Too Much Political Passion?

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Few would argue that the level of political discourse in America today is perhaps more toxic than most people remember.

That said, some of us do remember a time in the 1960s and 1970s when things were equally – if not more – toxic.

That all came back when I read Mark Rudd’s Op-ed, “I Was Part of the Weather Underground. Violence Is Not the Answer.”

His subtitle, “Fifty years ago, a deadly explosion in Greenwich Village forced me to confront our warped sense of morality,” tees up his piece. Here is how he begins:

Fifty years ago, on March 6, 1970, an explosion destroyed a townhouse on West 11th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Three people — Terry Robbins, 22, Ted Gold, 22, and Diana Oughton, 28, all close friends of mine — were obliterated when bombs they were making exploded prematurely. Two others, Kathy Boudin, 26, and Cathlyn Wilkerson, 25, escaped from the rubble.

I was not there, fortunately. But I knew what was being planned, and I did nothing to stop it.

My friends and I were members of the Weather Underground, a militant outgrowth of the Weathermen, itself a radical faction of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. We saw ourselves as contemporary John Browns, full of moral fervor to stop the senseless war in Vietnam. We also wanted to show solidarity with black revolutionaries ruthlessly targeted by the police and the federal government.

Unlike the vast majority of the millions-strong antiwar movement, our tiny band had rejected peaceful protest and politics, clinging to the delusion that violent revolution was imminent. Determined to “Bring the War Home!” we believed that we were reflecting back onto our fellow Americans the extreme violence of the war and of white supremacy. The bombs that detonated the morning of March 6 were intended, to my and my comrades’ shame, for a dance that night at an Army base in New Jersey.

We didn’t realize that the violence we claimed we hated had infected our souls: At the time, I’m not sure we’d have cared. No one is innocent, we thought.

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Time Alone – Good?

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I am a big believer in the Myers Briggs type indicator, a way that we tend to “sort” our deepest inclinations that define who we are.

There are sixteen “types” based on a binary sorting of four criteria. The first one, and the most important according to experts, is whether we are an introvert of extrovert.

Most of you reading this likely put yourself in one of those two categories – and you likely didn’t have to think about it for a long time.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “Why You Should Find Time to Be Alone with Yourself: Don’t confuse loneliness with time by yourself.” Here is how it begins:

Being lonely hurts — it can even negatively impact your health. But the mere act of being alone with oneself doesn’t have to be bad, and experts say it can even benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations.

“It’s not that solitude is always good, but it can be good” if you’re open to rejecting the idea — common in the west — that time by yourself is always a negative experience you’re being forced into, according to Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University, who studies solitude.

“We have some evidence to show that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt your social life, in fact, it might add to it,” she said, pointing out that because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.

Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself can have mental, emotional and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, said Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist.

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Role Models

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Caroll Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird on Sesame Street for decades, died late last year. But the lessons he shared on “Sesame Street” live on.

While many look to political figures, actors, rock stars and others for advice, Big Bird offers some great life lessons. Here is how an article about the Sesame Street star begins:

Who among us didn’t learn something from Caroll Spinney’s Big Bird over the years? Spinney, who for decades brought the Gentle Giant to life (and also Oscar the Grouch), died, but the lessons he shared live on with the millions of people who grew up watching “Sesame Street.”

Beyond alphabet recitals and numerical countdowns, everybody’s favorite feathered friend had valuable things to say to both children and grown-ups about the value of cooperation and the best ways to navigate complex emotions. Life can be tough, he told us, but it’s going to be all right. Here are a few of the tricky topics Big Bird broke down for viewers young and old.

  • Self-Confidence
  • Healthy Eating
  • Breastfeeding
  • Understanding Disability
  • Gaslighting
  • Competition
  • Dealing with Disaster
  • Fear
  • Death

Want more? You can read these nine ways here

Social Animals

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While some may feel that they have world-class social skills, for most of us, we readily admit we can always use a bit of help sharpening our skills in dealing with others.

That is why I was drawn to a recent piece in the New York Times entitled: “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught.” Here is how it begins:

Unlike topics like math or science, social skills are more of a “learn on the job” kind of skill. When you’re a child, you can learn how to manage conflict, make friends and navigate groups by doing it. But not everyone learns the same lessons the same way. Sometimes, they take a whole lifetime to refine, and many of us never master them.

Learning social skills can be difficult if you weren’t exposed to traditional group dynamics as a child, if you struggle with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, or even if you just didn’t have a lot of positive role models when you were growing up. Young people tend to learn how to manage their own emotions, recognize those of other people and manage them both effectively by socializing. If these weren’t skills you developed growing up, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Roll With It

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While we mostly all do our best to remain healthy and deal with change, sometimes things overwhelm us.

That is why I was drawn to Jane Brody’s recent piece: When Life Throws You Curveballs, Embrace the ‘New Normal.’ Here is how she begins:

Just when I needed it most, I learned a valuable life lesson from Lynda Wolters, who has a cancer that is currently incurable, diagnosed just after her 49th birthday. As an Idaho farm girl used to hard work, Ms. Wolters led a healthy life, enjoying ballroom dancing, horseback riding, rafting and hiking when not at work at a law firm. Then, as she wrote in her recently published book, “Voices of Cancer”:

“Everything changes with cancer — everything. Life will never be the same again, even on the smallest of levels, something will be forever different. There is no going back to who you once were, so embrace it and grow from it and with it. Find the new you in your new space and make it wonderful.”

I’ve long been a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself person who rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities. For jobs I think I should be able to do myself, I typically resist asking for help. But in reading this book, I finally understand the importance of accepting and adjusting to a “new normal” now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease. Like sweeping and bagging the leaves around my house, tending my garden, preparing a meal for company, hosting house guests, walking several miles, even visiting a museum for more than an hour.

