Monday, February 20, 2012

What is Peace?

I have to admit: I have been grappling with something for some time now that has been making me increasingly angry and frustrated. Through my survey of human history and the perspectives of variant world history’s it has become apparent to me that there has never existed a time of true peace in the world and that there may never come a time when world peace may come to pass.

Throughout history, there has always been social discord, discord that has manifested in different ways depending on the era. Never the less, hardships seem to have been plenty from the beginning and continue to be plenty through the lens of time right until this very moment that you read this sentence.

Now, some may argue that as time passes the world’s plight worsens and others may argue that the glory days are today and our yesterdays have always been far worse. The truth is: greed, sadness, poverty, inequality, and inequity, don’t really change in intensity through the passing of time, although we may wish they did, they merely change their ugly faces to suite our space in time within a technological and socio-cultural framework and perspective.

This concept has caused me much grief as I have felt frustration and anger directed at a seemingly sightless public. In desperation, I’ve been trying to teach people anything that I have come to learn that may help broaden perspectives, escape single mindedness, and soften rigidity.  Through this battle I ultimately must accept that people know only what they know and only what they want to know. Every person’s truth may be different from mine, so I must find a way to accept other people's truths even if they may be violently dissimilar to mine.

I have come to understand that this feeling of desperation and anger I have been feeling lately in response to humanity's injustices is an unreasonable emotional response. To expect the world to become perfect in order to feel peace is simply irrational. Similar to getting angry with a small animal dying of thirst, while watching it be seated directly in front a bowl of water…why will it not just drink!?

Events are bound to repeat, there may be no Promised Land or heaven on earth. Perhaps the purpose of this life is to have is just that. Heaven may very well be only a state of mind; there may never come a day when all wars cease to exist, there may never come a day when all of humanity will agree or know the same truth. But, every day is an opportunity to find peace, to find heaven, to find truth, and to find harmony within; to simply live another day in the hopes of helping just one other person find some inner peace if they choose.

There will always be injustice and this may not be a comfortable thought for many of us. There may always be war, maybe even until there is no world to fight over. Perhaps that is the whole point, maybe the peace on earth we have all been set out to find comes from inside. I think.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Resentment Machine

The immiseration of the digital creative class

by Freddie deBoer

The popular adoption of the internet has brought with it great changes. One of the peculiar aspects of this particular revolution is that it has been historicized in real time—reported accurately, greatly exaggerated, or outright invented, often by those who have embraced the technology most fully. As impressive as the various changes wrought by the exponential growth of internet users were, they never seemed quite impressive enough for those who trumpeted them.

In a strange type of autoethnography, those most taken with the internet of the late 1990s and early 2000s spent a considerable amount of their time online talking about what it meant that they were online. In straightforwardly self-aggrandizing narratives, the most dedicated and involved internet users began crafting a pocket mythology of the new reality. Rather than regarding themselves as tech consumers, the most dedicated internet users spoke instead of revolution. Vast, life-altering consequences were predicted for these rising technologies. In much the same way as those speaking about the importance of New York City are often actually speaking about the importance of themselves, so those who crafted the oral history of the internet were often really talking about their own revolutionary potential. Not that this was without benefits; self-obsession became a vehicle for an intricate literature on emergent online technology.

Yet for all the endless consideration of the rise of the digitally connected human species, one of the most important aspects of internet culture has gone largely unnoticed. The internet has provided tremendous functionality, for facilitating commerce, communication, research, entertainment, and more. Yet for a comparatively small but influential group of its most dedicated users, its most important feature, the killer app, is its power as an all-purpose sorting mechanism, one that separates the worthy from the unworthy—and in doing so, gives some meager semblance of purpose to generations whose lives are largely defined by purposelessness. For the postcollegiate, culturally savvy tastemakers who exert such disproportionate influence over online experience, the internet is above and beyond all else a resentment machine.

The modern American “meritocracy,” the education/employment vehicle, prepares thousands of upwardly mobile young strivers for everything but the life they will actually encounter. The endlessly grinding wheel of American “success” indoctrinates young people with a competitive vision that most of them never escape. The numbing and frenetic socioacademic sorting mechanism compels most of the best and the brightest adolescents in our middle and upper class to compete for various laurels from puberty to adulthood. School elections, high school and college athletics, honors societies, finals clubs, dining clubs, the subtler (but no less real) social competitions—all make competition the natural habitus of American youth. Every aspect of young adult life is transformed into a status game, as academics, athletics, music and the arts, travel, hobbies, and philanthropy are all reduced to fodder for college applications.

