States. It should also be made clear that AG Barr has no role here as he is Trump’s personal attorney.

If Trump does not sign, there should be daily protests and marches on the White House, saying that if Trump does not voluntarily leave the White House, citizens will enter the White House and extract him. The commanders of the military should inform Trump that any forces Trump uses to stay in power will be countered by the US military who will deny Trump’s authority to use them.

National Survey on Authoritarianism

September 17, 2020

he title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare. So far the studies in this book used samples drawn from limited populations, most of them not even American. So the obvious question is how well does the evidence from these ‘theories’ apply to American voters.

“In 2018 Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey, offered to assist with this project by collecting answers to our tests from a nationwide sample of American voters. A survey using so many complete scales and ancillary items had never been conducted with a national sample before. After a trial run with a sample of New Jersey residents in May 2019, nearly a thousand registered voters across American answered five personality tests in late October and early November online, also providing information about themselves and their political preferences. Besides the Social Dominance Orientation and Right Wing Authoritarianism Scales, they were asked four child-rearing questions, and the Religious Fundamentalism Scale. In addition, they responded to twenty-four statements designed to measure ethnocentric prejudice among whites against racial and ethnic minorities. For example, we sought -4 to +4 responses to statements such as: ‘There are entirely too many people from the wrong places getting into the United States now.’ ‘White people are the major victims of discrimination in the United States. The government is on everybody else’s side but theirs.’ ‘There’s no way a religion of Islam that produces so many terrorists is as good a religion as Christianity is.’ ‘Instead of complaining and protesting all the time, African Americans should be grateful for how good they have it compared to where they came from.’ And, ‘Certain races of people do NOT have the natural intelligence and ‘get up and go’ of the white race.’”

We purposely included in our Monmouth sample more people who had voted Republican in the past than was indicted by census data because those were the people we were trying to understand. Nevertheless, most of our 990 respondents, which included independents as well as Democrats and Republicans, had a negative opinion of Trump’s performance as president, which has been true in almost every poll taken since Trump took office.”

The answer to the Question One: Are Trump’s Supporters Highly Authoritarian?
was most definitely.

The answer to Question Two: “Are Trump’s Supporters Highly Prejudiced?
was very much so.

The answer to Question Three: Can Most Prejudice Be Explained by Authoritarianism??
was, almost totally.

The answer to Question Four: How Deeply Embedded is Authoritarianism in America?
The answer was, it is deep and thick.

Question Five : Are There Many Double Highs in America?
The answer was far more than anticipated.

Question Six: Are the Pillars of Trump’s Base Prejudiced Authoritarians?
The answer was definitely.

Ignoring the Constitution.
Fortunately virtually everyone in the survey sample disagreed with this sentiment. But the authors caution that this might must be a case of compartmentalized thinking. In Box A, one finds “The Constitution must always be followed.” But in Box B, “The Constitution can be ignored if that gets you something you really want.”
Here one thinks of the Republicans in the Senate who refused to convict Trump in spite of overwhelming evidence in the impeachment charges. And generally, rather than acting as an independent branch of government, acted like they were welded to the Executive Branch.

A Trump Self-Pardon. 96% of those who have a negative view of Trump’s presidency said he could not pardon himself. But most of Trump’s supporters said either they were neutral on the issue (32%), to that Trump could pardon himself (24%).

News Sources Preferred by Trump Supporters. 46% of Trump’s said it was Fox News, and One American News 5%. Trump’s opponents do not have such a dominant influence: 22% favored MSNBC, 16% CNN,and 13% NPR.

Of the 990 registered voters, 349 said they were independents. A third of them (115) leaned to the left, (146) leaned to the right, and only 88 said they were straight-up-and-down Independents.

When asked, “Donald Trump is defeated in November 2020, should he continue to be president if he declares the election was fixed and crooked? Trump’s opponents responded with one voice: “No!” Only two-thirds of Trump’s supporters said no. 14% agreed Trump should declare the election null and void, if he wished, and 19% said they were unsure. The authors believe that Trump could get strong support from his base to stay in power, even if he made even an obviously false claim of electoral wrongdoing.

“Double High” Authoritarians

September 16, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers. It would seem that persons who score high on these two measures would seem to have impulses to both dominate and submit, so they should be mightily confused. But don’t underestimate the power of our cognitive processes to justify our actions. For example, consider lawmakers. Consider a lawmaker who became a lawmaker in the first place because they are a high social dominator dedicating himself to himself by becoming one of the most powerful people in society. In other words, they are submissive to themselves, and their fellow authoritarians. Double high authoritarians are doubly bad.

The authors conclude, “A study of more than five hundred of the highest-ranking leaders of the GOP, the Republican Party has become the Authoritarian Party by the mid-1990s. They score high on the RWA Scale, like they would be social dominators, and in every respect that was tested showed beliefs and attitudes associated with authoritarians. And the label fit coast to coast; there weren’t any pockets of low RWA Republican legislators anywhere in the United States outside Connecticut.”

The authors continue, “Moderate Republican office holders began disappearing across America. This abandonment-of-the-middle gained momentum in 1994 when Newt Gingrich ended the tradition of bipartisan cooperation between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives. He had long advocated polarizing politics, telling a group of young Republican hopefuls in 1978, ‘One of the greatest problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. If Republicans were to rise from the ashes, they have to learn to ‘raise hell,’ to stop being so ‘nice,’ to realize that politics was, above all, a cutthroat ‘war for power’—and to start acting like it.’”

Continuing further, “Gingrich led his kind of Republicans, Double Highs being sent to Washington by an increasingly authoritarian GOP base, in partisan wars and obstructionism that have made Americans sick of Congress and led presidents to assuming greater powers. Karl Rove then enticed religious leaders to bring millions of white Evangelicals into the fold in 2000. These Republicans, far less religious than they might be, brought not just social conservative views on abortion and gay rights with them, but also a great deal of authoritarianism and its ugly companion, prejudice.”

Continuing, …”in 2016 the transformation of the GOP from a conservative political party to an authoritarian one with precious little connection to its past was complete. So one can readily believe that if one collected authoritarian scores today in state legislatures, the Congress, the Republican National Committee, and the White House, the Republicans would be squeezed together even further to the right, crowded together toward the end of the political board, getting ready to plunge in the deep, dark, waters below, taking the nation down with them.”

Solving the Mystery of Evangelical Support of Donald Trump

September 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in he book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers.

The Republican Party had already been marketing their party of social conservatives over the past forty years. Jerry Falwell took Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” of 1972 an ethnocentric step further organizing them into his “Moral Majority” in the late 1970s. Falwell tapped their latent, old-time religious views on abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and a host of other social issues. In 1980 the faithful marched to the polls to send Ronald Reagan to the White House, a divorced and remarried Hollywood man about whose attachment to Christianity was as relaxed as his smile. They chose Reagan over the devout, born-again, Sunday-school-teaching, and somewhat socially liberal Christian incumbent President Jimmy Carter. It foreshadowed how little the religious affiliations and behavior of a candidate mattered to social conservatives when you got down to issues such as abortion.

The authors write, “The GOP establishment was losing control of the party to a grassroots movement fighting them coast to coast in a ‘coup d’pew.’ Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater reacted with alarm to this takeover. He said to John Dean, ‘Goddamn it, John, the Republicans are selling their souls to win elections.’”

The authors write, “A great deal of research over the decades reveals that Evangelicals usually score quite highly on the RWA (Right Wing Authoritarian) scale. Thus, when the Republican party actively recruited religious conservatives, it was simultaneously filling itself up with highly prejudiced authoritarian followers. Given that fact, one could predict from the outset that a dominating authoritarian leader like Donald Trump would appeal to Evangelicals. High RWAs are searching for a strong authority to submit to. They crave the magnificent feeling of protection that children get from their parents. Also, Christian high RWAs are often looking for a mighty ruler like King David who will lead their nation forward, a messiah in the original sense. Pollster Steve Mitchell pointed out early in the 2016 primary season that evangelicals were attracted to Trump because he seemed so bold, dynamic, decisive and strong. He bowed to no one and seemed to expect others to bow to him. Physically he owned all the space around him. He looked commanding compared to other Republican candidates. High RWAs, never wondering why someone would act that way and never suspecting it was a big act to cover a deep-seated fear of failure, thrilled to the show, and their ongoing need to submit to a protector helps explain why they support Trump no matter what he does.”

There is a large stack of research findings showing that evangelicals religious beliefs do not make them particularly moral. Ronaldo J. Sider, a theologian at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed that despite Jesus’s unequivocal stand on the permanence of marriage, evangelical Christians divorce as often as others do. The number of unmarried couples living together, he noted, jumped more in the Bible Bet in the 1990s than in the USA as a whole. And 88% of the evangelical youth who took an oath to remain virgins until they married broke it. “Saved” men used pornography and physically abused their wives as much as “unsaved” men. And churchgoing Christian women were about as likely to end an unwanted pregnancy with an abortion as other women. Obviously, evangelicals are very good at disengaging their religion when the need arises. They look just as immoral in terms of their own ethical system, as the people they condemn as worse. One could ask what good is their religion doing them. Authoritarian followers give more to charities than low RWAs. The authors add, “but if one adds in the various moral shortcomings that highs display in abundance, such as prejudice, ethical superiority seems untenable.”

The authors ask, “how important is their religion to evangelicals?”
A large sample of Canadian parents was given a list of the 66 Books in the King James Bible and asked how many of them had read from beginning to end. Only one in five high RWA parents said they had read them all. Just as many had not read any of the books. On average, evangelicals had only read about a third on them.

The authors ask, “Can anyone seriously say that most of them believed the Bible is God’s all-important message to them? Most them had never read it even once.”

The authors continue, “Perhaps one can better gauge the importance of their religion to evangelicals by toting up how much their lives reflect the teachings of Jesus. Let us consider ten possibilities: (1) People who take Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan to heart should be among the least prejudiced around. (2) Those who understand Jesus’s forgiveness should be less mean-spirited than average. (3) Readers of the Gospels should realize how much hypocrites infuriated Jesus and so would demonstrate integrity. (4) People who realize Jesus’s love for social outcasts would be terrifically accepting of those who are different. (5) How many walls did Jesus build to keep “undesirables” away? (6) People who realized the extraordinary extent to which Jesus was “his own man” would be less conforming than most. (7) Bible readers who know Jesus’s words about how hard it is for a rich man to get to heaven would have no interest in becoming wealthy. (8) Those who follow Jesus would not submit to unjust authority but would challenge it. (9) Familiarity with the Gospels would inform one that Jesus had absolutely no time for big show displays of virtue and self-righteousness. And (10) people devoted to Jesus would not join “Posses” like the one that came to Gethsemane to arrest him. Does it seem, by this accounting, than many Evangelicals have accepted Jesus’s invitation, “Come follow me?”

There is also the pernicious theology that detractors call “cheap grace.” Some pastors teach that once you have accepted Jesus as your personal savior, which typically involves a one-time verbal commitment, it just does not matter if you are in the Klan, cheat on your spouse, or push drugs in school-yards. You are going to heaven no matter what you do. Being good is not a prerequisite for salvation.

Further Disturbing Findings About Authoritarian Followers

September 14, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers. Many studies have shown that high Right Wing Authoritarians (RWAs) would diminish the civil rights and liberties of others.

The authors write, “How far does authoritarian followers’ accepting of government injustice and disregard for liberty extend? All the way to the Constitution, it turns out. San Francisco University students were asked in 1990 to react to a diatribe against the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court. The attack began, ‘If a person stops to think about it, most of the problems we are having can be traced to the Bill of Rights,, or more precisely, to the way it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.’ The essay, based on late-night radio phone-in shows, went on to rage against freedom of speech rulings that had opened the door to pornographers and filth, freedom of religion decisions that meant children could not pray in public schools, right-to-happiness laws that meant women could have abortion after abortion, and so on. The hue and cry concluded, ‘They only think we can do to make America the free, pure, safe, Christian nation that founding fathers intended (this is categorically wrong), is to repeat the Bill of Rights.’ Most students rejected these claims and conclusion. But high RWAs thought the arguments sensible and agreed the Bill of Rights should be repealed.”

The authors write, “RWA scores correlated better with Posses going after disreputable targets than reputable ones mainly because “shameful” groups offend the authoritarian followers more. These connections lock into place another example of authoritarian hostility, being mean-spirited. If you ask a group of people to remember their high school years, and, in particular, to recall fellow students who made serious mistakes and were punished for them (such as having a bad trip on drugs, getting pregnant, or having a car accident while drunk-driving, you will probably find that most people have some sympathy for the mistakes of youth. But high RWAs in a Canadian sample, later replicated by Creighton University researchers, prove more likely to say that such people ‘got exactly what they deserved.’ They also confessed to feeling a personal ‘secret pleasure’ when they heard of the other person’s misfortunes.”

Continuing further, “Trump supporters at times show a lack of empathy that approaches inhumane coldheartedness. Probably no more gripping example can be found than their reaction to the separation of children from their parents when the families crossed the Mexican border seeking asylum in the United States. The videos of these forced removals triggered memories of the Holocaust. The sound of young children calling out ‘Mama’ from inside the detention centers, the sight of dozens of youngsters sleeping on mats on the floors of the overcrowded wire cages, the news that the American authorities could not (and still cannot) reunite parents with children in many cases—these are all seared in our memory and will not,, should not, ever go away. But this is just fine with high RWAs.

Social reinforcements are used to buttress RWA beliefs. Authoritarian followers restrict their sources of information in more ways than just choice of friends. A survey taken just before the 2018 midterm election found that 62% of Republicans watched Foxiness. And compared to Republicans who did not, Fox-viewing Republicans took more extreme positions on wide range of issues. Trump supporters’ preference for political analyses on radio (e.g., Presidential Medal of Freedom holder Rush Limbaugh) and on the internet (e.g., Breitbart) are well known. To a considerable extent, Trump’s frequent missteps, contradictions, and so forth make no negative impression on his supporters because either they did not hear about them, or if they do, they have been homogenized by right-wing media to something barely recognizable.

The authors detect a vulnerability to conformity in high RWAs. “High RWS’s reliance on others to shore up their beliefs can create a sensitivity to what people think that leaves them uneasy when they stand markedly apart from the rest. On hot-button issues such as fear of a dangerous world, attitudes towards homosexuals and even religious fundamentalism, high RWAs yield twice as much as lows to the pressure, as silent as gravity but in its own way just as powerful, to not be too different. You can argue until you are blue in the face and get nowhere changing an authoritarian follower’s mind. But is he finds he is outstandingly standing out, he will probably start inching back to the crown all by himself.”

The authors ask the question if authoritarian followers know themselves. They answer, “The years of research have uncovered many disheartening and troubling things about authoritarian followers. Yet they themselves are not disheartened—far from it—because they realize almost none of their shortcomings. Therefore, if you ask them if a lot of their ideas are inconsistent and even contradict one another, they will likely think you are talking about somebody else. Ditto about employing double standards, tolerating government injustices, and being mean-spirited. You name it. Out of twenty well-established behaviors regularly found in high RWAs, they thought they were like everybody else, “You know, normal,” in almost all instances. They did know they trusted authorities more than most people do and that they are more likely to help government persecute vulnerable groups, and maybe have a touch of prejudice. But even then they had almost no grasp of how different they were compared to most people. Overall, they had practically zero insight into themselves. The person they thought they were did not exist.”

In research offering a ray of hope researchers found, “High RWAs positively learn to be in the middle, normal in most respects. It’s like they want to disappear. In another, experiment students were again told what RWA scale measures and then discreetly they had scored highly on the test—a lie for everyone but the actual highs (which was confessed minutes later). The students were asked to mark where they wished they could be in the distribution. The lows want to be lows, as did many moderates. But interestingly, the highs generally wanted to be moderates, ‘normal,’ even though the feedback had made it clear that low scorers splayed strong integrity, careful integrity, careful thinking, low levels of prejudice, and other positive traits.”

Authoritarian Followers

September 13, 2020

The title of this post is part of the chapter title in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers. Social scientists have been studying these people for more than forty years and have learned a great deal about them. These authoritarian followers show these three characteristics:

*a high degree of submission to the perceived established, legitimate authorities in society;
*a high level of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
*a high level of conventionalism, insisting that others follow the norms endorsed by their authorities.

The authors continue, “Because these followers submit to those they consider the established, legitimate authorities in society, they are called right-wing authoritarians. The “right” in right-wing authoritarianism does not refer to conservatism as a political philosophy, but to the word’s earlier use in Olde English, where riht (pronounced writ) meant lawful, proper, and correct. The established authorities involved may embrace any politico-economic position, even overwhelming “left-wing” views. Thus, when there was a Soviet Union, the people who gladly submitted to the Communist Party would be considered right-wing authoritarians, even in the United States. Right-wing authoritarianism, as used here, is a psychological variable, a trait. It is an aspect of a person’s personality, like the need for achievement or emotional intelligence, not their economic philosophy or political beliefs.”

The authors continue “Nothing demonstrates right-wing authoritarians’s submission to their leaders as clearly as Trump’s supporters’ acceptance of his pronouncements and guidance regarding COVID-19. Trump ignored the advice of his medical experts much to the jeopardy of the country and especially to his followers.”

Continuing further, “Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) is measured by a twenty-item personality test. Here is an item from the scale that was written to tap submission to established authority, aggression in the name of that authority, and conventionalism: ‘Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy radical new ways of sinfulness that are ruining us.’ The person taking the test has nine ways to respond: —4 (very strong disagreement) to +4 (very strong agreement). 0 means “No opinion” or “Mind your own business.”

The authors write “Anyone who has had a serious “discussion” with a Trump supporter may have noticed that facts and logic often bounce right off them. Coherent arguments, even scientific studies, will not likely change the mind of a Trump supporter. Obstinate thinking has interested psychologists for decades. Their first explanation would involve cognitive dissonance, the anxiety produced when our thoughts conflict with one another. People classically reduce dissonance by reinforcing one idea or diminishing the importance of another. A lot of dissonance may lead them to change an idea entirely. HIgh (and low) RWAs’ thinking that they should undoubtedly experience dissonance from ideas that do not fit together, but there ought to be so much conflict in RWAs’ thinking that should be boiling over with anxiety. They have invested enormously in Donald Trump in their own minds and socially, yet every day he does something that shows he is unfit for office. That ought to produce so much dissonance—which after all is disruption in thinking just as it is in music—that the person can barely tie his shoes. So we think ardent Trump supporters necessarily use additional cognitive tactics to produce stability in their thinking—so much so that the stability becomes dogmatism.”

Continuing further, “Studies have found that persons who score highly on the RWA as a group, have (1) highly compartmentalized thinking; (2) they use a lot of double standards; (3) they believe many conflicting and even contradictory things; (4) they have a lot of trouble deciding what is sound evidence and what is not; (5) their thinking is highly ethnocentric; (6) they are decidedly prejudiced in what they believe about others; and (7) for all the difficulties they have getting their thinking cap on right, they are very dogmatic about what they believe.”

The concluding paragraph in this chapter follows: “Persons who have a lot of trouble submitting to others or who have difficulty accepting things without good reason might well wonder why high RWAs have not woken up and smelled the coffee. But it all comes easily to people who have a deep down, lifelong tendency to submit and who are terrified of what will happen if they stop believing what their authorities say is true. And if you understand this, you realize not only why Trump’s supporters dogmatically stick to the party line, you realize that the worse the “news” is for their belief system, the greater the fear and the tighter they will cling to the system, when it seems it should be the other way around. Trying to prove to them that they are wrong will usually backfire.”

Social Dominators

September 12, 2020

The title of this post is part of the title in the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, titled Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers. Altemeyer wrote in July 2016 that Trump’s followers would stick with him to the end and that he could win in November 2016 through the zeal of his supporters. His prediction was based on the accumulation of studies that as early as 1981 led to the conclusion that “there are so many people so genuinely submissive to established authority that they constitute a real threat to freedom in countries such as Canada and the United States. “

Donald Trump appears to have developed a faithful base of about 50 million supporters in 2015-2016. Most of them have one of the two authoritarian personalities that have been scientifically established, plus a unique group that combines these two: They are:

Social Dominators. People who believe in inequality between groups. Predictably, they usually believe their groups should be more prestigious and powerful than others. Some social dominators take the belief in equality down to the personal level and are determined to gain power over people they know. Donald Trump, who wants to dominate everyone he meets and the rest of humanity by proxy, appears to be an extreme example of a social dominator. There are other social dominators who are attracted to Donald Trump.

Authoritarian Followers. These people are submissive, fearful, and longing for a mighty leader who will protect them from life’s threats. They divide the world into friend and foe, with the latter greatly outnumbering the former. Their ethnocentrism (partiality to one’s own group) is often based on their religious training and they have been found to be self-righteous. Authoritarian followers have been studied for many decades and it will take much research to tie what we know about them to their passionate embrace of Donald Trump. This group includes the white evangelicals who support Trump more than anyone else—to the complete bewilderment of many. Reasons for their devotion will be discussed in a future post.

Double Highs. Some people score highly in both being a Social Dominator and being an Authoritarian Follower, which confuses one at first because it seems to make them dominating submissive. But this can happen in various ways. For example, dominating persons can strongly believe in other people submitting to the authorities if they themselves are the authorities, or allied with them. Donald Trump is a good example of such a Double High. He probably has not had a submissive inclination since his father died, but he obviously thinks other people should be submissive. Alternatively submissive people can come to endorse their group’s superiority over others to protect themselves further. Double Highs usually combine the worst elements of the two authoritarian personalities in such a dangerous way that they are especially worrisome and merit separate examination (which will be done in a subsequent post).

A Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) Scale for measuring this new personality has been developed. The current version of the test comes in two parts. One part asks for reactions to the idea that certain groups should dominate others. It has statements such as, “Some groups of people must be kept in their place,” and “It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom.” The second part seeks responses to the idea that we should accept inequality between groups. For example “We should not push for group equality” and “We should’t try to guarantee that every group has the same quality of life.”

There are Power-Mad and Con Man Scales, which fit Donald Trump’s personality like a custom-made suit, that were developed shortly after the SDO scale appeared. They and other surveys have produced the following list of attitudes and behaviors that studies have shown that characterize a social dominator in general. The traits are:
men (typically), faintly hedonistic, oppose equality, pitiless, dominating, intimidating and bullying, amoral, vengeful, desire personal power, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheat to win, highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic) mean-spirited, militant, nationalistic, tells others what they want to hear, takes advantage of suckers, specializes in creating false images to sell self, will pretend to be religious if they are not genuinely so, usually politically and economically conservative.

The chapter ends: Social dominators have found their authoritarian leader and we are witnessing the growing, unfolding of authoritarianism in the United States. It is not attractive. It has not been our past and should not be our future. But if Trump—or any authoritarian leader—holds a post as powerful and pervasive as the American presidency, it will be our present, our way in the world. This is the reason it is so important that Americans appreciate that authoritarianism is on the ballot in the 2020 election, not to mention for many elections that will follow.

Authoritarian Nightmare

September 11, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an important new book. The subtitle is Trump and His Followers. The authors of this book are John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer. John Dean is the same John Dean who told Richard Nixon that there was a cancer developing in his administration and was a key witness during the Watergate Hearings. He has identical concerns as HM does about Trump’s base. Eventually Trump will be gone, but his base will remain. Although Trump has attitudes that align with his base, he is not intelligent. One of his former cabinet members said Trump was a moron. Actually that was an overly generous characterization of Trump’s intelligence. Trump does not read books and has a very short attention span. Hitler not only read books, but wrote an extremely persuasive one, Mein Kampf. It is frightening to think what someone as intelligent as Hitler could do with Trump’s base.

Humans were extremely concerned as to how an intelligent, cultured society such as Germany could fall prey to fascism. Psychologists tried to address this issue and one approach developed was that of an authoritarian personality. They even developed a scale to assess this characteristic of authoritarianism called the F scale. Although this work was initially promising it went down some unproductive paths. Moreover, the new concern became communism not fascism.

Bob Altemeyer is a social psychologist who is engaged in new research on authoritarianism. This new research has been quite beneficial as will be seen in the subsequent posts. HM has written posts on Kahneman’s two processing systems concept of cognition. It is quite clear that one of the main distinctions between Trump supporters and the opposition can be characterized in Kahneman’s two system view. It is quite obvious that Trump supporters thinking is characterized by System 1 processing that is largely emotional. The thinking of Trump deniers is System 2 processing, commonly termed thinking or more precisely critical thinking. This is a big dichotomy in thinking and does not address the many qualitative differences. The work of Altemeyer and his colleagues capture these qualitative differences.

It is an extremely nonproductive means of trying to persuade others not of your opinion to accuse them of being idiots and telling them that you are right and they are wrong or ill-guided. This new research capturing qualitative differences in thinking provides insights into the thinking of the other side. It is hoped that this information will provide data for informing and persuading the other side. HM would hope that even Trump supporters would find this information beneficial in that it should provide some insight into why they think as they do.

Many of our opinions become adopted without thinking. We hear them from our relatives or friends. The default for accepting a new idea is to accept it. This makes sense, because as children if we had questioned everything we were told, we would grow up in a quandary which might be regarded as autism or a lack of intelligence.
This research provides insight as to what forms the basis for our opinions.
The book begins with chapters on Trump. These chapters are not being covered because an enormous number of posts have been written on Trump. To see how many enter “Trump” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

Why Do People Have Opinions?

September 9, 2020

At one level, this is the way our brains work. Information comes in and some sort of value is put on it. As it is said of opinions, they are like a—holes, everybody has them. The real question here, is why people have strong opinions. The United States is supposed to a free nation, so people should be free to have any opinion they want.

Yet people have strong opinions about race. Why? How does it affect them? What’s the problem? Is there any need to act on these opinions?

People have strong opinions about religion. The reason for strong opinions here is obvious, but religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution. So each person can live by their beliefs, but each person is guaranteed to be able to follow their own beliefs.
But people are attacked for their religious beliefs? What could be more wrong?

Then you have the securitarians who comprise the majority of Trump’s base. These people cannot tolerate the multi-ethnic freedom to believe as one wishes and want a white, conservative religious country. Not only has that base left, but it never really was here.

Some individuals with strong, perhaps pathological beliefs, live ruminating about what they regard as the danger ruminate persistently about these problems and eventually reach the point where they become active shooters and kill people.

Fortunately, few people actually go this route. A simple route is to become fearful about nonexistent threats and to vote for Trump.

Even though everyone has opinions, there is little need to act upon them. Nor is there any need to have them. When asked about your opinion you can say that you are still thinking about it. Other people have opinions, so let them. There is no need to look for groups for you to join. This is one of the principal problems with Facebook. You read the opinions of others and Facebook leads you to others of a similar mind. This can be very distorting.

Rather than Facebook, look to the Wikipedia and authoritative sources of information. Should you need to have an opinion this is the best way to build a reasonably accurate opinion. And in most cases, there is no need to have an opinion, especially a strong one, so there is no disgrace to say no opinion and be objective

When we walk it is not unusual to formulate opinions about the people we pass. A practice was offered in one of the posts on Buddhist Psychology to express sentiments such as, “may you be joyful,” “may you be peaceful” mentally on people we pass. HM has found this a useful practice for psychological health. To people not wearing face masks he adds, “and may you be socially conscious.”

Older People and Technology

September 8, 2020

This post is based on an article by Judith Graham in the 4 August 2020 issue of The Washington Post titled “Many older people can’t take advantage of tech. Some aim to solve that.”

The article begins, “Family gatherings on Zoom and Facetime. Online orders from grocery stores and pharmacies. Telehealth appointments with physicians. These have been lifesavers for many older adults staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. But an unprecedented shift to virtual interactions has a downside. Large numbers of seniors are unable to participate. Many older adults with limited financial resources also may not be able to afford devices or the associated Internet service fees. (Half of seniors living alone and 23% of those in two-person households are unable to afford basic necessities.) Others are not adept at using technology and lack the assistance to learn.” Although smart phones appear to be the tool of use for a large percentage of tech users, given the small display size and the small keypads, iPads are much more appropriate for this population.

Landmark Health serves a vulnerable group of 42,000 people in 14 states, bringing services into patients’ homes. Its average patient is nearly 80, with eight medical conditions. After the first few weeks of the pandemic, Landmark halted in-person visits to homes because personal protective equipment was in short supply. Landmark plans to experiment with facilitated telehealth consisting of nonmedical staff members bringing devices to patients’ homes and managing telehealth visits. They now have sufficient
PPE to do this. It is examination technology that it can give to members.

One alternative gaining attention is GrandPad, a tablet loaded with senior-friendly apps designed for adults 75 and older. In July, the National PACE Association, whose members run programs providing comprehensive services for frail seniors who live at home, announced a partnership with GrandPad to encourage the adoption of this technology.

Another effort is technology from iN2L (It’s Never Too Late), a company that specializes in serving people with dementia. In Florida, under a new program sponsored by the state’s Department of Elder Affairs, iN2L tablets loaded with dementia specific content have been distributed to 300 nursing homes and assisted-living centers.

These efforts are to be applauded.

How Will Trump’s Presidency End?

September 6, 2020

When Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden for president he said, “Our Country’s future hangs on this election, and it won’t be easy. The other side has a massive war chest. The other side has a propaganda network with little regard for the truth.”

Stelter writes, “Obama viewed Trump and Fox as the culmination of decades of Republican party trend lines. While Fox held the GOP’s shrinking coalition together, polls showed that it wouldn’t be enough to win Trump a second term. Hannity tried out different anti-Biden talking points every night, and said America would be ‘unrecognizable’ if Trump lost, but this host seemed tired of his own hyperbole. Tucker Carlson, always a more savvy operator, looked beyond 2020. His monologues sounded like post-Trump presidential stump speeches. Several of his colleagues told me they could see Carlson on the primary ballot in 2024.”

Trump is campaigning as if he knows he is going to lose the election. He isn’t doing anything a normal politician would do to win this election. Rather than formulating and leading a pandemic strategy or simply allowing his scientists to lead the strategy he could show effective leadership. He could formulate policies for rebuilding the nation and point to a glorious future as Reagan did. But he is not.

Instead he is leading a divisive campaign. He called peaceful protestors terrorists, responding not only inappropriately with government forces, but also encouraging terrorist right wing groups to attack the peaceful protestors. He does this to induce fear in U.S. citizens to think that they are under attack. But Trump is not just encouraging this violence, he is further inflaming this violence. He panders to White supremacists acting as if he wants a second civil war.

HM likes to view this conflict from a psychological perspective. Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman proposed that there are two types of cognitive processing. System 1 processing is fast requires little, if any, cognitive effort, and is our default mode of processing. System 2 processing, more commonly called thinking, requires cognitive effort. New learning and the consideration of new concepts requires System 2.

System 1 is emotional. System 2 is needed to rein in our emotions. Trump is effective because he sticks to System 1. It is difficult to convince his followers of Trump’s blatant flaws, because that requires his followers to employ System 2, something that they are wont to do.

HM opined in a previous post after watching the Republican and Democratic national conventions that the Democrats showed much System 2 processing and Republicans hardly any, that there would be a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s in Republicans and Democrats.

But

Trump and the Coronavirus

September 5, 2020

This post is informed by the book by Brian Stelter, HOAX: Donald Trump, Fox and and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Trump threw away the detailed plan that the Obama Administration had produced for dealing with the Coronavirus. The Coronavirus was another hoax by the Democrats and was created by the Chinese presumably for chemical warfare. Early on he said he was the general who was leading this fight. But he was no general and quickly defaulted from that role. So rather than leading courses of action against the coronavirus he left it up to the states and had them fighting each other for resources. This was both less effective and more expensive. But different states were more or less effective. Blue states have been and are being more effective than Red states. The states where there are lower levels are those whose citizens wear masks. Rather then referring to Red states and Blue states it might be more accurate to refer to mask wearing states and states that are resistant to mask wearing.

“Trump spoke about the coronavirus in the past tense and told Sean Hannity the virus was “fading away” even as U.S. cases surged and the death toll climbed well above one hundred thousand. Trump resumed public events and refused to wear a mask in public in defiance of his own government’s recommendations. He contradicted what Fox was doing too: At Fox News HQ in late June, staffers who weren’t able to work from home were reminded to don a mask whenever they were in shared office spaces. The company’s plans for a fuller return to work were postponed again and again due to safety concerns. Fox’s anchors knew all this but rarely challenged Trump’s irresponsible and ignorant conduct on the air. Profits over principle—that was the priority of the Trump years.”

The current and final strategy is “Herd Immunity.” When a virus infects a large enough majority of the population it is infecting, spreading stops because there are too few new subjects to infect to spread the virus. It is important to note that the term “Herd Immunity” refers to animals. Except perhaps for certain totalitarian dictatorships, it has never been used for human populations.

This strategy of Herd Immunity, should be the last nail in Trump’s coffin. Any national leader advocating such a strategy should be immediately removed from office, but it is not surprising that Fox News has made no such call.

Trump and Russia

September 4, 2020

Fox viewers having learned that everything was relative and that real news could be fake, became exhausted. Many viewers, exhausted by the uncertainty gave up on knowing for sure whether Russia had helped Trump win the 2016 election. Stelter writes that this sorry state of affairs reminded him of Peter Pomerantz’s book, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, about the influence of propaganda media in Vladimir’s Putin’s Russia. Pomerantz said Fox’s rejection of balance and indulgence of conspiracy reminded him or Putin.

Pomerantz wrote, “For anyone who knows Russia, Trump’s aim in the use of the word ‘hoax’ is uncannily familiar. In Russia, the regime dismisses any criticism as ‘information war,’ thus making any kind of evidence-based debate impossible: All information is just a weapon, a form of manipulations, there is no rational ground on which to have a debate, you are either ‘with us’ or ‘against us.’ Likewise, Trump dismisses all criticism as just part of an info op agains him, a ‘hoax where he content of the criticism is just a cover for the manipulations of some vast, murky conspiracy. The end point of both the Kremlin and the White House is now the same: to undermine the epistemic ground on which evidence-based debate and deliberative democracy can be practiced.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that there is no doubt that Russia assisted Trump in the election. Just put “Russia and Trump” into the search block at
healthymemory.wordpress.com. Frankly, all the networks are at fault for not making this clearer. Apparently, a counterintelligence investigation was planned by the FBI, but was never conducted. But the Russian effort was thoroughly documented in the open press. Many books have been written on this topic.

HOAX: Donald Trump and Fox News

September 3, 2020

he title of this post is the first part of a title by Brian Stelter. The remainder of the title is and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Stelter is the chief media correspondent for CNN Worldwide and knows this business well.

Roger Ailes founded Fox News. It was advertised as fair and balanced news. Well, it was not balanced, it was clearly conservative. But it was honest news that held up to standard journalistic standards. Then it changed. In 2012 Trump was sullying the political arena by waving the racist banner or birtherism. Ailes gave Trump a weekly call-in segment on the morning “Fox & Friends” show. Stelter writes that this program, more than “The Apprentice,” allowed Trump to build an adoring audience for his fact-free crusades. Stelter concludes that “Monday Morning with Trump changed the course of American politics.”

HM was amazed by the huge amounts of money made by these cable news shows. There are two distinct types of programs. There are conventional programs that report events, and there are opinion shows that can really wrack up the bucks. It turns out that a very large number of viewers are more interested in opinions than in news, and truth and veracity seem not to be requirements for these shows.

Ailes had serious legal problems. There were many lawsuits by women who claimed harassment. In addition to financial problems, they also presented public relations risks. So Ailes sold the network to Rupert Murdoch. Although Murdoch was nominally the manager of the network, Trump took over defacto control. Trump was strongly influenced by Sean Hannity.

Stelter writes, “Hannity and Trump worked hand in hand so that practically the entire American news media was ‘fake.’ Both men’s hypnotic message was that Fox was the only legit network, while everyone else was fraudulent.”

Stelter continues “The Trump age was really the “hoax” age. Fox viewers came away with the impression that nothing was truly knowable. Everything was relative. There were distortions and deception in every direction. Up could be down and left could be right and real news could be fake. The word ‘hoax’ was uttered more than nine hundred times on Fox News in the first six months of 2020. Every time Trump tweeted it, or Hannity shouted it, a little bit more truth was chipped away from America’s foundation—precisely at a time when the country was beset by multiple crises and needed honesty and accuracy, compassion and sound science”

“The lying extended to social media smears about anti-racism protestors—smelly little lies that both echoed and foreshadowed lines of attack and denial by Fox personalities. White House officials lied when they denied having used tear gas to clear a path through a nonthreatening crowd at Lafayette Park for a presidential photo op. Trump lied again about crowd size when the street swelled with peaceful protestors, whom he linked to ‘terrorists” and anarchists.” Having neither accomplishments nor truth to tell the public, he set the people against each other, stirring up strife. He told the public not to believe their own eyes and ears, and he thought he could get away with it because on Fox—arguably his only reality—he always did Don’t believe what you read. Journalists are enemies of the people. “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Just trust in the Fox News president.

To be fair, it is important to note that Stelter writes, “Throughout the Trump presidency, there were straight lines from Fox’s misguided segments to Trump’s mistakes. Those who tried to correct him, like Shep Smith and Neil Cavuto and Chris Wallace, were vilified. Those who excused his misconduct were idolized. In the summer of 2020 there were no signs of this changing at Fox.

The Perils of Oblivion

September 1, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a special report on dementia in the August 29, 2020 issue of The Economist. The article notes that the old notion that dementia is a natural part of the aging process is deep—rooted and is held by two-thirds of people and even by 62% of medical practitioners according to a survey last year by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), an advocacy group. It also found that one in five people attributed dementia to bad luck and almost 10% to God’s will. As many as 2% blamed witchcraft. ADI states in its 2019 report: “When a person has dementia, the condition takes over as the main descriptor of who they are. The stigma cancels that individual’s personalty or personal history.” This is quite true. In advanced cases the person will not even remember who they are.

The article continues with dark predictions about how bad matters will be as the population ages. It has a section titled “Plaque blues” about the failures of the development of effective medications to eliminate or preclude the amyloid plaque or neurofibrillary tangles, which are the defining features of Alzheimer’s.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that there are individuals with these defining features of Alzheimer’s, who die without ever exhibiting any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The reason provided is that these individuals have engaged in cognitive activities that have developed a cognitive reserve. These facts are not mentioned in the article.

The article does mention the research of Dr. Kipelto’s study in Finland which showed that changing the ways of life could significantly reduce the rate of mental decline. Conducted among a group of 60-to 77-year olds with higher risk factors for dementia, it monitored and changed lifestyles and put them through “cognitive training” — computer-based mental gymnastics. She speculates that for some, part of the benefit may have come from learning to use computers and the internet for the first time. It should be noted that her study is not unique. Others have demonstrated the same point.

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware of the distinction that Nobel-Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman makes between System 1 and System 2 Processing. System 1 is our default mode of processing that is fast and requires little, if any, cognitive effort. System 2, known commonly as thinking, is slow and does require cognitive effort. HM’s contention is that it is this System 2 processing that builds cognitive reserve that precludes the development of dementia. HM strongly advocates growth mindsets, where active learning is engaged throughout one’s lifetime. Of course, healthy lifestyles are also important, especially getting sufficient sleep. HM knows individuals who were cognitively active for most of their lives, but who burned the candle at both ends, did not get sufficient sleep, and suffered dementia.

HM will also make the following bold prediction. Having viewed portions of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, Republicans will experience a higher level of dementia that Democrats. The Republicans indicated a contempt for science, and the embracing of alternative realities that bore no relationship to truth. In short, it appeared that there was more System 2 processing by Democrats.

