We Like Us

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One of the things most people agree on is that high self-esteem is good, and low self-esteem is bad. Most of us more-or-less accept that “truth.”

That’s why I was quite taken by the review of “Selfie” a book that tries to get at the root of how we’ve gone from just having self-esteem to being self-obsessed. Here’s how it begins:

Worrying about one’s own narcissism has a whiff of paradox. If we are suffering from self-obsession, should we really feed the disease by poring over another book about ourselves? Well, perhaps just one more.

“Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us,” by Will Storr, a British reporter and novelist, is an intriguing odyssey of self-discovery, in two senses. First, it tells a personal tale. Storr confesses to spending much of his time in a state of self-loathing and he would like to know why. On a quest to explore self-esteem and its opposite, he interviews all sorts of people, from CJ, a young American woman whose life revolves around snapping, processing and posting hundreds of thousands of selfies, to John, a vicious London gangster who repented of his selfish ways, possibly because of his mother’s prayers to St. Jude. Storr takes part in encounter groups in California, grills a Benedictine monk cloistered at Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, and gets academic psychologists to chat frankly about their work. Storr’s side of the conversations he recounts tends to be blunt, inquisitive and peppered with salty British swearing. One comes to like him, even if he does not often like himself.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Neighbors

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Many of us grew up with Fred Rogers…and for those who didn’t…your kids did. But few know how the show got started or much, for that matter, of what went on behind the scenes.

That’s why I found this piece by David Brooks, “Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good,” so interesting. Here’s how it begins:

Often people are moved to tears by sadness, but occasionally people are moved to tears by goodness. That’s what happens to the audiences of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new documentary about Fred Rogers.

The documentary demonstrates how Rogers’s children’s show got started and how he used it over 30 years to teach and accompany children. It describes the famous opening sequence — Mister Rogers going to the closet, putting on the sweater, changing his shoes. It describes how he gently gave children obvious and non obvious advice: You are special just the way you are; no, children can’t fall down the drains in the bathtub.

Sometimes he would slow down time, be silent for long periods as he fed his fish. Occasionally “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” touched politics. During the civil rights era, when black kids were being thrown out of swimming pools, Rogers and a black character bathed their feet together in a tub. After Bobby Kennedy was killed, Rogers gently explained what an assassination was.

There’s nothing obviously moving here, and yet the audience is moved: sniffling, wiping the moisture from their cheeks. The power is in Rogers’s radical kindness at a time when public kindness is scarce. It’s as if the pressure of living in a time such as ours gets released in that theater as we’re reminded that, oh yes, that’s how people can be.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Easy Self Control

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Who doesn’t want more self-control? Talk about and easy question.

While there isn’t an easy answer to gaining the degree of self-control we all seem to want, Tim Herrera recently teed up some good ideas. Appropriately, his piece features a plate of delicious-looking chocolate brownies. Here’s how he begins:

Picture this: You’re staring down a plate of fresh brownies during your 2 p.m. lull. You had an early lunch so your stomach is grumbling, and dinner feels a lifetime away. What happens next?

You’re probably eating those brownies, friend-o. (And I am, ahem, definitely not pulling this story from personal experience.)

Self-control in the face of temptation is a tricky thing. We tend to view it in black-and-white, almost moralistic terms: Anyone who succumbs to temptation, in whatever form, clearly must be weak willed. A stronger person would never eat that brownie, fall into a 90-minute YouTube spiral or watch another three episodes of “Billions” instead of writing his weekly newsletter.

But the science behind self-control tells a different story.

A 2011 study that examined how people deal with self-control found that those of us who are best at it aren’t more strong-willed or dedicated: They simply experience temptation less.

In fact, the very idea that we can improve our self-control is in question: A 2016 study found that “training self-control through repeated practice does not result in generalized improvements in self-control.”

In other words, don’t beat yourself up over a lack of self-control: We’re wired to be bad at it. But that’s not the end of the story.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Our Vets – and More

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Memorial Day has come and gone, and with it, for many, a focus on our veterans. That’s why I was strike by the piece by Army Veteran Allison Jaslow. Here’s how the article begins:

If you’ve worn the uniform of our armed forces, you’ve put your life on the line for our country. This Memorial Day, we’ll remind ourselves that some men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can live free in this great nation.

It’s not surprising, then, that many Americans are looking to veterans to help us out of these dark and divisive times. Political parties are recruiting veteran candidates as their “secret weapons” in the midterm elections, and advocates for causes ranging from gun rights to gun control to helping undocumented immigrants are elevating veteran voices to advance their agendas.

But is electing more veterans the solution to our nation’s problems? I wish that were all it took.

As a veteran myself, I appreciate that many Americans hold us in high esteem. But the rush to promote veteran candidates is evidence that we expect more out of our elected leaders than we do of ourselves. And that’s what really ails America.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Compliments

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As President Harry Truman famously said, “Everybody likes a compliment.” That was true when he said it over a half-century ago, and perhaps even more true now as anything that gives us pause in our fast-paced lives is – and should be – a good thing. The question becomes, if we receive a compliment, what do we do?