This instrumentalizing of all of the best things in life teaches teenagers the unmistakable lesson that nothing is to be enjoyed, nothing experienced purely, but rather that each and every part of human life is ultimately subservient to what is less human. Competition exists as a vehicle to provide the goods, material or immaterial, that make life enjoyable. The context of endless competition makes that means into an end itself. The eventual eats the immediate. No achievement, no effort, no relationship can exist as an end in itself. Each must be ground into chum to attract those who confer status and success—elite colleges and their representatives, employers.

As has been documented endlessly, this process starts earlier and earlier in life, with elite preschools now requiring that students pass tests and get references, before they can read or write. Many have lamented the rise of competition and gatekeeping in young children. Little attention has been paid to what comes after the competitions end.

It is, of course, possible to keep running on the wheel indefinitely. There are those professions (think: finance) that extend the status contests of childhood and adolescence into the gray years, and to one degree or another, most people play some version of this game for most of their lives. But for a large chunk of the striving class, this kind of naked careerism and straightforward neediness won’t do. Though they have been raised to compete and endlessly conditioned to measure themselves against their peers, they have done so in an environment that denies this reality while it creates it. Many were raised by self-consciously creative parents who wished for children who were similarly creative, in ethos if not in practice. These parents operated in a context that told them to nurture unique and beautiful butterflies while simultaneously reminding them, in that incessant subconscious way that is the secret strength of capitalism, that their job as parents is to raise their children to win. The conversion of the hippies into the yuppies has been documented endlessly by pop sociologists like David Brooks. What made this transformation palatable to many of those being transformed was the way in which materialist striving was wedded to the hippie’s interest in culture, art, and a vague “nonconformist” attitude.

It is no surprise that the urge to rear winners trumps the urge to raise artists. But the nagging drive to preach the value of culture does not go unnoticed. The urge to create, to live with an aesthetic sense, is admirable, and if inculcated genuinely—which is to say, in defiant opposition to the competitive urge rather than as an uneasy partner to it—this romantic artistic vision of life remains the best hope for humanity against the deadening drift of late capitalism. Only to create for the sake of creation, to build something truly your own for no purpose and in reference to the work of no other person—perhaps there’s a chance for grace there.

But in context of the alternative, a cheery and false vision of the artistic life, self-conscious creativity becomes sublimated into the competitive project and becomes twisted. Those raised with such contradictory impulses are left unable to contemplate the stocks-and-suspenders lifestyle that is the purest manifestation of the competitive instinct, but they are equally unable to cast off the social-climbing aspirations that this lifestyle represents. Their parentage and their culture teach them to at once hunger for the material goods that are the spoils of a small set of professions, but at the same time they distrust the culture of those self-same professions. They are trapped between their rejection of the means and an unchosen but deep hunger for the ends.

Momentum can be a cruel thing. High school culminates in college acceptance. This temporary victory can often be hollow, but the fast pace of life quickly leaves no time to reckon with that emptiness. As dehumanizing and vulgar as the high-school glass-bead game is, it certainly provides adolescents with a kind of order. That the system is inherently biased and riotously unfair is ultimately besides the point. In the many explicit ways in which high-school students are ranked emerges a broad consensus: There is an order to life, that order indicates value, and there are winners and losers.

Competition is propulsive and thus results in inertia. College students enjoy a variety of tools to continue to manage the competitive urge. Some find in the exclusive activities, clubs, and societies of elite colleges an acceptable continuation of high-school competition. Others never abandon their zeal for academic excellence and the laurels of high grades and instructor approval. Some pursue medical school, law school, an MBA, or (for the truly damned) a PhD. But most dull the urge by persisting in a four-or-five-year fugue of alcohol, friendship, and rarefied living.

The end of college brings an end to that order, and for many, this is bewildering. Educated but broadly ignorant of suffering, scattershot in their passions, possessed of verbal dexterity but bereft of the experience that might give their words meaning, culturally sensitive 20-somethings wander into a world that is supposed to be made for them, and find it inhospitable. Without the rigid ordering that grades, class rank, leadership, and office provide, the incessant and unnamed urge to compete cannot be easily addressed. Their vague cultural liberalism—a dedication to tolerance and egalitarianism in generally vague and deracinated terms—makes the careers that promise similar sorting unpalatable. The economic resentment and petty greed that they have had bred into them by the sputtering machine of American capitalism makes lower-class life unthinkable.