The Health Care Scare

August 31, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article, or more accurately a confession, by Wendell Potter, in the Outlook section of the 9 August 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “Wendell Potter sold Americans a lie about Canadian health care. Now we’re paying the price.” He was in corporate communications for the insurance industry. He writes, “Had spokesman like me not been paid to obscure important truths between the U.S. and Canadian health-care systems, tens of thousands of Americans who have died during the pandemic might still be alive.” Actually ”obscure” is a weak euphemism for lying.

It is not just Canada. Every other advanced country has government funded insurance for its residents. This point has been made in many previous healthy memory blog posts. In all these countries, medical care is better. less expensive, and much more comprehensive. All are insured. There are cracks in the coverage of Americans that are more accurately captured by the term valleys.

When this topic is raised, the hesitancy expressed by too many American is that taxes would increase. However, “taxes” should not be a red flag. The question is what is the value received from these taxes, and that value is enormous. For many Americans employers pay for medical insurance, so the cost to the employee is hidden. But the money the company pays for medical insurance could be paid directly to the worker. People could change jobs or move without the fear of losing medical insurance. Lower medical costs benefit everyone, plus the coverage is universal and the care is better. This is what the data shows in every country that has gone this way. And for some inscrutable reason, possibly stupidity, the United States is the only advanced country that has not gone this route.

Coping with the Stupidity Pandemic

August 29, 2020

At bottom the coronavirus pandemic is the result of a stupidity pandemic. This stupidity pandemic became evident with the election of Trump as President and progressed from there. The Coronavirus pandemic is a serious world crisis, but the manner in which Trump and his cronies are coping with the pandemic is exacerbating the pandemic, not ameliorating it. Not only to defeat this pandemic, but for the United States to thrive as a democracy, it needs to place science foremost and use science as a guide.

Unfortunately, too many people think of science as consisting of dogmas and regard it as dogmas that can be exploited for political purposes. A good example of this is the teaching of evolution in the schools. People regard evolution as a dogma that conflicts with their religious beliefs and argue against it being taught in the schools. Rather than thinking of science as a set of beliefs, it needs to be regarded what it truly is, or, at least, should be. And that is as a method of rigorous critical thinking. Readers of this blog should be familiar with Kahneman’s Two Process view of cognition. System 1 is our normal automatic processing. It is fast and requires negligible mental effort. System 2 is actual thinking, preferable critical thinking, and requires mental effort.

Science should be taught as our most effective method of thinking. Consider intelligent design. Some religious people argue that intelligent design is an argument for the operation of God’s hand, otherwise how could such beautiful species be created. However, scientific thinking requires the consideration of all the many species that not only were not beautiful, but did not survive. Where is God’s hand in this? Was he learning as he was going along? Students should not be required to believe evolution. However, they should be taught scientific reasoning and the consideration of the many negative examples. They should be required to show this understanding on written examinations, but be allowed to believe whatever they damn well please.

Actually, religious people might fare better if they were to move up to physics and consider the creation of the universe. The conditions necessary for the creation of the universe are so precise that it is difficult to believe that it was ever created. Physicists argue about weak and strong anthropic principles to try to understand not only how the universe was created, but also how this one that was created fosters life and homo sapiens. For physicists, it is against the rules, or regarded as cheating, to argue that God created it. But absence these rules, it provides the most parsimonious account.

When voting for any politician or choosing anyone for a specific job, they need to commit themselves to following the best scientific advice available. Science is not always correct, and science is constantly changing and updating itself. Nevertheless it provides the best advice for solving any problem.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Pandemic Shows the Need to Boost Our Psychology Literacy

August 27, 2020

This post is based on an article by Elizabeth Svoboda titled “The ways our brains numb us to covid-19 risks” in the Health and Science section of the 25 August 2020 issue of the Washington Post.

Griffin, a professor of marketing and behavioral science at the University of British Columbia wrote, “Once people were glued to the news broadcasts about the virus. However, now after many months of pandemic “most people have a reduce emotional reaction. They see it as less salient.” This is primarily true for people who do not personally know people who have suffered from the virus. Life can be compartmentalized into directly experienced life and life experienced via the media.

Griffin writes, “This habituation stems from a principle well-known in psychological therapy: The more we’re exposed to a given threat, the less intimidating it seems. Psychologists draw on this principle to treat people’s extreme phobias in an approach called exposure therapy. If patients have a paralyzing fear of spiders a therapist might encourage them to stay in the same room with a spider or even touch it.”

Psychologist Paul Slovic author of “The Perception of Risk” writes “As the pandemic drags on, people are unknowingly performing a kind of exposure therapy on themselves and the results can be deadly.”

Svoboda writes, ‘Fear of covid-19 initially kept many people hunkering down inside their homes and glued to their screens to order food and needed supplies. Then, with trepidation, they headed out to buy groceries. The next time they left home, they felt bolder. Soon, like me, they were lining up at reopened stores for nonessential shopping trips, setting up hair appointments and seeing friends from a distance.”

Slovic says, “You have an experience and the experience is benign. It feels okay and comfortable. It’s familiar. Then you do it again. If you don’t see anything immediately bad happening your concerns get reconditioned.

If behaviors were limited to the preceding activities HM believes that the virus could have been contained. But Washington environmental policy professor Ann Bolstrom writes that we have a tendency to grow numb to mounting numbers of deaths and diagnoses.

So people are engaging in dangerous and proscribed behaviors like not wearing masks and participating in large unprotected groups of people in a variety of activities. Until these activities are stopped, the pandemic will continue to spread and grow.

Because risk perception fails as we learn to live with covid-19, Griffin and other researchers are calling for the renewal of tough government mandates to curb virus spread. They see measures such as strict social distancing, enforced masking outside the home and stay-at-home orders as perhaps the only things that can protect us from our own faulty judgment.

Griffin says that these kinds of measures aren’t enough on their own. It’s also important for authorities to supply in-your-face reminders of those mandates, especially visually cues, so people won’t draw their own erroneous conclusions about what’s safe.

The article concludes, “For people considering how to assess covid-19 risks, Slovic advises pivoting from emotionally driven gut reactions to what psychologist Daniel Kahneman—winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his integration of psychological research into economic science — calls ‘slow thinking.’ That means making decisions based on careful analysis of evidence. ‘You need to either do the slow thinking yourself,’ Slovic said, ‘or trust experts who do the slow thinking and understand the situation.’”

Pandemic Shows Need to Boost Our Health Literacy

August 26, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Eve Glicksman in the Health and Science Section of the 4 August 2020 issue of the Washington Post. There has been a series of healthy memory posts based on Dr. Seven Taylor’s book The Psychology of Pandemics along with other posts on pandemics, including stupidity pandemics which we appear to be currently suffering.

This current stupidity pandemic is embarrassing the United States because we are the only advanced county not responding effectively to COVID-19. This is in spite of Barack Obama’s administration leaving a complete handbook for defeating the virus. Trump threw this book in the trash. We have scientific advice for dealing effectively with the pandemic, and this advice is quite simple for us laypeople. The most important advice is to wear a mask when in public or interacting with individuals. There is more detailed advice, but the mask wearing advice is central and is quite effective. Moreover the logic for wearing a mask is intuitively obvious. As the virus is airborne wearing a mask is effective in protecting the wearer of the mask and, even if the individual does not care about his own life, not wearing a mask jeopardizes fellow citizens. HM is infuriated by those arguing that they have a personal right not to wear a mask. HM strongly argues that they do not have the right to infect fellow citizens. HM would like for all who argue that they have a right to infect fellow citizens that they be expeditiously exiled from the United States with Senator Rand Paul as their leader.

If Trump simply avoided his leadership role, it would be bad enough, but he disseminates inaccurate information and attacks the best advice from the scientific community and accuses them of attacking him. He appears to be a paranoid, severely mentally disturbed individual who has lost touch with reality and is placing the country risk.

Trump needs to be removed from office. The Democrats attempted to do so by impeaching him, but the Republican controlled Senate did not impeach. The evidence was clear but Senate Republicans refused to exercise their responsibility. The COVID-19 pandemic emerged since then and the Republicans need to correct for their egregious error.

And they can and should do so using the 25th Amendment. Section IV allows the Vice-President and a majority of the cabinet to do so. Some might argue that his Amendment was to be used in case of a medical emergency such as a stroke. Frankly, we would be better off if Trump had had a stroke. Then, at least he could not provide misinformation and lead a battle against the knowledgeable scientists providing advice.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Consilience

August 24, 2020

Consilience is an important concept for the advancement of science and engineering, and for the development of economies and societies. It can best be illustrated by this section from Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature:

“The physiologist Jared Diamond is a proponent of ideas in evolutionary psychology, and of consilience between the sciences and the humanities, particular history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel he rejected the standard assumption that history is just one damn thing after another and tried to explain the sweep of human history over the tens of thousands of years in the context of human evolution and ecology. Sowell and Diamond have made an authoritative case that the fates of human societies come neither from chance nor from race but from humans’ drive to adopt the innovations of others, combined with the vicissitudes of geography and ecology.

Diamond begins at the beginning. For most of human evolutionary history we lived as hunter-gatherers. The trappings of civilization—sedentary living, cities, a division of labor, government, professional armies, writing metallurgy—sprang from a recent development, farming, about ten thousand years ago. Farming depends on plants and animals that can be tamed and exploited, and only a few species are suited to it. They happened to be concentrated in a few parts of the world, including the Fertile Crescent, China, and Central and South America. The first civilizations arose in those regions.

From then on, geography was destiny. Diamond and Sowell point that Eurasia, the world’s largest landmass, is an enormous catchment area for local innovations. Traders, sojourners, and conquerors can collect them and spread them, and people living at the crossroads can concentrate them into a high-tech package. Also, Eurasia runs in an east-west direction, whereas Africa and the Americas run north-south. Crops and animals that are domesticated in one region can easily be spread to others along lines of latitude, which are also lines similar to climate. But they cannot be spread as easily along lines of longitude, where a few hundred miles can spell the difference between temperate and tropical climates. Horses domesticated in the Asian steppes, for example, could make their way westward to Europe and eastward to China, but llamas and alpacas domesticated in the Andes never made it northward to Mexico, so the Mayan and Aztec civilizations were left without pack animals. And until recently the transportation of heavy goods over long distances (and with them traders and their ideas) was possible only by water. Europe and parts of Asia are blessed by a natural furrowed geography with many natural harbors and navigable rivers. African and Australia are not.

So Eurasia conquered the world not because Eurasians are smarter but because they could best take advantage of the principle that many heads are better than one. The “culture” of any of the conquering nations of Europe, such as Britain, is in fact a greatest-hits collection of inventions assembled across thousands of miles and years. The collection is made up of cereal crops and alphabetic writing from the Middle East, gunpowder and paper from China, domesticated horses from Ukraine, and many others. But the necessarily insular cultures of Australia and Africa, and the Americas had to make do with a few homegrown technologies, and as a result they were no match for their pluralistic conquerors. Even with Eurasia and (later) the Americas, cultures were isolated by mountainous geography—for example, in the Appalachians, the Balkans, and the Scottish highlands—remained backward for centuries in comparison with the vast network of people around them.”

So the best explanation of the different fortunes of human societies does not involve race. “The best explanation today is thoroughly cultural, but it depends on seeing a culture as a product of human desires rather than as a shaper of them.”

Politics and Life After Trump

August 23, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter in THE SECURITARIAN PERSONALITY by John R. Hibbing. Hibbing writes, “Trump’s base was dominated by securitarians, an ancient political phenotype that is instinctively suspicious of outsiders and relentlessly eager to pursue protections for insiders generally and for themselves personally. Their universal presence around the world and throughout history might encourage the conclusion that events and occurrences are irrelevant, that politics does not matter, and that debate is a waste of time. None of this is true.”

Hibbing continues, “The battle between securitarians and unitariarians is timeless, rendering incorrect those who claim that “history will end” with the universal acceptance of Western-style, democratic capitalism. Even if free market, non-totalitarian systems should come to dominate—an eventuality that seems increasingly unlikely—history will continue because the conflict between securitarians and unitarians will continue. Disagreements over the definition and treatment of outsiders is the evolutionarily central dividing point of social life. Disagreements over economics can be an instance but largely their contours often follow the securitarian-unitarian division, with pro-business policies pleasing insider-friendly securitarians and socialistic redistributive policies pleasing the help-those-who are struggling unitarians.

Continuing further, “The ubiquity of the securitarian-unitarian divide does not damn us to unending trench warfare, however. Politics will continue to matter and to change. At any given time, the arguments made by securitatians and unitarians can be rendered more or less effective by the events of the day or the talents of particular leaders. Moreover, those people in society who are neither dyed-in-the-wool securitarians nor unreconstructed unitarians can move one way or the other by occurrences and persuasive rhetoric.”

Unfortunately, HM is not as sanguine about the future as the author. Truth and objective facts are irrelevant to Trump. So there is considerable concern if he’ll concede the election. He has already claimed that the results will be flawed and is taking actions along with the Russians to increase the likelihood that they will be flawed. With news sources such as Fox News and electronic media, it is easier to generate and enlarge false news. HM follows the five-thirty-eight site that daily documents Trump’s support and it always stays about 40%. This, in spite of the abandonment of a coronavirus epidemic and the generation of false information that exacerbates the pandemic.

Without an agreement on facts and on science, how can a democracy succeed?

What Really Motivates Trump’s Base?

August 22, 2020

HM has long been asking himself this question. Fortunately John R. Hibbing has written a book THE SECURITARIAN PERSONALITY to answer this question. Hibbing writes, “The central feature of Trump’s base is their belief that the noblest and most essential task of a human being is to protect person, family, culture, and country from the tangible threats they believe are posed by outsiders. They do not feel the need to be vigilant against all threats and, in fact, can be surprisingly cavalier about threats that do not emanate from outsider human beings (for example, climate change). In the face of these outsider threats, they believe insiders need to stay unified and strong.”

Hibbing continues, “In Trump supporters’ worldview, insiders are the historical and numerical core of the country—the dominant race, religion, and language group—plus those who can be trusted to work to strengthen that core, preferably by defending and enriching it, but at least not dividing and placing demands on it. Outsiders are those who do not belong to the aforementioned core. Those who live outside the country are automatically outsiders but so are many people who live among us. These outsiders on the inside are likely to chip away at the unity and strength of the country and dominate culture (in the eyes of intense Trump supporters, there really is no difference between country and dominant culture). Outsiders may weaken the core because their skin color is different from that of insiders, because their political beliefs are different from those of insiders, because they do not follow the customs of insiders, because they violate the norms and laws that protect insiders, or because they advocate public policies that weaken insiders vis-a-vis outsiders (for example, welfare spending, foreign aid, and immigration).

The first thought that HM had reading this is that these securitarians are woefully ignorant of American History. E pluribus unum (Out of many one) captures the spirit and the strength of diversity in the original thirteen colonies. Our country has been built on, and will continue to be built on the diversity of immigrants to this country. But securitarians find danger in these immigrants. If one really wants an effective means of reducing, if not eliminating illegal immigrants, it would be to severely fine and punish employers of illegal immigrants. But their hero Trump hires illegal immigrants because they are cheaper and easier to exploit.

And what exactly is feared? Trump claims increased violence, but these dangers are a matter of propaganda produced by Fox News and other extreme right wing outlets. These securitarians need analysis on a psychiatrists coach.

But securitarians are oblivious to objective evidence and to science. Many still claim that Trump is the greatest president who has ever lived, with the exception of a large tax cut for the rich being his sole example. They have been and continue to promote the coronavirus pandemic. Hibbing writes, “Just as decision-makers in Washington were reaching a cross-ideological consensus on the proper governmental response—including massive stimulus spending—President Trump began pointedly referring to the affliction as the “Chinese virus,” in light of the source of the original outbreak.” Trump refused to provide leadership. Worse yet he disseminated lies and false information and disputed the advice provided by science. Consequently, while other advanced countries managed to contain the virus, at the time of this writing the pandemic continues to spread rapidly.

So the question is, assuming that Trump cannot be removed from the White House, what future dangers do these securitarians portend? The following post will address this question.

The Most Extreme Contrast to Buddhist Teachings

August 21, 2020

After the enormous number of preceding posts on Buddhist Psychology, it seems that a post on the antithesis of Buddhist teaching is appropriate. And that antithesis is provided by Donald Trump.

The following is from PLATO, THE REPUBLIC

Socrates: “And amid evils such as these will not he who is ill-governed in his own person—the tyrannical man, I mean—whom you just now decided to be the most miserable of all—will not he be yet more miserable when, instead of leading a private life, he is constrained by fortune to be a public tyrant? He has to be master of others when he is not master of himself: he is like a diseased or paralytic man who is compelled to pass his life, not in retirement, but fighting and combating with other men.

Is not his case utterly miserable? and does not the actual tyrant lead a worse life than he whose life you determined to be the worst?

He who is the real tyrant, whatever men may think, is the real slave, and is obliged to practice the greatest adulation and servility, and to be the flatterer of the vilest of mankind. He has desires which he is utterly unable to satisfy, and has more wants than any one, and is truly poor, if you know how to inspect the whole soul of him: all his life long he is beset with fear and is full of convulsions, and distractions even as the State which he resembles: and surely the resemblance holds?

Moreover, as we were saying before, he grows worse from having power: he becomes and is of necessity more jealous, more faithless, more unjust, more friendless, more impious, than he was at first; he is the purveyor and cherisher for every sort of vice, and the consequence is that he is supremely miserable, and that he makes everybody else as miserable as himself.”

There was a previous healthy memory post comparing Trump with a Buddhist monk with respect to their psychological and physical health. And in a post on the book written by Trump’s niece, Too Much and Never enough, that explained Trump’s harsh upbringing, HM felt sorry for him.

The above quotation was taken from a book by Eric A. Posner, The Demagogue’s Playbook: The battle for American Democracy from the Founders to Trump. This is an excellent book describing demagogues throughout American history, and it is highly recommended.

The next post is on a book that provides a fairly good characterization of Trump’s supporters.

The Little Book of Life After Death

August 20, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Gustav Theodor Fechner. Fechner was an acclaimed physicist who was one of the founders of psychophysics. The father of American Psychology, William James, wrote the introduction to this book.
Fechner wrote: “Man lives on earth not once, but three times. His first stage of life is continuous sleep; the second is an alternation between sleeping and waking; the third is eternal waking.

The reader is encouraged to peruse the article on Reincarnation found in the Wikipedia. This concept has been around for a long time and the concept often includes multiple incarnations.

As HM approaches his final curtain, he hopes there are multiple incarnations. He fears he has fallen short of the potential of a human being during this carnation and hopes he shall have another chance, and the more chances the better.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Awakened Heart

August 19, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the final chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield, Ph.D.

Consider the following quote by Maha Ghosananda:
If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what good is spiritual practice?

Kornfield writes, “We have within us an extraordinary capacity for love, joy, and unshakable freedom. Buddhist psychology describes this as optimal mental health.

Here is something the reader should consider trying. It is courtesy of Sharon Salzberg: “Whenever I teach loving-kindness retreats in an urban setting, I ask students to do their walking meditation out on the streets. I suggest they choose individuals they see and, with care and awareness, wish them well by silently repeating the traditional phrases of loving-kindness practice, ‘My you be happy, may you be peaceful.’ I tell them that even if they don’t feel loving, the power of their intention to offer love is not diminished.

Kornfield writes “the most treasured description of human awakening, what we in the west might call optimal mental health, is the Four Radiant Abodes. These Four Radiant Abodes are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity or peace. These abodes are treasured because of the natural human happiness they express. They are the
immediate and simple, the universal description of an open heart. Even when we hear their names—love, compassion, joy, peace—they touch us directly, When we meet another who is filled with these qualities, our hearts light up. When we touch peace, love, joy, and compassion in ourselves, we are transformed.”

He continues, “When the Radiant Abodes are developed, their complementary qualities help to balance one another. This balance is considered essential in Buddhist psychology. Because love, compassion, and joy can lead to excessive attachment, their warmth needs to be balanced with equanimity. Because equanimity can lead to excessive detachment, its coolness needs to be balanced with love, compassion, and joy. Established together, these radiant qualities express optimal harmony.

Let us end with a twenty-sixth principle of Buddhist psychology:

A peaceful heart gives birth to love, When love meets suffering, it turns to compassion, When love meets happiness, it turns to joy.

The Wisdom of the Middle Way

August 18, 2020

The Wisdom of the Middle Way

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The author writes, “If we seek happiness purely through indulgence, we’re not free. If we fight against ourselves and reject the world, we are not free. It is the middle path that brings freedom. This is the universal truth discovered by all those who awaken. ‘It is as if while traveling through a great forest, one should come upon an ancient path and ancient road traversed by people of former days…Even so have I, monks, seen an ancient path, an ancient road traversed by the rightly enlightened ones of former times,’ said the Buddha.”’

Kornfield continues, “The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism, The more we delve into the middle way the more deeply we will come to rest between the play of opposites. Sometimes Ajahn Chah described it like a koan, where ‘there is neither going forward, nor going backward, nor standing still.’ To discover the middle way, he went on, ‘Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool. All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.’ Learning to rest in the middle way requires trust in life itself.”

Here is a twenty-fourth principle of Buddhist psychology:
The middle way is found between all opposites. Rest in the middle and find well-being wherever you are.

The following is a quote from Helen Keller:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in
nature, nor do children as a whole experience it. Avoiding
danger is not safer in the long run than outright exposure.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

Here is a twenty-fifth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Release opinions, free yourself from views. Be open to mystery.

The following is a quote from Toni Packer

The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love and intelligence has nothing to do with any tradition, no matter how ancient or impressive—it has nothing to do with time. It happens completely on its own when a human bieng questions, wonders, listens and looks without getting stuck in fear, pleasure and pain. When self-concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open.

A quote from Thoreau follows:

Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

PRACTICE: DON’T KNOW MIND

Use this practice to bring wisdom to a situation of inner or outer conflict. Initially begin while sitting in meditation. Later you can practice in social situations.

Sit quietly and easily. Focus on your breath or body. When you feel settled, bring to mind a time ten years ahead. Recognize that you don’t know what will happen then. Feel the not knowing and relax with it. Think of the earth spinning through space with hundreds thousands of people being born and dying every day. Where does each life come from? How did it start? What changes are asked for us? There are so many things we don’t know. Feel the truth of don’t know mind, relax, and become comfortable with it.

Now, bring to mind a conflict, inner or outer. Be aware of all the thoughts and opinions you have about how things should be, about how other people should be. Now recognize that you don’t really know. Maybe the wrong thing will lead to something better. You don’t know.

Consider how it would be to approach yourself, the situation, the other people with don’t-know mind. Don’t know. Not sure. No fixed opinion. Allow yourself to want to understand anew. Approach it with don’t-know mind, with openness.

How does resting in don’t know affect the situation? Does it improve it, make it wiser, easier? More relaxed”

Practice don’t-know mind until you are comfortable resting in uncertainty, until you can do your best and laugh and say, “Don’t know.”

The Bodhisattva

August 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. Here is a quote from Mother Teresa:
The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.

Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit word for a being who is devoted to awakening and to acting for the benefit of all that lives. Kornfield writes, “The way of the bodhisattva is one of the most radical and powerful of all Buddhist forms of practice. It is radical because it states that the fulfillment of our happiness comes only from serving the welfare of others as well as ourself. Our highest happiness is connected with the well-being of others.”

The Dalai Lama takes bodhistvva vows based on the world of the sixth-century sage Shantideva:

May I be a guard for those who need protection
A guide for those on the path
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood
May I be a lamp in the darkness
A resting place for the weary
A healing medicine for all who are sick
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened

Here is a twenty-third principle of Buddhist psychology:
There is no separation between inner and outer, self and other. Tending ourselves, we tend the world. Tending the world, we tend ourselves.

Kornfield writes, “In some form the vision of the bodhisattva is celebrated in every culture. We revere the figures of St. Francis and Kwan Yi and we take public inspiration from the medical mission of Albert Schweitzer in Africa and Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. But following the bodhisattva way does not require us to become a monk like St. Francis or to work in Central Africa like Albert Schweitzer. It is based on the truth that we can transform our own circumstances into a life of inner and outer service. To do this without being overwhelmed, the bodhisattva creates life of balance.

This is eminently practical. If we want to act wisely in the world, the first step is to quiet the mind. If our actions are born from anger, grasping, fear, and aggression, they will perpetuate the problems. How many revolutions have overthrown oppressive regimes, to then turn around and become the new oppressors. Only when our minds and hearts are peaceful can we expect peace to come through the actions we take.

To understand this integration of inner and outer, we can again look at the life of Gandhi. Even during the most turbulent years, when he was dismantling the British Empire’s control of India, Gandhi spent one day a week in silence. He meditated so that he could act from the principles of interdependence, not bringing harm to himself nor another. No matter how present and urgent the political situation, the day he spent in silence allowed him to quiet his mind listen to the purest intentions of his heart.”

Kornfield continuing “If you want to live a life of balance, start now. Turn off the news, meditate, turn on Mozart, walk through the trees or mountains, and begin to make yourself a zone of peace. When I return from a long retreat or from traveling for months, I’m ashamed that the news is pretty much the same as when I left. We already know the plot, we know the problems. Let go of the latest current story. Listen more deeply.”

The practice here is the Bodhisattva vows. Kornfield writes, “Consider undertaking the vows and practice of a bodhisattva. In taking these vows you will join with the millions of Buddhists who have done so. As is traditional, you might seek out a Buddhist center or temple and take the bodhisattva vows in the presence of a teacher. Or, if you cannot do so, you can take them at home. Create a sacred space and place there images of bodhisattvas or Buddhas who have gone before you. If you wish, invite a friend or friends to be your witness. Sit quietly for a time and reflect on the beauty and value of life dedicated to the benefit of all. When you are are ready, add any meaningful ritual, such as lighting of candles or the taking of refuge. Then recite your vows. Here is one tradition version but there are many others:

Suffering beings are numberless, I vow to liberate them all.

Attachment is inexhaustible, I vow to release it all.

The gates to truth are numberless, I vow to master them al.

The ways of awakening are supreme, I vow to realize them all.

You can change the wording of these vows so that they speak your deepest dedication. Then you can repeat them every time you sit in meditation, to direct and dedicate your practice.

A Psychology of Virtue, Redemption, and Forgiveness

August 16, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. Kornfield writes, In Buddhism reverence for all life is called virtue, and it is considered fundamental. Virtue is seen as a psychological training, not a divinely inspired set of commandments. It has three levels. Training in virtue begins with stopping harmful actions. The first level, called non-harming, includes five traditional practices. These are to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, misuse of sexuality, and misuse of intoxicants. Each of these practices has great power. Imagine how our world would be transformed if even one of them was followed by all humans.

The second level of virtue is the deliberate cultivation of care. More than refraining from harm, we cultivate a reverence for life. More than refraining from stealing, we act with stewardship for things on earth. More than refraining from lying, we stand up for truth. More than refraining from the misuse of sexuality, we respect our intimate relations. More than refraining from the misuse of intoxicants, we cultivate wakefulness.

The third level of virtue is called natural virtue, the spontaneous integrity of the awakened heart. Natural virtue arises when we are free from self-interest, when we are free to love, Instead of relying on rules and practices, our benevolent actions come from an innate connection. We all instinctively recognize this level of virtue, when people are authentic, kind and unshakable in their integrity. We are inspired and moved. This is the highest level of psychological development. Gandhi, who exemplified inherent virtue for modern times, stated, “Let then our first act every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: I shall not fear anyone on earth. I shall fear only God. I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”

We can feel the increasing psychological health as virtue increases from non-harming to care, and then to the highest level of integrity.

This is a twenty-first principle of Buddhist psychology:
Virtue and integrity are necessary for genuine happiness. Guard you integrity with care.

The sources of integrity include two mental factors called inner and outer conscience. Inner conscience knows when our acts are harmful and recognizes that a lack of integrity will bring suffering for ourselves. Inner conscience knows that harmful acts will look wrong to others, and sees the collective suffering they can cause. Outer conscience seeks to act in ways respected by others and to avoid painful consequences for those around us. Both aspects of conscience grow from an open heart, the ability to feel the consequences of our acts. Without this connection we can cause great harm. Even sociopaths, who are diagnosed as being without a conscience often feel that something is missing, as if conscience is still there, behind the distant walls that have isolated their fears. Kornfield recently read about a serial killer who described himself as “the loneliest man in the world.”

Fortunately there is both redemption ad forgiveness in Buddhism. The following quote is from Meister Eckhart:
No one is forgotten. It is a lie, any talk of God
that does not comfort you.

Here is a twenty-second principle of Buddhist psychology:
Forgiveness is both necessary and possible, It is never too late to find forgiveness and start again.

The following practices are offered for forgiveness meditation:

Forgiveness Meditation
Let yourself sit (or recline) comfortably. Allow your eyes to close and your breath to be natural and easy. Let your body and mind relax. Breathing gently into an area of your heart, let yourself feel all the barriers you have erected and the emotions that you have carried because you’ve not forgiven—not forgiven yourself, not forgiven others. Let yourself feel the pain of keeping your heart closed. Then, breathing softly, begin asking and extending forgiveness, reciting the following words, letting the images and feeling that come up grown deeper as you repeat

Asking Forgiveness of Others
Recite: There are may ways that I have hurt and harmed others, betrayed or abandoned them, cause them suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger, and confusion. Let yourself remember and visualize the ways you have hurt others. See and feel the pain you have caused them out of your own fear and confusion, Feel your own sorrow and regrets Sense that finally you can release this burden and ask for forgiveness. Picture each memory that still burdens your heart. And then to each person in your mind repeat: I ask for your forgiveness, I ask for your forgiveness.

Offering Forgiveness to Yourself
Recite: There are may ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed and banned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly and unknowingly. Feel you own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: For the ways, I have hurt myself through actions or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.

Offering Forgiveness to Those Who have Hurt or Harmed you
Recite: There are many ways that you have been harmed by others, abused, or abandoned knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed. Let yourself picture and remember these many ways. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this past and sense that you can release this burden of pain by extending forgiveness whenever your heart is ready. Now say to yourself: I now remember the many ways others have hurt or harmed me, wounded me, out of fear, pain, confusion, and anger. I have carried this pain in my heart too long. To the extend that I am ready, I offer my forgiveness, I forgive you.

Let yourself gently repeat these three directions for forgiveness until you feel a release in your heart, For some great pains you may not feel a release but only the burden and the anguish or anger you have held. Touch this softly, Be forgiving of yourself for not being ready to let go and move on. Forgiveness cannot be forced; it cannot be artificial. Simply continue the practice and et the words and images work gradually their own way. In time you can make the forgiveness meditation a regular part of your life, letting go of the past and opening your heart to each new moment with a wise loving-kindness.

Concentration and the Mystical Dimensions of Mind

August 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. It begins with a quote from Majihima Nikaya:
It is through the cultivation of inner concentration that luminous purity of mind arises. It is through luminous purity that access to expanded states arises. It is from the profound concentration of samadhi that liberating insight is revealed.

Here is a twentieth principle of Buddhist psychology:
The power of concentration can be developed through inner training. Concentration opens consciousness to profound dimensions of healing and understanding.

Kornfield writes, “Learning to concentrate, though initially difficult, works. Gradually, through repeated focus on our subject over hours and days, the mind’s wandering diminishes. It settles down and steadies itself on the subject of meditation. This process of developing concentration is described by Buddhist texts as “purification.” The term is not a religious or moral one but rather describes an experience of release in body and mind. One practitioner I knew said it was as if he had been “inwardly pushed through the wash.” Because the process of purification is not understood in Western psychology, it is worth explaining more carefully.

Purification means the release of tension, conflict, distraction, sorrow, and anxiety. The easiest way to understand it is to try to hold your concentration unwavering for just ten minutes. Suppose you direct your attention to concentrate absolutely steadily on your breath or an inspiring image. Within the first minute most people will find their attention has wandered many times. By the second and third minute, more distractions and feelings will interrupt, then the body will become restless or ache, and at the end of ten minutes, they will be lucky if they stayed with their subject for 10 percent of the time.

As we try to concentrate in meditation, our thoughts, conflicts, plans, and unfinished emotional business will get in the way. Physical tension and restlessness, memories and fears, instincts and drives will repeatedly interrupt us. Purification comes from the deliberate release of each of these distractions until the mind settles down and becomes still, contented and unwavering, as we repeatedly release the succession of tensions and thoughts the body and mind we gradually feel clearer. The process of purification can go on for days and months. Success in concentration comes not through suppression but by acknowledging each distraction and each conflict mindfully—with attention but without attachment—and letting it go until it subsides or loses its sway over us.

Eventually, after thousands of repetitions, the mind and heart begin to feel purified, released from the grip of these distractions, almost unwavering on the meditation subject. With further concentration, the mind becomes so filled with the subject, so absorbed, that nothing can distract it. Once this happens, the inner experience become one of wholeness and steadiness, and an inner luminosity arises. Every contemplative tradition, from Christian to Taoist, describes the experience of this inner light. It is quite literal. When we have been through a process of purification and can concentrate steadily, the body, the mind, and the whole of space can appear as being filled with light. Buddhist psychology outlines twenty-five categories of inner light, from luminous clouds and fireflies, to dazzling light like the noonday sun. When this innate light arises there also comes rapture, happiness, expansion, and the ability to enter into the profound state of silence called jhana. These simple, dry, methodical practices are, paradoxically, a path to oceanic rapture and expansiveness. In this meditative way, we systematically open to the mystical dimensions of the mind.

Behaviorism with Heart

August 14, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle of this chapter is “Buddhist Cognitive Training.” It begins with the following quote from Buddha”
Whatever a person frequently thinks and reflects on, that will become the inclination of their mind.
Kornfield writes, “Buddhists were actually the first cognitive-behavior therapists. In its current Western form, cognitive-behavior therapy originated from the work of such figures as Albert Ellis, founder of rational emotive therapy, and psychiatrist Aaron Beck. Modern cognitive behavioral therapy rejected the psychoanalytic focus on family history and the unconscious. Instead it looks at what is happening in the here and now. The behaviorists believed that when we change behaviors, all else follows. Adding the cognitive element—the contents of our ongoing inner dialogue—provided another powerful tool for change.”

Kornfield continues, “…Buddhist training does more than offer purely rational replacement of inaccurate thought patterns. We could call the Buddhist approach “behaviorism with heart.” It enlists the power of a larger, benevolent intention. We begin by using mindfulness to identify the patterns of thought that lead to our suffering. These include thoughts of unworthiness, jealousy and hatred, revenge, anxiety, clinging, and greed. Then out of compassion we change what is in our minds. We transform our thoughts as a loving protection of ourselves and others.”

Here is a nineteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
What we repeatedly think shapes our world. Out of compassion, substitute healthy thoughts for unhealthy ones.

According to Kornfield the Dalai Lama has said that transforming thought is one of his favorite practices. He instructs, “Let yourself visualize the effects of unskillful thought patterns such as annoyance, anger, self judgment and so forth. Inwardly see how such thoughts affect you: the tension, the raising of your pulse rate, the discomfort. Outwardly see how such thoughts affect others who had them, making them upset, rigid, even ugly. Then make the compassionate determination, ‘I will never allow such states to make me lose my peace of mind.’”

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron tells of a student, a young woman, who wrote about her visit to the Middle East. One day she found herself surrounded by people jeering, yelling, and threatening to throw stones at her and her friends because they were Americans. Of course, she was terrified, and what happened next surprised her. Suddenly she identified with every person through history who had ever been scorned and hated. She understood what it was like to be despised, whether for one’s race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or gender. Something cracked wide open and she felt herself standing in the shoes of millions of oppressed people—including those who hated her. Somehow, by staying calm, and through simple, heartfelt gestures, the young woman and her friends managed to go their way unharmed. But her realization that day changed her entire way of thinking: Her deep-seated sense of separation opened up. She felt such a sense of connection, of belonging to the same family, that as she encountered others her thoughts were ones of concern, not fear. She had awakened true compassion for all life.

Here is a Practice for the Compassionate Replacement of Painful Thoughts:
If you are a person who has regular, repeated destructive thoughts, thoughts of self-judgment, criticism, shame, or unworthiness, work with the training for a week, or, even better, for a month.

First, become more carefully aware of the content and rhythm of the voices inside. What are their regular, unhealthy remarks and devastating comments? What do they sound like? What do they feel like? Begin to study how much pain they cause you. Feel how they take you over and how they hurt. When do they come out, most strongly, day or night? What situations provoke them? Social occasions, family time, partners, competitive situations, work, or leisure? Do they criticize your body, your mind, your actions, your whole being?

Notice the particular phrases and destructive, unhealthy perspective, the judgment, the shame, the self-denigration they engender.

Now, create a true antidote, a phrase or two or three, that completely transforms the falsehood of the unhealthy thoughts. Let the phrases be the healthiest words you can find, even if you don’t believe them at first. They can be as simple as “Life is precious” or “I will use this day well.” Or they can express the healthy opposite of thoughts of shame: “ I will live with nobility and dignity.” Or the opposite of anxiety: “I will live my life with trust.” If helpful, they can be based on the phrases from loving-kindness practice:

May I love myself just as I am.

May I sense my worthiness and well-being.

May I trust this world.

May I hold myself in compassion.

May I meet the suffering and ignorance of others with compassion.

Now begin to work for a week with the phrases you have chosen. Particularly pay attention to those situations that trigger painful patterns. Every time you notice the destructive, unhealthy thoughts, even if they have been playing for a while, use and feel the pain in them. Take a breath; hold your pain with kindness. Then inwardly recite your phrases, firmly, deliberately. Do this over and over. It does not matter if they sound false, if you don’t quite believe them. Say them anyway, out of compassion, as an antidote to your suffering. You may need to say them a thousand times times before you realize they are working. And they will.

Sacred Vision

August 13, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The chapter’s subtitle is “Imagination, Ritual, and Refuge.

The chapter asks what do images and other religious trappings have to do with Buddhist psychology? A great psychological truth is that our imagination works in symbols, like the images from our dreams. We use symbols all the time: in clothing, in gestures, in advertising, in the very letters of these words. Buddhist psychology uses these human images of Buddhas and saints and enlightened ancestors as symbolic doorways, to point to and evoke the qualities of love, dedication, inner beauty, and courage. Knowing the power of symbols, we can recognize them as outer forms that point to our inner world.

The chapter continues, “In Buddhist psychology, sacred images are used in specific ways. The statues and painted images of male and female Buddhas that grace temples and book covers worldwide actually represent a well-developed technology for changing consciousness. Imagine meditating on the most peaceful image of a Buddha you have ever seen. Imagine receiving this image from a teacher who embodies the benevolent qualities of a Buddha and reminds you that you can find these highest possibilities in yourself. Picture learning to visualize this beautiful Buddha so steadily and clearly that when you close your eyes, you can see every detail. Imagine spending some hours letting yourself actually feel the energy of calm, steadiness, and clarity depicted by this Buddha. Let these feelings touch your own heart. Now imagine a step further. Sense you can draw this Buddha inside, to fully enter and take over your own body and mind. Now you have become a Buddha. Sense how you would actually act as a Buddha in your very own life and how you would see the same Buddha nature in those around you. Finally dissolve the Buddha back into emptiness, acknowledging how the mind creates and un-creates all possibilities.

Kornfield writes, “Visualization is one of the most important transformational tools of Buddhist psychology. Western psychology also uses this tool, but Buddhist visualizations are more fully developed and sophisticated, and that almost every possible benevolent state of consciousness is evoked through these transformative practices. Sacred images portray the archetypical energy between the formless realm and the level of physical form. The intermediate dimension, called the sambogakaya, functions much like Jungian archetypes and Platonic ideals. Buddhist sacred ideals are timeless patterns through which specific worldly experience arise. These sacred forms have a power to touch the imagination and inspire all who contact, whether through seeing hearing, or visualizing.