I’ve always struggled with that question, that’s why I was intrigued Carolyn Bucoir’s piece, “How to Accept a Compliment.” Here’s how she begins:

Alone in my office one afternoon, I unpeeled the wrapper from a square of chocolate with a deliberate curiosity not associated with office snacking. As the minty candy dissolved in my mouth, I read the words printed inside the wrapper: “Accept a compliment.”

I would normally not say yes to suggestions from strangers who work in what I assume is the marketing department of Dove Chocolate, Promises Division. But they aren’t alone in their advice. “Ladies, why the heck can’t we take a compliment?” a Prevention writer asked in a January headline. The message: C’mon women. Quit being apologists. Fully accept the compliments you deserve — without any self-deprecation or changing of the subject.

Until this point, I would have responded to a compliment — say, on my hair — with half acknowledgment and half distraction. “Thanks, but [acknowledge recent struggle with hair or hairdresser]. Ha ha ha.” Doing so restored order. But while a simple “Thank you” was not my style, I decided to try it.

Walking home from work, I approached a neighbor on a ribbon of sidewalk that passes for Main Street in our Wisconsin town. I smiled and waved as we neared each other. Caren smiled and waved back and when I was within earshot, she shouted, “I like your dress!”

I assumed this was an easy audition for the New and Improved Way to Accept Compliments and simply said, “Thank you.”

A short pause followed. It was so deeply still and awkward that had our entire exchange been filmed and replayed, a viewer might reasonably think the video had paused.

When we reanimated, Caren’s eyes acquired a hard look. “It’s appropriate,” she said. “I like when people dress appropriately.”

“Oh. Ummm. Ugh,” I sputtered and continued my walk home, embarrassed. What had I missed by failing to add a remark about how old or inexpensive my dress was?

Want more? You can read the full article here

Planning for the End

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Most Americans admire Senator John McCain, but few of us really know him. We know of his many accomplishments, but not so much regarding what makes him…well…him.

That’s why I was intrigued by Timothy Egan’s recent piece, “John McCain’s Lesson Before Dying.” Here’s how he begins:

Steve Jobs had outlasted an initial death sentence — three to six months to live, the doctors had said — when he told Stanford graduates that the threat of an early demise was perhaps the most liberating thing that ever happened to him.

I was thinking of Jobs, who died seven years after a diagnosis of deadly pancreatic cancer, while watching the public tutorial of Senator John McCain going through what may be his final days.

McCain is not just plotting the details of his own funeral, but living it. He’s lucky. Most of us don’t get the chance to tell friends and family members how much we love them, to put things in order — and in return, to hear from those people about what a difference a life made to them.

“Then I’d like to go back to our valley and see the creek run after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind,” said McCain in an excerpt he read from his forthcoming book, “The Restless Wave.” You could hear Hemingway, the senator’s favorite author, in those words.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

A “Turning Point” Year

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Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott helped us look back to 1968 – a critical year in our history AND one that was captured in memorable movies. Here’s how they began their piece:

In 1968, the world went up in flames, the auteur theory ignited debate, parental guidance at the movies was suggested, women in film were on the verge of a breakthrough, flesh-eating zombies hit the screen and American movies went to war (again). The world was watching, and the world was changing.

Fifty years later, it can sometimes feel as if we are living in the sequel, or at least some kind of weird dystopian reboot. The collective memory of 1968 is a blend of romance and apocalypse, nostalgia and trauma. In April, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and cities across the country soon erupted. Two months later Robert F. Kennedy was also killed. Before the year was out, Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, rioting broke out during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and student demonstrators were massacred in Mexico City.

That same year, one of us also saw “Planet of the Apes” at the Academy of Music theater on 14th Street in Manhattan. Because, amid the murders and the fires, people also went to the movies, which offered a warped mirror and a cracked window on the world. Filmgoers watched Steve McQueen burning rubber in “Bullitt” on the streets of San Francisco; they freaked out at the mysteries of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” They saw “The Odd Couple,” “Romeo & Juliet,” “The Love Bug,” and they also watched Rosalind Russell play a nun who comes face to face with the counterculture in “Where Angels Go … Trouble Follows.” Trouble followed the movies to the Cannes Film Festival, where protests shut the event down.

The aftershocks of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and the backlash that followed are with us. We are still looking at dystopian and apocalyptic fantasies, still running from zombies, still watching cities erupt, still fighting over basic human rights. The movies have been conscripts in this continuing culture war and to look back at 1968 is to understand what has and hasn’t changed. To that end, we have seized on four historical events, viewing them as milestones and starting points. We’ve also revisited a handful of films that speak to some of the contradictions of their moment — and our moment too.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

Live Smart

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Now and again I’ll read a piece that is uber-enlightening. That happened yesterday when I read Tim Herrera’s “How Smarter Living Taught Me to Be an Adult.”