Driven by the primacy of the competitive urge and convinced that they need far more material goods than they do to live a comfortable life, they seek well-paying jobs. Most of them will find some gainful employment without great difficulty. Perhaps this is changing: As the tires on the Trans Am that is America go bald, their horror at a poor job market reveals their entitlement more than anything. But the numbers indicate that most still find their way into jobs that become careers. Many will have periods of arty unemployed urbanism, but after awhile the gremlin begins whispering, “You are a loser,” and suddenly, they’re placing that call to Joel from Sociology 205 who’s got that connection at that office. Often, these office jobs will enjoy the cover of orbiting in some vaguely creative endeavor like advertising. One way or the other, these jobs become careers in the loaded sense. In these careers, they find themselves in precisely the position that they long insisted they would never contemplate.

The competitive urge still pulses. It has to; the culture in which students have been raised has denied them any other framework with which to draw meaning. The world has assimilated the rejection of religion, tradition, and other determinants of virtue that attended the 1960s and wedded it to a vicious contempt for the political commitments that replaced them in that context. Culture preempts the kind of conscious understanding that attends to conviction, that all traditional designations of meaning are uncool.

If straightforward discussion of virtue and righteousness is socially unpalatable, straightforward political engagement appears worse still. Pushed by an advertising industry that embraces tropes of meaning just long enough to render them meaningless (Budweiser Clydesdales saluting fallen towers) and buffeted by arbiters of hipness that declare any unapologetic embrace of political ideology horribly cliché, a fussy specificity envelops every definition of the self. Conventional accounts of the kids these days tend to revert to tired tropes about disaffection and irony. The reality is sadder: They are not passionless, but many have invested their passion in a shared cultural knowledge that denies the value of any other endeavor worthy of personal investment.

Contemporary strivers lack the tools with which people in the past have differentiated themselves from their peers: They live in a post-virtue, post-religion, post-aristocracy age. They lack the skills or inspiration to create something of genuine worth. They have been conditioned to find all but the most conventional and compromised politics worthy of contempt. They are denied even the cold comfort of identification with career, as they cope with the deadening tedium and meaninglessness of work by calling attention to it over and over again, as if acknowledging it somehow elevates them above it.

Into this vacuum comes a relief that is profoundly rational in context—the self as consumer and critic. Given the emptiness of the material conditions of their lives, the formerly manic competitors must come to invest the cultural goods they consume with great meaning. Meaning must be made somewhere; no one will countenance standing for nothing. So the poor proxy of media and cultural consumption comes to define the individual. In many ways, cultural products such as movies, music, clothes, and media are the perfect vehicle for the endless division of people into strata of knowingness, savvy, and cultural value.

These cultural products have no quantifiable value, yet their relative value is fiercely debated as if some such quantifiable understanding could be reached. They are easily mined for ancillary content, the TV recaps and record reviews and endless fulminating in comments and forums that spread like weeds. (Does anyone who watches Mad Men not blog about it?) They are bound up with celebrity, both real and petty. They can inspire and so trick us into believing that our reactions are similarly worthy of inspiration. And they are complex and varied enough that there is always more to know and more rarefied territory to reach, the better to climb the ladder one rung higher than the person the next desk over.

There is a problem, though. The value-through-what-is-consumed is entirely illusory. There is no there there. This is what you can really learn about a person by understanding his or her cultural consumption, the movies, music, fashion, media, and assorted other socially inflected ephemera: nothing. Absolutely nothing. The internet writ large is desperately invested in the idea that liking, say, The Wire, says something of depth and importance about the liker, and certainly that the preference for this show to CSI tells everything.

Likewise, the internet exists to perpetuate the idea that there is some meaningful difference between fans of this band or that, of Android or Apple, or that there is a Slate lifestyle and a This Recording lifestyle and one for Gawker or The Hairpin or wherever. Not a word of it is true. There are no Apple people. Buying an iPad does nothing to delineate you from anyone else. Nothing separates a Budweiser man from a microbrew guy. That our society insists that there are differences here is only our longest con.

This endless posturing, pregnant with anxiety and roiling with class resentment, ultimately pleases no one. Yet this emptiness doesn’t compel people to turn away from the sorting mechanism. Instead, it draws them further and further in. Faced with the failure of their cultural affinities to define an authentic and fulfilling self, postcollegiate middle-class upwardly-oriented-if-not-upwardly-mobile Americans double down on the importance of these affinities and confront the continued failure with a formless resentment. The bitterness that surrounds these distinctions is a product of their inability to actually make us distinct.