In the first stages of visualization we learn to steady the mind and create and hold a visualization. This steadying process is often supported by the repetition of chants or mantras. When the initial visualization is stabilized, further symbols, often rich and quite complex, are pictured to evoke specific qualities of the awakened hear and mind. With training adapt meditators can hold in their mind complex mandalas with hundreds of figures. And, as modern brain scans have shown, this can be done for hours at a time, demonstrating capacities for focused attention far beyond any previously believed by Western neuroscience. Buddhist training employs thousands of visualization, each of which represent an aspect of compassion, courage, love, nobility, generosity, fierce honesty, and a myriad of other potentials. As these can be created and dissolved inside ourselves time and time again, we can learn to embody the states they represent. “

Kornfield writes, just as we can be transformed by visualization, we can be transformed by the power of ritual. Ritual is one of the oldest human languages, perhaps the most universal. The word ritual comes from the Latin ritus, “to fit together. Ritual weaves us together with the larger meaning and fabric of the cosmos.

We each need to find our sense of purpose, to orient and support ourselves amidst the fragmented pulls of our busy modern life. Buddhist psychology’s response to this need is to offer the practice of taking refuge. Since the first days of the Buddha’s teaching, if someone wanted to become a follower of the path, all that person had to do was recite, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the dharma [the teachings], I take refuge in the sangha [the community of practitioners].” There is nothing to join, nothing to become—simply this turning of the heart.

Traditionally, there are three levels of Buddhist refuge: outer, inner, and innermost. On the outer level, we take refuge in the historical Buddha, a remarkably wise human being who pointed the way to inner freedom. We take refuge in the dharma, the teachings of generosity, compassion, and wisdom that bring freedom. And we take refuge in the sangha, in the Buddhist community of awakened beings. This outer refuge connects us to a tradition of to millions of followers of the Buddha’s path. Taking the inner refuge in the Buddha, we shift from the historical Buddha to the Buddha nature of all beings.

Last we come to the innermost refuge. Here we take refuge in timeless conscious and freedom. When we take refuge in the innermost dharma, we rest in the eternal freedom.

Here is an eighteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
What we repeatedly visualize changes in our body and consciousness. Visualize freedom and compassion.

The following visualization practice is offered:

To work with a sacred image, choose a figure from any period of history or spiritual tradition who particularly speaks to your heart. It can help to have a clear, beautiful picture that you can place in front of you while meditating. Rest your gaze softly on it, drinking in the image and feelings it embodies. Open and close your eyes gently and try repeatedly to see the vision inside, Start with whatever you can easily, and when your attention drifts away,simply return your focus to this initial image. You may spend weeks learning to see this image. As you continue you can learn to visualize more steadily and accurately, with great detail. Once you begin to see the sacred image steadily, visualize this figure as filled with radiant light, and let all the light, love, and illuminati pour from the figure into you. Already you will feel better.

Now take the next step. Imagine that whomever you visualize can come inside your own body and mind, Release you personality and let this being enter into your heart and fill you completely with its compassion, courage, purity, and luminous radiance. Feel what it is like to inwardly become this being.

Dwell in the state for a period of time. Recognize that you can embody this energy, that you can allow it to fill every cell in your being, every corner of your consciousness. See the world with the eyes of this wise and gracious being; sense that you are holy. Practice this repeatedly until it becomes more natural to your heart than your “ordinary” identity/

And then, at the end of each period of visualization, release the image from your body, see it in front of you again, and then dissolve it into emptiness. Notice how consciousness itself creates and erases all appearances. Return and rest in pure awareness, allowing the natural world of your own body and mind to reappear, still secretly infused with the sacred consciousness of this vision.

The Compassion of the Heart

August 12, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle is “Intention and Karma.” Karma describes the law of cause and effect: what we sow, we reap. Karma is the result of our intention. Intention and motivation, the roots of Karma, are absolutely central to Buddhist psychology. In leading the Tibetan people over years of exile and political struggle, the Dalai Lama says that while he may make mistakes, the one thing he can rely on is his sincere motivation. The most effective way to direct our karma is to clarify your motivation and set an intention.

When our intention is to live with nobility, respect, and compassion, and we act from these intentions, we shape a positive future. When our motivation is rooted in anger, unworthiness, grasping, self-judgment, fear, and depression, and we act from the intentions, we perpetuate these painful patterns.

A seventeenth principle of Buddhist psychology follows:
Be mindful in intention. Intention is the seed that creates our future.

Kornfield writes, “A good way to begin to understand karma is by observing our habit patterns. When we look at habit and conditioning, we can sense how our brain and consciousness create repeated patterns. If we practice tennis enough, we will anticipate our next hit as soon as the ball leaves the other player’s racquet. If we practice being angry, the slightest insult will trigger our rage. These patterns are like a rewritable CD. When they are burned in repeatedly, the pattern becomes the regular response. Modern neuroscience has demonstrated this quite convincingly. Our repeated patterns of thought and action actually change our nervous system. Each time we focus our attention and follow our intentions, our nerves fire, synapses connect, and those neural patterns are strengthened. The neurons literally grow along that direction.

Thomas Merton advised a young activist, “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” By aligning our dedication with our highest intention, we chart the course of our whole being. Then no matter how hard the voyage and how big the setbacks, we know where we are headed.

Kornfield writes, “planting seeds for the long term is one important way to direct our lives. But we also have to understand how karma and intention operate behind the smallest of our actions. This is the moment-to-moment karma. In the monasteries of Thailand and Burma we were trained to analyzed the microscopic steps of experience and discover how we responded to them. Developing strong concentration, we were able to cultivate extraordinarily keen powers of observation. As our minds became focused, we could sense the subtlest impression of sound or thought when they first arose, and clearly observe the rapid moment-to-moment sequence of feeling, recognition, and response. Neuroscientists from Harvard University have verified that advance meditators can perceive events more rapidly and subtle than has ever before been measured in humans. Using such minute observation, the ancient Buddhist psychologists discovered that each experience of perception contains seventeen microscope mind moments. These moments were further divided into two phases, each of which takes place in a fraction of a second.

The first phase, in which we receive experience, is the result of past karma. In this phase, perception begins by waking the underlying stream of consciousness as if with a knock at the door, As a result, consciousness turns toward the sense door and begins to feel, investigate, and recognize the experience. All these receiving moments are conditioned by the past.

The second phase of perception includes the micro moments of response, which are colored by our current mental states, whether fear or mindfulness, aversion or love. Whatever response occurs is then registered in storehouse consciousness, as a pattern or a seed. In this second phase, we create new karma.

This momentary process can be translated into practical use for wise living. Here is the basic psychological law: What is past is over. It cannot be changed. We will inevitably receive the result of our past intentions and actions. Our freedom lies in how we respond to these results, Our response creates new karma, new patterns that will eventually bear fruit. By creating a healthier future we can redeem the past.

The following practice is offered of meeting difficulty with wise intention
Pick a situation of difficulty or conflict with others. Reflect on your last encounters and on the motivation from which you operated. How did this work? Now imagine you can bring the highest possible intentions to your next encounter. Take a moment to reflect. What would they be? Notice if they contain the elements of compassion for others and for yourself. Notice if they are wise and courageous.

Picture reentering the difficult situation while staying true to these highest intentions. Finally, go and practice. Remember, you may lose track of these intentions. With practice they will become steady and strong.

From Delusion to Wisdom

August 10, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle is Awakening from the Dream.

The chapter begins with two quotes:
Delusion has the characteristic of blindness, of not penetrating reality, of covering the true nature of experience, of fostering unwise attention, of causing deluded action.
—Visuddhimagga

Hey there. You’ve been asleep for a long time.
Isn’t it time to awaken?
—Sign on the entry path to Ajahn Chah’s monastery.

Here is a fifteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Delusion misunderstands the world and forgets who we are. Delusion gives rise to all unhealthy states. Free yourself from delusion and see with wisdom.

The first level of delusion is inattention.

Kornfield writes, “With delusion we live our lives on automatic pilot. We walk down the street and return home without registering were we are and what is happening. On stormy days we miss the scudding clouds the splash of rain at our feet, and the glow of windows at twilight. We miss the spark in the air on a sunny spring morning. We even miss the faces of our loved ones when we arrive home.

Whole periods of our lives disappear in the trance of delusion. We live in a culture of chronic inattention fed by the frenzied pace of modern life. Our schools and workplaces push us to multitask, and our fragmented attention becomes cursory, shallow. Surrounded by stimulation, we become bored and restless, prone to addictions of all kinds. As author Anne Wilson Schaef points out, ‘It is in the interests of consumer society to promote these things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. Unfortunately, what is commonly accepted by Western psychology as ‘normal’ can actually mean we are functioning at a significant level of delusion even when we outwardly appear successful, possess everything that money can buy, while experiencing an utter lack of inner peace.

Mindfulness training wakes us up from the trance of delusion. Mindfulness shifts us out of fantasy into seeing clearly. Without mindfulness, the deluded mind habitually grasps pleasant experience and rejects unpleasant ones. Harder to see, delusion ignores neutral experience. When things are neutral, we get bored and spaced out because we are so culturally conditioned to seek high levels of stimulation. So we miss the aliveness behind the neutral experience that make up much of our day. And yet when your attention grows, what gems neutral or dull becomes full with an unseen richness.

A second form of delusion is the delusion of denial that is deeper than inattention. Denial arises when we don’t believe what is actually in front of our eyes. On a personal level, we can deny problems at work, difficulties in our marriage, depression or addiction, as if denial will make them go away. With denial, we can start a love affair and actually believe that the romantic intoxication will last forever. We can think that the stock market will only go up and never go down.

Denial can also function collectively. Buddhist psychology describes how whole societies can be manipulated into violent upheaval by ignorance, racism, and fear mongering. The consumer advertising and television propaganda around us can deliberately foster anxiety and reinforce our political and economic delusions. Collective delusions can operate for years before we awaken to the cost, asking ourselves why thousand of people lost their lives or billions of dollars were spent in the name of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Kornfeld writes, “Sometimes we can cling to delusions even in the face of obvious danger. I like the story about a man who is driving down the highway when he hears a safety alert on the the radio: ‘Anyone driving north on Interstate 187 should use great caution! There is a car origin on the wrong side of the divided highway.’ The man glares through his windshield and mutters, ‘There’s not just one car driving the wrong way. There are hundreds of them’”

A third form of delusion is the misperception of reality. This is the deepest level of delusion. The author writes, “This level is the hardest to face because it threatens some of our most cherished assumptions. In a fundamental way, we are deluded about happiness, permanence, the nature of who we think we are. First, let’s take our ideas about happiness. We all understand how outer comforts can bring pleasure, ease, security. ‘Were these experiences not pleasant,’ says the Buddha, ‘we would not become entangled.’ And while we may well enjoy these forms of happiness, they are incomplete. A wise part of us knows the they alone do not bring fulfillment. Buddhist psychology encourages us to investigate the delusion of happiness.

Some of the richest and most privileged humans experience intractable suffering and heartbreak, while villagers who live in extremely poor conditions can be astonishingly happy. Happiness is within us. Studies of winners of state lotteries show that after receiving the money, the winners’ happiness increases for about two years and then it usually returns to its original level. If we were already quite happy, we return to that state. If we were depressed, fearful, or miserable, even after winning millions in the latter we will likely return to that state as well. Even more surprising is the research on those who become paralyzed, one of the worst fears many can imagine. After a few years paraplegics and quadriplegics also return to their normal state of happiness.

Prajnaparamita writes, How amazing. All living beings have the Buddha nature of awakening and freedom, yet they do not realize this.
Unknowingly they wander on the oceans of suffering for lifetimes. It is time to realize your own Buddha nature.

Beyond Hatred to a Non-Contentious Heart

August 9, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The chapter begins with two quotes:

There is pleasure and pain, gain and loss, slander and honor, praise and blame. The
Awakened Ones are not controlled by the external things. They will cease as quickly
as they arise.
If others speak against you, do not be angry for that will prevent your inner freedom.
Learn to bear their harsh words patiently until they cease. Similarly if the praise you
Find out what is false or true and acknowledge the facts.
__Digha Nikaya and the Dhammapada

Those who have hate will experience the pain and grief born of hate. Anger and
revenge, domineering and scolding, obstinacy and contempt are not the way. Train yourself to abandon them all.
__Majhima Nilaya

Here is a fourteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
If we cling to anger or hatred, we will suffer. It is possible to respond strongly, wisely, and compassionately, without hatred.

Kornfield writes, The Buddha declares, “Enraged with hate, with mind ensnared, humans aim at their own ruin and at the ruin of others.” How do we break this tragic legacy—both in our own lives and in every blood-soaked corner of he globe? Only through deep understanding of anger, hatred, and aggression. They are universal energies, archetypical forces the cause immense suffering in the world. Their source must be traced to the depths of our human hearts. And then we will discover an amazing truth: that with compassion, with courage and dedicated effort, we, like, the Buddha, can meet the aggressive forces of Mara, the Indian god of delusion and evil, and these energies can be transformed.

Continuing, but the fact that aggression, anger, aversion are built into our universal heritage is only the starting point in Buddhist psychology. After we learn how to face them directly, to see how they arise and function in our life, we must take a revolutionary step. Through the profound practice of insight, through nonidentification and compassion, we reach below the very synapses and cells and free ourselves from the grasp of these instinctive forces. With dedication we discover it is possible to do so.

To summarize, there can be two reactions to a painful or threatening experience:

UNHEALTHY REACTION
AVERSION
all forms of resisting experience
Anger
Hatred
Aggression
Fear Judgement
Blame

or HEALTHY RESPONSE
NON-CONTENTION:
freedom and clarity with experience
Mindfulness
Connectedness
Compassion
Concern
Strength
Fearlessness

The following practice is for discovering the pain and fear behind anger.
Begin to notice mindfully how often states of anger arise in your life. Notice how anger can come in many forms: the critic, the self-righteous victim, the reactive controller, the judge, the know-it-all. Sense how anger affects the various parts of your body. Take your time and really feel it. Then notice the waves of other emotions such as aggression, vindictiveness, anxiety, and excitement, that come along with anger. Stay mindful. Next become aware of all stories it tells, the self-justifying beliefs and views that support it. Notice how easy it is to be attached, to identify with all of these experiences.

Now you are ready to notice what is behind the anger. Sense the movement to strike out, to blame. And then ask yourself what is the hurt or fear that might be giving rise to this anger. Look honestly at how you feel hurt and pained, what you are afraid might happen. Acknowledge this deep level of vulnerability as a part of the whole situation. Now imagine how you might communicate about your fear and hurt rather than blame. Let your heart teach you. You can speak and respond to the problem in a way that respects yourself and others. Let this become a regular practice as you work with anger.

The Transformation of Desire Into Abundance

August 8, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. It begins with two quotes:

Majihima Nikaya:
Most people fail to see reality because of wanting. They are attached; they cling to material objects, to pleasures, to the things of this world. This very clinging is the source of suffering.

The Lotus Sutra:
You, the richest person in the world, have been laboring and struggling endlessly, not understanding that you already possess all that you seek.

Here is a thirteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
There are both healthy desires and unhealthy desires. Know the difference. Then find freedom in their midst.

This all begins with THE WILL TO DO, which is a neutral mental state, an expression of life energy that arises with all activity. This will impacts both
UNHEALTHY DESIRE that Creates suffering based on greed and ignorance, which gives rise to possessiveness, fear, avarice, clinging.
and
HEALTHY DESIRE that creates happiness based on wisdom and compassion and gives rise to care, stewardship, generosity, integrity, spiritual growth
which leads to
FREEDOM AND ABUNDANCE BEYOND DESIRE, that bring playfulness and ease into the world of desire.

Kornfield writes, “Beginning meditators are shocked by the number of desires that can arise in one sitting. There are desires for a quiet mind, for our back pain to go away, for the bell that ends the sitting to ring. In between these desires are hundreds of other desires: hoping for a tasty lunch, for a phone call to our loved one, for a nap, for the rain to stop so we can go for a walk, for the sun’s warmth, for success when we go back to work.

With mindfulness we can witness the arising and passing of desires. We can look the body sensation, the feeling states, and the stories of desire to be graciously received with judgment. When desire is met mindfully, the energy of desire will often intensify for a time and try to overcome it. If we don’t rush to fulfill the desire, but simply stay present, the discomfort will eventually pass. Then we can notice what follows: usually a sense of ease, a peacefulness in the body and mind, until desire arises once more a short time later. We can see this when we feel restless or uncomfortable toward the end of a meditation. We feel the desire to move, accompanied by bodily tension and frustration. Fervently we hope the bell will ring (to end the meditation session). Then, as soon as it does, without our making a single movement, a dramatic change comes over us. The body relaxes and the tension disappears. The state of struggle is replaced by ease. Why is this so, since we have not done anything different? It’s simple, with the ringing of the bell, he desire has ended, and without desire, the mind and heart are at peace.”

The following Generosity Practice is offered:

Life is giving to life every moment of the day. Take several days to pay attention to this movement of endless generosity.

As you go about your daily rounds, first notice the gifts of the natural world. Notice the way the gift of sunlight streams behind everything. It feeds the plants we eat and gives us the oil from ancient forests that fuels our cars and lights our lamps at night. Notice too the rainfall and the rivers, the water that fixes itself to the blood in your veins, to the neighborhood insects and trees, to the interdependent collaborative in which we swim. Now notice how generously you are held and supported by the earth under your home and your feet, by the air you breathe, by warmth of the day and the coolness of the evening.

Now look at the unending care and generosity of humans around you: parents and children, teachers with students, healers and businesspeople, all serving one another. People stop at red lights so you are safe to go. They line up in the market, they share the parks, they operate in a thousand ways at the office. The shopkeeper and the mechanic, the bank teller and the cook, the healer and the engineer give themselves to their work, supporting others with countless hours of unspoken generosity and love. Of course there are also times of resentment and being overwhelmed, when people are disgruntled and disaffected. But most of the time, the people around you are giving: in conversation, in action, adding the generosity of their life energy to the flow of the whole. Spend a day or a week just noticing, naming, bowing to this stream of generosity everywhere.

Now you can deliberately choose to add to this stream of generosity, not as an obligation but as a way to be happy. Like all human beings, you already give in a myriad of ways. Delight in whatever you do. And discover you can let it grow. Try this practice: whenever a thought of giving enters your mind, do it. Whether it is a gift of money, time, helping care, or offering a possession, if you think of a generous act follow it. Sometimes we worry that we will regret our generous acts, we second-guess ourselves, and bit of doubt comes in. Don’t follow them. Instead look for any spontaneous thoughts of generosity and follow them. You will find that they inevitably make you happy. Try it.

Buddhist Personality Types

August 7, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART.

Here is a twelfth principle of Buddhist psychology:

The unhealthy patterns of our personality can be recognized and transformed into a healthy expression of our natural temperament.

Kornfield writes, “Psychology East and West acknowledges that children come into the world with distinct temperaments and styles.. Buddhist Psychology describes these as karmic tendencies. Western psychology might call this our genetic inheritance. But this is only one part of our personality. Later, our innate temperaments are shaped by conditioning from parents and environment. Through the interaction of inheritance and conditioning, nature and nurture, our personality is formed.

Buddhists break down personality types into three root temperaments: grasping, aversive, and deluded.

“The grasping or greed temperament is constructed around desire. It is experienced as a sense of seeking, of wanting more, and of addiction. It grasps after comfort and avoids disharmony in all situations. It desired fulfillment through pleasures finding what it likes in the world of the senses. From liking, it can move quickly to craving, passion, and sensuality. Out of the roots of grasping there arise associated states of vanity, willfulness, pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, avarice, deceit and addiction. The grasping temperament is associated with an even balance of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.”

“The aversive temperament is constructed around judgment and rejection of experience. It has a disaffected quality that easily sees faults, and for this temperament, problems are apparent everywhere. It is critical, quickly displeased, quarrelsome, and disparaging of many things. Its quality of aversion can give rise to states of anger, vindictiveness, haughtiness, hatred, cruelty, aggression, and the struggle to control. There is a tight-fisted and rigid quality to this temperament. It is associated with the elements of fire and wind.”

“The deluded or confused temperament is constructed around uncertainty and confusion, People with this temperament experience not quite knowing what to do or how to relate to the world. They seek to establish ease by ignoring what is happening or through dullness or inaction. The deluded temperament gives rise to perplexity and worry, doubt, negligence, scattered thoughts, anxiety, and agitation. It is associated with the heaviness of earth and the movement of water.

Kornfield writes of the alchemy of transformation quoting the founder of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier who said, “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” He could have been speaking of the heart and mind as easily as of chemical reactions. Transformation is possible, It is not the exception, it is the rule.

He writes, “ We can learn to transform the unhealthy states of our personality. They are not who we really are. While our problems don’t stop when we recognize and do not identify with them, we are no longer reactive and stuck. Their liberated energy brings us more fully alive.”

The grasping temperament, when transformed, gives rise to beauty and abundance. We take whatever situation we find ourselves in and bring beauty to it. We highlight the goodness and generosity of the people around us and we make our home and community places of harmony. As a greed type, I pay attention to the aesthetics of stone walls, cushions, and artwork to make it a beautiful place for practice. I also work to mentor and admire the people around me. I trust the benefits of a gracious workplace. I think of a fellow greed type, a physician who tells me how his whole surgical team performs better when he plays beautiful music in the operating room. In this way, our habitual tendencies can become gifts to those around us.

The aversive temperament, when transformed, gives rise to discriminating wisdom, non-contentiousness, and loving-kindness. Anger can be transformed into strength and clarity that unite the opposites. Some of the most important ideas come from the caring dissatisfaction of our aversive types. They don’t want to put up with mediocrity or lack of integrity, so they speak the truth about our problems and catalyze group energy. They are not afraid of difficulties; they know the value of working creatively with conflicts. As poet and businessman James Autry explains, “If you think managing conflict and diversity are problematic, then you haven’t thought through the problems of managing sameness. I’d far rather be faced with trying to achieve harmony and goodwill among people who are at one another’s throats than try to squeeze an ounce of innovation or creativity or risk out of a group full of photocopies of each other.”

When transformed, the deluded temperament gives rise to spaciousness equanimity, and understanding, called the wisdom of great questioning. The confused types contribute an innocence and beginner’s mind. They ask, “How does it feel to come to a meditation when you don’t know anything about meditation? Will you understand what’s going on? Will you feel safe? Why are we doing what we do—is it just from habit?” A Sufi story tells us, “A man who had studied much in the schools of wisdom finally died in the fullness of time and found himself at the Gates of Eternity. An angel of light approached him and said, ‘Go no further, O mortal, until you have proven to me your worthiness to enter in to Paradise? But the man answered, ‘Just a minute now—first of all, can you prove to me this is the real Heaven and not just the wishful fantasy of my disordered mind undergoing death: Before the angel could reply, a voice from inside the gates shouted, ‘Let him in—he is one of us!’”

The Ancient Unconscious

August 6, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. We need to consider both the individual unconscious and storehouse consciousness.

The individual unconscious contains memories, images, and beliefs about the nature of the world and ourselves. It also contains impulses such as fears, aggression, desires, insecurities, protectiveness, altruism, love, courage, and wisdom.

Kornfield writes, “The patterns of perception held by the individual unconscious are called sankharas. These stored patterns are like seeds, the results of past actions and perception. Every experience we have leaves an imprint, and this impression is stored as a seed until proper conditions arise for it to reemerge. These seeds hold the potential for the future. The more often we repeat a pattern, the stronger the seed. Even if we seem to forget an incident, its seeds and impressions remain in the unconscious and can reemerge to affect the press and shape future perceptions and events.

Storehouse consciousness is a term used in Buddhist psychology to describe the oceanic dimension of the unconscious where all memory, history, and potential are contained. Storehouse consciousness has both individual and universal dimensions. In the individual dimension, storehouse consciousness holds the patterns, the sankharas, of each person’s past. In the universal dimension it is a shared reservoir of collective memories, images, and desires. Carl Jung explored some aspects of storehouse conscious, using the term collective unconscious. More recently, neuroscientist Karl Pribram and physicist David Bohm compared consciousness to a hologram where the smallest part contains the information of the whole. The holographic record is the interpretation of the individual and universal aspects of store consciousness. Yogis, mystics, shamans of all cultures have explored and described this dimension of human experience.

In meditation, students experience the interplay of individual and universal unconscious. Practitioners may initially notice the spontaneous emergence of old memories, forgotten scenes from childhood, previously unrecognized impulses and feelings. Often meditators will first enter a hypnogogic, half-asleep state and experience dream-time images filled with jumbled scenes with unknown people, foreign objects, and strange places. Sometimes these coalesce into long, dream-like story lines that unfold in whole dramas.

As meditation deepens, unconscious patterns held in the body and mind can arise. We can become aware of past history, of beliefs and images that were previously unconscious. Then we can find ourselves confronted with powerful feelings of greed, rage, fear, or grief far beyond anything we have ever known or acknowledged, Sometimes they are connected with our personal history, and sometimes they arise as the more universal dimension of storehouse consciousness. When storehouse consciousness opens, we can spontaneously experience what Buddhist psychology calls the many planes of existence. These range from heavenly realms to animal realms to painful realms to woe. In the consciousness of the heavenly realms we may experience spontaneous uprising of sacred and religious imagery from any tradition or encounter a dozen forms of celestial pleasures. There are temples, saints, angels devas, and the sounds of choirs. Kornfield has spent joyful hours listening to what seemed like celestial music sung by luminous beings, and seen a hundred forms of sacred groves and temples. At other times when the realm of animals arose, he actually felt himself as a salmon, a crow, or an ant.

Here is an eleventh principle of Buddhist psychology:
There is a personal and a universal unconscious. Turning awareness to the unconscious brings understanding and freedom.

The following is from The Buddha in the Maijhima Nikaya:
When my concentrated mind was thus purified, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed my mind to the knowledge of recollection of past life. I recollected my manifold past life, that is to say, one birth, five births, ten, twenty fifty births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births.

Kornfield writes, …”the Buddha did teach about past lives on many occasions. This teaching serves two important psychological functions. When the circumstances of suffering and pleasure in our life are attributed to our past lives and past deeds, anxiety about a capricious, chaotic fate is eased. This perspective can bring acceptance, ease, detachment, and grace in facing life’s difficulties. The second function of teachings about rebirth is to bring about greater care. We become careful with our actions out of concern for the results they may produce in future rebirths.

Past-life memories can be accessed through deliberate training, such as that outlined in meditation texts such as the Path of Purification. These texts are available on Amazon. HM purchased a text for his iPad.

And just as in today’s psychiatry, dreams and the unconscious are given attention.

The Storytelling Mind

August 5, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. Kornfield begins, “The first step for us in working with the storytelling mind is to notice the endless stream of thoughts and commentary that plays along with our experience. Almost everyone who sits down to meditate is startled by this process. Even though we try to focus our attention on our breath or body or a prayer, we are interrupted by a torrent of ideas, memories, plans. This is a key insight called ‘seeing the waterfall.’ One Buddhist meditation teacher says that the average person has seventeen thousand thoughts a day.

Just as the salivary glands secrete saliva, the mind secretes thoughts. The thoughts think themselves. This thought production is not bad: it’s simply what minds do. A cartoon I once saw depicts a car on a long desert highway. A roadside sign warns, ‘Your own tedious thoughts next 200 miles.’ Buddhist psychology directs us to investigate both the content of those thoughts and the process of thinking itself.

Here is a tenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Thoughts are often one-sided and untrue. Learn to be mindful of thought instead of being lost in it.

Kornfield relates this story of Aaron who was born in Poland during World War II and he and his family had experienced bombings, deprivation, and refugee camps. Aaron remembered being a young boy whose image of religions and spirituality was a simple one, right out of the Bible. God was a powerful bearded man in the sky judging who was righteous and who was not. But it was this same God who had allowed the war, the killing, the devastation and the loss. Aaron had long concluded that God himself was untrustworthy. And in spite of his doctoral degree and years of psychotherapy this belief remained submerged in his mind, as powerful as ever.

Aaron laughed as he recognized these unconscious fears of religion. The old image of God began to dissolve even as he acknowledged it. But what would happen without this thought? I encouraged him to stay open. The next day he came in with arms outspread, saying, “Now I understand. This is God! The whole world of plants, animals, and humans—everything that is holy, and I am in its midst.” He had found the sacred in life, here, now. There is a term for what Aaron experienced, pantheism.

Kornfield notes that it is a great relief to discover that our stories do not fully define who we are or what is happening to us and tell the following event: One practitioner was on a summer retreat at a camp in the redwoods, She awoke in the middle of the night startled, heart pounding, because she heard a loud growl just outside. She was sure it was a bear close by, perhaps dangerous. Turning on a small flashlight, she looked around and waited fearfully for the unknown growler to make another noise. At first it was quiet. Then after a minute had passed, her stomach let out a loud grown. She realized the the bean soup from dinner was having its way with her digestive tract! The loud growl was herself.
Kornfield writes, “The key to wise thought is to sense the energy state behind the thought. If we pay attention, we will notice that certain thoughts are produced by fear and the small sense of self. With them will be clinging, rigidity, unworthiness, defensiveness, aggression, or anxiety. We can sense their effect on the heart and the body. When we notice this suffering we can relax, breathe, loosen the identification. With this awareness the mind will become more open and malleable. With this pause we return to our Buddha nature. Now we can think, imagine, and plan, but from a state of ease and benevolence. It’s that simple.

The following practice is offered regarding one-sided thoughts:
Choose an important area of your life where you have difficulty, or conflict. Bring to the mind the key beliefs, the thoughts you hold about the situation, the people, the institution, the circumstance: “They are…,”I am…,”It is…,” and so on. After you have brought the beliefs to mind, question them. Are they completely true? Are they one-sided? Who made up this story? What if some of the opposite was also true? What is your experience if you let these thoughts and beliefs go? Try letting them go, and rest in not knowing, or rest in loving-kindness. How does this affect your body and your mind? How does this affect the situation? How is it to live not so caught up in your own thoughts?

The River of Feelings

August 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The following is a statement by former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
At the Supreme Court level were we work, 90 percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.

Kornfield writes, “Buddhist psychology helps us distinguish two critical aspects of feelings. The first and most essential quality is called the primary feeling. According to this perspective, every moment of our sense experience has a feeling tone. Like valence in chemistry, each sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, or thought will have either a pleasant, painful, or neutral quality. Modern neuroscience confirms that everything that registers in the brain is assigned either a negative, positive, or neutral valence. The primary feeling tone comes first, Then, born out of this simple feeling tone, there arises a whole array of secondary feelings, all the emotions we are familiar with, from joy and anger to fear and delight.

‘Working with the primary feelings is a direct route to enlightenment,’ explained one of my Burmese teachers. The stream of primary feelings is always with us, but we often have the mistaken notion that life is not supposed to be this way. We secretly believe that if we can act just right, then our stream of feelings will always be pleasant and there will be no pain, no loss.

So when a painful experience arises we often try to get rid of it, and when a pleasant experience arises we try to grasp it. When a neutral experience arises we tend to ignore it. We’re always wanting the right (pleasant) feelings and trying to avoid the wrong (painful) ones. And when they are unpleasant we react endlessly, struggling to get it right.

As we become wiser we realize that fixing the flow of feelings doesn’t work. Primary feelings are simply feelings, and every day consists of thousands of pleasant, painful, and neutral moments, for you Condoleezza Rice, the Dalai Lama, MIck Jagger, and the Buddha alike. These feelings are not wrong or bad. They are the stream of life. Sylvia Boorstein, my colleague, writes, ‘What a relief it was for me to go to my first meditation retreat and hear people who seemed quite happy speak the truth so clearly—the First Noble Truth that Life is difficult and painful, just by its nature, not because we’re doing it wrong.’”

Here is the ninth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Wisdom knows what feelings are present without being lost in them.

The following is a statement from Pema Chodron:
It’s very helpful that the emotions we have, the negativity and the positivity, are exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive.

Kornfield writes, “How do we work with our emotions from the perspective of Buddhist psychology? The mindfulness training of RAIN—recognition, acceptance, investigation, and non-identification—provides the basic alphabet of working with emotion. As we have seen, we have to first recognize what is present. How do our emotions manifest in our body? What do they feel like in the mind? When we feel caught by our experience, recognition of emotion is a critical first step. Are we confused, sad, angry, fearful, attached, or hopeful? Emotions can cluster together, so careful recognition may notice several at once. Often grief is present with our anger. There can be relief and happiness that come with letting go. Recognition requires a systematic and careful attention.”

The following practice is offered as a meditation on grief:

We can meditate alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. When you are ready, begin by sensing your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you. Take one hand and hold it gently on your heart as if you were holding a vulnerable human being. You are.

As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings come naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.

Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there—pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow—come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story to unwind. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others.

The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let go into the heart of compassion; you can weep.

Releasing the grief we carry is long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.

The Precious Human Body

August 3, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The author begins:

“One of the magical experiences in Buddhist training is our growing ability to quiet the mind and sense the body and the world anew. Zen poets celebrate the crunch of snow on the winter path, spring blossoms covering their robes, wind among the pines, walking wet in the autumn mist, listening to the laughter of children. In the forest monasteries of Asia and on retreat in America practitioners eat unhurriedly in silence. With mindfulness we truly taste the pear, the cheddar, the orange, and the warm bread. We learn to walk unhurriedly again and notice the touch of breeze on our skin, the sound of birds, the rhythmic swinging of our gait, the ground beneath our feet. Like the solitary prisoner who after long months of aloneness has learned to savor the presence of a visiting ant, the smaller details of life appear vibrant and delightful.”

Continuing, “And now, in its own way, we can see how technological society ignores the wisdom of the body. In modern life the body becomes a machine for living, the subject of managed care, of steroids and plastic surgery. Our flesh is mortified in new forms as we sit in traffic jams, work in cramped cubicles and at school desks under artificial light, and distract ourselves with fast food and video games. Too many of our children are raised by TV instead of by the communal holding and storytelling that was our human heritage for thousands of years. Unfortunately, when we ignore the body, it makes itself known through the medium of various symptoms. Without a healthy physical connection we experience loss of vitality, chronic pain, and stress-related diseases. We suffer from ulcers and colitis, high blood pressure and strokes. We experience anorexia and obesity, depression and anxiety, road rage and addiction. Too many of us are lost like James Joyce’s character Mr. Duffy, who “lived a short distance from his body.” In New York, the Associated Press reported that the well-dressed body of a forty-one-year-old man who had died during the morning commute had ridden the crowded subways for a whole day before anyone noticed.

In the Buddhist way of understanding, our human body is considered exceedingly precious because it provides the necessary conditions to realize freedom and true happiness. We begin with systematic training of mindfulness of the body. In sitting and walking, in eating and moving, we cultivate mindfulness. We develop the ability to come into the life of the body. We notice suffering or well-being arising in our body. We discover how our body responds when our mind is clear or confused, when out heart is open or closed. We learn to hold the mystery of bodily life with respect.”

Here is the eighth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Mindfulness of the body allows us to live fully. It brings healing, wisdom, and freedom.

The story of Don follows. Don was a 41 year old man with metastatic brain cancer whose doctor had given up after treating him without success. The swelling of his head from the tumors was visible and it appeared that he had only a short while to live. The author took him for a special interview with Taungpulu Sayadaw, expecting the master to give him the practices for conscious death that Buddhist tradition believes to be important. But that was not his response at all

Taugpulu listed to Don’s history and then placed his hands on the tumors to offer direct healing. He stated that human birth is precious and that Don must do everything he could to heal himself. The two chanted for a time to create special healing water for Don to drink and then give him sacred prayers to recite and extensive healing visualizations. “You must try to heal yourself and live as long as possible because this human body is the most valuable source of spiritual learning of all forms of birth. Drink this water and practice these meditations and heal with your whole heart. And then only if this fails and you know you are dying is it time to switch to the death practices. Don’t die yet.” Although Don did not heal completely with Taungpulu’s encouragement he lived for years longer than the doctors predicted.

The following practice of walking meditation is offered:
Select a quiet place where you can walk comfortably back and forth, indoors or out, about ten to thirty places in length. Begin by standing at one end of the”walking path.” with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Let your hands rest easily wherever they are comfortable. Take a few deep breaths and then open you senses to see and feel the whole surroundings. After a minute, bring your attention back to focus on the body. Center yourself and feel how your body is standing on the earth. Feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet and the other natural sensations of standing. Let yourself be present and alert.

Begin to walk a bit more slowly than usual. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease and dignity. Relax and let your walking be gracious and natural, as if you were a king or queen out for a royal stroll. Pay attention to your body, With each step feel the sensations of lifting your foot and leg off the earth. Then mindfully place your foot back down. Feel each step fully as you walk. When you reach the end of your path pause for a moment. Center yourself, carefully turn around, and pause again so that you can be aware of the first step as you walk back. You can experiment with the speed, walking at whatever pace keeps you most present.

Continue to walk back and forth with mindfulness for ten or twenty minutes or longer. As with the breath sitting, your attention will wander away any times. As you notice this, acknowledge softly where it went: wandering, thinking, hearing, planning. Then return to feel the next step. As with training a puppy, you will come back a thousand times. Whether you have been away for one second or for ten minutes, no matter. Simply acknowledge where you have been, relax, and come back to being alive here and now with the next step you take.

Use this walking meditation to calm and collect yourself and to live more wakefully in your body. Practice at home first. Then you can extend you mindful walking in an informal way who you go shopping, when you walk down the street or walk to or from you car. You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of being lost in planning and thinking, In this simple way, you can be truly present, bringing your body, heart, and mind together as you move through your life.

HM lives adjacent to a beautiful park. Just walking in nature, or walking and meditating fills him with contentment. Too many people have their faces stuck on their phones in the park. They would be much better off to leave their phones and walk, or walk and meditate.

The Liberating Power of Mindfulness

August 2, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. It begins with a statement from Buddha:
My friends, it is through the establishment of mindfulness that you can let go of grasping after past and future, overcome attachment and grief, abandon all cloning and anxiety, and awaken an unshakable freedom of heart, here now.

Kornfield writes “Mindfulness is attention. It is non-judging and respectful awareness. Unfortunately, much of the time we don’t attend in this way. Instead, we continually react, judging whether we like, dislike, or can ignore what is happening. We evaluate ourselves and others with a stream of expectation, commentary, and criticism.

Here is a seventh principle of Buddhist psychology:
Mindful attention to any experience is liberating. Mindfulness brings perspective, balance, and freedom.

The author notes that mindfulness is important in Western psychotherapy as well. Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists spoke of ‘unconditional positive regard’, and Gestalt psychologists spoke of ‘present centered awareness.’ Since 1980 nearly a thousand scientific papers have documented the effectiveness of mindfulness, often studying Western trainings that are based on a Buddhist approach. However, an important distinction to make is that while Western psychology has focused primarily on the mindfulness of the therapist, Buddhist psychology asserts that the very foundation of well-being is a systematic training of mindfulness in the student. This makes sense as in Buddhist psychology the person is his own analyst. With mindfulness understanding unfolds naturally. As Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzburg quipped one day, “It’s easy to teach. All you have to do is ask if they’re being mindful.”

The four transformative principles for mindful transformation are:
Recognition
Acceptance
Investigation (body, feelings, mind, and dharma)
Non-identification

Recognition is the first principle of transformation. If someone were to ask us, “What is really happening now? We should pause and acknowledge the reality of our experience in the here and now.

Acceptance allows us to relax and open to the facts before us.