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A World Without Work

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Full disclosure, I work at a U.S. government laboratory where we deal with high technology every day. I am enthralled by what technology can do to make the world a better place.

But I am also mindful of the dangers technology can pose and especially of the public’s fear of new technology, especially when it comes to taking our jobs.

That is why I was drawn to a recent book review ofA WORLD WITHOUT WORK
Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond.” Here is how it begins:

Fearing that a newfangled technology would put them out of work, neighbors broke into the house of James Hargreaves, the inventor of the spinning jenny, and destroyed the machine and also his furniture in 18th-century England. Queen Elizabeth I denied an English priest a patent for an invention that knitted wool, arguing that it would turn her subjects into unemployed beggars. A city council dictated that Anton Möller, who invented the ribbon loom in the 16th century, should be strangled for his efforts.

But centuries of predictions that machines would put humans out of work for good — a scenario that economists call “technological unemployment” — have always turned out to be wrong. Technology eliminated some jobs, but new work arose, and it was often less grueling or dangerous than the old. Machines may have replaced weavers, but yesterday’s would-be weavers are now working jobs their forefathers couldn’t have imagined, as marketing managers and computer programmers and fashion designers. Over the past few centuries, technology has helped human workers become more productive than ever, ushering in unprecedented economic prosperity and raising living standards. The American economy, for instance, grew 15,241-fold between 1700 and 2000.

 

Want more? You can read the full article here

What Makes Someone “The Best”

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With the Australian Open in full swing this week, even with the dreadful fires that are sweeping the continent, much of the attention is on young phenom such as Coco Gauff.

But this year, at the Australian Open, as well as at tennis’ three other “majors” (French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) there is much attention on the men’s side.

Three players are vying for the title of “world’s greatest” tennis player. The unit of measure in this chase is number of majors won.

Roger Federer is the current leader, but other, younger players are catching up.

Full disclosure, I am a Federer fan. That’s why I was struck by a recent piece, “Roger Federer Will Always Be the Greatest (Even if He’s Not).”

Here is a short excerpt that likely tells you everything you need to know about Roger:

“But there are certain things that the numbers can’t convey. They won’t show that Federer played tennis more beautifully than it has ever been played, or that during his career he was the world’s most adored athlete, revered for the elegance of his game and his graciousness on and off the court. Without intending to downplay the significance of wins and losses and Grand Slam titles, those aspects of his legacy will ultimately matter more and prove to be more enduring.”

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Living Smarter

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I often think that if I read all of Tim Herrera’s “Smarter Living” articles in the New York Times and did only half the things he suggested, I’d live to be 100 and be the happiest human on earth.

He hit it out of the park with his most recent missive 9 Delightful Tips for Living a Smarter Life in 2020. He emphasizes that these are all SMALL things that have IMPACTS. Here’s how he begins:

Readers of the Smarter Living newsletter know that its third section is quietly one of the best resources for small ideas that can have a huge impact.

Each week, I invite some of my favorite writers to give easy-to-do tips on everything from getting in your daily veggies to knowing whether you should mix business and friendship.

Below are the nine tips that completely blew my mind this year. Some are so obvious you’ll kick yourself for not already doing them, and others are so weird you just have to try them.

Want to see what these are? You can read the rest of the piece here

Are Things Getting Better…Or?

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The turning of the year is a time when most of us pause to reflect. For many, part of that assessment is wondering whether our world is getting better or worse.

There are many reasons for feeling that we are moving in the wrong direction: war, climate change, homelessness and other issues. The list of bad things is often overwhelming.

That is why, every year, I am uplifted by Nicholas Kristof’s article assessing the year. Here is how he begins:

If you’re depressed by the state of the world, let me toss out an idea: In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.

The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.

“If you were given the opportunity to choose the time you were born in, it’d be pretty risky to choose a time in any of the thousands of generations in the past,” noted Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs the Our World in Data website. “Almost everyone lived in poverty, hunger was widespread and famines common.”

But … but … but President Trump! But climate change! War in Yemen! Starvation in Venezuela! Risk of nuclear war with North Korea. …

All those are important concerns, and that’s why I write about them regularly. Yet I fear that the news media and the humanitarian world focus so relentlessly on the bad news that we leave the public believing that every trend is going in the wrong direction. A majority of Americans say in polls that the share of the world population living in poverty is increasing — yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty.

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Tech Idols?

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Who do we look up to? Movie stars? Maybe? Sports figures? Sure?

But when we think about it, those people seen different, not like us, possessing special skills.

How about technology industry leaders? Aren’t they just average Joes who were tinkering around in their garages and got lucky?

We can identify with them, so we tend to make them, so we make them our idols.

But that is changing. That’s why I was drawn to a piece, “Twilight of the Tech Idols.” Here is how it begins:

The banking industry, which has consistently been one of the wealthiest industries for the last few centuries, has very few leaders one would call “heroes” or “idols.” Most of them are part of a group of men who fought and finessed their way to the top by being good at corporate politics and managing other bankers.

Silicon Valley, in stark contrast, was built on the myth of the visionary heroic geek. A succession of Tech Heroes — from Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft through Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook — embodied the American dream. They were regular guys and middle-class youngsters (several of them from immigrant families), whose new technology changed the world and made them extremely wealthy.

The Tech Heroes also made for fabulous media stories. As their businesses grew, they got breathless press coverage as they promised to “disrupt” one industry or another. It nearly got to the point where if a Google founder sneezed, an article could quickly follow: “Will Google Reinvent the Sneeze?” Critics warned of troubles and monopolies ahead, but their voices were outnumbered and drowned out by the cheerleaders.

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