The savviest of the media and culture websites tap into this resentment as directly as they dare. They write endlessly about what is overrated. They assign specific and damning personality traits to the fan bases of unworthy cultural objects. They invite comments that tediously parse microscopic distinctions in cultural consumption. They engage in criticism as a kind of preemptive strike against those who actually create. They glamorize pettiness in aesthetic taste. The few artistic works they lionize are praised to the point of absurdity, as various acolytes try to outdo each other in hyperbole. They relentlessly push the central narrative that their readers crave, that consumption is achievement and that creators are to be distrusted and “put in their place.” They deny the frequently sad but inescapable reality that consumption is not creation and that only the genuinely creative act can reveal the self.

This, then, is the role of the resentment machine: to amplify meaningless differences and assign to them vast importance for the quality of individuals. For those who are writing the most prominent parts of the internet—the bloggers, the trendsetters, the über-Tweeters, the tastemakers, the linkers, the creators of memes and online norms—online life is taking the place of the creation of the self, and doing so poorly.

This all sounds quite critical, I’m sure, but ultimately, this is a critique I include myself in. For this to approach real criticism I would have to offer an alternative to those trapped in the idea of the consumer as self. I haven’t got one. Our system has relentlessly denied the role of any human practice that cannot be monetized. The capitalist apparatus has worked tirelessly to commercialize everything, to reduce every aspect of human life to currency exchange. In such a context, there is little hope for the survival of the fully realized self.

Freddie deBoer is a graduate student in rhetoric and composition. He blogs at L’Hôte.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When is The Last Time You Took A Risk?

Hi Friend,

Yesterday I was talking with one of my good friends about risk...

My dictionary tells me that to risk is "to expose oneself to the chance of loss." I suppose that is true. Another piece of literature I was once given (author unknown) suggests that:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach out for another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self.
To place your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.

You may avoid suffering and sorrow if you don't risk, but you simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing and has nothing. Only a person who risks is free.

What causes individuals to shy away from taking a risk, even if it is a low risk and will give them something they really want? Well, certainly high on most people's list would be fear of loss, failure and perceived humiliation if the loss were to occur. Why would we automatically think that we would fail at something? Why wouldn't we first try and see, and then if we did fail, learn from that experience and move on? What causes us to have these thoughts of inferiority?

Well, I believe it dates back to our little life. And, since risk-taking, to my knowledge, is not a subject that is taught in school, it would lead me to believe that a person's fear of taking risks might stem back from before they can even remember. When you were a child taking your very first steps, it wasn't uncommon to hear one of your parents or guardians say, "Be careful, you might fall." Or, "Don't do that, you'll ...." Though some of this is rhetoric and you don't really pay much attention to it, for some, it begins the pattern of playing it safe.

Think of how much better equipped we would be to face life's challenges and succeed, if we had repetitively heard, "Take a chance and don't worry about falling, because you're going to fall...probably quite often. Falling is an important part of learning." Many of the greatest lessons you'll receive in life are going to come from falling ... from your failures.

Failing will never make you a failure unless you quit. Unfortunately, very few people heard that when they were small. The vast majority of our population have been mentally programmed to play it safe.

In my seminars I have often said that a little baby is a natural born risk taker. The baby never considers the consequences of falling when it is learning to walk. Falling is acknowledged as a natural consequence to learning to walk. I guess you could call it a calculated gamble; it's a prerequisite to mastering a myriad of motor skills required to get you on your feet and moving. It's a natural progression in movement. Why then, wouldn't we stop to consider that any movement into unchartered territory should be viewed with the same consideration? What happens to us?

Why is it that we do not see the process of reaching our goals as having steps similar to the ones the baby must take in order to learn to walk? There will be some stumbling and falling in the learning process, but success can only be reached when we are prepared to take those steps, all of them, even the ones where we may fall down. The real win is the confidence and experience we acquire which translates into new opportunities for growth, enjoyment and expansion in all areas of our life.

When I was a youngster in school, I participated in track and field. Pole-vaulting was my specialty; it was the one event I seemed to excel at. I clearly remember knocking that bar flying more often than I cleared it. I also remember I was not very enthusiastic when that happened. Knocking the bar off left me with a feeling that because I had failed, I was a failure. I had failed and as I remember, no one advised me of anything different. In retrospect, it would have been an excellent opportunity for one of my teachers to help me understand one of life's greatest lessons. But, it never happened and it would be many years before I learned the truth, the hard way.