Investigation follows from recognition and acceptance. In recognition and acceptance we recognize our dilemma and accept the truth of the whole situation. Then we must investigate more fully. Whenever we are stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of experience.

As we undertake investigation, we focus on the four critical areas of experience: body, feelings, mind, and dharma. Theses are called he Four Foundations of Mindfulness. They will be discussed in individually, in detail in upcoming Healthy Memory posts.

The following is a practice for establishing a daily meditation.
Select a regular time for practice that suits your schedule and temperament. Begin with sitting ten or twenty minutes at a time. Later you can sit longer or more frequently. Daily meditation can become like bathing or toothbrushing. It can bring a regular cleansing and calming to your heart and mind.

Gently close your eyes. Begin with the relaxation response concentrating on your breath. Sense your body and soften any obvious tension. Let go of any habitual thoughts or plans. This can be frustrating and difficult, so don’t get upset but gently brush this thoughts aside. Bring you attention to feel he sensations of your breathing. Take a few deep breaths to sense where you can feel he breath most easily—as coolness or tingling in the nostrils or throat, or as movement of the chest. or as rise and fall of the belly. Now let you breath be natural. Feel the sensations of each breath very carefully, relaxing into each breath as you feel it, noticing how the soft sensations of breaking come and go without effort.

You can mindfully acknowledge where you have gone with a soft word in the back of your mind, such as thinking, wandering, hearing, itching. After silently naming where your attention has been, relax and gently return to the feeling of the next breath. As your meditation develops, you can become more fully mindful of the places where your attention wanders. When strong feelings, emotions, sensations, or thought carry you away from the breath. receive them with the same mindful noticing you give to your breath. Acknowledge them and name them gently. When they pass, return to the breath. Or if you are just beginning or want to become steadier, one word of acknowledgement and a return to breath is fine. As you sit with the breath, let the breathing rhythms change naturally, allow them to be short, long, fast. slow, rough, or easy. Steady yourself by replacing into the breath. Who your breath becomes soft, let your attention become gentle and careful, as soft as the breath itself.

Over weeks and months of this practice you will gradually calm and focus yourself using the breath. There will be many cycles of this process, stormy days alternating with clear days. Just stay with it. As you do, you will find awareness of the breath helping to steady and quiet your whole body and mind.. From this initial mindfulness you can meet the other experiences that arise with balance. You will be centered amidst your ever-changing life.

From the Universal to the Personal

August 1, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle to this chapter is “A Psychology of Paradox.”

Kornfield writes, “In the simplest language, we are spiritual beings incarnated into human form. We need to remember our zip code as well s our Buddha nature. Any psychology that denies our spiritual nature cannot help us fulfill our deepest potential. But, to be true and complete, a spiritual psychology must also honor our human incarnation in the body, in feelings, society, and the earth itself. We are creatures of this paradox, this interpretation of form and emptiness.

Here is a sixth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Our life has universal and personal nature. Both dimensions must be respected if we are to be happy and free.

Kornfield continues, “From the universal perspective, all things that are born eventually die. Death comes to our best friends and family members, sometimes even to young children. When we grieve, we join in the universal grieving for all those who have died. This is not tragedy; it is wisdom. From the universal perspective, life is all the more precious and beautiful because it is so fleeting.

Without a big picture, the inevitable changes in life can overwhelm us. But when we lose a job or win a promotion, end a marriage, have a grandchild, get sick or get well, it is not just personal. It is the dance of life. This broad perspective is especially important in the most extreme crises.”

But the personal nature is extremely important. We can’t pretend that we are too spiritual for any experience. Ajahn Chah said,”If we are angry, we must admit it, look at its causes, know its particulars. If we are sad or frightened or ashamed or needy, this is our human condition, the perfect place to practice.” He insisted we could not find freedom and enlightenment somewhere else, only here and now.”It is here, in the world of form. Only in form can we develop integrity, patience, generosity, truthfulness, dedication, compassion, the great heart of a Buddha.”

Kornfield, “If we fear living the life, we’re in, Buddhist psychology insists we explore our resistance, If we are caught in fear of failure, in past trauma or insecurity, engaging the world can be difficult for us. We need to make conscious whatever keeps us from living fully.”

Continuing, “Buddhist psychology believes that healing occurs as we learn to move from the realm of concepts to the world of direct experience. Our mental concepts and ideas about things, about people, objects, or feelings, are static and unchanging. But the reality of experience is an ever-changing river. Direct perception drops beneath the names of things or show us their ephemeral, mysterious nature. When we bring our attention to the direct perception of experience, we become more alive and free.”

Continuing further, “Even time is a concept. In reality we are always in the eternal present. The past is just a memory, the future just an image or thought. All our stories about past and future are only ideas, arising in the moment. Our modern culture is so tyrannized by goals, plans, and improvement schemes that we constantly live for the future. But as Aldous Huxley reminded us in his writings, ‘An idolatrous religion is one in which time is substituted for eternity. The idea of endless progress is the devil’s work, even today demanding human sacrifice on an enormous scale.’”

The following practice is offered for seeing from the universal perspective:

Buddhist psychology is filled with practices that shift to the universal perspective. In one practice, students contemplate the cycles of birth and death, imagining the possibility that they have been born many times. In this reflection you picture the circumstances of your current life as offering you a perfect chance to learn important and universal lessons. Then you sincerely ask yourself, what these lessons may be.

In the same way, you can bring a universal perspective to a problem, or to a situation where you are stuck in your life. Hold the difficult situation in your mind’s eye as if in front of you. Now picture yourself near death at the end of your life and reflect on how you see the problem. Then imagine how many other people have faced a similar problem. Look at it with the perspective of a hundred years from now. How does this difficulty appear? Finally, ask yourself how a universal perspective can bring a wise and heartfelt response to the difficulty you face.

The Mysterious Illusion of Self

July 31, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The following is a quote from Master Hina-Tyanna Dhamma Loka:
We take things very personally. The more tightly we hold self, the more problem.
No self, well… (laughing)…no problem.

Here is a fifth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Our ideas of self are created by identification. The less we cling to ideas of self, the freer and happier we will be.

Kornfield writes, “From the smallest organisms through the complex life-forms to human beings, the creation of boundaries and the perception of separateness is universal. The gift of Buddhist psychology is to take us to the next step, the evolutionary capacity to see beyond the separate self. The functional self, even at its most healthy, is not who we are. And to the extent that we adults remain caught and identified with any of the earlier stages of development, our suffering is perpetuated. Unlike its Western counterpart, Buddhist psychology recognizes that the ordinary process of development does not end the story. From a functional self, it offers a path to the discovery of selflessness. It shows us how the sense of self is created moment by moment. Then it dissolves identification and shows the joyful openness which exists beyond the self.

In Buddhist Psychology, EGO—Common spiritual Use
Used to describe states of clinging and identification and the qualities of self-importance and self-centeredness that arise from the small sense of self. Derives from illusion of separation and the anxiety it creates.

EGO then feeds into Mental Health
Maturing of healthy mental qualities such a wisdom, confidence, composure, flexibility, love, integrity, insight, and generosity

Both EGO and MENTAL HEALTH read into the NON-SELF
Discovery that sense of self and separation is tentative, false, created by clinging and identification. Release from identification with self brings the highest mental health, freedom, compassion, and joy.

The following quote is from Time magazine, 2002:
After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for a self to be located in the physical brain, and that it simply does not exist.

HM finds it useful to conceive of the concept of self. Our personal identification with the concept can be harmful, and that is the point of Buddhist teachings. But there may be situations where the concept might be useful or even necessary. Consider the example of legal documents.

The following practice is offered for the creation and dissolution of self:
It begins with a quote from Ajahn Chah:
To say there is a self is not true. To say there is no self is not true.
Then what is true?
The creation of self is a process that can be observed moment to moment. It arises when we identify with some part of our experience and call it “me” or “mine’: my body, my personality, my views, my things. We can become mindful of the creation and dissolution of the sense of self. We can see what it’s like when the identification with self is strong, when it is weak, when it is absent.

Choose a day to study the sense of self. Every half hour check in and notice how strong the sense of self is. At which times of day is it strongest? In what roles/situations? How does it feel when self is strong? How does the body feel? How do others respond to this strong sense of self? What would happen in the same situation without a strong identification with the self?

Notice when the clinging to self is mild or absent. Is it reduced when you relax or when you prepare to sleep? How is it when you take your role lightly? Let yourself experiment with caring but not taking things too personally. Can you operate well when the sense of self is not strong or even absent? Play with the sense of self. Notice what ideas, sensations, emotions you hold most strongly and identify with. Which ones do you easily and let go? How about if you revise it, release the strong ones and identify with the weak ones?

Become mindful of the comparing mind. See how the sense of self arises when we compare ourself with others. How does this form of self feel when it is grasped? How is it when it is absent? Then notice what happens when you are criticized. If someone insults or disparages you, notice the strength of the sense of self. With strong identification you can get anxious, angry, upset. Without much identification you can laugh.

Finally, try this. Pretend there is no self. Let all experience be like a movie or a dream, without grasping or taking it seriously. See how it lights the heart. Instead of being the star of your own movie, pretend you’re in the audience. Watch how all the players act, including “yourself.” Relax without a sense of self and rest in awareness. See how your life plays out without grasping.

The Colorings of Consciousness

July 30, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield. The chapter begins with the following quotes:

Consciousness is closed by the states that visit it.
— Buddha

Speak or act with a deluded mind and sorrow will follow
you As the wheel follows the ox who draws the cart Speak or act with a clear mind and happiness will follow you
As closely as your shadow, unshakable
— Dhammapada

Here is a fourth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Recognize the the mental states that fill consciousness. Shift from unhealthy states to healthy ones.

Kornfield writes “To help us understand the momentary colorings of consciousness, Buddhist psychology placed them in a three-part system. Described as “the all,” this system encompasses the whole of our human experience.

Part one includes all the impressions received through our sense doors. This list is short because our sense experience comprises only six things: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch/bodily perceptions, and thought/feelings. It’s worth noting that in the Buddhist system, the mind is considered to be the sixth sense door, receiving thoughts and feelings and intuitions just the way the eye receives sights and the ear receives sounds.

Part two is comprised of the discrete moments of consciousness that receive each sense experience. A fresh corpse also receives sense input, sunlight or breeze on the skin, but there is no consciousness to register it. For us to experience something, there must arise a moment of consciousness at the sense door. These six basic particles of consciousness are the individual moments of knowing called, respectively, eye, ear, tongue, nose, body, and mind consciousness.

With the six senses and their individual consciousnesses we construct our reality, just as an artist can paint the whole world using purple. The Buddha explains, “Monks, have you seen a masterwork or painting? That masterwork is designed by the mind together with the senses. Indeed, monks, the mind is more artistic and creative than any created masterpiece; it is the source of all human creativity.”

Kornfield continues, “With every sense impression and the consciousness that receives, there arise qualities of mind such as worry, pride, and excitement. They arise between the senses and consciousness, and add their color to experience. These mental qualities and what they bring to each experience are critical for our happiness.”
Common mental states such as memory, stability, feeling tone (pleasant or unpleasant), will, and life force

plus either

UNHEALTHY STATES The 3 roots of
grasping, aversion, and delusion
give rise to
worry, envy, rigidity, agitation, greed, self-centeredness, hate, avarice, shamelessness, dullness, closed-mindedness, confusion, misperception, recklessness, and others,
or
HEALTHY STATES The 3 roots of
wisdom, love, and generosity
give rise to
mindfulness, confidence, graciousness, modesty, joy, insight, flexibility, clarity, equanimity, adaptability, kindness, and others

Lama Yeshe says, “To become your own psychologist you don’t have to learn some big philosophy. All you have to do is examine your own mind every day. You already examine material things every day—every morning you check out the food in your refrigeratory. Why not check out the state of your own mind? Investigating your own mind is much more important!”

The following Practice is offered for Recognizing Mental States:

Choose a day when you are having difficulties to mindfully observe your mental states like an anthropologist, without judgment or resistance. Usually several difficult states will appear together. They may include worry, agitation, anger, confusion, grasping, restlessness, and misperception.

Determine that three times during this day you have deemed difficult, you will carefully notice and track the course of your mental states. Without any judgment, notice which states are present, their level of intensity, how long they last, and how much you are caught up in them. If it is helpful, make notes and write them down. Do this again on two more such days. After three days, sense what effect the mindful acknowledgment of difficult states has had. If it has been illuminating or released you from their grip, continue the practice.

Next, in the same way, look for a day that you feel to be most positive, and start to mindfully observe the healthy states that are present. You may notice states of balance, clarity, flexibility, graciousness, love, wisdom, confidence, or joy. Notice the predominant states, their level of intensity, how long they last, and whether there is grasping of them. Again, if helpful, make notes. Do this again on two more such days.

After three days, sense the effect this mindful acknowledgment of healthy states has had. Recognize that you can be aware of and support these healthy states with your attention. Now that you have learned to do so, continue this practice.

Who Looks in the Mirror?

July 29, 2020

The title of this 4th post on The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The subtitle of this chapter is The Nature of Consciousness.

Kornfield writes, “Ordinarily we take consciousness for granted, ignoring it as a fish ignores water. And so we focus endlessly on the contents of experience: what is happening in our body, feelings, and thoughts. Yet each time we move, listen, think, or perceive, consciousness receives all that occurs. Unless we grasp the nature and function of consciousness, it is impossible to live wisely.”

A third principle of Buddhist psychology: When we shift attention from experience to the spacious consciousness that knows, wisdom arrives.

Buddhist psychology posits that consciousness is the condition for life, and that the physical body interacts with consciousness but is not its source.

Kornfield writes, “Consciousness is also compared to a mirror. A mirror reflects all things, yet remains bright and shining, unchanged by whatever images, beautiful or terrible, may appear within it. A brief meditation can help you to understand. After you read the next three sentences look up from the book. Sit quietly and try to stop being aware. Don’t be conscious of any sounds, any sights, any sensations, or any thoughts. Try it. Immediately you will discover that you can’t do it. Sights, sounds, feelings, and thought continue to be known by consciousness. Sense how you cannot stop this conscious awareness. Notice how consciousness knows the whole variety of experiences without closing off to one favor of another. This is the the mirror-like nature of consciousness: reflective, luminous, untarnished, and peaceful.”

Consciousness, through Buddhist analysis, like light is found to have two dimensions. Just as light can be described as both a wave and a particle, consciousness has an unbound wave or sky-light nature and it has particular particle-like aspects. In its sky-like function, consciousness is unchanging, like the sky or a mirror. In its particle-like function, consciousness is momentary. A single state of consciousness arises together with each moment of experience and is flavored by that experience. With precise mindfulness training, meditators can experience this particle-like nature of consciousness arising and passing away like bubbles or grains of sand.

Kornfield continues, “When the momentary aspect of consciousness receives an experience, it is colored by the experience, carried by it. In one Buddhist text the particle-like quality of consciousness is described with 121 different flavors or states. There are joyful states of consciousness, fearful states, expanded and contracted ones, regretful states and loving ones. These states come with stories, feelings, perceptions, with beliefs and intentions. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh describes it this way: “The mind is like a television set with hundreds of channels. Which channel will you turn on?” Usually we are so focused on the dramatic story being told that we don’t notice that there is always consciousness that receives it.

Through mindfulness, we can learn to acknowledge which channel is playing. We can learn to change the channels, the stories and states, by recognizing that all states are simply appearances in consciousness. Most importantly, we can begin to understand the underlying nature of consciousness itself.”

It takes practice, but begin by relaxing and feeling your breath carefully (the relaxation response). this helps you focus and quiet your mind. Mindful, notice the stream of thought and sensations without reacting to them as a problem. This takes practice.

Special meditative circumstances are not required to return to awareness. Consider, a woman walking down the street thinks of a distant friend and for a moment forgets her errands, feeling eternity and her own small life passing through it. In an argument we stop, laugh, let go, and become silent. Each of these moments offers a taste of freedom.

Kornfield writes, “When we learn to rest in awareness, there’s both caring and silence. There is listening for what’s the next thing to do and awareness of all that’s happening, a big space and a connect feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both apprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we’re not caught in it. In any situation we can open up, relax, and return to the sky-like nature of consciousness.

Here is a practice the author offers. He calls this the river of sound.

Close your eyes and be at ease. Let your body be at rest and your breathing be natural. Begin to listen to the play of sounds around you. Notice those that are loud or soft, far and near. Notice how sounds arise and vanish on their own, leaving no trace. After you have listened for a few minutes, let yourself sense, feel, or imagine that your mind is not limited to your head. Sense that your mind is expanding to be open like the sky—clear, vast like space. Feel that your mind extends outward beyond the most distant sounds. Imagine there are no boundaries to your mind, no inside or outside. Let the awareness of your mind extend in every direction like the open sky.

Relax in the openness and just listen. Now every sound you hear—people, cars, wind, soft sounds—will arise and pass away like a cloud in the open space of your own mind. Let the sounds come and go, whether loud or soft, far or near, let them be clouds in the vast sky of your own awareness , appearing and disappearing without resistance. As you rest in this open awareness for a time, notice how thought and feeling also arise and vanish like sounds in the open space of mind. Let the thoughts and feelings come and go without struggle or resistance. Pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, pictures, words, joys, and sorrows—let them all come and go like clouds in the clear sky of mind.

Then, in this spacious awareness also notice how you experience the body. The mind is not in the body. The body sensations float and change in the open sky of mind. The breath breathes itself. It reveals itself as areas of hardens and softness, pressure and tingling, warm and cool sensation, all floating in the space of awareness.

Relax, rest in this openness, let sensations float and change. Slow thought and images, feelings and sounds to come and go like clouds in the clear, open space of awareness. As you do, pay attention to the consciousness itself. Notice how the open space of awareness is clear, transparent, timeless, and without conflict—allowing for all things but not limited by them. This is your own true nature. Rest in it. Trust it. It is home.

The reader should not regard this practice as a regimen to be strictly followed. Use it as a guide and adapt it to your own purposes. You might find that the last paragraph is sufficient.

Holding the World in Kindness

July 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the second chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield. This is the third post on this book. The subtitle of this chapter is A Psychology of Kindness.

Alan Wallace, a leading Western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism puts this title into the following story: “Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn over the ground. As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out,
‘You idiot! What’s wrong with you? Are you blind? But just before you can catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped into you is actually blind. He, too, is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: ‘Are you hurt?’ Can I help you up?’ Our situation is like that. When you clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion.”

The author writes, “Buddhism teaches that we suffer not because we have sinned but because we are blind. Compassion is the natural response to this blindness; it arises whenever we see our human situation clearly. Buddhist texts describe compassion as the quivering of the heart in the face of pain, as the capacity to see our struggles with ‘kindly eyes.’ We need compassion, not anger, to help us be tender with our difficulties and not close off to them in fear. This is how healing takes place.”

A second principle of Buddhist psychology follows:
Compassion is our deepest nature. It arises from our interconnection with all things.

There is a neurological basis for compassion. In the 1980s, the Italian scientist Giacomo Rizzolitti and his colleagues discovered a class of brain cells called “mirror neurons.” Since that time extensive research has shown that through our mirror neurons, we actual feel the emotions, movements, and intentions of others. Researchers describe this natural empathy as part of the social brain, a neural circuitry that connects us intimately in every human encounter.

The author writes, “In Buddhist psychology, compassion is not a struggle or sacrifice. Within our body, compassion is natural and intuitive. We don’t think, “Oh, my poor toe or finger is hurt, maybe I should help it.’ As soon as it is injured, we instantly respond because it is a part of us. Through meditation we gradually open the boundaries of consciousness to compassion for all beings, as if they were part of our family. We learn that even when our compassion islets through fear and trauma, it can be reawakened. Faced with a crying child in a burning house, a hardened criminal is as likely as anyone else to take the risk of rescuing her. We all have moments when the pennies and beauty of our Buddha nature shines.”

There is a problem of self-hatred. The author recounts, “In 1989, at one of the first international Buddhist teacher meetings, we Western teachers brought up the enormous problem of unworthiness and self-criticism, shame and self-hatred, and how frequently they arise in Western students’ practice. The Dalai Lama and other Asian teachers were shocked. They could not comprehend the word self-hatred. It took the Dalai Lama ten minutes of conferring with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, his translator even to understand it. Then he turned and asked how many of us experienced this problem in ourselves and our students. He saw us all nod affirmatively. He seemed genuinely surprised. ‘But that’s a mistake,’ he said. ‘Every being is precious!’”

The author writes, “As children, many of us were taught courage in the form of the warrior or the explorer, bravely facing danger. In the Buddhist understanding, however, great courage is not demonstrated by aggression or ambition. Aggression and ambition are more often expressions of fear and delusion. The courageous heart is the one that is unafraid to open to the world. With compassion we come to trust our capacity to open to life without armoring. As the poet Rilke reminds us, ‘Ultimately it is on our vulnerability that we depend.’ This is not a poetic bur a living reality, demonstrated by our most beloved sages. Mahatma Gandhi had the courage to be jailed and beaten, to persevere through difficulties without giving in to bitterness and despair. His vulnerability became his strength.”

The author offers the following practice: A Meditation on Compassion

Here you combine a prepared inner intention with the visualization and the evocation of the feeling of compassion. Breathe softly and feel your body, your heartbeat, the life within you. Feel how you treasure your own life, how you guard yourself in the face of your sorrows. After some time bring to mind someone close to you whom you dearly love. Picture them and feel your natural caring for them. Notice how you hold them in your heart. Then let yourself be aware of their measure of sorrows, their suffering in life. Feel how your heart opens to wish them well, to extend comfort to share in they pain and meet it with compassion. This is the natural response of the heart. Inwardly decide these phrases:

May you be held in compassion.
May your pain and sorrow be eased.
May you be at peace.

Continue. You can modify practice phrases in way that makes them true to your heart’s intention.

After a few minutes, turn your compassion toward yourself and the measure of sorrows you carry, and recite the same phrase.

After a time, begin to extend compassion to others your know. Picture loved ones, one after another. Hold the image of each in your heart, and be aware of the persons difficulties and wish him or her well with the same phrase.

You can keep expanding your compassion to others you do not know, but who are in need of compassion.

Nobility Our Original Goodness

July 27, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the first chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield.

It begins with a quote from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: O Nobly Born, O you of glorious origins, remember your radiant true nature, the essence of mind. Trust it. Return to it. It is home.

The following is a first principle of Buddhist psychology:
See the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

The author writes, “In these often cynical times, we might think of original goodness as merely an uplifting phrase, but through its lens we discover a radically different way of seeing and being: one whose time is to transform our world. This does not mean that we ignore the enormousness of people’s sorrow or that we make ourselves foolishly vulnerable to unstable and perhaps violent individuals. Indeed, to find the dignity in others, their suffering has to be acknowledged. Among the most central of all Buddhist psychological principles are the Four Noble Truths, which begin by acknowledging the inevitable suffering in human life. This truth, too, is hard to talk about in modern culture, where people are taught to avoid discomfort at any cost, where “the pursuit of happiness” has become “the right to happiness.” And yet when we are suffering it is so refreshing and helpful to have the truth of suffering acknowledged.”

He continues, “Buddhist teachings help us to face our individual suffering, from shame and depression to anxiety and grief. They address the collective suffering of the world and help us to work with the source of this sorrow: the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion in the human psyche. While tending to our suffering is critical, this does not eclipse our fundamental nobility.”

The author asks, “If we do not focus on human limits and pathology, what is the alternative? It is the belief that human freedom is possible under any circumstances. Buddhist teachings put it this way: “Just as the great oceans have but one taste, the taste of salt, so do all of the teachings of Buddha have but one taste, the taste of liberation.”

The author uses psychologist Viktor Frankl as an excellent example. He was the sole member of his family to survive the Nazi death camps. Nevertheless, in spite of this suffering—he found a path to healing. Frankl wrote, “We who have lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread, They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl wrote, “Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence is he truly human or does he become his true self.  He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self’s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.”

Thomas Merton wrote, “The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.”

The following practice is offered for seeing the secret goodness:
“Wait for a day when you awaken in a fine mood, when your heart is open to the world. If such days are rare, choose the best you have. Before you start for work, set the clear intention that during the morning you will look for the inner nobility of three people. Carry that intention in your heart as you speak or work with them. Notice how this perception affects your interaction with them, how it affects your own heart, how it affects your work. Then choose five more days of your best moods, nd do this practice on each of these days.

As you become more naturally able to see the secret goodness, expand your practice. Add more days. Try practicing on days that are more stressful. Gradually include strangers and difficult people, until your heart learns to silently acknowledge and bless all whom you meet. Aim to see as many beings as you can with a silent loving respect. Go through the day as if you were the Dalai Lama undercover.

This is a very difficult practice, but one that could be equally rewarding. If you find this practice too difficult, do what HM does and try to reduce it to a more feasible practice.

Buddhist Psychology

July 26, 2020

A while back in a previous post a promise was made to learn more about Buddhist psychology. HM found an important book by Jack Kornfield titled The Wise Heart. The subtitle is A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. The reader may ask, why Buddhist Psychology? The answer is that a good argument can be made that Buddha was the first psychologist. In his quest to find a solution to the sufferings of humanity he came to the conclusion that the mind is central to thinking, feeling, and mental health in general.

HM was amazed by what he found in this book. The study of cognition was more advanced in Buddhist psychology than HM found in his graduate studies for his doctorate. His amazement continued with further reading. This knowledge was especially valuable for being able to control emotions and to interact effectively with fellow human beings. Having beneficial interactions with our fellow humans is a central goal of Buddhism. Consequently, there will be many postings on this text.

Before proceeding there needs to be an understanding of Buddhism. There is an enormous range of Buddhist sects. It begins with the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism, where participants spend hours pondering koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping? At the other end of the continuum are the extremely commercial versions readily found in Japan, which sells all sorts of future fortunes.

The version of interest here is the Tibetan Version led and practiced by the Dalai Lama. Someone asked him if they could be a Buddhist if they did not believe in reincarnation, a central tenet of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama answered of course. All that was needed was to meditate and to love and care for our fellow humans. It should be understood that even the first Buddha said that his sayings could be debated and refuted. Consequently, there is no dogma or required beliefs and practices, with the exception of those mentioned, for one to regard oneself as a Buddhist.

The goal of these posts is not to convince anyone to become a Buddhist. The posts will cover ideas that one can review with the goal of mind expansion, and practices, which can be beneficial to both physical and psychological health as well as for interpersonal relations. If the reader has religious or spiritual beliefs, there is no reason one cannot keep these beliefs unless those beliefs are so dogmatic as to preclude the discussion of new ideas.

The author, Jack Kornfield, is an internationally renowned meditation teacher and one of the leaders in introducing Buddhist practice and psychology to the West. After graduating with a degree in Asian studies from Dartmouth College, he joined the Peace Corps and later trained as a Buddhist monk. He is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre Massachusetts, and of the Split Rock Center in Northern California. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Prior books include A Path with Heart; after the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and The Art of Forgiveness, Loving-kindness, and Peace.

There is much of value in this text. HM will do his best to capture the most important concepts in this book. This will take many posts. Still he shall not be able to do justice to this book.

The Popularity of Conspiracy Theories

July 24, 2020

It is easy to explain the popularity of conspiracy theories. They are the product of Kahneman’s System 1 processing. System 1 is our default mode of processing that we use during normal conversation or performing well practiced tasks. When we hear something that sounds unusual System 2 processing kicks in, which is popularly termed as thinking. Thinking takes mental effort whereas System 1 processing works automatically.

As was mentioned in the preceding paragraph, conspiracies are the product of System 1 processes. If they remain at that level all information confirming or consistent with the theory is received and stored. Believers in a conspiracy theory feel that they have privileged knowledge unavailable to others, but there is no System 2 processing that would reveal problems. Conspiracy theories grow and grow as new information comes in confirming the theory. Support grows among fellow believers in these theories, a support that can be greatly facilitated by social media.

True theories evolve slowly. New information can either expand or cast doubt on the theory; it needs to be validated or disconfirmed by System 2 processing, better known as thinking or critical thinking. Promising theories develop slowly because they require System 2 processing, which places them at a distinct disadvantage because they develop and advance slowly, but they have the advantage in that they can be confirmed. This is not true of conspiracy theories. Typically, they can be easily debunked by System 2 processing.

Covid-19 provides a good example. Early on Trump called it a conspiracy fostered by the Democrats. This conspiracy could be easily debunked by what was happening all over the world and that Covid-19 and the pandemic was validated by Science, which heavily engages System 2 processing. Early on Trump said that a beautiful test for the virus was already available for the asking—a brazen falsehood. Today the production of these tests is important for the stemming the spread of the virus, but Trump is not funding the testing needed because he argues that testing reveals more cases, which is what needs to be done, but which Trump doesn’t like because he thinks it makes him look bad.

Trump is at war with science which provides the best way out of the pandemic. If he would just remain silent, and let science lead, he could prevent an enormous number of unnecessary deaths and would allow for the economy to get bask to normal.

Trump’s support has declined as a result of they way he has handled the pandemic. But still there are people believing and following him. Trump has an amazing following. and his base remains firm. HM has come to realize that the reason his base remains firm is that his base consists of believers in conspiracy theories. Trump began with the birther conspiracy regarding Obama, and kept piling conspiracy theories from there on.

Historians will argue that conspiracy theories have always been popular in the United States and the United States has managed to survive. The problem is that technology has advanced that has a multiplicative effect on conspiracy theories. That’s what makes them so dangerous. Moreover, these conspiracy theories are conflated by support from foreign countries, Russia primarily.

HM has predicted that System 2 processing produces a cognitive reserve and a resilience against Alzheimer’s even if amyloid plaque and tau particles are found.
The extremely low usage of System 2 processing by people who still support Trump leads to the conclusion that the likelihood of their being an Alzheimer’s epidemic victim in the future is high. So when you see politicians on television arguing against implementing the recommendations of scientists, imagine what they will look like in the future.

In the end stages of Alzheimer’s victims will be soiling themselves, and will not be recognizing their friends or their children. A similar fate awaits many believers in conspiracy theories in general.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Second Term

July 22, 2020

Dr. Trump writes about her reasons for writing TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How my Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man”.

“Although my aunts and uncles will think otherwise, I’m not writing this book to cash in or out of a desire for revenge. If either of those had been my intention, I would have written a book about our family years ago, when there was no way to anticipate that Donald would trade on his reputation as a serially bankrupt businessman and irrelevant reality show host to ascend to the White House; when it would have been safer because my uncle wasn’t in a position to threaten and endanger whistleblowers and critics. The events of the last three years, however, have forced my hand, and I can no longer remain silent. By the time this book is published, hundreds of thousands of American lives will have been sacrificed on the alter of Donald’s hubris and willful ignorance, If he is afforded a second term, it would be the end of American democracy.”

When the damage of the first three years and the way he is not facilitating but thwarting the treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that Trump will be re-elected. But it is predictable how he will respond to an electoral defeat. It is virtually certain that he will claim that it was a flawed and corrupt election and will refuse to leave office. When all the problems with the election, including Russian assistance and Republican voter suppression and the necessity to use mail-in ballots, there is the possibility of all kinds of shenanigans. Trump’s Attorney General Barr will likely do everything in his power to claim an invalid election. There is a period of many weeks between the election and the inauguration of a new president where all kinds of mischief can occur.
So it is possible that even if he loses the election he might remain in office on false pretenses.

Trump has already illegally sent forces to Portland, the exact identity of these forces is unknown. He says they are there to resist protests, but they are not needed and the mayor and the governor have said that they want these forces out of their state. Plans are to deploy such unwanted forces to Democratic cities throughout the country.

Last, but certainly not least, is his base that includes Nazis. Given the ready availability of arms, including automatic assault weapons, and ignorance regarding where all the weapons are located, there might be an armed rebellion that keeps Trump in power. The country will have been morphed into a Fascist Dictatorship.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

COVID-19

July 21, 2020

This post is based on material in “TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How my Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” by by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

There have been many, many posts on Donald Trump. Too many to count. To find them enter “Trump” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

There were also many posts on his behavior and competence as President from the book The Toddler in Chief by Dreszner.

Of course, Dr. Trump has included much information on Donald’s life including his presidency, so this post concentrates on COVID-19. She was virtually certain that Donald’s cruelty and incompetence would get people killed.

She writes, “Donald’s initial response to COVID-19 underscores his need to minimize negativity at all costs. Fear—the equivalent of weakness in our family—is as unacceptable to him now as it was when he was three years old. When Donald is in the most trouble, superlatives are no longer enough: both the situation and his reactions to it must be unique, even if absurd or nonsensical. On his watch, no hurricane has ever been as wet as Hurricane Maria. “Nobody could have predicted” a pandemic that his own Department of Health and Human Services was running simulations for just a few months before COVID-19 struck in Washington State. Why does he do this? ‘Fear.”’

“Donald didn’t drag his feet in December 2019, in January, in February, in March because of his narcissism; he did it because of his fear of appearing weak or failing to project the message that everything was ‘great,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘perfect.’ The irony of this is that his failure to face the truth has inevitably led to massive failure anyway. In this case, the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of people will be lost and the economy of the richest country in history may well be destroyed. Donald will acknowledge none of this, moving the goalposts to hide the evidence and convincing himself in the process that he’s done a better job than anyone else could have done if only a few hundred thousand die instead of a million.”

“This pandemic has revealed that he is a petty, pathetic little man—ignorant, incapable, out of his depth, and lost in his own delusional spin. What Donald can do in order to offset the powerlessness and rage he feels is punish the rest of us. He withheld ventilators and stole supples from states that have not groveled at his feet. In truth, what Donald thinks is justified is mass murder.”

Dr. Trump writes, “It would have been easy for Donald to be a hero. People who have hated and criticized him would have forgiven or overlooked his endless stream of appalling actions if he’d simply had somebody take the pandemic preparedness manual down from the shelf where it was put after the Obama administration gave it to him. If he’d alerted the appropriate agencies and state governments at the first evidence the virus was highly contagious, had extremely high mortality rates, and was not being contained. If he’d invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to begin production of PPE, ventilators, and other necessary equipment to prepare the country to deal with the worst-case scenario. If he’d allowed medical and scientific experts to give daily press conferences during which facts were presented clearly and honestly. If he’d insured that there was a systematic, top-down coordination among all the necessary agencies. Most of those tasks would have required almost no effort on his part. All he would have to do was make a couple of phone calls, give a speech or two, then delegate everything else. He might have been accused of being too cautious, but most of us would have been safe and many more of us would have survived. Instead, states are forced to buy vital supplies, and then FEMA distributes them back to private contractors who then resell them.”

Dr. Trump asks the question, “Why did it take so long for Donald to act? Why didn’t he take the novel coronavirus seriously? In part because, like my grandfather, he has no imagination. The pandemic didn’t immediately have to do with him, and managing the crisis in every moment doesn’t help him promote his preferred narrative that no one has ever done a better job than he has.”

Fortunately, parents will not be forced to let their children attend classes unless their safety can be assured. Until Trump shuts up and throws his support behind science, the emergence from this pandemic will be slow, perhaps extremely slow, until a new President provides the necessary guidance.

Psychological Assessment

July 20, 2020

This post is based on material in “TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH: How my Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” by by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.
She is not just a psychologist but a clinical psychologist meaning that she is expert in psychological disorders. Donald Trump is her uncle, Fred Trump Sr., her grandfather.

She writes, “None of the Trump siblings emerged unscathed from my grandfather’s sociopathy and my grandmother’s illnesses, both physical and psychological, but my uncle Donald and my father, Freddy, suffered more than the rest. In order to get a complete picture of Donald, his psychopathologies, and the meaning of his dysfunctional behavior, we need a thorough family history.”

“In the last three years, I’ve watched as countless pundits, armchair psychologists have kept missing the mark, using phrases such as ‘malignant narcissism’ and ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in an attempt to make sense of Donald’s often bizarre and self-defeating behavior. I have no problem calling Donald a narcissist—he meets all nine criteria as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—but the label only gets us so far.”

“The fact is, Donald’s pathologies are so complex and his behaviors so often inexplicable that coming up with an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis would require a full battery of psychological and neuropsychological tests that he’ll never sit for. At this point, we can’t evaluate his day-to-day functioning because he is, in the West Wing, essentially institutionalized. Donald has been institutionalized for most of his adult life, so there is no way to know how we would thrive, or even survive, on his own in the real world.”

TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH

July 19, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D. The subtitle is How my Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Before reading this book, HM could not believe that he would write, “I feel truly sorry for this man.”

HM has long thought that Trump is an unhappy and fearful man. In his post “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk” he argued that Trump’s confrontational manner lashing out at anyone or anything reflected an unhappy and insecure human. On the other hand, a Buddhist Monk living a minimal physical existence was happier due to his spiritual practices and is very likely healthier with respect to both his physical health and his psychological health.

Now HM realizes how adverse his home environment was mainly due to his father Fred Trump. You can see his father Fred Trump in today’s Donald Trump. There was no love in this family. Fred Trump used people, he did not love them. When they were of no use to him he ignored him. When they displeased him he angrily lashed out at them. Everyone’s value was assessed by their wealth. Fred Trump had immigrated from Germany and become a very successful and ruthless businessman. He intimidated everyone.

The author’s father, Fred Trump Jr. tried to please his father but he could never measure up. His father wanted Fred Jr. to follow him in his business. But Fred Jr. had neither interest nor stomach for this business. He managed to become an airline pilot for TWA, but he could never get over his father’s disapproval. He died early from alcoholism. Donald learned from the experiences of his elder brother and honed his entire life for the approval of his father.

SHARPBRAINS June 25, 2020

July 18, 2020

The lead article from this newsletter:

UPDATE: Repetitive thinking may increase (or perhaps be caused by) Alzheimer’s Pathology.
Readers of the Healthy Memory blog should read this as an out of date, not an update. The article begins, “We found that people who exhibited higher repetitive negative thinking patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period. They also had specific declines in memory (which is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease), and had more amyloid and tau deposits in the brain.”

Readers of the Healthy Memory Blog should know that it is the depositIon of amyloid and tau deposits that are defining features of Alzheimer’s. They should also remember that autopsies have been done on people who had sufficient amounts of amyloid and tau to be diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s, but who never evidenced any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The reason given for this outcome is that these people had used their brains sufficiently during their lifetimes that they had developed a cognitive reserve that precluded the expression of the cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

The repetitive thinking is what Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman would classify as System 1 processing. System 1 is effortless and fast and serves as a default mode of processing. Normal conversation and the performance of skilled tasks are primarily System 1 processes and can be identified in brain scans as default mode processing.

But thinking requires the invocation of a higher level of processing called, not surprisingly, System 2 processing. A driving thesis of this blog is that System 2 processing, which is needed for learning and critical thinking, builds a cognitive reserve that forestalls, if not precludes, the behavioral and cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Other healthy memory blog posts have warned of the dangers of negative thinking, but not critical thinking. Negative thinking, and ruminating negative thinking in particular does do not build cognitive reserves and produces the cognitive and behavioral symptoms of Alzheimers. Moreover, a good technique for defeating negative thinking is to critically think about, to criticize, the negativity.