It’s a catchy title, but the subtitle, “Four things I’ve learned that can help you, too,” is more revealing. Here, briefly, is what he suggests:

Do less — but do it better

In February, I wrote about a work-life philosophy that changed my life: “If it’s not a ‘hell yeah,’ it’s a ‘no.’” The idea sounds simple, but with honest self-examination you realize it affects every part of your life….

The power of an exercise routine

I entered 2017 about 35 pounds overweight and with awful eating habits. I’ve always had a not-so-great relationship with exercise and food, but I reached a turning point last year. It wasn’t through a weird trick or life hack. I used the same advice we’ve heard for all of our lives: Find a routine and commit to it, and find a support network of people who keep you motivated….

Pay yourself

Like with exercise and food, I was never good with money. Paycheck comes in, you’re supposed to spend it, I thought….

Relax

Earlier this month in the S.L. newsletter, I wrote about burnout after feeling a lull in my motivation and energy — my mojo was off. Hundreds of readers shared their experiences with burnout as well, and it was eye-opening to see how all of us feel this way sometimes, and that’s perfectly fine….

Those are just snippets. Want more? You can read the full article here

Too Busy?

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Full disclosure – I’m a boomer. I know, we’re the generation accused of not only knowing it all, but of having it all. Fine.

It should come as no surprise that most of our friends are boomers as well – or that the majority of them are retired. But they are busy – often crazy busy. What’s going on?

David Ekerdt’s article in the Wall Street Journal helped shed some light on why – as well as alternative approach. Here’s how he began:

In the 1980s, I interviewed men about their transitions from work to retirement. I didn’t need to talk to them very long before many told me how busy they were. “I’m busier than ever.” “I’m so busy now that I don’t know how I found the time to work.”

Thirty years later, I see no letup in this emphasis on busy retirements. If anything, it has gotten more pronounced, especially as the baby boomers start to leave behind careers in pursuit of their next acts. For today’s retirees, busy boasting is the new status symbol—the idea that there is no time to rest when there are so many places to see, causes to champion, classes to take, languages to learn and businesses to start.

I am all for people pursuing their dreams. But based on decades of studying retirement and retirees, I am convinced that something else is happening here. Too many people may be bending their dreams to the expectations of others. They’re following the paths that cultural norms, peer pressure and commercial interests are mapping out for them, bypassing alternatives for more control and contentment in retirement.

A busy retirement is absolutely fine. But so is a not-so-busy retirement.

How did we get to this place, where busy is seen as the default pace of life? Blame much of it on the cultural value we place on hard work, and the ennobling status that it confers. A full life in retirement provides moral continuity with what went before. How many times do we hear—and laud—the executive who never takes vacation, or answers email at all hours? If this is something to be applauded, why would we expect that to change suddenly, just because a career ends?

Want more? You can read the full piece here

We’re Better Than This

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News of the recent White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner has reached a near-saturation point, so I’d posting this blog advisedly.

My day job – as well as my personal and professional interests – revolve around international relations. That leads directly to worrying about America’s standing in the world.

From where I set, the White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner knocked America’s standing down more notches than I care to think about.

I’ve had many thoughts as to why this event was so troubling but had trouble articulating them. Then I read Peggy Noonan’s op-ed and things became clear. Here’s how she began:

It’s over, the conversation has turned and won’t bubble up again till early next year but a final thing should be said about the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. It’s been persuasively argued that the dinner hurt journalism (true) and politics in general (yes). But I think it hurt America.

Here, with apologies but to make a point (the TV clips don’t capture it) is a sample of the comic stylings of Michelle Wolf, in the centerpiece speech of the evening. To put things in historical context, the tampon joke is very much like what Walter Lippmann said of Mamie Eisenhower. Oh wait, that’s wrong. But the banging bimbos reference is reminiscent of what Bobby Kennedy said about Scotty Reston. Oh dear, that’s wrong too. Anyway here’s what Michelle Wolf said.

On Mike Pence : “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it—you know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” Paul Ryan has been circumcised. “Unfortunately, while they were down there they also took his balls.” Ivanka Trump is “about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.” “She’s the Diaper Genie of the administration: on the outside, she looks sleek, but the inside, it’s full of sh—.” “Like a porn star when she’s about to have sex with Donald Trump, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ ” “Oh, you don’t think he’s good in bed.” Of Sarah Sanders: “Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh I know, Aunt Coulter. ” Also, she’d like to make fun of Democrats but they’re “harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything.” Lucky them.

The above is an abridged version of Ms. Wolf’s quotes, because most of them didn’t make it past my editors. These are the tamer ones.

What’s wrong with those remarks? You’re thinking of words like vulgar, grubby and immature, and you’re right, and you’re detecting an embarrassing fixation on sexual organs and bodily functions, and you’re right there too.

Want more? You can read the full article here