While we're still on the topic of children, I'll throw up another caution flag. There's a four letter word that most parents use around their children so frequently, that the children pick it up and before too long it is buried in the treasury of their subconscious mind. That four letter word is CAN'T. This word has done more damage than a lot of other frowned-upon four letter words put together. I know of some forward-thinking parents who have literally banned that word from their children's vocabulary!

Can't is a word that paralyzes any constructive progress. It switches your mind into a negative frequency. It is a four letter word that will open your mind to a never ending flow of logical, practical reasons which will enable you to justify why you are not able to do something you sincerely want to accomplish.

The only alternative to that four-letter word is its polar opposite - I CAN. I can is far more important than IQ. You don't necessarily have to be very smart to win ... but you must be willing. Reaching the goal is not success; success is moving toward the goal. When I was knocking down the cross bar, I was attempting to reach the goal. I was stretching, giving it everything I had. That could hardly be considered failing. Every time I tried to clear the bar, I was risking being ridiculed by the other kids. I risked having them laugh at me when I missed ... and they did laugh.

However, every time I ran down the field and lowered the pole into the box, attempting to vault myself over the bar, I was challenging myself. Taking risks is essential when you want to reach a goal and the purpose of goals is growth. When you challenge yourself, you bring more of yourself to the surface. If you knock the bar flying today, at least you will know you are challenging yourself; you're a success!

If you dream of living your life in a really big way, you must accept risk-taking as a very real part of the apprenticeship you must serve. Make a decision right now to change. Decide this very moment there will be no more playing it safe ... no more "saving it for a rainy day" type thinking in your life. When people get caught up in the habit of saving for a rainy day, that is generally what they get ... a rainy day.

I clearly remember the first time I heard Earl Nightingale. Earl was telling a story about a farmer who was out walking in a field. He looked down and saw a tiny pumpkin growing on a vine. Nearby, he spotted a small glass jar. The farmer reached down and placed the tiny pumpkin inside the small jar. The pumpkin continued to grow until it filled the inside of the jar. Beyond which it could not grow.

There are a number of people like that tiny pumpkin. They limit themselves and refuse to take a risk. They never truly test the strength of their abilities. You will never get to second base if you keep one foot on first. Too many people go through their entire lives playing their cards close to their chest. They never step out and bet on the surest thing in the world ... themselves. If you hope to accumulate great wealth or achieve high goals, history records that the first few steps have a high degree of risk. You must turn your back on safety and security. To make it big, you must take big risks. You will very likely have to put yourself in a highly vulnerable position. It is also worth remembering you cannot almost take a risk.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." Follow her advice and liberate yourself from the crippling emotional state of fear and enter into a world of freedom.

To your success,
Bob Proctor

"Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass...
It's about learning how to dance in the rain."
- Vivian Greene

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

One Day on Earth

One Day on Earth - Motion Picture Trailer from One Day On Earth on Vimeo.

This trailer is the first glimpse of One Day on Earth, an ambitious motion picture shot by thousands of filmmakers in every country in the world on a single day: October 10, 2010. The trailer alone includes footage from 90 individuals and organizations. The producer/director Kyle Ruddick is currently editing down 3,000 hours of film and is asking for help via Kickstarter to complete the project.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Do We Judge?

A dear friend wrote to me: "I think a topic that you should address is judgment. So many so called 'faithful' people live their lives judging others by their rule book."

Perhaps the topic that should be addressed first is recognizing and acknowledging our human point of reference (personal perception). Our individual perception of any event is unique to the individual. This perception becomes our basis for creating reality. The moment we start to acknowledge that we are able to equally hold two, three, four or more different points of reference on the same event, topic, or person; is when we can begin to realize that judgment is partly due to an inability to see events from another’s vantage point. We’ve all had the experience where you and another person experienced the same event yet their individual recollection and our individual recollection of the same events were completely different. This example demonstrates how our perceptions are inherently influenced by a host of conscious and subconscious factors. Judgment, in many ways, is born out of our need to defend our sense of self, our sense of individual thought, the superiority of our opinion and our illusion of separation from others.

Judgment is a curious phenomenon for the actions we allow and justify in ourselves are usually the same actions we cannot tolerate in others. We must always remember that judgment communicates energy, through our thoughts which become our words. And words become actions. Actions become habits. Habits become character. And Character becomes destiny.

As Eckart Tolle stated in an interview, ‘for many people there is a transitional stage from being identified with thought completely to rising above thought. The intermediate stage to rising above thought is acknowledging that all thought and any judgment or interpretation is simply a perspective—one can easily move to a different stand having another judgment about the same event or person. So one can no longer completely identify with thought, that is not to say not to have any opinion; we can have opinions, but recognizing them as mental positions and perspectives not the truth.’