Protective Gun Ownership as a Coping Mechanism

July 17, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Nicholas Buttrick in Perspectives in Psychological Science, 2020, 835-855. Jumping to the Conclusion of this article:
The contemporary American desire to own a gun to keep oneself is an outlier, both historically and among similarly developed nations. It is a desire with consequence—America has more civilian-owned guns than any other developed nation and as a direct result has a level of gun-related deaths unmatched by any other developed nation. In this article, I have marshaled evidence from across the social sciences, proposing that, at the root, the desire to own a gun for one’s own protection springs from two related assessments of the world: that it is a dangerous place and that the usual mechanisms that society uses to protect its members from that danger are not up to the task. These assessments, especially in tandem, threaten fundamental psychological needs—the need to be safe, the need to have self-efficacy and control, and the need to belong. I argue that protective gun owners are using their weapons to cope with these worries and that they find safety, power, and a valued interpersonal and group identity in the symbolic power that American culture has granted to firearms. This symbolic power is not inherent to the weapon, given what historical and cross-cultural investigations demonstrate; rather, it is something that has been affirmatively constructed, largely across the second half of the 20th century. And the use of a deadly weapon to do the work of psychic defense may, ironically, worsen the very worries that root the psychology of projective gun ownership, which makes the world seem even more dangerous and society even less willing or capable of defending against those dangers. Instituting protective gun ownership makes the world seem even more dangerous and society even less willing or capable of defending against those dangers. In situating protective gun ownership as a coping strategy I hope to shed some light on why the American gun culture has diverted so sharply from other developed countries and to provide a tool for researchers as they explore this critical flashpoint in contemporary American life and what to do about.

HM agrees with this article, but in the end the question is, so what? Direction is provided for more research in the future. But what can be done know? Moreover, there are obvious reasons for American gun culture.

As a child, HM, like most other children, played with toy guns. There is an enormous number of computer games that involve guns. Then there are the many police shows on TV that, with one or two exceptions, feature police shooting their guns. It is obvious why contemporary American culture is afraid and feels a strong need to cope.

A strong dose of reality might help. The public should know that the majority of police retire after 20 years without ever firing their guns in the course of duty. Guns are more likely to be used in suicides than murders, and keeping a gun in the house risks mistakenly killing a family member or friend. Here is an anecdote from HM’s childhood. HM slept through this, so the account is courtesy of HM’s parents. Both were awakened late at night by someone in their backyard. They shouted out, “Who is it?” The answer came back, “Who do you think it is?” This response chilled my parents. They have said that if they had had a weapon they would have shot the intruder. Fortunately, they did not have a weapon. The intruder was HM’s brother. In retrospect, they said that they should not have felt threatened because their dog was in the yard and would have barked at and attacked any genuine intruder. But people do panic, and the availability of a weapon can result in a tragic outcome.

Here is another anecdote that has appeared in previous postings. One of HM’s friends has a son who one New Year’s Eve was playing with a friend. Unfortunately, this playing was with a gun and HM’s friend’s friend accidentally shot and killed HM’s friend’s son. HM’s friend said that justice would be done, but where is justice to be found? There is no justice, only stupidity.

HM’s friend was a full colonel in the Ohio National Guard, and HM is certain that guns were locked up and that the first action when handling a firearm is to determine whether it is loaded was stressed. But HM’s friend forgot that Homo Sapiens is a misnomer for too many members of our species.

Rather than argue unprofitably about Constitutional rights, assume that all citizens should be able to own lethal weapons. But as a matter of public safety, it is important that all these guns be registered in a registry where any citizen could determine whether any other citizen had a weapon or weapons of which type. It should also include people who were authorized to carry concealed weapons.

These policies would provide a coping mechanism that should put most people at ease.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Senior Moments

July 15, 2020

“The Myth of Cognitive Decline: Non-Linear Dynamics of Lifelong Learning”1 is certainly one of the most important scientific articles HM has read in recent years. Contrary to the commonly accepted notion that cognitive information processing capabilities decline across adulthood, the article makes a compelling argument that older adults’ changing performance reflects memory search demands, which increase as experience grows.

This argument is based on a series of simulations that show how the performance patterns observed across adulthood emerge naturally in learning models as additional knowledge is acquired. The simulations identify greater variation in the cognitive performance of older adults, and also predict that older adults show greater sensitivity to fine-grained differences in the properties of test stimuli than younger adults. In other words, the results indicate that older adults’ performance on cognitive tests reflects the predictable consequences of learning on information processing and not cognitive decline.

Simply put, the more information we have as we age can slow down the retrieval of information and make it more difficult to distinguish differences among items in memory. Here it is wise to revisit the distinction between information availability and information accessibility. Information can be available in memory, but we simply cannot access it. Many times we know we know something, but simply cannot recall it. These are the cases when information is available but not accessible. Frequently, HM tries to recall some piece of information, say an actor’s name, but just can’t seem to locate it. Sometimes he will challenge his wife and see if she remembers. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she will come up with a partial cue that leads to the desired memory. HM tries to resist the temptation to Googling it in these situations as he thinks these attempts at retrieval aid keeping the memory healthy.  They force us to revisit infrequently visited memory circuits. What is interesting is that long after he has consciously given up the search and resisted Googling it, the desired memory will suddenly pop into mind. This might occur the next day, perhaps even several days later. This is a good example of how a long latency might be mistakenly interpreted as a memory loss.

One might argue that these conclusions are based on simulations rather than on human experiments. Research into this topic is currently underway using humans. The problem with using human participants to research this problem is that it is difficult to control or estimate important variables. In these cases, simulations can actually provide more accurate answers.
There is the observation that cognitive decline really kicks in around 60 or 70. What is the basis for this observation? How can it be explained? Here is the explanation taken directly from the Ramscar article on p. 34: “If a common environmental change like retirement was to systematically reduce the variety of contexts people encounter in their lives, learning theory predicts that the amount of contextual information they learn will drop further, as the background rates of cues in the remaining contexts rise (Kruschke,2 Ramscar et al3). It follows from this that if people were to increasingly spend time in environments where any cues have high background rates already (family homes), any effects arising from their cumulative experience of learning to ignore task irrelevant contextual (background) cues will be exacerbated. In other words because discriminative learning by its very nature reduces sensitivity to everyday context, retirement is likely to make memories harder to individuate and more confusable, absent any “cognitive declines,” simply because retirement is likely to decrease contextual variety at exactly the time when the organization of older adults’ memories needs it most.”

In other words, as you have read in previous healthymemory blog posts, retirement can foster cognitive decline. So retirements need to be active, so that people can continue to grow cognitively and have social engagements in varying contexts. Obviously HM is biased, but he thinks that reading the healthymemory blog and following some of its practices provide a good start.

So, if you are a senior, and are slow in or having difficulty recalling. Although this is a senior moment, this senior moment is caused by all the additional information available in memory. Although this information is available it is not accessible at the moment. Actually we are to be congratulated for these senior moments as the reflect the extremely large amounts of information available in memory and, hopefully, wisdom.

It is certainly true that there can be pathologies that cause cognitive decline. Unfortunately, what is the normal performance of what are truly healthy memories can be misinterpreted as cognitive decline.

1Ramscar, M., Hendrix, P., Shaoul, C., Milin, P., & Bayan, H. (2014). Topics in Cognitive Science, 6, 5-42.
2Krushke, J.J. (1996). Base Rates in Category Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition. 22, 3-26 .
3Ramscar, M., Dye, M., & Klein, J. (2013). Children value informativity over logic in word learning, Psychological Science, 24, 1017-1023.

Immature Adults and the Coronavirus Pandemic

July 14, 2020

More than stupidity is advancing the coronavirus pandemic. There are immature adults who refuse to wear masks and follow the provided guidance. These immature adults are not only increasing their own risks for the virus but are also infecting others. This includes their own children who are not only themselves at risk but who also spread the virus to others.

But by far the worst are the immature adults in government who are not only failing to endorse the recommended practices, but who are also attacking the very experts who are trying to stop the pandemic and who are the only ones who have the knowledge to defeat this virus.

Weekend ‘catch-up’ sleep is a lie

July 13, 2020

This post is based on an article titled “Think you can use weekends to catch up on sleep? Dream on, study says by Carolyn Y. Johnson in the March 1, 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Research published in “Current Biology” crushes the hope that there is such a thing as catch-up sleep. Participants who were limited to five hours of sleep on week days who had complete freedom to sleep in and nap during a weekend recovery period gained nearly three pounds over two weeks and experienced metabolic disruption that would increase their risk for diabetes over the long term. Although weekend recover sleep had some benefits after a single week of insufficient sleep, those gains were wiped out when people plunged right back into their same sleep-deprived schedule the next Monday.

Kenneth Wright, director of the sleep and chronobiology laboratory at the University of Colorado at Boulder said, “If there are benefits of catch-up sleep they’re gone when you go back to your routine. It’s very short-lived. These health effects are long-term. It’s kind of like smoking once was—people would smoke and wouldn’t see an immediate effect on their health, but people will say now that smoking is not a healthy lifestyle. I think sleep is in the early phase of where smoking used to be.”

Michael Grandner, director of the sleep and health research program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said the study reinforces that people need to stop thinking of sleep as a balance sheet. Imagine a person who ate nothing but cheeseburgers and french fries, Monday through Friday, but dined only on celery and kale on the weekends and tried to call that a healthy diet, he said, Drastically cutting calories all week and then binging on a giant pizza on Saturday wouldn’t restore equilibrium either. That, he argued is essentially what people are doing when they skip sleep on weekdays with the idea they can make up for it on the weekend.

Grander said, “When you’re talking about something as complex as metabolism, it’s very much about balance and equilibrium, and when you’re chasing numbers of hours and you’re trying to make them all add up, that’s not about balance.

Wright said that people should prioritize sleep—cutting out the optical “sleep stealers” such as watching television shows or spending time with electronic devices. Even when people don’t have a choice about losing sleep due to child-care responsibilities or job schedules, they should think about prioritizing sleep in the same way they would a healthy diet or exercise.

This is another of the many posts on the importance of sleep not only for a healthy memory, but also for a healthy life.

You Are Probably Spreading Misinformation

July 12, 2020

The title of this post is the title of an article by Geoffrey Fowler in the 6 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The subtitle is “Here’s how to stop.” Having a positive view of this blog’s readers, HM does not think that anyone would deliberately spread disinformation, but it can be done inadvertently. The quick and easy solution to this problem is to stay off social media. Time on social media would be more profitably spent on the wikipedia, at least regarding growth mindsets.

Nevertheless the advice offered in Fowler’s column is quite good.

Step 1: Apply the brakes
Fowler writes, People are too quick to share information they can’t personally vouch for. We need an internal speed bump. Emotion is the main tool misinformers use to manipulate us. We are not very skeptical when we are scared, so this advice becomes especially important in an environment of fear.

If we have a strong reaction, we should use that as a reminder to step away and come back in a few minutes and ask ourself, “Do I really know enough to care about this? This applies in particular to views we agree with. Our minds are wired to make shortcuts, to find information that we already think is true according to Graham Brookie, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “Being cognizant of this bias is half the battle.

The recommendation is to focus on writing our own firsthand experiences as opposed to sharing and commenting on the experience of others.

Step 2: Check the Source.
Take a few seconds to evaluate the reputation of the information source.
Make a rule that you won’t share until you’ve at least glanced at the source’s profile page.
Some rules for vetting sources:
*Sometimes the immediate source is a family member or friend. Then you need to check their source.
*Look how long the account has been around.(Twitter and Facebook both list a “joined” date on profile pages.)There’s been surge of social media accounts with fewer than 200 followers created in the past month, a common sign of disinformation efforts. The fake antifa account that Twitter shut down was only a few days old.
*Does the person say who they are? If so you could probably Google them.
*Glance at an account’s most recent posts—as well as ones from a few weeks ago. Is it consistent?
*Ask yourself what puts them in a position to know about this topic. Is the source even in the place that it claims to have information about?
*If it claims to be a news outlet, does it have a website? A way to contact it? A service called NewsGuard offers a Web Browser plug-in that rates more than 4,000 news websites based on their websites base on their records of publishing accurate information.
*And if you’re part of a movement, take time to figure out who really is a member of your community. You can avoid the traps of interlopers by trusting information only from verifiable accounts of leaders, as opposed to whoever is shouting the loudest online.

Step 2.5: Don’t trust cute things.
Memes, those images and slogans that spread like wildfire, can be fun. Just know now they’re also weapons.
Case in point: Russian accounts back in the lead-up to the 2016 election shared many delightful images, such as one with a golden retriever waving an American flag and text reading, “LIke you feel that’s gonna be a great week!” It’s source, a Facebook page called Being Patriotic, channeled jingoism and had over 200,000 followers.
Yes, the misinformers have appropriated puppies. They used Beyonce memes, too.
A post does not have to be false to be dangerous. The misinformers are more interested in hijacking the mechanism of sharing, by getting you to improve their standing.
And that takes us back to Step 2 , checking sources. Who are you supporting when you share, like, or retweet? There’s no reason to be amplifying content from pure strangers.
This applies even if the meme comes from a Facebook group, an increasingly common target for disinformers. Groups market themselves as tight knit communities, bt the may just be hiding bad activity behind the close walls of the group.

Step 3: Become a citizen investigator
Sometimes a quick source check comes up inconclusive but you’re still really interested in the information they’re sharing. Then it’s time to perform “lateral reading.” Instead of digging deep into the information at hand, look across the Internet for other sources.
Questions to ask:
*Have any reputable fact-checking organizations looked into the claim?
*Did anybody else report the same thing, perhaps from a different angle?
*Where and when was the image or quote created? Try a revise-image search site, such as images.google.com. BuzzFeed recently debunked a post that had more than 15,000 retweets claiming a McDonald’s restaurant was burning during Minnesota protests. The photo used was actually taken in Pennsylvania in 2016.

Step 4: When you find misinformation, correct it—carefully.
Concerned citizens should help others not fall for misinformation, by leaving a trail of bread crumbs to the truth. Research shows people are less likely to share information when someone has commented with a fact check, Caulfied says.
But do so with cautions,. Reshaping the original with a comment can sometimes help to amplify the original source. A better idea, used by some professional fact checkers, is to take a screen shot of the image or video, and then draw a redX through it and share that.
If you’re commenting on someone else’s post, just remember most people do not like being corrected.
Don’t make a fight out of being right. If you do , there’s a wide body of social science that would probably indicate that they’ll probably have a reaction that makes them double down on whatever they thought to begin with because you just made them feel stupid.

The way disinformation works is that there is often a kernel of truth in it. So when you’re dissecting it you have to find the truth and address the truth, and then say the rest is a lie.

More on the Stupidity Pandemic

July 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic cannot account for all the stupidity in the United States, but it has added to a core group of stupidity. This became evident to HM when he read in Max Boot’s column title, “It appears we haven’t evolved all that much” in the 9 July 2020 issue of the Washington Post.

He begins by reporting the results of a Gallup survey that 98% of Democrats reported wearing a mask outside the home, but only 66% of the Republicans. So it would appear that Republicans are contributing more than their fair share to this pandemic.

Boot also notes that this week marks the 95th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial that was argued by Clarence Darrow, “attorney for the damned,” for the defense and William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution. As this was 95 years ago, one can be more sympathetic for the religious fundamentalists. But today, given the the advances of science, from human landings on the moon to the miracles of modern medicine, one is hard pressed to be sympathetic.

Nevertheless Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority, actually thought that Bryan was a sellout for admitting under Darrow’s cross-examination, that the world was not created in six 24-hour days. Falwell said that Bryan “lost the respect of Fundamentalists” for conceding that the Book of Genesis was referring to longer periods of time.

According to a Pew Poll in 2018 38% of white evangelical Protestants (a core part of Trump’s base) say that humans have aways existed in their present form. So the number of people holding this belief is greater than the population of Canada. Please note that Canada along with the European Union has handled this pandemic much, much better than the United States.

The King James version of the bible. together with recent modernizations, is regarded by many as the word of God. HM argues that it is not the literal word of God. How can HM argue this? Well God knows how the world was created and how long it took, and this bears virtually no resemblance to what is presented in the bible. These people are not using the brains that God gave them and are actually insulting God by maintaining that this bible is the word of God.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stupidity Pandemic

July 8, 2020

There was a previous post titled the stupidity pandemic, and there have been other posts that have addressed this topic. Pandemic implies many countries, and indeed there is a stupidity epidemic across many countries, but it appears that with the coronavirus, the United States is taking the lead in the stupidity pandemic.

The first indication that the United States was taking the lead in this category was when the Republic Party nominated Trump to run for president even though he was no Republican, because they wanted someone, anyone, to win. But remember the caution, be careful what you wish for. Because the result of Trump winning the presidency was the destruction of the Republican Party, once the Grand Old Party (GOP). And he has succeeded in destroying much of American democracy. Should he be re-elected with the Russian support, and Republican voter suppression, or remain in the presidency due to Trump’s personal attorney, Attorney General Barr, or a violent revolution, that would be the death knell of American democracy.

But if Trump’s goal is to use the coronavirus pandemic to destroy the country, he seems to be doing a fantastic job. By denying science, and replacing science with lies and his alternative reality, he could effectively destroy democracy. Fortunately, many state and local leaders are taking steps to defeat the pandemic.

But they shouldn’t need to. Information on the risks of the coronavirus pandemic and the best means of defeating the pandemic are readily available, and should be well understood. Some people refuse to wear masks because they are free men, who are free to do what they want. But by not wearing masks they are placing themselves in danger. Of course, they are also putting others at risk, but they don’t give a damn about that. These people deserve the highest award for the utmost stupidity. But the way they behave will turn out to be self-correcting.

Then there are people who do not wears masks because they want to show support for the President’s stupidity. They should have their own marching song:

“Say it loud, we’re dumb and we’re proud!”

But the behavior of these people should ultimately prove self-correcting.

Still the question remains, what will become of the United States?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Studies Find Fox Misled Its Viewers on the Virus

July 6, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the column by Margaret Sullivan in the 29 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. Of course, this is not news. It is obvious. Fox, the network that advertises that it produces fair and balanced news, has always been a network catering to right wing biases. And under Trump, it reports from Trump’s fantasy world.

Previous HM posts have documented how Trump is not managing the Coronavirus Crises properly. Actually, he is mismanaging the Coronavirus Crisis by denying the science and providing bogus information, some of which would lead directly to death, is resulting in the unnecessary deaths of others.

But both Trump and Pence are lying about the crisis and discouraging people from following the sound advice from experts. And this is resulting in the unnecessary deaths of people.

One might argue that Trump and Pence could be charged with manslaughter. And Fox News should be held accountable for the unnecessary deaths its coverage produced.

Since this post was drafted on 29 June, HM has learned that Fox has decided to post accurate news on the coronavirus. HM leaves it to the reader whether to bother to confirm this change.

Whether they are continuing to report news supporting Trump’s alternative reality is unknown.

Happy Fourth of July 2020

July 3, 2020

Understand that this title is a wish, not a statement bearing on the reality of the current situation. For HM, this is by far the least happy July 4 he has ever experienced. A large part of this unhappiness is with the Coronavirus pandemic, or more specifically, with the manner in which the President and some of his supporters have responded to this pandemic. He has called it a hoax, a claim he periodically returns to. Very early he said that there was a perfect test for the virus that was readily available. This test was neither perfect nor available.

This pandemic required an intelligent response and intelligent leadership from the country’s chief executive. Neither was forthcoming. Fortunately, there were governors, medical personnel, and scientists who did their best to fill in this vacuum. Governor Cuomo of New York, in particular, turned a nightmare scenario into a manageable state, although the pandemic still exists and is dangerous. It was governors who led the responses, with responsible governors producing manageable solutions. Unfortunately, too many other governors did little and the pandemic spread.

As a nation, the United States has suffered more deaths than any other nation. Two competitors, Russia and Brazil, are managed by autocratic leaders. But as far as HM knows, the United States along with Russia and Brazil are the only countries that have not produced some initial containment of the virus, as the virus is rapidly spreading in certain parts of the United States. Social distancing and the wearing of masks are two practices that should be followed by everyone. But Trump does not wear a mask. And they hold rallies violating the practices of wearing masks and social distancing. Pence claims that the right to assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution. But only morons argue that these assemblies should not include practices that would safeguard the health of the participants.

There are lessons to be learned from this pandemic, and these lessons should not be ignored. The economic health of the country should not depend on rampant materialism led by narcissists. We are running on treadmills, when there is no need. Rather than fearing the loss of jobs from technology, technology should be employed to reduce the work hours and improve the quality of life for all citizens. There should not be a minimum wage; there needs to be a livable wage.

Changes need to be made in our economy so that we do not need to be put on life support systems when there are tragedies that reduce employment. There will likely be a second wave, and perhaps a third wave of this pandemic. People should not be forced to perform dangerous jobs to live under this pandemic. And there is a need to be prepared for future pandemics. There are also likely disruptions from the weather and global warming. We need to care for everyone in our society, and if we do so, we’ll all benefit.

Currently the one shining light on our county is the movement for racial harmony. Unfortunately, this required a video of a police officer murdering a minority for attempting to pass a counterfeit bill. Many other murders committed by law enforcement officers were brought to light. Fortunately, there were many demonstrations and continuing demonstrations for civil rights that had large components of non-colored participants.

This country needs to be drawn together, but Trump is pandering to his base of white supremacists and nazis. Unfortunately, this base seems to consist of a hard 40% of the population. This basis will constitute a serious problem, even if we somehow manage to get Trump out of the White House.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What If…

July 3, 2020

It is interesting to speculate what would have developed if either a variant of Homo Sapiens had evolved or if Homo Sapiens had a different value system, so that other humans were valued more than earthly riches. Rather than exploring for riches they were exploring as anthropologists, but not as anthropologists with the bias that they were superior to the subjects they studied.

So they encountered this native species in the new world that was meaningfully embedded in a symbiotic relationship with nature. They valued this relationship and the natives who had settled this land valued the science and technology of these explorers. They worked together in a symbiotic relationship so that nature was enhanced rather than exploited. What a wonderful world that would be today.

It was realized that there was a very large agricultural potential in these new lands, but that human labor was required. There was a large source of this labor available in Africa. But rather than capturing and enslaving this source of labor it was recruited. Incentives were provided so that people would willingly move to this new land for a better life. And when they arrived here they found that it was indeed a better life.

The damages to our environment are being realized today and there is some concern whether it is too late to cope with these damages. The damages caused by slavery have continued to the present day.

This is an alternative future that could have been realized if we valued humans as humans and we valued humans more than riches and physical wealth.

Given the size of the universe and the possibility of multiple universes, this scenario might have been realized, possibly more than once.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital and Ideology — Second Problem

July 2, 2020

The title is identical to the title of a new book by Thomas Piketty. He is to be congratulated for this exhaustive and highly technical analysis. It covers the history of capital and ideology from its earliest stages to the present day. HM found two problems with this book: The first problem was that the role of technology was ignored. This problem was addressed in the preceding post. The second problem is that PIketty chose the wrong dependent variable. That problem is addressed in this post.

Piketty chose gross domestic product, that is the value of goods and services produced. There have been prior healthy memory blog post regarding the problem with gross domestic product. He certainly should be forgiven for this, as GDP is perhaps the best known measure of produced goods. But a better measure has been proposed and developed, Gross National Happiness (GNH). There have been prior HM posts on this topic. Readers would do well to go to the wikipedia and search for Gross National Happiness. You will find that the term “Gross National Happiness” was coined in 1979 during an interview by a British journalist for the Financial Times at Bombay airport when the then king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, said “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product”. View the video when you go there.

It should be immediately apparent that one problem with the GDP regards how equitably it is distributed. And GDP can be supplemented with measures capturing how well it is distributed. But still the measure is of material wealth, when personal happiness is more relevant. This topic was discussed in the HM posts on the discussions between Paul Ekman and the Daili Lama. Communistic and capitalistic societies thought that better production would promote greater personal satisfaction and happiness, but it did not.

Unfortunately, too many people pursue materialistic wealth and pursue it far beyond personal well-being. They use it as a scorecard as to how well they are doing. Donald Trump provides the principal example of this. In addition to himself he uses it to evaluate everyone. It is fortunate that Putin came along to save Trump from his bankruptcies. But Trump, and other narcissists constantly are seeking the approval and admiration of others. They assume greater debt for the purpose of impressing others. They go to college, not to pursue any intellectual interests, but to get their ticket punched to a middle class lifestyle and possibly higher. A previous HM post documented that confident, fulfilled rich people feel no need to impress others and spend for personal security and for pleasures and properties they personally enjoy.

Rather than judging themselves on whether their personal lives are worthwhile and fulfilling, narcissists judge themselves on the basis of the financial value of their properties and the judgment of their peers. So they will take a job with the biggest paycheck, rather than one that pays less, but would be more personally fulfilling.

Citizens need to be polled annually on their personal happiness and fulfillment, and how their personal happiness and fulfillment could be fostered.

During the colonial period, Benjamin Franklin was curious about the following issue. There were Native Americans who moved to live with the colonists, and there were colonists who went to live with the Native Americans. What Franklin was curious about was the finding that these Native Americans who had moved to live with the colonists frequently returned to their native villages. But rarely did the colonists who had moved to live with the Native Americans return.

When HM toured the lands where Native Americans lived in the west, he marveled about the vastness of the land. He also learned how the Native Americans lived in harmony with the environment and lived to foster the well-being of the environment. They were appalled at the way these settlers cared nought for the environment and destroyed nature in their wake.

With the exception of the small number of settlers who moved to the new world for religious reasons, the vast number of settlers to both North and South America came for the purpose of exploiting the land and becoming rich. They held nature in contempt and regarded these Native Americans as ignorant savages. So they were blind to the warning that natural resources are limited and can be polluted, so they need to be regarded with respect.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Capital and Ideology—First Problem

July 1, 2020

The title is identical to the title of a new book by Thomas Piketty. He is to be congratulated for this exhaustive and highly technical analysis. It covers the history of capital and ideology from its earliest stages to the present day. HM found two problems with this book: It chose the wrong dependent variable to assess progress. And it did not do justice to the role of technology. This posts discusses the role of technology.

In reading about past generations it becomes obvious that the lives of many were uncomfortable. HM cannot think of a previous time in which he would have preferred to live. This is true, even if relatively well-off. HM remembers when he was vacationing in Japan and was visiting a palace of one of the Shogun’s. Even though it was a palace, it was a flimsy building and it was obvious that it would have been quite cold in the winter. So HM asked how did the Shogun stay warm during the winter. The answer was with sake and his concubines. At that point HM decided he would prefer to live in his current studio apartment with it’s temperature control and electronics. He also was aware that the lives of these shoguns were at risk most of the time.

HM did his doctoral dissertation during the days of typing. He needed to type his drafts and then send them to a professional typist who would also produce the final version of the dissertation. All this activity was manual. Research needed to be done at libraries with card catalogs needed to access printed versions of material of interest in both books and journals. Data processing was done on mainframe computers. Jobs were submitted and we waited for outputs to see if additional work was required.

When HM became a professional research psychologist all these activities were manual. One would go through many successive versions, each correcting and updating previous versions. This was all manual and slow.

The development of personal computers made it possible for us to do all these activities at our desks. Eventually we could send and share documents electronically. And we could do this across continents.

HM became incensed when he read an article saying that today’s generation was worse off than HM’s baby boomer generation when the costs of inflation were considered. The problem here is the same as the problem with PIketty’s book in equating a monetary measure to define being well-off. HM would much prefer living in the technology of today.

What disturbs HM is the way today’s generation is using technology. With Coursera and other sources, one can get an entire education, both undergraduate and graduate, on-line for free. Of course, there are charges for actually getting degrees. But HM is especially impressed by autodidacts who educate themselves. These are true lovers of knowledge rather than the typical college student who studies primarily to get a middle-class lifestyle.

HM finds it extremely frustrating seeing how the potential of technology is being ignored and abused. Social media are the rage so one can interact with others just for their opinions. Be aware that opinions are like a—holes in that everybody has one. They should be spending time with authoritative sources rather than being preoccupied with “likes” and staying plugged in.

There is a large fear that technology will produce unemployment. This should not be the case. No one should lose jobs due to technology. Jobs should be redefined and the number of hours being worked decreased, so that people can pursue other “growth” pursuits. Everyone should receive a guaranteed level of income.

There should be no problem financing all this provided the pie is cut up fairly. Billionaires have only one life to live. The increase in the quality of life rapidly drops off after so many billion dollars. So there should be progressive taxation on both income and wealth.

There was also an interesting idea in the utopian futuristic novel by psychologist, B.F. Skinner, Walden Two. In Walden Two, the more unpleasant the job, the higher the wage. This provided encouragement to perform unpalatable labor.

The future could be bright, provided wealth is fairly distributed and that obscene wealth does not capture politics and produce authoritarian regimes.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Calls for Racial Justice Gained Steam with Empathy

June 30, 2020

The title of this piece is identical to the title of an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health & Science Section of the 23 June 2020 issue of The Washington Post. The subtitle asks the question, what kept people from supporting these movements before?

A key answer to this question comes from research on the perverse relationship between power and empathy. Empathy is people’s ability to share and understand each other’s experience. Empathy is not a hard-wired trait, but a skill . The right experiences, habits and practices can increase our empathic capacity, the same way we can get stronger by going to the gym. But there is s dark side to this idea: Other experiences can cause our empathy to atrophy, similar to a muscle we don’t use.

Power and privilege can sap our ability to understand others. In a series of studies, psychologist Michael Kraus and his colleagues measured people’s socio-economic status, as well as their ability to decipher emotions in pictures and in-person interactions. People higher in status were less accurate about other people’s feelings. Recent work has replicated these results and also found that high-status individuals make more errors when trying to take other people’s perspective.

Kraus and his colleagues have documented the empathic failures that come with privilege. Higher-status individuals display less interest when talking with strangers and report less concern for the suffering of others. These gaps play out in racial contexts as well. In another study, Kraus found that high-income white Americans overestimate racial economic equality more than black Americans or low -income white Americans.

These findings were bleak enough to make one journalist conclude, “power causes brain damage.” But powerful people are not incapable of empathy and should not be let off the hook from working at it. Like other skills, empathy takes practice, and people practice it when they are motivated to do so. Individuals who are relatively underprivileged realize they need others to succeed whereas people with power often deicide they can go it alone. Consistent with this idea, lower-status individuals pay more attention to faces, people and social cues than those with high status.

People without power often have to understand the perspective of high-power groups, which is the default in media, culture and work. By contrast, high-status individuals don’t have to understand others perspective to survive. This is one way privilege works its way into our minds. Not only are privileged people exempt from material struggles, they can comfortably ignore everyone else’s.

In some cases, powerful individuals have incentives not to understand. Genuinely peering into others’ worlds might force them into ugly realizations that they contribute to and benefit from injustice. To avoid that discomfort, they might turn down their empathy even further. In one series of studies, psychologists reminded members of high-power groups—such as white Americans—of their group’s responsibility for past violence—for instance, against Native Americans. Participants responded by dehumanizing victims to avoid guilt.

This is one irony of power: It expands the change a person could make while narrowing the aperture of whom they truly see. But this is not inevitable. When powerful people choose to empathize, they become more cooperative and more invested in justice. In one particularly relevant series of studies, Emile Bruneau and his colleagues asked members of low-power groups to “perspective give,” sharing their stories, and high-power individuals to perspective, paraphrasing what they’d heard. These dialogues increased connection and positive regard between groups—not by ignoring existing power structures but by reversing them.

In the past few weeks, many people have opened their eyes to suffering they had previously ignored. Much credit for this should go to activists and organizers who have made it harder to look away. Can increase in concern about racial injustice last? Empathy is a powerful psychological spark, but it often extinguishes quickly to support long-term change. As emotional stories leave our collective consciousness, people move on. Suffering continues, but those in power no longer see it.

Rather than depending on empathy to last, another strategy would be to leverage the care and energy of this moment into structural change—for instance, commitments to diversity leadership in education, business, and government. Rather than depending on people in power to listen more intently, change might come when we ensure the people who have previously been kept out of power have more chances to speak and be heard.

There are other posts on the work of Jamil Zaki.
Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com
and enter Zaki into the search block

Stimulating Societal Success

June 29, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

What is known that can assist in dealing with problems such as climate change and energy conservation? One approach might be to address emotional mores.

For liberals, issues such as climate change, recycling, and species conservations are perceived as moral issues. They invoke moral feelings when they’re being considered. Liberals are proud of recycling. They’re compassionate toward the species that will suffer from environmental harm. If we add to this difference the truism that people tend to be more willing to accept short-term costs for a goal when they’re feeling morally involved in an issue, the tendency of liberals to favor environment-friendly police its would make good sense. To them, the cost is worth it, partly because their moral emotions prevent them from primarily focusing on immediate gains.

If this view is correct, it should be possible to alter conservatives’ attitudes toward environmental policies by rousing moral emotions within them and linking these states to a relevant cause. Stanford sociologist Robb Willer along with University of Toronto psychologist Matthew Fenberg examined this possibility. They designed a morality-based pro-environmental message, but rather than couch it in terms of the moral principle of “do no harm”—the way liberal environmentalists typically do—they framed it in terms of research showing that conservatives view purity as much more morally important than do liberals, suggesting that they’re more likely to be grateful for and appreciate things in untarnished conditions. The corresponding environmental message encouraged people to protect natural habitats from “desecration” so that future generations could experience the “uncontaminated purity and value of nature.”

Willer and Feinberg had self-identified conservatives read this purity-framed environmental appeal or a more typical “do no harm” one. The conservatives who’d read the purity vision reported more positive attitudes toward legislation want to protect the environment than did those who read the other version. In fact, the conservatives who read the purity-toned message ended up also reporting a greater belief in global warming even though information on climate change was not included in the original message. We can see here the contagious effect of moral emotions perceptions and decisions about the future.

These data are encouraging, but what about data dealing with actual behavior?
Here is what was accomplished in a study regarding electricity conservation by an electrical company. This utility offered customers $25 to sign up to have blackout device hooked up to their air conditioners. This device automatically set cooling temperatures. The names of people who signed up for this device were made public, so people could check to see whether their neighbors had signed up for the device.

The results were impressive. Participation in the blackout prevention more than tripled, and this new strategy was cost effective for the utility. The researchers calculated that the utility would have had to increase the money they offered people to enroll in the program by $145 each in order to get a similar rate of compliance. A few sheets of paper versus $170 per person to achieve the same positive outcome.

Follow the Danes

June 28, 2020

When looking for a country to follow, perhaps the best candidate is Denmark. The Danes habitually rank near the top of the happiest societies on earth. Denmark also ranks near the top for forward-looking environmental policies. The people of Denmark have developed tax policies that encourage both lower energy use and the development of new, green technologies. Of course, both of these require people to contribute more money in the present in the form of taxes, but offer the potential for greater shared gains in years to come.

The Danes believe that learning empathy and compassion is as essential for future success and happiness as is learning math or literature. It’s view is backed by solid research. Danish schools often incorporate empathy lessons and exercises as part of their regular curriculum. By teaching children how to mentally put themselves in others’ shoes, to work cooperatively, and to support one another when needed, the students enter adulthood with a greater desire and ability to act compassionately.

Another way to use social emotions to foster a society’s long-term success is to frame policies or actions in ways that evoke moral emotions and concerns. To the degree that societal issues of pressing concern can be framed in moral terms, doing so will offer increased persuasive power as long as the people empowered to make choices share the same moral code. Sometimes making an issue seem morally relevant requires tailoring the message to a group’s existing moral tenets.

Is Giving Pleasurable?

June 27, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.
This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.

What Does a Lonely Brain Look Like?

June 26, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

In 2003 a team led by UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger wanted to answer the question raised in the title of this post. They had an MRI scanner and needed to make someone feel lonely inside the scanner. So they adapted a typical playground slight to the virtual world. This game is known as cybermall, involves three “people” who appear on a computer screen: the true participant and two fake others (whom the true participant believes to be real.) Here are the rules of play: when the visual ball gets thrown to someone, that person has to pass it to one of the two other players. Social exclusion happens when two other players on the screen begin to thrown the ball only to each other. Although this might not appear to be a big deal, in experiment after experiment it has been shown to make those who are excluded feel alone and devalued. Only a computer monitor and two buttons are needed to play the game and people can do it alone inside the scanner.

Those who were excluded in the game showed increased activity in brain areas known to respond to physical pain. This means that loneliness feels physically painful. It actually hurts. But pain isn’t its worst effect. Loneliness ravages the mind and body over time in ways science is only now beginning to understand.

For decades Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo has been studying the detrimental effects of isolation, and these effects are alarming. When combined with findings showing the growing prevalence of loneliness, there is the distinct possibility of a looming public health crisis. Persistent loneliness produces double the mortality risk of obesity. It’s equivalent to smoking in terms of increasing the odds of an early death. It impairs immunity and increases inflammation, both of which are linked to maladies such as heart disease and diabetes. The chronic stress that accompanies loneliness also disrupts, elevates blood pressure, and causes depression over time.

DeStono writes “The link between loneliness and depression is so strong that feelings of isolation can cloud people’s mood even when their social lives improve. For example, those who have been lonely for a year but then regain social connections still show deleterious effects. The experience of that earlier loneliness continues to darken their mood and worldview for months. Put simply, loneliness shapes our future. It can even do so by spreading within social networks. Feeling isolated in the moment has been shown to increase people’s expectations that loneliness will continue. These expectations, in turn, tend to distort their views of others’ willingness to accept them, making them turn ever more inward. And as they turn inward, others with whom they might normally interact begin to feel lonely too.”

DeStono argues that individual achievement needs to be balanced with social connection. Using socially oriented emotions provides the answer. While directly helping us to achieve our personal goals, regularly practicing them will reduce our loneliness along the way by strengthening our ties to others, which will itself indirectly also bolster self-control. These emotions offer a double shot when it comes to obtaining success.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and Tit for Tat

June 25, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

A famous game for studying the risks and benefits associated with cooperation comes from a slight alteration of a famous game known as the prisoner’s dilemma. In the usual version of the game two prisoners must make choices during individual interrogations about whether to keep quiet or sell their partner out. It is focused on how much people can lose depending on whether people act to keep a promise or selfishly break it. The same rules apply, however, if we reframe the game in terms of who wins. Should two people combine their resources by working together to make a product (that is, they cooperate), let’s say each can earn $300 when they sell it. On the other hand, if the partners choose to compete, they’ll earn $100 apiece instead since they’ll now need more individual resources. If one unfairly competes, should he promise to work with his partner, but then stakes out on his own after using joint resources—he can earn $500 and leave the other partner nothing.

If they both choose to compete, they end up worse off than if they both choose to cooperate: $100 each versus $300 each. So the only way to ensure joint success and satisfaction is to accept a smaller, shared gain. If they choose to work in what appears to be their immediate self-interest, they eventually end up with less.

It might seem that the question of whether competition or cooperation is better remains unanswered. Solving this conundrum required adding an additional element to the equation: time. Using self-control to forestall bigger gains and cooperate only makes sense if the smaller gains of competition versus the bigger gains of cooperation over the long run.

Political scientist Robert Axelrod found a clever means of solving this conundrum. He used computer simulations to create “people” and made them play rounds of the prisoner’s dilemma day and night using different strategies: forgive past transgressions, be vengeful, or be trustworthy are just a few of the strategies he tried. He then charted each “person’s” success over hundreds of transactions.

The winning strategy that resulted in the greater accumulation of points was a deceptively simple one: tit for tat (TFT). Although it begins by being cooperative, it quickly adjusts its decision based on another’s reputation. For example, if a potential partner treated another fairly, the second partner would return the favor during the next interaction with the former; it would cooperate. If the first partner acted selfishly, it would follow suit and cheat the next time they met. Although TFT did not emerge victorious in every round, it was the strategy that fared the best on average. Although players acting more selfishly jumped ahead initially, their gains waned over time as others began to shun them. In contrast, players who chose to cooperate when it was wise to do so accumulated the most resources over many, many rounds of the simulation, and ultimately, that’s what drives evolutionary adaptation: a robust solution.
The conclusion is that morality is self-control’s true raison d’être. When gratitude, compassion, or self-affirmation makes us behave nobly, it does so to ensure that we’ll attract others to us —others who will support and work with us to achieve success. By making us value the future, these states also make us willing to work to benefit our own future selves.

Self-affirmation and Perseverance

June 24, 2020

In the very first post in the series of posts on the book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride HM expressed his misgivings about the term pride. Pride has too many negative connotations, one being that it is the first of the seven deadly sins. It is not the best term. The best term is self-affirmation. It avoids all the negative connotations of pride.

The chapter on pride is titled Pride and Perseverance. It should have been titled self-affirmation and perseverance. A proud person might avoid certain situations because that person might feel that the outcome might hurt his pride. But self-affirmation avoids that situation. Self-affirmation motivates one to confront problems and challenges. Self-affirmation leads to perseverance and it is perseverance that leads to success.

It is wrong to tell anyone that all they need is the will to succeed. Success requires perseverance. It is also important that there are many factors involved in success, and one of those factors is luck. So it is a crime to argue that success is guaranteed.

But there is much research indicating that most all of us can accomplish much more than we think we can, that we have much more potential than we realize. There is much research proving this point. Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com to read just some of this research. Growth mindsets foster perseverance.

Meditation

June 22, 2020

Meditation provides the best means of fostering compassion and other desirable states. Destono devotes much attention to meditation and its importance. But it does not appear that Destono meditates himself. Fortunately, HM does meditate and will provide information on how he meditates.

For some time, HM practiced getting in the recommended postures for meditation and tried to meditate. All these attempts met in failure because he felt uncomfortable. He could not tolerate this for even a short period of time. So he tried sitting in a chair. Although he could tolerate sitting in a chair, still he was not successful in reaching a meditative state.

HM wondered what are quadriplegics or other people with physical problems supposed to do. Are they precluded from meditating?

HM developed a style of meditation lying down. In doing further research he discovered that the reason for not meditating lying down is that people tend to fall asleep.

But HM does not fall asleep while meditating. The reason is that meditation requires the active focusing of attention, which precludes sleep. If you feel sleepy do not meditate. You need to realize that you need to be alert to meditate.

HM begins by doing the relaxation response. The relaxation response lowers blood pressure, and has other beneficial health and psychological effects.

Here are some suggestions as to how to start. This from the website of the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine.

Elicitation of the relaxation response has the following essential steps:

Repitition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer, or muscular activity.
Passive disregard of everyday thought that inevitably comes to mind and then return to your repetition.

Pick a focus word, short phrase, or prayer that is firmly rooted in your belief system, such as “one,” “peace,” “The lord is my shepherd,” “Hail Mary full of grace,” or “shalom.”
Close your eyes.
Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves,thighs, abdomen. shoulders, head, and neck.
Breath slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word, sound, phrase or prayer silently to yourself as you exhale.

Our minds are constantly busy. There is almost always something running through them. The goal here is to shut down this mind traffic and focus only on your breath and focus word, sound, or phrase. This can be frustrating because undesired words and thoughts will keep occurring. Becoming frustrated is a common response, but frustration precludes the relaxation response. One must gently brush these unwanted thoughts aside and continue quieting your mind with your breath and phrase. When successful you should experience a remarkable sense of peace. This is quite pleasurable, so continue for at least ten minutes (but don’t look at a watch or clock) or as long as you want.

For busy working people, it is difficult to do more, and this small amount of time meditating daily enhances both your mental and physical health.

There are many posts on this topic that can be foundry entering “relaxation response” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com

You should also go to http://www.relaxationresponse.org

After HM retired he added loving kindness meditation. He did this for one reason. This particular form of meditation produced remarkable responses from the brain when done by expert meditators. It also builds vagal tone. He begins with the relaxation response and when he feels it is time he transitions to loving kindness meditation. HIs total time meditating is about an hour.

You can find posts on the topic by using the search term at healthymemory.wordpress.com

or you can search for this topic at duckduckgo.com

Compassion

June 21, 2020

This post is based on content from David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride. Compassion, like the other components of the toolbox is their ability to make us willing to sacrifice to aid others can be coopted to help our future selves.

Berkeley psychologists Breines and Chen recruited more than one hundred students for a study on standardized test performance and sat them down to complete two sets of problems taken from the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). After the students completed the first set, Beines and Chen handed out an answer key and allowed participants to score their own exam. As the problems were especially difficult, the average score was 40%. Nobody was pleased with their result; everybody wanted to do better in the next round. Brains and Chen then offered study materials to the students so that any who wished could use them to improve their performance on the second set of GRE problems.

At this point, before any studying could begin, compassion came into play. One-third of the students received a message that it was common for people to have difficulty with tests like the one they had just taken, and thus they shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. They should treat themselves with compassion, not criticism, in response to their test performance. Another third were told that they shouldn’t feel badly about themselves because they were actually intelligent, as proven by their having gotten in to Berkeley. The final third was told nothing at all.

Students who were encouraged to treat their initial sub performance with understanding and forgiveness subsequently increased the time they spent studying by 30%, compared with students in the other two groups. And the additional time spent studying was a strong predictor of performance on the next exam. It wasn’t the case that the self-compassion led students to believe that they would perform better; their predictions for success on the second exam weren’t any higher that those of students in the other groups. Rather, feelings of compassion made them more willing to accept the costs of studying in the moment in the hopes that their future rewards would be worth it.

Compassion has similar effects on procrastination. A study involving more than two hundred college students revealed a strong link between compassion toward oneself and progress toward academic goals. Students who typically had lower levels of self-compassion procrastinated more and, as expected, had poorer academic outcomes.

Self compassion among athletes also can be seen in increased perseverance. Those who more regularly report forgiving and empathizing with themselves for failures, as opposed to criticizing themselves, show great initiative when it comes to future practice. A similar trend holds even among non-athletes; those who tend to treat themselves with compassion typically show a greater motivation for exercise. This relationship holds when it comes to most any healthy behavior. For example, smokers who report higher levels of self-compassion succeed more often when trying to quit. Whether we consciously realize it or not, compassion nudges us toward many types of decisions and behaviors that help us in the future.

The vagus nerve is extremely important as any state that enhances its activity—or vagal tone, as it’s usually termed—should guard against stress. Research conducted by University of Toronto psychologist Jennifer Stellar on compassion shows that there is a strong link between compassion and vagal tone. When she induced people to feel compassion by exposing them to others who needed help, the amount of compassion they felt was directly tied to vagal activity: those who felt more compassion showed elevated vagal tone.

This link between compassion and vagal tone suggests that people who regularly cultivate this emotion should experience some resilience in the face of stress. Research at the University of North Carolina by psychologist Karen Bluth found that a tendency toward self-compassion strongly predicted both a lowered stress response and a stronger sense of well-being.

Author DeStono provides the following two strategies for cultivating self-compassion: One centers on getting clear-eyed about your own habitual style of self-talk. When you reflect on past failures write down what you’re thinking, or even better, verbalize and record your internal dialogue. This real-time record is much less vulnerable to subsequent interpretative biases. As such, it will offer important insight into whether and how you feel self-compassion.

The other, related tactic, is to set aside a time once a week or so to reflect on past failure where the effort to succeed was high, and then to forgive it. Choosing to condemn such failures—if that’s what the first exercise reveals to be a typical response—will only foster shame and anxiety about future ones—two emotions that will themselves continually chip away at self-control. Using these strategies to uncover your own style and then, if needed, to cultivate self-compassion to change it will do just the opposite. Training our minds to make self-compassion the default response will not only increase self-control and grit growing forward, it will also help make our bodies resilient in the face of stress.

Gratitude Does a Body Good

June 20, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section of a book by David DeStono titled How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves. The author writes, “given gratitude’s ties to self-control, it should come as no surprise that it can benefit your health as well as your work and your wallet. This is because many health-related decisions are inter— temporal in nature. Smoking may be very enjoyable in the here and now, but there’s no doubt where it leads. The same with eating junk food or watching television instead of exercising.”

Feeling grateful can give our minds the boost it needs to resist temptations than can harm our health. Increased gratitude is associated with less use of alcohol and tobacco. It also helps motivate us to eat well and exercise to improve our health. The author writes that perhaps the biggest benefit of gratitude in the health domain is its effortlessness. Traditional routes to self-control can be quite taxing on our body as well as on our mind. Even when these traditional routes work, they cause stress. Gratitude heals and supports the body and mind while simultaneously helping us make healthier decisions.

Researchers also have found evidence linking elevated gratitude to higher levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol, which likely result from a combination of lifestyle choices in exercise and diet. Even inflammatory biomarkers, another important indicator of disease progression, are associated with gratefulness. The more regularly people feel grateful, the less inflammation they show, pointing to this emotion’s buffering effect against stress.

These health benefits of gratitude also extend to the mind. People who feel grateful more frequently showed decreased anxiety and depression as well as increased optimism. These benefits all likely explain gratitude’s positive effect on sleep. Mendes’ work along with that of others confirms that more feelings of gratitude during the day lead to a more calm and blissful sleep at night for the grateful person and for his partner; better sleep for one means less restlessness to disturb the other.

Robert Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California at Davis and his research team followed two hundred participants over nine weeks to see whether encouraging people to feel more grateful in their daily lives would benefit their health and outlook. Every few days he asked half the people in his experiment to write down and reflect upon recent incidents for which they were grateful. These did not need to be major life events; they could be kindnesses as small as someone stopping to give you directions or a driver letting you get in front of her. He asked the other half to write down a few recent events in their lives of any type. The consequence was that there now were two groups of people who were reflecting on their lives but only one that was specifically counting their blessings.

After nine weeks it was clear that those who’d begun to cultivate more gratitude in their lives benefited from it. They not only exercised more—something that clearly requires self-control for most of us—but also reported better health measures as fewer symptoms of illness (runny nose, upset stomach, sore throat) and the general feeling of well-being. Here again gratitude’s dual nature can be seen in its heightening of perseverance in health-related behaviors and its lowering of stress.

How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves

June 19, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

The immediately previous post showed how gratitude can build self-control when giving to others. In helping others we also help ourselves down the line. It is equally true that gratitude can help us help ourselves by directly helping our own future selves. Gratitude functions like a constant nudge to value the possibilities the future holds.

The author cites Mischel’s classical study where children who managed not eating a marshmallow immediately received a bonus marshmallow later. What makes this study interesting is the future research that showed that these children were more successful in education and in their future lives.

To see if gratitude might increase patience researchers conducted a study in which participants needed to decide whether to accept $17 immediately and forgo $100 a year later. There were two types of people in this experiment: happy and grateful. To identify these two groups they had their subjects reflect on events from their lives that made them feel grateful or laugh out loud (happy) right before they indicated their financial preferences.

The results were interesting. Whereas people who were feeling rather neutral showed the usual impatience, those feeling grateful were significantly more future-oriented. It took $31 to tempt them to forgo the future $100 reward compared with the $17 neutral ones were willing to accept. Those feeling happy showed a level of impatience indistinguishable from that of neutral people. They’d take the pleasure $18 could buy them now rather than wait a year for $100. Prof DeStono notes that this finding reveals the importance of distinguishing between the effects of specific emotions when it comes to self-control. Merely feeling good didn’t make people more patient. Neither did inducing any old emotions that distract them from their desires. It was something specific to the class of emotions to which gratitude belongs—the one focused on building and interpersonal bonds.

So if cultivating gratitude enhances self-control in our lives, it is important to see whether it provides a constant buffer agains the temptation for immediate gratification in day-to-day experiences.

For example, consider high school students. Those who are regularly more grateful should have better social lives, better GPAs, and better spending habits, as saving money, getting grades, and forging strong relationships all arise from patience and sacrifice that stand to benefit us in the years ahead.

Jeffrey Froh, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley attempted to study these factors to see why some students at a large high school on Long Island were doing better than others. He surveyed more than one thousand students, collecting data on their GPAs, levels of gratitude, depression, materialism, life satisfaction, focus, and social integration. What he found is exactly what you’d expect if gratitude supported self-control. On the social side, gratitude was a strong predictor of teens’ social bonds and their life satisfaction. Those who regularly experience more gratitude had higher-quality relationships, great joy in spending time with friends and family, and felt more supported by their communities. They also felt less depressed and envious of others.

As for academic success being more grateful in daily life was associated not only with higher grades, but also with more frequent experiences of enjoyment in the pursuit of academic goals.

DeStono writes, “The more a future goal is valued, the more we typically enjoy working toward it. We don’t feel the urge to pull away, as our mental calculations continue to suggest that the short-term sacrifices are worth it. As a result we may not even feel that the effort needed to persevere toward a goal is a sacrifice at all.

Gratitude

June 18, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled How Gratitude Can Help Us Help Ourselves.

At a psychological level, gratitude isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. It pushes people to work in the moment to benefit what is to come. It’s an extremely active state, not a passive one. It influences decisions about what to do next.

Here is the difference between feeling grateful and feeling indebted. Damn, now I have to get you something. Sometimes receiving a gift or a favor makes your heart swell with gratitude; other times it can lead to an annoying sense of responsibility. How you value the gift or favor is the deciding factor. What unifies experiences of gratitude is the receipt of something one desires that comes at a cost to someone else.

We’re grateful when we feel others have invested in us, which makes us willing to return the favor in the future. Sociologist George Simmer captured it best when he likened gratitude to the moral memory of humankind; it doesn’t let you forget you owe someone something. Whether you’re paying people back for their “investment” in you with money, time, or effort, gratitude nudges you to forestall or divert your own gains in the moment in the service of building or maintaining beneficial relationships for the long term. Dr. DeStono urges us to think of it this way. A failure to show gratitude is often taken as an affront by someone who went out of their way to do something nice for you. And as affronts accrue, relationships die. That’s why even if people don’t truly feel grateful, there is a social norm to fake it: to say “thank you” and appear appreciative. But the real power of gratitude doesn’t come only from its expression; it comes from its shaping of behavior.

If gratitude encourages cooperation through self-control, there is a straightforward prediction. When people feel grateful, they should devote more effort to help someone else, even if that help entails less than pleasant actions. So, how can one research this topic? If you want to know how gratitude affects people, you can’t just ask them. Work by Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson has shown that not only are people poor at accurately predicting what they’ll feel in response to future hypothetical situations, they’re even worse as guessing how those feelings will affect their decisions. So asking someone what they’d do if they felt grateful is a scientific dead end. Examining how an emotion impacts decisions requires getting people to feel that emotion in real time and then seeing what they do when true costs and benefits—time, money—are on the line. But how do you make people feel grateful in the confines of a research lab?

The researchers realized that for people to feel grateful they first had to get stuck with a problem; they had to own it. Only after that when they were feeling the despair, could some elicit gratitude by swooping in to help them out of their predicament.

The researchers brought people into the lab two at a time and sat them down in adjacent cubicles. One of the two was an actual participant, the other a confederate. They were set to work completing a computerized task that was designed specifically to be long and boring. At the end of the task, people were led to believe that their score would appear on the computer monitor for the researcher to record. The only catch was that, unbeknownst to the participants, the computer they were working on was rigged to crash right as it was supposed to be calculating the final score. When it did so, there was an audible groan or expletive that brought the participant’s plight to the researcher’s attention. Here she’d inform the participant that unfortunately he’d have to redo the onerous task in its entirety. This pronouncement usually brought on more groans or expletives.

The participants believed that they were stuck and they were in for another twenty minutes of effortful tedium. The person sitting in the next cubicle was a confederate of the researchers. Her computer didn’t have technical issues and on getting up to leave she stopped, looked at the true participant and said something along the lines of “Yikes! That’s terrible. My computer didn’t crash. I wonder why yours did? Hmm.” She looked at her watch and said, “I do have to run to my campus job, but let’s see if I can help figure this out. I’m pretty good with computers.” Then she’d start playing with the cords and keyboard, during which time she would surreptitiously hit a key to start a countdown for the computer to come back to life. When it did, one could usually see the gratitude on people’s faces. And to back it up, the relieved souls almost always reported feeling a good deal of gratitude when their emotions were subsequently measured.

The grateful participants left the lab and headed to the building exit. But before they got there, they came upon the person who had helped them fix their computer a few minutes before. This confederate, who now appeared to be collecting data for a class project of her own, would ask the approaching participants if they could help her out. She needed people to complete a bunch of psychological tests. If they agreed, she’d sit them down to work in a room, saying the more time they were willing to devote to completing the tedious tests, the more help it would be. When they were done all they had to do was leave their work in a folder.

The researchers compared the amount of time grateful people spent working to help the confederate compared with that spent by people in the control group (who were in a neutral emotional states as they did the same experiment without their computer crashing), there was, not surprisingly, a dramatic difference. Those who felt gratitude made more effort to help their benefactor, they spent 30% more time working on the tests. Moreover gratitude was directly linked to perseverance in a dose-dependent way. It wasn’t simply knowing that someone had previously helped them that led people to work harder. Rather, it was the level of gratitude they felt in response to that a help; as their level of gratitude increased, so did their efforts and time on the task.

Although the researchers were pleased with the results, they still had a nagging worry: it was possible that people helped the confederate not because they were grateful, but simply because they felt they owed her a debt. To check whether it was truly gratitude rather than a sense of indebtedness, they ran the experiment again but with one key change. Now the person who asked the participants for help as they were leaving the building wasn’t the person who had previously offered to help in the lab bout a complete stranger (an actor working for the researchers). Still the effect was replicated.

Adam Grant of the Wharton business school has researched the important role giving plays in success. In his analysis of givers versus takers—people who are willing to devote time and effort to help others versus those who benefit from help but refuse to return the favor he found that on most every metric of success givers, over the long haul come out on top. As in most cases there can be too much of a good thing; giving repeatedly and unconditionally can make one a doormat. But outside of this aberrant case, generosity ensures that you’ll be valued and paid back in spades. One major benefit of gratitude is that it offers perhaps the fastest and easiest route to instill a readiness to give—one that does not rely on force of will and resists being subverted by motivated, selfish reasoning.

EMOTIONAL SUCCESS

June 17, 2020

The title of this book is identical to the title of an important book by David DeStono. The subtitle is “The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.” The title of the Introduction is “Self-Control, Success, and the Road Not Taken.” Prof. DeStono writes, “Best-selling books such as Willpower, How Children Succeed, and Grit all promise insight into how perseverance and patience can affect our lives for the better. Not to be outdone, magazines from the Atlantic to People routinely feature articles on the benefits of self-control and how to obtain it.”

The author continues, “I don’t mean to criticize this emphasis on self-control and valuing the future. To the contrary, I think we need it. And while the idea of self-control benefits isn’t new—we can see it extolled in moral tales and treatises going back for centuries—what is new is that this idea has moved from philosophy and theology into empirical proof. The benefits of self-control aren’t a matter of opinion anymore; they’re quantifiable. And what can be quantified can, in theory, be maximized. The million-dollar question, of course, is How? How can self-controlled be enhanced?”

Continuing further, “It’s here that I fear we have gone astray. For almost fifty years we’ve been developing science-based strategies meant to help us reach our goals. Yet, on average, we are no better at delaying immediate gratification than we were in the 1960s. If anything, our impatience and desire for immediate satisfaction are on the rise. As individuals and as a society, we’re spending more on impulse buys and conveniences rather than saving for a rainy day or retirement. We’re diverting our attention to games or social media on our smartphones rather than focusing it on learning and honing skills we need. We’re satisfying our sweet tooth and, as a result, expanding our waists simply to gain momentary pleasures at a great cost to future well-being. And, at a more macro level, many of us are resisting choices such as spending a bit more for clean or renewable energy that, though somewhat costlier in the moment, will help avoid greater problems down the road. In short, we’re planning less for the future, not caring as much about what that future will bring. And while it’s undoubtedly true that each of these examples of impatience and shortsightedness stems from many factors, underlying them all is a growing bias toward pleasure in the moment.

Prof. DeStono provides these statistics. On any given day most people fail to stick with their daily goals about 20% of the time. When busy, tired, or stressed, this percentage climbs quickly. When decisions involve important goals that truly matter to people, the success rate is worse. Only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are kept throughout the year, while 25% fail in the first week.

When we’re forced to choose strategies for success, we tend to favor the cognitive one, the stoic approaches characterized by reason, deliberation, and force of will. To stand firm in the face of challenges and temptation, we’re told to what we psychologists term executive function. This is the part of the mind that manages and controls “subordinate” processes such as memory, attention, and feelings. It is the boss that gives the orders that the rest of the mind is supposed to follow. Executive function allows us to plan, reason, and use willpower to keep focus, accept sacrifices, and ignore or suppress emotional responses that might get in the way of reaching our long-term aspirations. And cognitive strategies such as these, the ones based on reason and analysis as opposed to emotions, are believed to maintain the perseverance required to succeed.

Unfortunately, these cognitive strategies do not always succeed. Prof. DeStono writes, “This one-to-one mapping of reason to virtue and emotion to vice doesn’t reflect reality, however. It sets up a false choice. Prof. DeStono asserts and provides evidence, the mind has emotions, because more often than not, they help us. They’re adaptive. They nudge, or sometimes thrust, our decisions in ways meant to help us achieve our goals, not to thwart them.

Prof. DeStono writes, when it comes to long-term success, the “right” emotions are principally these: gratitude, compassion, and pride.” HM was surprised to see “pride” included in this list. After al,l pride is one of the seven deadly sins. In fact, it is the original and most deadly of these sins. This is from the Book of Proverbs, pride goeth (goes) before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Prof. DeStono recognizes this problem and argues that there are two senses of the word pride, one pejorative and one honorific. HM would recommend choosing another word. Apparently Prof. DeStono uses pride because he regards it as an emotion. Actually, there is no agreed definition for emotion. HM would have much preferred if he used the term self-esteem rather than pride. The reader can judge for herself when we return to this topic in later posts.

In Dark Days, Kindness Can Help All of Us

June 16, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Steven Petrow in the Health & Science section of the 9 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. As the title implies, especially in these current times kindness towards others, and ourselves, has been shown to help balance seesawing emotions, which we all have these days, and even possibly improve some health outcomes. Actually there is ample evidence that kindness is beneficial to both psychological and physiological health.

Petrol writes, “ even as it feels like darkness and struggle are ratcheting up, people are reaching out to others to help, even if they don’t dominate the news. For example, in Atlanta fraternity men from historically black colleges cleaned up neighborhood streets after a night of protest and violence. The day before the city’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “We are better than this.”

In Columbus, Ohio, the local newspaper reported, “Random acts of kindness break out amid protests, with individuals who’d just met on Facebook providing masks, protective eyewear ad first-aid kits to protestors.

In Cleveland, Ricky Smith, the founder of Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere brought his “message of positivity” to help “people think outside of themselves and help others.”

A man on the street in downtown Washington opened his door to dozens of marchers fleeing as riot police bore down firing chemicals. He provided a refuge through the night so they wouldn’t be arrested for violating curfew.

Petrol also writes of the “viral nature of kindness” Ramona DeFelice Long, who lives in Newark, De told him that when her mother, a former nurse, died of the novel coronavirus in April, she asked that “people perform an act of kindness to a nurse” in lieu of sending flowers. One person sent lunch to the emergency room unit in a small hospital and another sent a gift card to a struggling neighborhood medical professional with a family.

Rose Arce, a Latina documentarian, says she has been deeply affected by the recent turn of events, but she remains an advocate for “kindness, [which] is also about empathy and understanding, about recognizing the plight of the person next to you and offering emotional support and advocacy in a moment of anger or despair.” Kindness builds bridges, two-way bridges.

He writes of his conversations with Jamil Zaki, a Stanford University psychology professor who studies kindness. “There’s lots of evidence that our experiences, our choices, our habits, our practices go a long way to predict how empathetic we become. In researching his book, “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World,” he says he learned that empathy or kindness is a skill that we can build. “Doing so is a crucial project for us, both as individuals and as a culture.” Now more so than ever.

Petrol notes, “Spreading kindness does not mean ignoring the need to protest injustice and cruelty and demand that the world be made fairer, better. Zaki and other experts say it can be another tool to help create a more just and loving and world, and to keep ourselves from being overcome by anger and despair.

There have been many healthymemory position Zaki and his book. Just enter
“Jamil Zaki” into the search block at healthymemory.wordpress.com.

On the Meaning of Mindfulness

June 14, 2020

This is the ninth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Alan Wallace.

While mindfulness (sati) is often equated with bare attention [that is not correct; instead] bare attention corresponds much closely to the Pali term manaskira,which is commonly translated as “attention” or “mental engagement.” This refers to the initial split seconds of the bare cognizing of an object, before one begins to recognize, identify, and conceptualize, and in Buddhist accounts is not regarded as a wholesome mental factor. It is ethically neutral. The primary meaning of sati, on the other hand, is recollection, non-forgetfulness. This includes retrospective memory of things in the past, prospectively remembering to do something in the future, and present-centered recollection in the sense of maintaining unwavering attention to a present reality. The opposite of mindfulness is forgetfulness, so mindfulness applied to the breath, for instance, involves continuous, unwavering attention to the respiration. Mindfulness may be used to maintain awareness (manasikara), but nowhere do traditional Buddhist sources equate mindfulness with such attention…

When mindfulness is equated with “meta-attention,” or the monitoring of awareness it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from truth. In the Pali Abhidhamma, where mindfulness is listed as a wholesome mental factor that clearly distinguished wholesome from unwholesome mental states and behavior. And it is used to support wholesome states and counteract unwholesome states.

The cultivation of the ability to monitor awareness is valuable in many ways, and there’s a rapidly growing body of research on its benefits for both psychological and physiological disorders. But it’s incorrect to equate that with mindfulness, and an even greater error to think that’s all there is to vipassana (insight meditation designed to experientially realize key features of reality that liberate the mind from its afflictive tendencies). If that were the case, all the Buddha’s teaching on ethics, samadhi (focused, sustained attention and the meditative practices that are designed to develop attentional skills), and wisdom would be irrelevant. All too often, people who naively assume that monitoring attention is all there is to meditation reject the rest of Buddhism as “claptraptrap” and “mumbojumbo.” The essential teachings are dismissed rather than one’s own erroneous preconceptions

Monitoring awareness as calm, nonreactive awareness of one’ meditative object plays a crucial role in shamatha practice, which alleviates afflictive mental states as craving, aversion, dullness, agitation, and doubt….Monitoring awareness is not a complete practice, and by itself, it can be helpful and yet very limiting.

Monitoring awareness and developing conscious awareness were discussed in an earlier post “Experiencing Emotion.” This is a valuable, but sometimes overlooked, skill that deepens and extends the meaning of mindfulness.

Mindfulness

June 13, 2020

This is the eighth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.

Dalai Lama (Translated.) The more skilled you are in being attentive, the greater you are able to watch out and catch it.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In the Buddhist meditation practices, one key method for cultivating this awareness is the development of mindfulness. The second one, which is thought to be more specific to the cultivation of this monitoring, is applying constant awareness to the actual processes of thought, just observing you mind and the thoughts as they arise, and being aware of what arises in the present.

Ekman: Let me be certain I understand the distinction. One practice deals with knowledge. Knowledge would be to understand that you should focus on the act, not the actor. Knowledge would be that it is dangerous to you and to the other person if you shift from removing the obstacle to punishing the person for having put the obstacle there. This is all knowledge. Now, a lot of people do not have that knowledge. We can teach knowledge much more easily than we can teach the second practice, which develops the skill of being aware of momentary experience.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) True. Similarly, knowledge about the benefits of compassion can be taught.

Ekman: The knowledge can be taught. But learning the skill of monitoring awareness—of being in the moment, to be aware of the spark before the flame—is not easy. You need both. You need knowledge and you need skill. Knowledge you can even get just from reading a book. [Ekman adds here]. I came to realize later in our discussion that although you can learn about this type of knowledge from a book, for that knowledge to become so ingrained as to form the mental framework from which you see the world, it requires many, many hours of meditative practice.
This skill you cannot get from a book—you need to practice again and again. The two are different, but related matters that are essential for a balanced life.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Very true. The way the term “mindfulness is used in modern Buddhist literature is slightly different. The way it is used in the Tibetan tradition is the mindfulness of that knowledge, not the monitoring of awareness.

Ekman: Just knowledge?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Yes. The Sanskrit term is sati and the Tibetan term is drenpa, which literally mean “memory, recollection.” Mindfulness is bringing to the present of the awareness of things you have learned.

Ekman: But in order to do that, you have to have self-monitoring, a meta-consciousness. You need to be aware of the present. What is the term for developing that skill?

Jinpa: That is what Alan Wallace calls “meta-attention,” or monitoring awareness.

Meta-attention or monitoring awareness will be discussed in the next post titled,”On the Meaning of Mindfulness.

ON ONE-ON-ONE INTERACTIONS

June 12, 2020

This is the seventh post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Robert W. Levinson.

In our studies of dyadic interactions in intimate relationships, we have found that discussing areas of disagreement are wonderful stages for studying how people express and regulate their emotions. After all, it is really because humans are a social species that they have this profound need not to let their emotions run amok, but rather to adjust them to fit the demands of the situation and the comfort level of others.

We have found that married couples who are able to maintain physiological calm while discussing problems in their relationship are much more likely to have satisfying marriages and to stay together over time. Often in marriages, one partner assumes the role of the “thermostat,” monitoring the temperature of the interaction and applying corrections as needed. These corrections take the form of helping the partner to regulate his or her emotions (typically the woman assumes the role of thermostat in male-female relationships) and stay in an emotion comfort zone where ideas can be discussed productively without getting too hot (intense) or too cold (withdrawn).

Matthieu Ricard is an individual renown for his ability to serve as the thermostat in these interactions. Even when dealing with a very hostile and difficult partner, he had a calming effect that allowed the discussion to proceed in a constructive way. In the discussion of a difficult topic with another individual there was no mutual smiling. Matthieu remained very calm physiologically, but the other fellow showed a very fast heart rate and high blood pressure. Over the course of fifteen minutes his blood pressure and heart rate went down, he began to smile, and he said to me afterward, “There’s just something about him—I could not fight with him.

Ekman: What do you make of that? Could it be that when you encounter someone who has a highly cultivated emotional balance, and Matthieu is very well balanced emotionally, you feel that you have encountered someone unlike anyone you have known, and that they have a calming influence on you? How do you explain that?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) One factor here is the well-known cliche that you cannot clap with only one hand. There is also a recognition in the Buddhist tradition—in fact, it is a quality attributable to Buddha—that without using weapons or powerful instruments, through the weapon of loving-kindness alone, he was able to subdue his foes. Loving-kindness and compassion has this natural capacity to subdue and tame. It would also depend upon the actual content of the conversation.

In the early 1970s, there was a British gentleman by the name of Felix Green. He was one of the very few Westerners who was able to visit Tibet and China—China many times, several times.

Jinpa: Green had a large amount of motion picture film footage of Tibet. He was a friend of Chou En-lai, the Chinese prime minister at the time. He was convinced that life under the Communist rule in Tibet was perfect, the people inside Tibet were happy, and everything was fine. He wanted to come and show the footage to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama). Before he met His Holiness, he was received by the Tibetan officials. The officials warned His Holiness that this person had believed the Communist view of Tibet, with only limited personal knowledge, with one-sided information about the situation. “Please be careful” and “He is dangerous,” they said. His Holiness met him over a period of three days. They started talking and looked at the footage, and by the time he left, Green had completely changed!

His Holiness ’s understanding of this phenomenon was that this was the power of truth. Green had incorporated a foregone conclusion, a particular perception, but as he came to recognize the actual situation, it changed him.

Ekman: Another way that people differ is in their susceptibility to changing a belief. There are people who are fanatical or zealous who are highly resistant to change.

Dalai Lama: True.

Experiencing Emotion

June 11, 2020

This is the sixth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The following is taken from a section titled Experiencing Emotion.

Emotions can be triggered automatically in under a quarter of a second—very fast—totally opaque to consciousness.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In Buddhist psychology we make distinctions between the sensory level of conscious experience and what is referred to as the mental level—the level of thought, emotions, and so on. Emotions like fear are the emotions that are much more immediate and spontaneous, when they are operating at the sensory level or whether there is a role for the mental level of consciousness involved.

Ekman: The characteristics of an emotion are: There is a signal; an automatic, very quick appraisal of what is happening that gives rise to the impulse to become emotional; you have to develop a skill to get consciousness involved.

Still another characteristic is that emotions have a set of sensations. We are not always aware of those sensations. I have developed exercises for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming or are emotional. These are to be used not in place of, but in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase your sensitivity to the sensations in your body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so that you will be aware of “getting”— you know the phrase?—“hot under the collar.” The most dramatic difference in the sensations is anger verses fear. In anger, blood goes to your hands. It is preparing you to hit. In fear, it goes to the large muscles in your legs.

Dalai Lama: So preparing to run.

Ekman: Yes, right. That does not mean you will run, or that you will hit. But evolution has prepared you in this way. And you can learn to be sensitive to the difference in how your body feels when you are afraid as compared to angry.

This section is especially relevant to HM. He has an anger problem. If he is going to be in a situation where he knows that he will likely become angry, he calls on his defenses to protect him from expressing this anger. But if, unexpectedly, he encounters a situation he becomes angry without being able to put up his defenses. This is embarrassing and can do serious harm to important relationships. The central problem here is that the anger explodes below the level of consciousness. He might not even be aware that he is making a fool of himself until somebody tells him he is becoming emotional. If he manages to become self aware, he can apologize and say that he lost his head.

Now he is looking into the exercises Ekman has developed for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming, or are, emotional. These would be used in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase sensitivity to the sensations in the body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so one is aware of “getting” “hot under the collar.”

It occurs to HM that technology could also assist here. If sensors could be attached to the body to assist in becoming aware that anger is occurring, that would be quite helpful.

On Nirvana

June 10, 2020

This is the fifth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title is of a section written by Geshe Dorji Damdul a monk who serves as a translator and consultant on Tibetan scholarship for the Dalai Lama.

Westerners often misunderstand the Buddhist view of nirvana—the goal of becoming free of all emotions, the goal of enlightenment in Buddhism—and confuse it with a Buddhist view of how people should lead their lives, that they should never feel an emotion. Essentially, nirvana is a state of mind, in which one achieves freedom from pain and unsatisfactory nature and states (samsara).

Buddhism points to ignorance as the ultimate cause of all samsara. Of all ignorances, the worst ignorance is to conceive of the self and others as independent entities rather than understanding that we are all interdependent—in other terms, we all arise from “dependent origination.” It is this ignorance that triggers the evolution of all afflictive, or disturbing, emotions, which in turn give rises to negative actions, known as karma, and then ripens into manifest pain and agony. Thus, nirvana is not to be thought of as some external divine place, but the purified state of mind in which you are free of all negative emotions. [Ekman adds, “From a Western viewpoint, I would say that this state of mind allows you to be free of enacting emotions in a way that is harmful to yourself and others and that interferes with building cooperative relationships.]

Nirvana has four characteristic features: (1) a state of cessation of disturbing emotions from one’s mind; (2) absolute peace, a state of total tranquility of disturbing emotions; (3) exuberant satisfaction, which is free of all forms of dissatisfaction; and (4) definite emergence, when one will no longer relapse to an unenlightened state.

The Filter of Moods

June 9, 2020

This is the fourth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: Before we go much further, I think it is important to consider how emotions differ from moods. Unless we do so, we may not always know whether we are talking about emotions or moods as they are easily confused. I recall seven years ago, when I first met you and described this distinction, you told me it did not exist in the Tibetan view of mental states, and that you found it very useful. As I describe it in more detail, I hope you will continue to find it of interest.

I believe moods get us into a lot of trouble, even more so than some of our emotions. One difference between emotions and moods is a person’s understanding of what triggers each of them. He or she may not know what triggers an emotion when it first begins, but afterward can almost always easily figure it out. The person may not think he or should have become angry, but knows, at least afterward, what set it off. By contrast, when someone is in an irritable mood, he or she may never know what triggered it.

Dalai Lama: Would you not say that they can reinforce each other? Because of a bad mood, you would be much more prone to an explosion of particular emotions? For example, yesterday, your mood was not good. At that time, if your friend comes, you may lose your temper. But then, the next day, your mood is calm. Then, you see, yesterday’s appearance completely changes. So much depends on your own mental attitude, your outlook. According to our experience, that is clear.

Ekman: Yes. That’s one of the problems with moods.

Dalai Lama: Similarly, when you have a strong emotional experience, that can affect your mood.

Ekman: Yes, you are right on both. When you are in an apprehensive mood we are looking to be afraid. We are responding to the world with fear more than anything else, often misperceiving the world. It is as if we need to be afraid when we are in an apprehensive mood, just as we need to get angry when we are in an irritable mood.

Most scientists believe the moods typically occur for reasons that the person experiencing the mood does not understand—perhaps generated by neurohormonal changes not directly tied to an event in our environment. However, there are certain events that can trigger a mood: for example, if you are sleep-deprived, you are more likely to get either irritable or giddy and to laugh at things you would never laugh at.

Daila Lama: (Translated) Can the causal relation go the opposite way? Because you are in a very excited state, sleep does not come easily?

Ekman: (Laughs). Here I am speculating. And I do not want to distinguish when I’m talking on the basis of facts that have some scientific basis, when I’m taking on the basis of theory that all those who study emotion would agree with, from when I’m talking on the basis of just my own ideas. I may be right, but I don’ believe anyone else has yet considered the matter; the idea that when a person is sleep-deprived he or she may become giddy is my own speculation.

Science, Religion, and Truth

June 8, 2020

This is the third post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Dalai Lama: In the past, the circumstances were such that science was applied toward material development, not toward mental things. In the West, traditionally, religion means Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those are traditions of, mainly, faith. There is not much emphasis on investigation. Science demands trying to find the reality through investigation, through experiments. According to that, we can say that science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: No. it does not.

Dalai Lama: Science, in the past, was mainly involved with material development. So, you see, in that domain, science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: Yes. Yes.

Dalai Lama: In individual cases some scientists are very religious-minded. But their profession, their professional field, has nothing to do with religion. Now, I think, society is now facing a new crisis, or a new problem; it is mainly an emotional problem. Therefore, science begins to deal with that. So modern science—their exploration or their sort of interest or their concern not only matters, but also emotions. I think that is the way. Is it not?

Ekman: Yes. …Scientists are now beginning to look outside of Western thinking to see what they could learn and study scientifically that might be relevant. A growing number of scientists are interested in what we can learn from Buddhist thinking on this.

Dalai Lama: Now, “soft” science and “hard” science—what is the demarcation?

Ekman: It used to be a clearer demarcation. “Hard” sciences were the natural and biological sciences. “Soft” sciences were the social and behavioral sciences. Now cognitive neuroscience crosses the two, because it is using some very biological measures—brain measures, blood chemistry measures—to look at psychological phenomena.

I measure the movement of facial muscles—you cannot get harder science—but I do it to study emotions. We cannot see an emotion; the facial movement is just a display, but we can learn a lot if we can measure that display precisely. Many scientists today, certainly in cognitive neuroscience, and even in fields like emotion and memory in psychology, are using very objective methods, some of them biological, some of them not.
There is the greatest disregard among some scientists for findings on the basis of what people tell you in a questionnaire. I think what people tell you is very interesting; it may not be what they really think, or what they know may only be part of what they actually are and do, so it has limits, but it is not without merit. Studies that only use questionnaires are considered to be very “soft.”

Dalai Lama: In the west, there is not much of a tradition of investigation in religion. Whereas, in the nontraditional religions, in India, particularly in Buddhism, it was different—they experiment or investigated in the traditions.

The reality is that science is not all anti religious. Simply, it is trying to know the reality, to find out the reality through investigation, through experiment? Not by, with. That is not anti religion. Even the pope—the new pope is a very intelligent person, a very wonderful person—emphasizes that faith and reason must go together. Actually, he mentions he started this idea with some of his followers: If people have faith without reason, then people would not get the feeling of relevance of religion to their life, so reason must be there.