One could say that an aspect of Godliness would be having the ability to accept all opinions, actions, people, religions, and life equally without judgment. One can have an opinion, even one with which they are passionate about, yet at the same time recognize it is merely a mental position or perspective, not an ‘objective truth.’

Being wrong is ok, and if we have learned anything from history it is that we as humans are wrong in our beliefs the vast majority of our human history. So who knows, maybe our beliefs that we hold so firm and condemn others for not having could be off... Just maybe, even likely, wrong.

"You can’t believe everything you think"


"Your judgement shows more about you than the person you have judged." 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The China Study

If we are what we eat, what have we become?

Our food is genetically modified (to be pesticide resistant, not healthier), highly processed, laden with pesticides, hormones, steroids, chemicals, antibiotics, and far too meat and dairy oriented.

This has caused health problems, cancers, heart disease and also considerably effecting the amount of pollution we are pumping into mother earth.

Food for thought:
Meat production and consumption is the number 2 contributor to the world's climate change, number 3 is transportation... (if we all reduced our meat consumption by 50%-90%, it would be better than removing all the cars in the world off of our roads)

Some Solutions:
- Grow your own fruits, herbs and vegetables when possible or shop at your local farmer's market buying only organic fruits and veggies that are not genetically modified.
- Drink water, not pop or milk.
- Reduce the amount of animal protein and dairy in your diet... it will save your health and life. We only need 10% protein in our diet, and it should ideally be plant protein (Meat Free Mondays is a great way to start).

Celebrated Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell Phd, presents the overwhelming evidence showing that animal protein is one of the most potent carcinogens people are exposed to.

This is the FULL 45 MINUTE talk by Dr. Campbell highlighting his China study

Sunday, June 19, 2011

'survival of the kindest'

By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | 08 December 2009

BERKELEY — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it "survival of the kindest."

"Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others," said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. "Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

Empathy in our genes

Keltner's team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

Informally known as the "cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

"The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get

While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, "How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?"

One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the "public good.” The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

"The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated,” Willer said. "But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status.”

"Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish,” he added.

Cultivating the greater good

Such results validate the findings of such "positive psychology” pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

One outcome is the campus's Greater Good Science Center, a West Coast magnet for research on gratitude, compassion, altruism, awe and positive parenting, whose benefactors include the Metanexus Institute, Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday and the Quality of Life Foundation.

Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, is creator of the "Science for Raising Happy Kids” Web site, whose goal, among other things, is to assist in and promote the rearing of "emotionally literate” children. Carter translates rigorous research into practical parenting advice. She says many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being.

"I've found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become,” said Carter, author of "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” which will be in bookstores in February 2010. "What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become."

The sympathetic touch

As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses. In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body's organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

"Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch,” Keltner said.

The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

“This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin's observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct,” Keltner said.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Imagine the the limitless results within the adult mind if the ability of imagination were cultivated with little to no boundaries; a mind so adept to vivid visualization and creativity becoming capable of bending the fabric of reality itself.

It should be the responsibility of every accountable adult to continuously cultivate and facilitate the development of a complex and boundless imagination within every child, adolescent, and adult they meet.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Non-Altruistic Philanthropy

Is our new age culture of economic ethics truly about giving?

Or is it a form of PR that actually hurts the socially and economically marginalized humans and animals that share this small earth with us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Ordinary Nature of Practicing Loving Kindness

This talk given by Gil Fronsdal is about The Ordinary Nature of Loving Kindness from a Buddhist perspective. The link above directs you to streaming audio, you can choose to download the talk free of cost through the link OR simply listen to streaming audio. 

I am not promoting Buddhism as the only path to truth, I believe all religions are valid and beautiful with lessons applicable to all. I feel Gil's talk is spiritually uplifting no matter what religion you are because it addresses how to practice "loving kindness."

If you enjoy this talk there are many more available for listen or download compliments of

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Thousand Suns

A Thousand Suns tells the story of the Gamo Highlands of the African Rift Valley and the unique worldview held by the people of the region. This isolated area has remained remarkably intact both biologically and culturally. It is one of the most densely populated rural regions of Africa yet its people have been farming sustainably for 10,000 years. Shot in Ethiopia, New York and Kenya, the film explores the modern world's untenable sense of separation from and superiority over nature and how the interconnected worldview of the Gamo people is fundamental in achieving long-term sustainability, both in the region and beyond. -- Global Oneness Project