But only reason, no faith, like some scientists—they are great scientists, but mentally unhappy. (Laughs). So faith is also necessary. [Neuroscientist Clifford Saron, of the University of California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain], commented, “Scientists have faith in their method and hypothesis—it’s full of faith—just not necessarily faith in God. That is the way; I think that way. So even Christians are now compelled to realize the importance of reason. As far as Buddhism is concerned, there is no problem. We have the courage to say, True investigation is something. If our findings—through investigations, through experimentation—Buddhist ideas, then we have the liberty to reject old ideas. That is the Buddha’s own words.

Two Traditions

June 7, 2020

This is the second post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: You have written that we must train our minds to observe. Would you agree that both how we train our minds and how we can motivate people to want to undertake such training can be addressed scientifically?

Dalia Lama: (Translated). No one denies the existence of emotion, feeling, or mind. In daily life, we have emotion. It is there. Science and technology are concerned, basically, with physical comfort. When it comes to difficulties or problems with emotions, then, technology cannot do much. I think injecting some drugs, to reduce your anxiety, they are temporary. So now the time has come to explore the trouble, which is faced by our emotional mind, the method or means to tackle this wicked, mischievous nature of mind.

Ekman: Television teaches everyone the message, “If I become rich, I become famous, I’ll become very happy.” Very few people find out that that is untrue because most people do not get rich. (Daily Lama laughs.)
How can we reach people who want happiness but have been misled by television to think the path to it involves fame and riches and power? How do we convince them with the message that this is a false path? Can you think of any way that scientists can help correct this misperception?

Dalai Lama: For the last almost a hundred years, the whole concept of material development was that it would solve all our problems. The real problem is poverty. But we didn’t realize that solving poverty doesn’t provide inner peace. I can give one example—the Chinese case, I think Deng Xiapong felt once people are rich, then all problems reduce. He even extended it to no matter what method you adopt, the goal, so long you get rich, is okay. In the seventies he started, or developed, a movement. He said, It doesn’t matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice. So, the implication, even through the wrong method [capitalism], you can get rich. (Laughs). So now today in China, they are getting richer—and more corruption. Poor people suffer more. And rich people, many are not happy.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: For many people simply, they think if your are rich, you will have plenty of money and then they suppose all their problems are solved. Or if you have power, then no problem. That is not the case. Rich people, powerful people very famous people have been mentally very unhappy. It is obvious. Hatred and other emotions create more problems.

Ekman: Yes.
Dalai Lama: In the eighteenth century, nineteenth century, the early part of the twentieth century, no government says what is the importance of peace of mind. only say: economy, economy, economy/ Why” Because poverty is urgent. So, therefore, people everywhere, putting every effort, including our education, into eliminating poverty. No?

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: Also, on the television, all you see, is about improvement of the poverty: to improve the economy, prosperity. But, you see, people, at least those people, who are no longer much worried about their physical needs, now they are experiencing problems, but mainly at the mental level. That mental unrest brings a lot of suffering on humanity. Therefore, how we have to think or explore another field, and that is mental health. We cannot change mental health overnight.

Scientists have focused on what is relevant to material welfare. Now [scientists] begin to realize, there is possibility, to develop proper healthy mental attitudes, which [are of] benefit when we are facing our problems. You, as a scientist, you do that—and you should do that.

EMOTIONAL AWARENESS

June 5, 2020

The title of this post is the title of an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The subtitle is “Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance. The Dalai Lama is the leader of Buddhism in Tibet. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in 2007 he as awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to a civilian by the U.S. government. Paul Ekman is a distinguished psychologist with special expertise in facial expressions and emotion. He has long known and worked with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama spends a very large percentage of his time traveling the world lecturing, and joining in symposia. On a weekend in April 2006 he sat down with Ekman for eleven hours of intense discussion on 24 pages of questions about emotion and compassion that Ekman had written. Some additional questions emerged from that conversation. Two addition sessions were added that included additional experts were shared over a period of 15 months for a total of 39 hours. This book is a summary of those discussions.

This summary consists of statements by individual speakers that were followed by statements of other speakers. So these were interactive discussions that HM will summarize. Although the Dalai Lama is quite fluent in English, sometimes he would digress into Tibetan and the Tibetan would be translated for him. This appeared to happen when he was reviewing his meditations as those meditations are likely in Tibetan.

To the best of HM’s knowledge, the Dalai Lama is unique among religious leaders in that he does not require any beliefs for someone to call himself a Buddhist. Someone asked the Dalai Lama about a friend who wanted to be a Buddhist but who didn’t believe in reincarnation. This is rather strange as reincarnation plays a central role in the Buddhist religion. The Dalai Lama said that no beliefs were required. All that was needed was to be responsive to humankind and human suffering and to meditate. So only practices are required, not beliefs. Truth is not stated. Rather, one learns via meditation, but what is most important is brotherhood with fellow humans. The Dalai Lama encourages his priests and monks to pursue educations in science. He uses science to inform religion, in contrast to other religions who claim that science is wrong if it contraindicates beliefs.

The Dalai Lama notes, “And Buddha himself gives us liberty to investigate his own word, and he clearly stated, ‘My devotees, my devotees should not accept my word out of faith, or out of devotion, rather than investigation and experiment.’ That gives us liberty, you see, to investigate any object. Therefore, I thought a scientific approach and the Buddhist approach is not constrained by a literal reliance on the scripture] is the same. Investigate. Experiment. So, then I felt, you see, no problem.”

HM has spiritual needs and for a long time these needs were frustrated. He was unable to join any established church because when he engaged in critical thought he found inconsistencies and problems with their beliefs. He thought that God had given him a brain and wanted him to use it. But doing so led to the identification of problems with these beliefs and most religions regarded their beliefs as being central to their religion.

There is a wide range of practices observed by different sects of Buddhism. Some sects are highly commercial and sell futures and a variety of practices to gain income. Then there are Zen Buddhists who are highly contemplative and spend time pondering such koans as “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism who lives in exile in India. He shows how Buddha himself was not interested in beliefs. Rather the interest was in practices to make us into better human beings. And these practices are largely suggestive. You can adapt those you find helpful and ignore others. And the clergy is encouraged to pursue scientific education. So these Buddhists, rather than confronting science, use science to enhance their practices.

The Dalai Lama has worked with David Richardson in having his monks and priests participate in studies on meditation. HM learned from these discussions, that not only has the Dalai Lama contributed to research on meditation, but that there is a substantive amount of research on Buddhist psychology. Some of this research is already seeing clinical applications. HM will be spending future time reviewing this research.

Tattoo Regret

June 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Katherine Ellison in the Health and Science Section of the 2 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The author is writing about her son when she writes that his tattoo took less than 20 minutes, but that regret set in within hours.

HM is a baby boomer and getting tattoos was rare for his generation, with the exception of some extreme groups. But for some strange reason, it has been growing in popularity. A 2015 Harris Poll found that a nearly half of millennials and more than one-third of the Gen Xers had at least one tattoo compared to 13 percent of the baby boomers.

Getting rid of tattoos is both painful and expensive. The author’s son needed several sessions of laser treatments at a cost of $1,000 a treatment.

As a general rule, the higher the level of the job or profession, the larger the barrier a tattoo will have to winning that position. As a former employer, HM will explain why he would not want to hire someone with a tattoo.

The question that HM asks himself is that although the applicant may like the tattoo and the tattoo might be “cool” in today’s environment, why does this individual not think that this tattoo is something he might regret in the future. From his perspective, the here and now is all important, and the future is only a marginal consideration, if one at all.

HM is looking for a candidate who is future oriented, both in terms of the candidate and the organization in which he is seeking employment. Readers of the healthymemory blog should be aware of the heavy emphasis placed on growth mindsets for the memory health of the individual. Growth mindsets are also important for the growth of the organization to which the candidate aspires.

So HM would interview the candidate as a courtesy and would try to keep an open mind. But the possibility of him giving a favorable review to this candidate is virtually nil.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Five Myths of Fear

June 3, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Eva Holland in the Outlook section of the 31 May 2020 issue of the Washington Post.

Myth No. 1 is Phobias stem from traumatic incidents.
Although it is possible that traumatic incidents can produce phobias, it is no longer the dominant explanation. One study in Behavior Research and Therapy suggested that the children who experienced “significant injury’ from childhood falls are less likely to develop a fear of heights later in life. Now researchers trace phobias to a complex interplay of nature and nurture. Our genetics can predispose us to anxiety disorders, and the behavior of people around us can condition us into fearfulness. According to a 2016 study by researchers at York University parental behavior before and during their children’s vaccinations was the biggest contributor to preschooler’s “needle fear.”

Myth No. 2 is Nightmares can’t hurt you.
Although the Mayo Clinic in its advice on “nightmare disorder,” tells parents to “remind your child that nightmares aren’t real and can’t hurt you” and the Stanford Children’s Health calls night terrors “harmless,” there is evidence to the contrary.

Nightmares were implicated in an incident of a mysterious illness, later called “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome” that killed more than 100 people in the United States in the 1980s. The victims, mostly young, male, and healthy, and many of them Hmong refugees who had fled the war in Southeast Asia, all died in their sleep. A medical examiner at the time said, “In each case we asked ourselves what they had died from and the answer was ‘nothing.’ Some scholars believe that a deep belief in the power of nightmares, combined with trauma, caused psychological distress that had a physical effect.

Other research has documented nightmares’ other, less dramatic ramifications. When we have a bad dream in which a family member or a spouse wrongs us, for instance, our newly negative perceptions of them can linger into waking hours, according to a 2013 study in Social Psychological Science. Nightmares, and the stress response to them, have also been linked to flare-ups of migraines and asthma attacks.

Myth No. 3 is Predators can smell your fear.
In spite of some statements from presumably authoritative sources, the answer is clearly “no.” Prey animals like deer and rodents (as well as colony-based creatures like bees and ants) emit “alarm pheromones,” airborne chemical cues that warn others of a threat. However, this communication only works within species. Humans have this ability too, emitting fear chemicals in our perspiration. By studying test subjects’ responses to sweat from people running on a treadmill, and from those skydiving for the first time, Stony Brook University researchers found that the fear-response system in our brains unconsciously gears up when it detects the fear pheromone. This enhances our vigilance, and serves as a silent, invisible warning system. In that sense, we can detect fear on one another—but we can’t distinguish between fear sweat and exercise sweat.

Myth No. 4 Fear is a weakness.
Our culture teaches us to despise cowardice and to see acts driven by fear as evidence of some larger character flaw. “Fear is the path to the dark side,” says Yoda. Self-help guides, such as Goop’s “How Fear Holds Us Back (and How to Conquer It),” insist that fear is to be resisted and opposed.

But fear is natural and necessary, a vital tool for survival. The proof is in the experience of a truly fearless woman, known as Patient S.M., whose amygdala, a structure in the brain that triggers our fear response, was destroyed by a rare genetic disease. Researchers reported that she handled snakes without trepidation and didn’t startle at sudden noises. Her lack of fear was an obstacle for self-preservation or learning from negative experiences. After she was attacked at knifepoint on a walk one evening, she returned to the same park the very next day. When in 1968 a UCLA psychiatrist removed the amygdalae from a group of monkeys and then released them into the wild, they were all dead within two weeks—from drowning, starvation or attacks by other monkeys. Fear can sometimes be irrational, embarrassing or inconvenient— but it is also a necessity.
HM adds that fear is a weakness only if it disrupts your normal life. For instance, there is no reason for a city dweller to be concerned about a fear of snakes. Moreover, should he ever find himself in an environment containing snakes, a fear of snakes could provide a reasonable precaution.

Myth No. 5. We must face our fears to defeat them.
For some individuals, this could take a considerable amount of time. The only fears we need to face are those that impact our daily lives or professions. When such is the case the fears should be confronted and there are treatments and procedures for dealing with these fears.

Otherwise, it is a waste of time and mental energy to deal with irrelevant fears. HM suggests that this mental energy could be better spent meditating or developing growth mindsets.

Meditation to Build Vagal Tone

June 1, 2020

Dr. Fredrickson conducted a study with her students in her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory. Study participants visited her lab at the University of North Carolina. Each had their vagal tone measured while they sat and relaxed for a few minutes. At the end of this initial laboratory testing session, participants were instructed how to logon to the study website each evening to record their emotions and social connections of the day. A few weeks later, by random assignment which participants would learn loving-kindness meditation and which were not were determined. All continued to monitor their day-to-day emotions and social connections using this website. Months later, weeks after the meditation workshop ended, one by one all participants were invited back to the lab, where their vagal tone was again measured under the same resting conditions as before.

Dr. Fredrickson writes, “In May 2010, I had the immense honor of presenting the results of this experiment directly to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. A handful of scientists were invited to a private meeting to brief His Holiness on their latest discoveries about the effects of mind training. After briefly describing to His Holiness the functions of the vagus nerve and the concept of vagal tone, I shared what my team and I had discovered in this most recent study: that vagal tone—which is commonly taken to be as stable an attribute as your adult height—actually improves significantly with mind-training. Here is your evidence-based reason for hope: No matter what your biological capacity for love is today, you can bolster that capacity by next season.

For it was those study participants who had been assigned at random to learn loving-kindness meditation who changed the most. They devoted scarcely more than an hour of their time each week to the practice. Yet, within a matter of months, completely unbeknownst to them, their vagus nerves began to respond more readily to the rhythms of their breathing, emitting more of the healthy arrhythmia that is the fingerprint of high vagal tone. Breath by breath—loving moment by loving moment—their capacity for positivity resonance matured. Moreover, through painstaking statistical analyses, we pinpointed those who experienced the most frequent positivity resonance in connection with others showed the biggest increases in vagal tone. Love, literally made people healthier.”

Enter “Loving Kindness Meditation” into the search blot at
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Vagal Tone

May 31, 2020

This post is based, in part, on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. The key conduit connecting our brain to our body is our tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. She writes, “It emerges from your brain stem deep within your skull ,and although it makes multiple stops at various internal organs, most significantly it connects the brain to the heart. Our heart rate shoots up when we feel insulted or threatened.” This registers the ancestral fight-or-flight response. And it’s the vagus nerve that eventually soothes the racing heart, by orchestrating (together with oxytocin) the equally ancestral calm-and-connect response.

Dr. Fredrickson continues, “Keeping in mind that love is connection, you should know that your vagus nerve is a biological asset that supports and coordinates your experiences of love. Completely outside your awareness, your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the minuscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track the other person’s voice against any background noise. In ten exquisitely subtle yet consequential ways, your vagus nerve increases the odds that the two of you will connect, upping your chances for positivity resonance.”

The strength of our vagus nerve, our biological aptitude for love, can be measured by measuring the heart rate in conjunction with the breathing rate. Sensors are placed on the lowest ribs measure our breathing rate as revealed by an expandable bellow that encircles the rib cage. This pattern is called vagal tone. Similar to muscle tone, the higher the vagal tone, the better. When your breathing in, a fast heart rate is an efficient heart rate. Each successive heartbeat during an inbreath circulates more freshly oxygenated blood throughout your brain and body. But when you’re breathing out, a fast heart rate is not that helpful because your supply of freshly oxygenated blood is waning. The vagus nerve steps in here by gently applying the brake on your heart when you exhale, slowing your heart rate down a small degree. In turn, your vagus nerve can gently let up on the brake while you inhale, letting your naturally high heart rate resume to grab all the oxygenated blood it can get, thus creating a subtle yet healthy pattern of cardiac arrhythmia: Your heart rate speeds up a bit when you inhale and slows down a bit when you exhale. This is the pattern that reflects your vagal tone, the strength or condition of your vagus nerve. It characterizes the nimbleness with which your primitive, non conscious brain holds the the reins of your galloping heart.

Unfortunately, the measurement of vagal tone is complicated and requires the use of a computer. Fortunately, there are proven measures we can use to increase our vagal tone without our having to measure it.

In the healthy memory post on Dr. Rediger’s book Cured he writes: “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. How exactly this cocktail is mixed (which hormones specifically are dumped into your blood stream) depends on what kind of experience you’re having. Dr. Rediger writes, “Attraction, romantic love, platonic love, and social connection all have their own specific mixture, but most involve some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and most importantly, oxytocin. Oxytocin, first isolated in new mothers nursing their babies, is often called “the love drug” because it’s both activated by, and helps to create connection, attraction, love, and bonding.” Beyond helping to make and deepen relationships, it has health benefits. Oxytocin is known to be a kind of anti-stress tonic, countering the effects of fight or flight and stress hormones. It is also both anti-inflammatory and parasympathetic in its effects.

The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery.

Dr Fredrickson has found that “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery. You can get as close as you can to your vagus nerve by pressing your finger to the pulse point on your neck. From the spot under your fingers, it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozens of other vital functions. Should you have any doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two—a thick, humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

Eighty% of the vagus nerve pulls information up into the brain. The other 20% sends information down into the body. This means that a great deal of sensory information is being collected for your brain and that decisions are then made in the brain and sent out all over the body. It’s a rapid, constantly flowing system (the network of glands that release hormones through all your body, and immune system to constantly adjust and respond to all the collected information.)

Oxytocin

May 30, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. Oxytocin is commonly known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” Technically it is a neuropeptide acting not just within our bodies, but also within our brains.

Evidence of oxytocin’s power to shape social lives first surfaced in Europe, where laws permitted the use of a synthetic form of oxytocin, available as a nasal spray for investigational purposes. In one study 128 men from Zurich played what is called the trust game with genuine monetary outcomes. These men were assigned at random to the role of “investor” or “trustee.” Each participant was given an equivalent pot of starting funds. Investors made the first move. They could give some, all, or none of the allocated funds to the trustee. During the transfer of funds, the experimenter tripled their investment while letting the trustee know how much the investors had originally transferred. Trustees made the next move. They could give some, all, or none of their new allotment of funds (the investors tripled investment plus their own original allocation) back to investors. The structure of the game puts investors, but not trustees, at risk. If an investor chose to entrust the other guy with his investment, he risked receiving nothing in return if the trustee chose to selfishly keep the entire monetary gain for himself. But if the trustee was fair, they could each double their money.

Prior to playing this game, using a double-blind research, participants received either oxytocin or an inert placebo by nasal spray. The effect of this single intranasal blast of oxytocin on the outcome of the trust game was dramatic. The number of investors who trusted their entire allotment to their trustee more than doubled. Related research using this same trust game showed the the mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raises the trustee’s naturally levels of oxytocin, and that the greater the trustee’s oxytocin rise, the more of his recent windfall he sacrificed back to the investor. So the neuropeptide oxytocin steers the actions of both the investor and the trustee, shaping both trust and reciprocity. These findings suggest that through synchronous oxytocin surges, trust and cooperation can quickly become mutual.

Since this original study was published in Nature in 2005, variations on it have abounded. We now know, for instance, that Oxytocin doesn’t simply make people more trusting with money, it also makes them far more trusting—a whopping 44% more trusting—with confidential information about themselves. It is interesting that this simple act of sharing an important secret from you life with someone you just met increases your naturally circulating levels of oxytocin, which in turn raises you confidence that you can trust that person to guard your privacy. Fortunately, additional research shows that oxytocin does not induce trust indiscriminately, making people gullible and open to exploitation. The effects of oxytocin on trust turn out to be quite sensitive to interpersonal cues, like those subtle signs that tip you off if another may be the gambling type of irresponsible in other ways. So if oxytocin spray were aerated through you workplace ventilation system, you’d still maintain your shrewd attunement to subtle signs that suggest whether someone is worthy of your trust.

Oxytocin serves as a lead character in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the better known fight-or-flight response. Rather than avoid all new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. The author notes, “Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, work, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life.’”

The author writes, “It too, can jump the gap between people such that someone else’s oxytocin flow can trigger your own. A biochemical synchrony can then emerge that supports mutual engagement, care, and responsiveness.”

She continues, “The clearest evidence that oxytocin rises and falls in synchrony between people comes from studies of infants and their parents. When an infant and a parent—either mom or dad—interact, sometimes they are truly captivated by each other, and other times not. When an infant and parent do click, their coordinated motions and emotions show lots of mutual positive engagement. Picture moms or dads showering their baby with kisses, tickling their baby’s tiny fingers and toes, smiling at their baby, and speaking to him or her in that high-pitched, singsong tone that scientists call motherise. These parents are super attentive. As they tickle and coo they’re also closely track their baby’s face for signs that their delight is mutual. In step with their parent’s affectionate antics, these attentive babies babble, coo, smile and giggle. Positivity resonates back and forth between them. Micro-moments of love blossom. “

The author concludes, “It turns out that positive behavioral synchrony—the degree to which an infant and parent (through eye contact and affectionate touch) laugh, smile, and coo together—goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, moms, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into sync. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.
Positivity resonance, then, can be viewed as the doorway through which the exquisitely attuned biochemical tendencies of one generation influence those of the next generation to form lasting, often lifelong bonds.”

Brain Coupling

May 29, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. There were pervious healthy memory posts taken from her first book, Positivity. Neuroscientist Uri Hasson of Princeton University conducted research on the topic of brain coupling. Hasson and his team have found ways to measure multiple brains connecting through conversation. This is expensive research that requires the use of brain scanners. They use them with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They recorded the story of one research participant along with the fMRI. Then they recorded the brain activity of a listener using the fMRI.

The brain scans were respectively time-locked. Coupling refers to the degree to which the brains lit up in synchrony with each other matched in both space and time. Of course, more than one study was conducted. But the body of research indicates that when we are listening to someone, our brain is coupling or responding in synchrony to the speaker.

So more than just sound waves and verbal information are being transferred. Our respective brains are coupled.

This is a short post, but the results are so profound that time should be devoted to pondering.

Love Shows Its Resilience

May 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the first part of a title of an article by Lisa Bonos in the Style section of the 26 May 2020 issue of the Washington Post. The remainder of the title is “study finds.” A recent Monmouth University poll found that most people in relationships are satisfied with them, despite the expected stresses that might come from, say, working from home together, losing a job, managing kids at home or preventing your family from getting the virus.

One of the authors of the study, psychology professor Gary Lewandowski, said, Relationships aren’t perfect—there are always some underlying issues, but on average, the relationships we’re in are pretty good.

The survey was conducted from April 30 to May 4, among a sample of 556 American adults in relationships. Here are the findings:

74% of Americans with a romantic partner say their relationship has not fundamentally changed since the coronavirus outbreak. 10% said it was a lot better, and 7% said it was a little better. Only 4% said it was worse, and 1% a lot worse.

Argument frequency and sex lives have changed for the better, but only slightly. Less that 2 in 10 of those in relationships said they had fewer arguments with their partner, while 1 in 10 said they got into more of them—and 7 in 10 said there has been no difference. Only 9% said that their sex life had improved. 5% said it has gotten worse, with 77% saying it is about the same.

About half said their relationships would get stronger by the time the outbreak is over, and just 1% said their relationship will be worse. 46% said their relationship will not have changed at all.

About three-quarters of married couples said their relationship has not changed for better or worse since the coronavirus outbreak began, while just under two-thirds of unmarried couples said the same.

59% said their relationship has had no impact on their daily stress level.

The authors of the study concluded, “Overall, these results suggest that the global pandemic may not be as bad for relationships as many have feared. Our relationships may become stronger and even more important than they already were.”

HM thinks this is especially good news as it really is not known how long this pandemic will last, and that additional waves of this pandemic are expected.

Note: Astute readers will note that percentages do not add up to 100%. Unfortunately, HM is constrained by what is in the article. Fortunately any discrepancies do not discredit the conclusions from this survey.

Will We All Live Happily Ever After?

May 27, 2020

Daniel Dreszner spends an entire chapter in The Toddler in Chief addressing this question when the answer to this question is quite simple.

If Trump is not re-elected, then much work will need to be done to repair all the damage Trump has caused. He has done enormous damage to the country, and he has also virtually destroyed the Republican Party. Effective democracies need an opposition party to monitor the majority party, to fine-tune policies, and to propose viable alternative policies.

It is also very likely, if not inevitable, that if Trump is not elected he will claim that the election was rigged and spread false news supporting this alternative. There might be a problem getting Trump out of the White House. This is his traditional response when he does not achieve his desired outcome. He also faces multiple criminal charges when he exits the White House. Worst of all, there might be armed resistance to his leaving the White House. Let us all hope that this can be achieved without violence.

If Trump’s exit is successfully achieved, then not only will the damage from the past four years need to be undone, but much legislation is required for this new environment we find our democracy in. If done properly, there can be substantial improvements.

And international relations will definitely improve, which can lead to a more peaceful and harmonious world.

But if Trump is re-elected or manages by stealth or force to remain in power, that will be the end of American democracy. This opinion is not unique to HM. Individuals much more knowledgeable than HM have expressed this opinion.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Caregivers Give Up

May 26, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Without strong guidance, a very active child’s energy can easily turn toward aggressive or destructive behavior. To avoid this, you need to establish clear and logical rules and enforce them consistently.

The following is from an article by Asawin Suessaeng and Lachlan Markay in the Daily Beast, October 20, 2017: “Inside the White House, aides have grown calloused to the chaos. That the president managed to turn a simple question over a botched military operation into a week-long feud with a grieving military family, all while sullying his chief of staff’s public image, didn’t register as particularly eventful given the preceding nine months of drama.”

The following is from an article by Michael Scherer and Alex Altman in Time, May 17 2017: “‘It’s exhausting,’ says a midlevel aide. ‘Just when you think the pace is unsustainable, it accelerates. The moment it gets quiet is when the next crisis happens.’
Staffers are frustrated by leaks about staff turmoil coming from Trump’s extended circle of allies. But Trump has so far resisted attempts to impose order, insisting on long stretches of unstructured time to watch television and call allies.”

The following is from an article by Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen in Axios, February 23, 2018: “West Wing aides privately admit they have no earthly idea what Trump will do about anything—whether it be guns, immigration, their own careers, or the fate of Chief of Staff John Kelly…
Some aides feel the place is unraveling, that they can’t trust their colleagues, that they don’t know what’s going on, that there’s no path upward.

The following is from an article by Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook in Politico, April 20, 2018: In the past two months, President Donald Trump has repeatedly surprised many of his own closest advisers with the timing or substance or major public pronouncements: a potential troop withdrawal from Syria, steep new tariffs on key imports and the possibility of rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
This week, it happened again,with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley—a Cabinet member—left dangling after Trump decided not to proceed with new Russia sanctions she’s already mentioned on national television.
These episodes have often left Trump’s staff scrambling to get more information, moderate the president’s position or change his mind altogether.
While people close to the president say Trump has always been mercurial, some of the president’s allies attribute the recent pace of public disconnects to the departure of loyal aides who were skilled at translating his impulses, at keeping all the relevant White House Agency stances on key issues—and, perhaps more importantly, at keeping all the relevant White House and agent staffers in the loop on big decisions.
‘There’s nobody there that can say to him, ‘Mr. President, you can’t do that,’’said one former White House official.’”

The following is from an article by David Ignatius titled, “Trump Can’t Win at Foreign Policy the Way He Wins at Golf, Washington Post, July 24, 2108. Now it is well-know that Trump wins at golf by cheating: “The Helsinki summit showed that Trump thinks he’s his own best foreign policy adviser. The formal interagency process that traditionally surrounds such big events all be disappeared for the U.S.-Russia encounter, with no full National Security Council meetings to prepare for Helsinki and none last week to discuss the results.
‘I don’t think there is an interagency process now,’ cautioned one prominent Republican foreign policy expert. ‘Trump glories in not listening to advisers. He trusts his instincts, as uninformed as they sometimes are.”

Potpourri; or a Toddler Sampler

May 25, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Preschoolers are very eager to take control. They want to be more independent than their skills and safety allow, and they don’t appreciate their limits. They want to make decisions, but they don’t know how to compromise, and they don’t deal well with disappointment or restraint.

The following is from an article by Devlin Barrett,Josh Dawsey, and Rosalind S. Helderman in the Washington Post, February 28, 2018: “Behind the scenes, Trump derisively referred to Sessions as “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling, according to people with whom he has spoken.”

The following is from a piece by Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair, October 9, 2017: “Kelly has developed a Mar-a-Logo strategy to prevent Trump from soliciting advice from members and friends. (In February 2017 Trump turned his dinner table into an open-air Situation Room when North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile). Sources briefed on Kelly’s plans said he will attempt to keep Trump “out of he dining room.”

The following piece is by Steve Benen on MSNBC, June 14, 2019: “It appears the president, according to his own version of events, has helped choose design elements of the new Air Force One.
The natural question, of course,is, ‘How does he find the time?’ The answer, by all appearances, is that Trump isn’t as busy as he probably should be, so he tackles tasks like these in between consuming hours of television.
And perhaps that’s for the best. White House aides have told a variety of reporters that the key to keeping Trump out of trouble is keeping him busy and distracted. The more he is focused on paint colors, the less time he’ll have for more dangerous pursuits.”

The following pieces are from an article by Juliet Elperin, Josh Dawson, and Dan Lamothe in the Washington Post, July 1, 2019: “Trump, who had already ordered up a flyover by military aircraft including Air Force One and the Navy’s Blue Angels has pressed to expand his “Salute to America” event further with an F-35 stealth fighter and the involvement of Marine Helicopter Squadron One, which flied the presidential helicopter, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. He also pushed to bring military tanks to the site of his planned speech at the Lincoln Memorial, prompting National Park Service officials to warn that such a deployment could damage the site, these individuals said…
Trump has demonstrated an unusual level of interest in this year’s Independence Day observance, according to three senior administration officials. He has received regular briefings about it from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and has weighed in on how the pyrotechnics should be launched, how the military should be honored and more, according to people briefed on the discussions.”

The following is from an article by Peter Nicholas in the Atlantic, July 3, 2019: “Trump has pined for a national military parade since at least July 2017, when he watched French soldiers marching in Paris on Bastille Day. Speaking privately with French President Emmanuel Macron a couple of months later in New York at a United Nations General Assembly meeting, Trump mentioned the display, turned to his delegation, and said, ‘I want horses”! I want horses! a former French official tole me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation”

Too Much Screen Time

May 24, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Most media use is passive. Sitting and watching TV all the time, for example, does not help your child acquire the most important skills and experiences she needs at this age, such as communication, creativity, fantasy, judgment, and experimentation.

The following piece is from an article by Katie Rogers and Maggie Habermas in the New York Times, July 24, 2018: “On the first couple’s recent trip overseas, Melania Trump’s television aboard Air Force One was tuned to CNN. President Trump was not pleased.
He argued at his staff for violating a rule that the White House entourage should begin each trip tuned to Fox—his preferred network over what he considers the ‘fake news’ CNN—and caused ‘a bit of a stir’ aboard Air Force One.

The following piece is from an article by Mark Landler and Julie Hirschfeld Davis in the New York Times, March 23, 2018: “Aides said there was no grand strategy to the president’s actions, and that he got up each morning this week not knowing what he would do. Much as he did as a New York businessman at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump watched television, reacted to what he saw on television and then reacted to the reaction.”

The following is from an article by Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman in the New York Times, December 22, 2018: “By all accounts, Mr. Trump’s consumption of cable television has actually increased in recent months as his first scheduled meeting of the day slid back from the 9 or 9:20 a.m. by Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, to roughly 11 many mornings. During ‘executive time,’ Mr. Trump watches television in his residence for hours, reacting to what he sees on Fox News. While in the West Wing, he leaves it on during most meetings in the dining room off the Oval Office, one ear attuned to what is being said.”

The following is from an article by Peter Nicholas in Atlantic, April 14, 2019: “For decades, presidents and vice presidents have held regular one-on-one lunches with no aides present. The ritual helps build trust and, because only two people are at the table, prevents leaks, veterans of past White Houses said.
Trump ditched that tradition. Instead he has invited to the lunches both his and Pence’s top aides. At the meals in the small dining room off the Oval Office, Trump keeps a big-screen TV tuned to cable news. Aides who have walked in have seen Trump yelling the TV as he sits with Pence and their deputies over plates of chicken and cheese-burgers. When he sees something on the screen that he dislikes, Trump on occasion will interrupt the lunch and summon aides to discuss a response, people familiar with the lunches said.

The following is from an article by Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan in Axios, March 28, 2018: President Trump often gets agitated—and stirred to action—by random things he hears on TV or from shoot-the-bull conversations with friends.
Why it matters: It drives staff nuts because they are responding to nothings that are either inaccurate, highly distorted or flat-out don’t exist.”

The following is from an article by Maggie Haberman, Glenn Thrush, and Peter Baker in the New York Times, December 9, 2017: “ To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
During the morning aides monitor ‘Fox and Friends’ live or through a transcription service in much the same way commodities traders might keep tabs on market futures to predict the direction of their day.
If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live—meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.

Knowledge Deficits

May 23, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: If we were to single out the major intellectual limitations at this age, it would be your child’s feeling that everything that happens in his world is the result of something he has done…Reasoning with your two-year-old is often difficult. After all, he views everything in extremely simple terms.

The following is from a piece by Jake Tapper on CNN, April 2019: “…two sources told CNN, the President told border agents to not let migrants in. Tell them we don’t have the capacity, he said. If judges give you trouble, say, ‘Sorry, judge, I can’t do it. We don’t have the room.’
After the President left the room, agents sought further advice from their leaders, who told them they were not giving that direction and if they did what the President said they would take on personal liability. You have to follow the law, they were told.”

The following is from an article by Daniel Lippman in Politico: “Several times in the first year of his administration, resident Donald Trump wanted to call Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon. But there was a problem. MIdafternoon in Washington is the middle of the night in Tokyo—when Abe would be fast asleep.
Trump’s aides had to explain the issue, which one diplomatic source said came up on ‘a constant basis,’ but it wasn’t easy…
‘He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years od and isn’t going to be aware or in the right place at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. their time,’ said a former Trump NSC official. ‘When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is,’ added a person close to Trump…
Trump’s desire to call world leaders at awkward hours is just one of many previously diplomatic faux pas Trump has made since assuming the presidency, which go beyond the telephone etiquette to include misconceptions, mispronunciations and awkward meetings. Sometime the foibles have been contained within the White House. In one case, Trump while studying a brief’s map of South Asia ahead of a 2017 meeting with India’s prime minister, mispronounced Nepal as ‘nipple’ and laughingly referred too Bhutan as ‘button,’ according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.

The following is from an article by Helene Cooper in the New York Times, December 23, 2018: “Less than two hours after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis went to the White House on Thursday to hand a resignation letter to President Trump, the president stood in the Oval Office and dictated a glowing tweet announcing the Mr. Mattis was retiring ‘with distinction’ at the end of February.
But Mr. Trump had not read the letter. As became apparent to the president only after days of news coverage, a senior administration official said, Mr. Mattis had issued a stinging rebuke of Mr. Trump over his neglect of allies and tolerance of authoritarians. The president grew increasingly angry as he watched a parade of defense analysts go on television to extol Mr. Mattis’s bravery, another aide said, until he decided on Sunday that he had had enough.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey and Damian Paletta in the Washington Post, December 2, 2018.: “When former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn’s staffers prepared a presentation for Trump about deficits, Cohn told them no. It wouldn’t be necessary, he said, because the president did not care about deficits, according to current and former officials.
Trump also repeatedly told Cohn to print more money, according to three White House officials familiar with his comments.
‘He’d just say, run the presses, run the presses,’ one former senior administration official said, describing he president’s Oval Office orders. ‘Sometimes it seemed like he was joking, and sometimes it didn’t…
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly has told others about watching television with Trump and asking the president how much the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns. Trump guessed $5 milion, according to people who were told the story by Kelly, startling the chief of staff. Kelly responded that he made less than $200,000. The president suggested he get a large raise and noted the number of stars on his uniform.”

Poor Impulse Control

May 22, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with a selection from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: From the child’s perspective, these are the terrific twos because they are so excited about all the new things they are able to do developmentally. It’s as if they are saying, ‘Look what I can do!’ As a result, all toddlers get frustrated at anyone or anything limiting their ability to do what they wish to do, even if they are not capable of it. This lack of independence leads to immediate and intense frustration and loss of control.

The following is from an article by Ashley Parker, Seung Min Kim, and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, April 12, 2018: Senior U.S. officials describe a president who is operating largely in impulse, with little patience for the advice of his top aides. “A decision or statement is made by the president, and then the principals—Mattis or Pompeo or Kelly, come in and tell him we can’t do it,” said one senior administration official. “When it fails, we reverse-engender a policy process to match whatever the president said.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey in Politico, October 9,2017: Trump would impulsively want to fire someone like Attorney General Jeff Sessions; create a new, wide-ranging policy with far-flung implications, like increasing tariffs on Chinese steel imports; or end a decades-old deal like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Enraged with a TV segment or frustrated after a meandering meeting, the president would order it done immediately.
Delaying the decision would give Priebus and others a chance to change his mind or bring in an adviser to speak with Trump—and in some cases, to ensure Trump would drop the idea altogether and move on…
Trump would sometimes lash out at Priebus for not doing what he wanted immediately though, several officials said.”

The following is from an article by Sonam Sheth in Business Insider, September 6, 2019: “No one knows what to expect from him anymore, one former White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations about the predisent, told Insider.
They added: His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his s—-.”

The following is from an article by Josh Dawsey in Politico, May 1, 2017: “Trump’s advisers have at times tried to curb his media appearances, worried he will step on his message. ‘They were not helpful to us,’ one senior administration official said. ‘There was no point to do all of them.’
White House officials siad privately were was no broader strategy behind the interviews. GOP strategists and Capitol Hill aides were puzzled by it all. ‘I have no idea what they view as a successful media hit,’ said one senior GOP consultant with close ties to the administration. ‘He just seemed to go crazy today,’ a senior GOP aide said.”

The following article is by Josh Dawsey, Eliana Jonson, and Josh Meyer in Politico, May 15, 2017: Several advisers and others close to Trump said they wouldn’t be surprised if Trump gave information he shouldn’t have [to Russia dignitaries in the Oval Office].
One adviser who often speaks to the president said the conversation was likely freewheeling in the Oval Office, and he probably wanted to impress the officials.
“He doesn’t really know any boundaries. He doesn’t think the implications of what he’s saying.”

Short Attention Span

May 21, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. It begins with this excerpt from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for You Baby and Young Child: Around ages two and three, children naturally are very active and impulsive and have a short attention span. All children occasionally seem overactive or easily distractible—for example, when they’re tired, excited about a shiny something ‘special,’ or anxious about being in a strange place or among strangers.”

The following is from an article by Susan Glasser in Politico, May 19, 2017: When European diplomats meet these days, they often swap stories about Trump—and how to manage their volatile new ally. “The president of the United States has a 12-second attention span,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a former senior official in April after meeting Trump in the Oval Office. Not only that, this person told me, the president seemed unprepared and ill-informed, running the conversation to North Korea and apparently unaware that NATO was not a part of the ongoing North saga.

The following is from an article by Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker in the August 4 issue of the Washington Post: Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan’s history, its complicated political or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president’s attention on the subject, said senior White House officials. “I call the president the two-minute man,” said one Trump confident. “The president has patience for a half-page.”

The following is from Bob Woodward’s recounting in his book Fear of Gary Cohn complaining to White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter: Things are just crazy here. They’re so chaotic. He’s never going to change. It’s pointless to prepare a meaningful, substantive briefing for the president that’s organized, where you have a bunch of slides. Because you know he’s never going to listen. We’re never going to get through it. He’s going to get through the first 10 minutes and then he’s going to want to start talking about some other topic. And so we’re going to be there for an hour, but we’re never going to get through this briefing.

The following is from an article by Oliva Nuzzi in New York, March 28, 2018: How do you devise messaging for Trump, who will blow up the strategy without warning with a single early-morning tweet?” One hour you’ll be talking about immigration reform. The next you’ll be talking about the NFL. The next you’ll be talking about gun policy. The next you’ll be talking about tax cuts. And then, you know, circle back around to who lied on Morning Joe that day,” a second former White House official told New York, comparing the experience in the press shop to being, “on speed.”

The following is from an article by Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, January 21, 2019: At times Trump evinced less rage than a lack of interest. Sims recounts one time when Ryan was in the Oval Office explaining the ins and outs of the Republican health-care bill to the president. As Ryan droned on for 15 minutes, Trump sipped on a glass of Diet Coke, peered out at the Rose Garden, stared aimlessly at the walls and finally, walked out.
Ryan kept talking as the president wandered down the hall to his private dining room, where he flicked on his giant flat-screen TV. Apparently, he had had enough of Ryan’s talk. It fell to Vice President Pence to retrieve Trump and convince him to return to the Oval Office so they could continue their strategy session.”

The following is from Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube, NBC News, March 28, 2019: In his new role, Coats was responsible for walking a president he hardly knew through his daily intelligence briefing. He quickly found his boss had a short attention span for the information he was providing, current and former administration officials said. Coats struggled with how to respond when Trump veered off on unrelated tangents or bluntly disagree with the intelligence he was presented—as he often did, the current and former senior administrations officials said.
Coats found it particularly hard to hide his exasperation with Trumps insistence in the weeks after taking office that Obama had wiretapped him during the 2016 campaign, according to the officials. Over and over again Trump raised the issue and over and over Coats told him he wasn’t wiretapped, officials said, but the president didn’t want to hear it.
“It was a recurring thing and began early on,” a senior administration official who observed the exchanges said. “You could tell that Coats thought the president was crazy.”

Temper Tantrums

May 20, 2020

The title of this post is the identical to the title of a chapter in a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief. The chapter begins with a quote from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.
When he oversteps a limit and is pulled back, he often reacts with anger and frustration, possibly with a temper tantrum or sudden rage….At this age, he just doesn’t have much control over his emotional impulses, so his anger and frustration tend to erupt suddenly….It’s his only way of dealing with the difficult realities of life. He may even act out in ways that unintentionally harm himself or others. It’s all part of being two.

The following is from an article by Josh Dawley in Politico, May 10, 2017: “He had grown enraged by the Russian investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one advisor said.”

The following is from an article by Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker in the Washington Post, June 23, 2017: “Trump’s grievances and moods often bleed into one another. Frustration with the investigation stews inside him until it bubbles up in the form of rants to aides about fair cable television commentary or as slights aimed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein.”

The following is from an article by Sam Stein, Lachlan Markay, and Asawin Suebsaeng in the Daily Beast, July 19, 2017: Multiple Trump administrations officials detailed to The Daily Beast how senior staffers have a long-standing practice of assuring Trump of the quantity of his major accomplishments (of which he has barely any legislative and some administrative) and placating him by flagging positive media coverage, typically from right-wing outlets. This is, in part, a means to avoid further upsetting a president who is already prone to irrationally taking out his anger and professional frustrations on senior staff and who also has a penchant for yelling at the TV.

The following is from an article by Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker in the Washington Post, October 9, 2017: One Trump confident likened the president to a whistling teapot, saying that when he does not blow off steam, he can turn into pressure cooker territory.

The following is from an article by Julie Hirschfield Davis in the New York Times, July 16, 2018: Some of Trump’s own advisers privately said they were shocked by the president’s performance, including his use of the phrase “witch hunt” to describe he special counsel investigations while standing beside Mr. Putin.
Aboard Air Force One back to Washington, Mr. Trump’s mood grew foul as the breadth of the critical reactions became clear according to some people briefed on the flight. Aides steered clear of the front of the plane to avoid being tapped for a venting session with Mr. Trump.

The following is from a piece by Michelle Kosinski and Maegan Vazquez on CNN, June 4, 2018: A call about trade and migration between US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron soured last week after Macron candidly criticized Trump’s policies, two sources familiar with the call told CNN.
“Just bad. It was terrible,” one source told CNN. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that.”

The following is from an article by John Walcott in Time, February 5, 2019: What is most troubling, say these officials and others in government and on Capitol Hill who have been briefed on [intelligence briefing] episodes, are Trump’s angry reactions when he is given information that contradicts positions he has taken or beliefs he holds. Two intelligence officers even reported that they have been warned to avoid giving the President intelligence assessments that contradict stances he has taken in public.

This last quote is terrifying when you think the damage Trump can wreak even absent his control of the nuclear trigger.

Quotes from Prominent Trump Supporters

May 19, 2020

These quotes come from a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner, The Toddler in Chief.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: “There are parts of Trump that are almost impossible to manage.
Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon: “I’m sick of being a wet nurse for a 71 year old.”
US Senator Bob Corker: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.”
GOP campaign consultants Karl Rove: “Increasingly it appears Mr. Trump lacks the focus or self-discipline to do the basic work required of a President. HIs chronic impulsiveness is apparently unstoppable and clearly self-defeating.”
Newsman CEO and longtime Trump friend Christopher Ruddy: “This is Donald Trump’s personality. He just has to respond. He’s been so emotional…It takes a toll on him, and the way he deals with it is to lash out.”
Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson: “I’ve come to believe that Trump’s role is not as a conventional President who promises to get certain things achieved to the Congress and then does. I don’t think he’s capable of sustained focus, I don’t think he understands the system.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined highly process-oriented ExxonMobil corporation [was] to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says,”This is what I believe.”
US Representative Ryan Costello: “The notion that a shutdown creates more pressure on Dems is toddler logic.”
U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham: “The president’s been—he can be a handful—that’s just the way it is.”
U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger: This is so beneath the office you hold, It’s childish, and yet it’s getting really old.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: “I’m telling you he didn’t know anything about government….I wanted to scold him all the time.”
Governor Chris Christie: “He acts and speaks on impulse. He doesn’t always grasp the inner workings of government.

Dresser writes, “But between April 2017 and December 2019, I have recorded well over one thousand instances in which an ally or subordinate or Donald Trump has described the President as if he were a toddler. The rate is greater than one toddler depiction per day. That seems like a lot.”

What HM cannot understand is how these people, knowing what they know, allow Trump to continue as president given the harm he is wreaking on the country and the world.

The Toddler in Chief

May 18, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a timely book by Daniel W. Dreszner. The subtitle of this book is What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Modern Presidency. The introduction to this book begins with a quote from American Academy of Pediatrics, Caring for Your Baby and Young Child:
At the age of two, children view the world almost exclusively through their own needs and desires. Because they can’t yet understand how others might feel in the same situation, they assume that everyone thinks and feels exactly as they do. And on those occasions when they realize they’re out of line, they may not be able to control themselves.

There will be a series of posts on this book. It follows the posts on narcissism nicely, for narcissists are essentially exhibiting the behavior of a two year old child. It should be noted that the “twos” are known as the terrible twos, since at this age the child is virtually exclusively self-centered, and lashes out when frustrated. The author writes, “On television, commentators ranging from Don Lemon to P.J. O’Rourke have characterized the President as a two-year-old brat. Protestors and editorial cartoonists depict Trump as a giant man-baby. Within the first few months of his presidency, even conservative columnists such as David Brooks and Ross Dothan were explicitly comparing Trump to a child. In the fall of 2017, the Atlantic’s David Graham wrote, ‘How does the presidency work when the President’s aides treat him like a child? The immediate answer is, not very well.’”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote, “‘Though we often hear the mantra ‘this is not normal,’ what the President is doing actually is normal. For a 2-year-old.” The author writes, “If you want to understand this White House, turn off Wolf Blitzer and pick up Benjamin Spock.”

The author writes, “President Trump, his family and biographers have all made it clear that the 45th President is not the most mature of individuals. Trump himself told his biographer, ‘When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same. The temperament is not that different.’ Trump’s sister Maryanne told the Washington Post during the 2016 campaign that a her brother was ‘still a simple boy from Queens.’ Admittedly, a fourth-grader is older than a toddler, but the fact remains that Trump and his family agree that his psychological makeup has remained unchanged from when he was a very small boy. Most of the biographers and biographies of Trump make a similar point: Trump has experienced little emotional or psychological development since he was a toddler. Tim O’Brien, the author of TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, warned Politico after Trump’s election that ‘we now have somebody who’s going to sit in the Oval Office who is lacking in a lot of adult restraints and in mature emotions.’

Continuing the author writes, “The last and most powerful argument supporting the Toddler-in-Chief thesis, however, is laid out in the rest of this book. It is not only Trump’s political opponents who frequently liken him to an immature child. His closest political allies and subordinates draw the same comparison. This is the strongest rebuttal to the claim that those comparing Trump to a toddler are simply partisan hacks. Individuals with a vested interest in the success of Donald Trump’s presidency nonetheless describe him as a small boy in desperate need of a time-out. They have done so repeatedly and persistently since his inauguration.”

Many more healthy memory blog posts will be based on this important book. They timely follow the many posts on narcissism. In reading Drezner’s book the similarity between two year olds and narcissists is striking. Like two-year olds, narcissists also want to be the center of attention, praised and admired, and have all their needs and wants catered to. So the narcissist-in-chief can readily serve as the toddler-in-chief.

What Can Be Done About the Narcissim Epidemic

May 17, 2020

The authors of The Narcissim Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement, Twenge and Campbell offer a wide range of solutions to the problem of narcissism. They address changes that need to be made structurally by government and different industries. Given that neither HM nor his readers would be capable of implementing these changes, this post will deal with activities to be done by the individual. These changes will lead to a more satisfying and fulfilling life. It should be clear from the posts that narcissism is not fulfilling and leads to unhappiness.

Let’s begin by discussing the Chief Narcissist, Donald Trump. There was a previous post, Trump vs. a Buddhist monk, which argued that the monk is a happier than Donald Trump. His meditations produce this happiness. But what about the multiple billionaire Donald Trump? He is the president of the leading country in the world, but is he happy?

He doesn’t act happy. At the smallest slight he attacks people with nicknames and insults like an elementary school bully. There are many examples of this, but perhaps the best was his response to why his administration had taken no effective actions for the coronavirus epidemic in February. Trump had played a campaign video that purported to show his activities against the virus. Unfortunately, there was nothing in it about the month of February. When a reporter asked about this gap, Trump responded about January, when the reporter responded that the question was about February as it was obvious that the administration had done nothing during February, Trump’s response was that this reporter was a horrible person and told her so to her face. Now a response like this from any adult would be quite remarkable, but from the President of the United States?

Trump is proud of his wealth and he judges people by the amount of wealth that they have. But this is a losing quest, there will always be people who either are wealthier or who soon will be wealthier than you. Moreover, Trumps wealth is in question. He refuses to release his taxes. Moreover, he had suffered so many bankruptcies that American banks would no longer lend him money. So where did the money come from for all the building projects he had underway? The answer came from one of his sons, who said that the Russians had loaned him the money. The reality is that Putin owns Trump, and that Trump getting financing from the Russian mob goes way back (see the healthy memory blog post “House of Trump House of Putin”).

Narcissim’s fundamental problem is a sense of entitlement that comes from self-esteem (HM disagrees with the book’s authors on this point, read that post to understand why).
Research has shown that self-esteem is harmful. One example being a reluctance to try new things because it might make them look bad. Rather than self-esteem, use the terms self-affirmation or self-confidence, meaning that people can accomplish much more than they think they can, provided they persevere.

There is no “we” or “us” in narcissism, it is all about me or I. People need to think about others, and have empathy for their problems. They need to work well and share with others. They need to be concerned about the welfare of their fellow humans. These practices yield benefits to one’s own mental and physical well being.

A recurring theme in this blog is that growth mindsets are needed for a healthy memory. One should constantly be learning new topics and skills. This provides memory health, by engaging System 2 processing (thinking) in lieu of a heavy reliance on default (System 1) processing.

Doing so will lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying life that results in a cognitive reserve that largely reduces the risks of Alzheimers and dementia. Another prediction for narcissists is that they are at a high risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Entitlement

May 16, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “College professors often comment that today’s students feel they deserve special treatment. In 2005, a Harvard professor noted that, 20 years ago, ‘When a few students were sick and missed an exam…they use to be apologetic and just grateful that I would even offer a makeup. These days I have kids who think it’s no big deal to miss a test if they have any conflict and then they think they should decide when I give the makeup.’ Some students say, ‘I need an A in this course,” as if an A were an entitlement rather than something to be earned. Others expect to get good grades just for paying tuition, even telling faculty members, ‘You work for me.’ The most entitled have decided that they get good grades by arguing, saying things like, ‘I’m not leaving you office until you change my grade to an A.’”

The authors continue, “A survey of college students published in 2008 confirmed these perceptions. Two-thirds of students believed their professor should give them special considerations it they explained they were trying hard (apparently just for trying). One-third believed they deserved at least a B just for attending class. And—perhaps most incredible—one third thought that they should be able to reschedule their final exam if it interfered with their vacation plans.”

Joan a financial aid counselor at a satellite campus of the University of North Carolina writes that students often tell her, “I don’t want loans; I want financial aid,” and she has to explain that financial aid consists of more than outright gifts of money. One student came into her office and announced, “I was just at the Cashier’s Offie to pick up my refund check, and they said I didn’t have one. I want to know who the slacker is around here.” When Joan looked at the file, she found that the student had not even filed a financial aid application. When confronted with the truth that she was the “slacker,” the student said, “My parents are so stupid—they were supposed to do that for me.”

The authors write, “Entitled people are also unwilling to see the world through another person’s eyes and find it difficult to empathize with another’s misfortunes. When you are entitled, all your focus is directed toward your own experience, you own outcomes, your own needs. This is an obvious recipe for disaster in a romantic relationship, but it doesn’t bode well for work relationships, either. Engagement is also linked to a fundamental lack of respect for other people. The entitled person considers his needs paramount, and the others’ needs minor.”

Regarding the employee problem, the authors write, “In business, entitlement often boils down to an equation: less work for more pay. Plenty of workers today want that, but they also want more flexibility, balance, meaning, and praise for their work. ‘If you just expect them to stand behind a register and smile, they’re not going to do that unless you tell them why that’s important and then recognize them for it,’ say John Spano, a human resources director at a theater chain. Bob runs a business that staffs industrial and clerical jobs in Minneapolis and answers the authors’ survey. ‘It’s not uncommon for an employee to call my office before I arrive for the day to inform me, their employer, that they are too tired to go to work and must get more sleep. They really see nothing wrong with staying home from work to sleep.’” One employee who did this three times in one week was fired, only to call a few months later wanting another job.”

A major problem with entitlement is that entitled people don’t see reciprocity as a two-way street. They see favors as a one-way on-ramp that leads to them. The result is that the whole concept of reciprocity gets diminished and life gets a little harder and more isolated for everyone. The authors write that “Reciprocity is the gel that binds society together, and entitlement dissolves that glue.”

Antisocial Behavior

May 15, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The title of this post is identical to the subtitle of a chapter. The chapter title is The Quest for Infamy and the Rise of Incivility.

The authors write, “Narcissists are not necessarily aggressive all the time—unprovoked, they just act like everyone else. But they do lash out when someone else takes them down a notch. Brad Bushman and Roy Baumeister conducted a series of experiments in which college students wrote essays and received rigged feedback, which was ostensibly given by another student. The feedback said, “This is one of the worst essays I’ve read!” Eighty % of those high in narcissism were more aggressive than non-narcissists after receiving this insult. Narcissists weren’t aggressive toward someone who praised them, but an insult set them off. The narcissistic reaction is often out of proportion to the provocation.

The ABC News show 20/20 filmed several participants going through Bushman and Baumeister’s experiment. One student, call him Nick the Narcissist, scored in the 98th percentile on narcissism and laughed as he administered strong noise blasts. Afterward he was shown the video of himself and told he could choose whether it was aired. Nick said, sure, air it. Brad Bushman took him aside and explained that he might not want to look like a highly aggressive narcissist on national television. Nick said he thought he looked great, and wanted to be on TV. Perhaps the TV producers could at least digitize his face, Bushman suggested. Nick said incredulously, no way! He added it was too bad they couldn’t show his name and phone number too. The authors write, “This is one of the keys to understanding narcissists: they don’t really care if they look like jerks; they just want to be famous.”

Narcissists are also aggressive when someone tries to restrict their freedom: “Who are you to tell me what I can or can’t do?” An aggressive response to freedom restriction was painfully demonstrated in 2007 when several Philadelphia schoolteachers were allegedly attacked by students, one when he ordered a student to turn down her music, and another when he ordered a student to stop making prank phone calls on a classroom phone. Four teachers were seriously injured in separate incidents, and three of the student attackers ended up in jail for assault.

There is a relationship between narcissism, self-esteem, and aggression. High self-esteem and high narcissism produces a high level of aggression. For people with low self-esteem the level of aggression is almost identical regardless of their level of narcissism.

The authors write, “Given the upswing in the narcissistic values of American culture since the ‘90s, it may be no coincidence that mass shootings became a national plague around the same time. However, if the rise in narcissism were the only explanation, school shootings would have started earlier—perhaps in the late 1970s and ‘80s when the narcissism epidemic was just getting going. However, these types of social behaviors need to get attention before most people think about perpetuating them. Before school shootings received extensive media attention in the late ‘90s, people didn’t think of shooting a group of their fellow students as a way to get fame. Columbine and the other late ‘90s shootings provided a script for how to commit a mass killing at school, and demonstrated that these shootings could be linked to fame. If you ask students today, “How do you commit a mass killing at a school?” they know what to do. Before Columbine, few students would have thought about it. As American culture has grown more enamored with celebrity and fame, and now that mass killing in schools is seen as a direct avenue to fame and attention, the frequency of mass killings has increased dramatically. Fistfights that got wide exposure have shown a similar pattern.”

Materialism

May 14, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Materialism harms others and society like many of the correlates of narcissism. But it is also harmful to the individual in the long run. The author of The High Price of Materialism,Tim Kasser, has spent his career studying the consequences of valuing money and things. Materialistic people are less happy and more depressed on average than other people. People who simply aspire to have more money suffer from poor mental health; they also report more physical health problems such as sore throats, backaches, and headaches. And they are more likely to drink too much alcohol and use illegal drugs. Apparently, striving for financial success makes people miserable. One reason is that it is very hard to get ahead for more than a short while in the materialism game. Both fashion and style change so rapidly that only the very wealthy—or those willing to carry enormous amounts of debt—can keep up. Beyond the brief feeling of excitement you get when buying a hot new product and showing it to your friends, the pleasures of materialism are fleeting. Although lots of things are fun to buy, not so many are fun to own. The authors write, “The boost to narcissism that you get from beating the Joneses lasts only until they get their own new BMW or home cinema.

Materialism is also a stumbling block in the relationships of narcissists. Narcissistic partners often say that the narcissist’s interest in material good interferes with the relationship. Guys will say, she’s more interested in stainless-steel appliances, fancy handbags. and Manolo Blank shoes that our relationship. Gals will say he’s more interested in huge flat-screen TV, Rolex watches, and expensive suits.

Narcissists also sort their friends according to material standards. One woman bragged to a group of friends that she had bought not one but three Coach diaper bags, and added that she waited to share this news until after the departure of friends who were not fashion-coward enough to appreciate her taste. Her advice for those yet to deliver their babies was to bring gift bags to bribe the nursing staff.

Throughout history people have aspired to be rich, but now wealth seems much more materialistic. Today, anyone can get into Harvard it they’re smart enough, when just a few decades ago the vast majority of Ivy Leaguers were white men from the East Coast with the right connections. There were rags-to-riches as well in previous eras, but there was more awareness and acceptance that these were unusual. The authors write, “Not long ago, low-income teenagers aspired to middle-class dreams, for example a three-bedroom house in the suburbs. These days, disadvantaged youth are more likely to say they want a mansion like the one they saw on MTV.”

The authors write, “The rich are also treated with an aspirational reverence—somewhat like the gods were to the Greeks, except that many people fervently hope they can soon join their ranks. A recent Forbes magazine cover promised details on “The Lives of the Very Rich,” including sections titled “Masters of the Universe” and Marrying its Money.” ‘Masters of the Universe’ tops the hype meter.
Aspirational reverence should be reserved from those with genuine accomplishment of for humanitarian endeavors, not for wealth, and especially inherited wealth.

Vanity

May 13, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “Americans growing obsession with appearance is a clear symptom of a narcissistic culture in love with its own reflection. True to the Greek myth, narcissists believe they are more attractive than other people (even though, objectively, they’re not).” Carly Simon sings in her song “You’re So Vain”, “You had one eye on the mirror as you watched yourself.” Narcissists like watching themselves on videotape, and report gaining self-confidence from gazing at their reflections in a mirror. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory contains items such as “I like to look at myself in the mirror,” “I get upset when people don’t notice how I look when I go out in public,” and “I like to show off my body.” Vanity often occurs with self-centeredness, which causes so many of the negative behaviors associated with narcissism. Amanda Knox, who was accused of murdering her roommate, wrote in her jailhouse diary, “When I have an hour outside time I sit with my face in the sun so that I can get a tan. I have received letters from fellow inmates and admirers telling me that I am hot and they want to have sex with me.”

Students at San Diego State participate in an “Undie Run” at the end of fall semester every year. Picture from the 2007 event, posted on a public website, show an expanse of well—toned undergraduate flesh posing for the camera, including three young women wearing briefs that say “Take my Photo” on her rear. In the picture, they stand with their buns on the camera, pointing at the slogan. And to think that some people question the value of a college education!

But forget about college. A 2008 survey found that 1 out of 4 teen girls has sent a nude or nearly nude picture of herself via the Internet or cell phone. Sometimes these images are meant for one person, but often end up circulating to hundreds of other teens.

The authors write, “One of the dark sides of the cultural emphasis on physical appearance is the increase in eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders suffer from the “vulnerable” subtype of narcissism, which is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. The combination of self-admiration with the social pressure to look physically attractive—both of which are present in the current cultural climate—are a recipe for creating eating disorders.

Men are not immune to new high standards for appearance. Men’s skin care is one of the fastest-growing segments in the multi-billion-dollar grooming industry, and with sales up almost 50% in 2005 alone. This is especially true for younger generations, who “get their bodies waxed, work out, style their hair, and go to tanning salons.” When HM was an adolescent, the main and only concern was using Clearisil to remove pimples from one’s face.

And plastic surgeons are experiencing vast increases in wealth from plastic surgery.
The authors ask, “Why the rise in the obsession with appearance? Much of today’s desire for physical beauty springs from the fountain of self-admiration. For narcissistic people, good looks are just another way of gaining attention, status, and popularity.”

What Wealthy People Do To Get That Way

May 12, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. To answer this question the authors cited the work of Thomas Stanley and William Danko, who are authors of The Millionaire Next Door. The authors initially believed millionaires would have expensive tastes and habits. However, after some research, the found that this wasn’t true. They set up a meeting with people worth at least $10 million. They set up a table with fancy food and wine they thought the millionaires would like. But when they offered a glass of high-end wine to one, he turned it down flat. He said, “I drink two kinds of beer. Free and Budweiser.”

These millionaires Stanley and Danko studied were frugal. Many drove used cars, spent very little, and saved large sums of money. Stanley and Danko identified seven key factor in these millionaires. At least two are directly at odds with narcissism. First, the authors found, millionaires live well below their means. Second, Millionaires “believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status. So rather than running after status, these wealthy people wanted to achieve actual wealth and independence. The narcissistic culture asks, “Why be wealthy if you can’t show it off?” But many millionaires believe that having wealth gave them a sense of freedom, a feeling that far outweighed the fleeting pleasure of looking wealthy.

Twinge and Campbell write, “The findings presented in The Millionaire Next Door are counterintuitive. Americans see people with fancy cars and clothes and assume they must be rich. In reality, it is often safer to assume that they are in debt. The credit crunch that paralyzed the economy in the late 2000s is, at base, the conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Narcissism works on the pleasure principle—it looks great and gets what it wants, but it hurts other people and even the self in the long run. In contrast, the reality principle isn’t flashy or self-promoting, but it does leads to actual wealth.

Media Transmission of Narcissim

May 10, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Reality TV stars and other celebrities play an important role in the spread of narcissism. In the epidemiology of viruses, some people are known as super spreaders. Celebrities and the media they dominate are super spreaders of narcissism. Through gossip magazines, movies, commercials, and reality TV, Americans get a regular infusion of the narcissism virus. They create a world in which being narcissistic is cool.

A journalist wrote in an online survey, “I interviewed hundreds of well-known actors and actresses over a 10-year period, and this is basically how the interviews went: “I think…I believe… I am…My passion is…I’d like to think what I do makes a difference in the world…Me…Me…More Me…Major Me…did I mention Me? I am a role model to so many…I am, in fact, God incarnate. [They], and not only the mega-stars, were so self-absorbed, so self-obsessed, that my attendance at the interview wasn’t totally necessary. They blurted out their Me—ness unprompted.”

Another headline-making realm with more than its share of narcissists is sports. Skier Bode Miller, who failed to finish in events and nearly fell in a third one in the 2006 Winter Olympics, said, “I just did it my way. I’m not a martyr, and I’m not a do-gooder, I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here. He admitted to not training as much as he should have, but he claimed he had a good reason: “My quality of life is the priority. It’s been an awesome two weeks, I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.”

The authors report, “An increasing number of Americans not only admire fame from afar but fervently wish to enter the circle of celebrity themselves. In 2005, 51% of 18-to 25-year olds said that “becoming famous” was an important goal of their generation—nearly five times as many as named “becoming more spiritual” as an important goal. A 2006 poll asked children in Britain to name “the very best thing in the world.” The most popular answer was “being a celebrity.” “Good looks” and “being rich” rounded out the top three, making for a perfect narcissistic triumvirate. “God” came in last.

When one of the authors asked a teenage girl, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” She replied, “Famous.” “For what?” she was asked. The teen responded, “It doesn’t matter, I just want to be famous.”

Joshua Gamson, a sociology professor at the University of San Francisco said, “It’s as if being famous has become a right. One of the rights to being an American is the right to become famous—at least for an hour, maybe a day.”

In 2005, 31% of American high school students said they expected to become famous someday. Obviously, there is going to be an enormous number of disappointed students. Let us hope that some do not become desperate enough to take the route of an active shooter shooting their way to fame.

The Trap of Narcissism

May 9, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Now the question is if narcissism doesn’t lead to success, and comes with so many costs, why is anyone narcissistic?

One reason is that narcissists’ have greater visibility, so many people believe that narcissists are phenomenally successful. Narcissists seek attention and they’re really good at getting on TV (or looking snazzy at the local bar, or showing off at the gym). It’s an example of what we psychologists call the availability heuristic—believing that things happen more often when they come to mind more easily. For example, many people think flying on planes is dangerous because they can easily remember the image of a horrific plane crash, even though driving a car is actually far more dangerous statistically. The authors write that successful narcissists are a little like plane crashes; they are spectacular, they get noticed, and they can be a disaster.

The authors write, “This phenomenon is easily seen in the media. Donald Trump, who puts his name on everything he builds, has his own TV show, named a university after himself (there was a Trump University, it has failed), and picks fights with talk show hosts, is a great example who is both successful and appears to be narcissistic. We know about Donald Trump’s success because he is relentlessly self-promoting. It is hard to miss The Donald in the media, and he is rich (actually readers of this post should know that Trump was bankrupt but Putin financed his developments, which is why he is hiding his tax returns)—but there are other real stable tycoons you’ve never heard of because they are not self-promoters and don’t want to be in the limelight. Many other successful people are not self-promoting. For example. Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor gave most of his fortune to charity and drives around Nebraska in a Lincoln with license plates that say THRIFTY. Tom Hanks, who has won two Best Actor Academy Awards, is known in the film industry for being a genuinely nice person, as was Paul Newman, who donated millions to charity. You don’t have to be a narcissist to be successful, but Americans can think of lots of successful narcissists because they’re always grabbing the limelight. [It should to be noted that this book was published before Trump ran for President]

Then how is narcissism bad? The authors note that narcissism shares several things in common with other destructive behaviors. “First, it felt good. It’s fun to gamble, binge drink, have an illicit sexual relationship, eat glazed donuts, or take notepads from the office. Second, destructive behaviors usually have short-term benefits and long-term costs. When you gamble, you get the fun and excitement of going to the casino and playing cards. But you also risk the long-term costs of losing all your money, destroying your marriage, and losing your self-respect. When you binge drink, you have the benefits of giddy fun, but the longer-term cost of vomiting, a massive hangover, and the inability to show up at work. Last, destructive behaviors often make other people suffer. When someone cheats in a relationship. much of the cost is paid by the uninvolved spouse and children. Consumers all pay the cost of employee theft in terms of higher prices. The risky mortgage rewards the homeowner and the lender in the short term, but hurts everybody in the long run when the owner can’t pay the bill. “
In short, narcissism harms many people specifically, and society in general.

Creating a Narcissistic Child

May 8, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. Four psychologists studied the relationship between parental styles and children’s narcissistic personality traits. In one study, 9-to-13-year-old children completed a measure of narcissism and reported their parents’ behaviors once and then again 12 to 18 months later. Children whose mothers were both warm and psychologically controlling, like a helicopter parent, later scored the highest on narcissism. In another study, narcissistic young adults reported that their parents were indulgent. Narcissists were more likely to agree that “Looking back, I feel my parents sometimes put me on a pedestal,” “When I was a child my parents believed I have exceptional talents and abilities,” “When I was a child my parents praised me for virtually everything I did,” and “When I was a child my parents rarely criticized me.”

Two other studies asked teens and young adults to report how closely their parents monitored them as adolescents. The narcissistic respondents were more likely to say that their parents didn’t really know where they went at night. The general picture of parenting that leads to narcissistic kids closely resembles the modern parent: overindulgent, praising, and putting the child in charge. The authors conclude, “None of this is good news for the parent whose kid wears a bib saying “I’m the boss.”

The authors write that today many parents are uncomfortable being authority figures. They would rather have their child like them than respect them, and would rather be the child’s friend that a stern parent. They say that this trend began in the 1970s with books like PET: Parent Effectiveness Training, which argued that parents didn’t really know more than their kids—saying adults know more, they wrote, is akin to the belief that some racial groups are superior to others. Although the book does state that parents should not let their children do whatever they want, it was the first among many parenting manuals that encouraged equality between parents and children.

Many children now make household decisions, something that was unheard of just a few decades ago. Even preschoolers help make family purchasing decisions, important purchasing decisions. An educational consultant knows a family in which the five-year-old boy chose the family’s new car.

Overpraising is another problem, one which stems largely from the belief that self-esteem is important. Consequently, trophies are awarded just for participating. The authors write, “Praising children when they do good work or behave well is fine—in fact, that approach works better than punishing children for behaving badly. But in the past few decades, American parenting has moved to a different model, heaping praise for the littlest achievement and even, sometimes, for poor performance. Thinking that you’re great when you actually stink is a recipe for narcissism, yet this is what many patents and teachers encourage in children every day in the name of self-esteem (self-esteem again, instead of self-confidence, or self affirmation).
Continuing, the authors write, “Excessive praise has even been built into our education system. Although 20% fewer students in 2006 (versus 1976) did 15 or more hours of homework a week, twice as many reported getting an A average in high school. In other words, students now getting better grades for doing less work.

Polly Young-Eisendrath describes in her book, The Self-Esteem Trap, how treating a child as “special” leads to young adults who are self-absorbed but fragile in the face of hard work and negative feedback. They feel entitled to high-status occupations but quickly become discouraged when they aren’t highly successful right away.

Narcissism and Success

May 7, 2020

This post is based on a book by Jean M. Twenge and Keith Campbell titled The Narcissim Epidemic. The subtitle is Living in an Age of Entitlement. The authors write, “Narcissists love to win, but in most settings they aren’t that great at actually winning. College students with inflated views of themselves (they think they are better than they actually are) make poorer grades the longer they are in college, and they are more likely to drop out. Another study found that students who flunked an introductory psychology course had the highest narcissism scores by far, and those who made A’s had the lowest. The authors conclude, “Apparently the narcissists were wildly unrealistic about how they were doing and persisted in their lofty illusions when they should have dropped course (or perhaps done something radical, like study).”

So overconfidence backfires, The authors write, “narcissists are lousy at taking criticism and learning from mistakes. They also like to blame everyone and everything except themselves for their shortcomings. They lack motivation to improve because they believe they already have it made: when you were born on home plate, why run around the bases? Overconfidence itself can lead to poor performance. If you think you know all the answers, there’s no need to study. Then you take the test and fail. Oops.”

In another series of studies, people answer general knowledge questions like “Who founded the Holy Roman Empire?” Then they rated their confidence in their answers and were given the chance to place a monetary bet on the outcome. Unknown to the participants, these were “fair bets”, so someone who was 99% confident in their answer would make less money than someone who was only 60% sure. This is similar to horse racing, where the favorites have smaller pay-offs(a 1-to-25 pony pays off more than the 1-to-2 sure thing), or football, where there is a “point spread” of each game. The performance of Narcissists on the questions was the same as everyone else’s, but they were more confident of their answers and bet too much and too often. Narcissists also showed their trademark decoupling from reality: they started saying they would do better than others, but they actually did worse. Nevertheless the narcissists were undaunted and continued to claim that they had outperformed others on the test and would do well in the future. The authors conclude, “At least for a short period of time, narcissists were able to live in a fantasy world where they thought they were successful. They were even able to maintain these beliefs in the face of failure. Narcissism is a great predictor of imaginary success—but not of actual success.”

Narcissists have a high risk tolerance. They are optimistic because they are so confident they are right and that things will go well. So narcissists are successful when investing in bull markets, when their overconfidence and willingness to take risks pays off. In a simulated stock market study, narcissists did better than others when the market was headed up. But their superior performance disappeared as to their higher tolerance for risk. The authors write, “This, in part, is what happened to the mortgage market during the early 2000s: Both buyers and lender were narcissistically overconfident and took too many risks. When many buyers couldn’t pay their overly optimistic mortgages, the market turned downward eventually taking much of Wall Street with it. In the short term, narcissism and overconfidence pay off in spades, but when failure came it was even more spectacular than usual. In the end, the financial crises was the worst since the Great Depression. The authors failed to note that narcissists did not time the market and lost their shirts and other articles of clothing in the crash. And they deserved losing these articles of clothing because narcissism was a critical force in moving the market to false levels.

Business professors Arijit Chatterjee and Donald Hambrick studied CEO narcissism and company outcomes for more than 100 technology companies. They found that the more narcissistic the CEO of a company was, the more volatile the company’s performance. It appeared that narcissistic leaders were using dramatic, highly public corporate strategies. For example, they might buy up a smaller competitor or start a new “cutting-edge” business venture. When those strategic decisions paid off, the company did really well; when they didn’t, it was a disaster. In contrast, less narcissistic leader produced a more study performance. Given that volatility in performance is considered a negative in the valuation of companies (in economics, volatility is seen as “risk”) narcissistic CEOs are not ideal.

The authors write, “Narcissists are also not popular bosses. Employees rate narcissistic managers as average in problem-solving skills but below average in interpersonal skills and integrity, two qualities considered very important for management. Another study found that while narcissists saw themselves as excelling at leadership, their peers thought they were below average.”

The authors note, “Enron—the company made of “the smartest guys in the room” that cooked its books and subsequently imploded—is a microcosm of the downfalls of narcissism.” Malcolm Gladwell argues in his essay, “The Talent Myth.” “Enron was the Narcissistic Corporation—a company that took more credit for success than was legitimate, that did not acknowledge responsibility for its failures, that shrewdly sold the rest of us on its genius.”

Passing 74

May 6, 2020

Meaning that today HM is entering his 75th year. One might think that when one has lived this long, he has seen everything. But that is not the case. COVID-19 is new and is, by far, the worst pandemic he has ever experienced. We are not coping well with this pandemic, due in large part to Trump declaring it was a hoax perpetrated by the Democrats to destroy him. When he finally had to concede that the pandemic was real, he said that he had a test for the disease, he called it a beautiful test, that anyone could have just for the asking. Well there was no test and the absence of the test has seriously hindered the tracking of this disease and impacts when we might be able to return to a normal life.

Trump further exacerbated the situation by saying it was the responsibility of the states. He eventually declared a national emergency but did not lead the emergency as he was supposed to do. He said it was the problem of the states. The result of this was to put the states in competition not only with each other, but also with FEMA in competing for needed resources. This not only made this important task extremely difficult, it also made it more expensive.

Trump’s only interest in the pandemic is the likely risk it poses for his re-election campaign. Consequently, his focus is not on dealing with the pandemic, but rather in deflecting any blame off himself and onto others. This is nothing new. If someone does know of anytime that Trump has accepted blame for anything, please comment.

HM engages in ikigai, the Japanese term referring to living a life with purpose, a meaningful life. His purpose, in addition to living a fulfilling life with his wife, is to learn and share his thoughts and knowledge with others. HM does this primarily through his blog healthymemory, which focuses on memory health and technology.

HM’s Ph.D is in cognitive psychology. That field has transitioned to cognitive neuroscience, a field of research and a term that did not exist when HM was awarded his Ph.D. HM is envious of today’s students. However, he is still fortunate enough to be able to keep abreast of current research and to relay relevant and meaningful research from this field to his readers.

What is most disturbing is the atmosphere of fear and hate that prevails today. It is ironic that technology, which had, and still has, a tremendous potential for spreading knowledge, now largely spreads disinformation, hatred, and fear.
HM understands why this is the case, but, unfortunately, he does not know how to counter it.
The problem can best be understood in terms of Kahneman’s Two System View of cognition. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of cognition, System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. Unfortunately, System 1 is largely governed by emotions. Fear and hate are System 1 processes. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding. System 2 involves thinking. System 1 is automatic and requires virtually no cognitive effort. Emotions are a System 1 process, as are identity based politics. Politics based on going with people who look like you requires no thinking yet provides social support.

Through brain imaging, the field of cognitive science has identified what is termed default processing, or default mode processing. As the name implies, this is the default mode for the brain, which is virtually identical to System 1 processing. One must think to get out of this default mode and that takes mental effort, which too many people do not want to expend. Consequently, someone like Donald Trump is elected.

It is common knowledge that Donald Trump is a narcissist, meaning that he comes first and everything is about him. Unfortunately, HM has come to the conclusion that the United States is suffering from a narcissism epidemic. Narcissists vote for Trump because they regard him as a fellow narcissist.

Previous healthy memory posts have emphasized the enormous potential of technology. Today people, especially young people, are plugged in to their iPhones. Unfortunately, the end result is superficial processing. They get information expeditiously, but they are so consumed with staying in touch with updated information, that they have neither time nor attention left for meaningful System 2 processing. Unfortunately, technology, specifically social media, amplifies these bad effects, thus increasing misinformation, hatred and fear. Countering these bad effects requires implementing System 2 processes, that is thinking. A massive failure to do this enables Trump to build his politics on lies spreading hatred and fear.
As has been written in many previous healthy memory posts, System 2 processing will not only benefit politics, but will also decrease the probability of suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Personally, all this is upsetting. But HM believes it is essential to love one’s fellow humans. He tries to deal with this via meditation. Progress is both difficult and slow, but it needs to be done. Hatred destroys the one who hates. So HM continues a daily struggle to be a better human being.

This post began on 17 October 2009. HM thinks that there is valuable information on all posts, and encourages readers to review old posts. HM will endeavor to provide new information in all upcoming posts. Readers will find that some points are repeated, but one can take the number of repeats of information as a rough index of the importance of that information.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.