Feb 17

“Helping Children Succeed” by Paul Tough

Journalist Paul Tough has followed up his 2012 book How Children Succeed with Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (2016). Whereas the former focused on explaining why building such character traits as perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control was how kids do well academically, the latter distills the same type of info into a briefer and more practical manual.

Kirkus Reviews summarizes the stance articulated in Helping Children Succeed, i.e., that education starts at birth, and children from all socioeconomic classes can receive strategies that are effective:

The author discusses the ways in which parents, teachers, and other adults can help children succeed despite their backgrounds. Poor health, neglect, abuse, and deficiencies in early cognitive stimulation are just a few of the reasons why children fail to thrive…Beginning with infancy, children need positive face-to-face time with their parents. Strong bonding between parents and child before age 1 enables the child to learn that his or her environment is safe. Once a stable home life is established, children can then enter the school system, where they need to encounter teachers who have positive attitudes, work toward establishing strong relationships, and truly enjoy teaching in a creative manner.

Selected Quotes

Babies whose parents responded readily and fully to their cries in the first months of life were, at one year, more independent and intrepid than babies whose parents had ignored their cries. In preschool, the pattern continued—the children whose parents had responded most sensitively to their emotional needs as infants were the most self-reliant. Warm, sensitive parental care, Ainsworth and Bowlby contended, created a “secure base” from which a child could explore the world.

People high in conscientiousness get better grades in high school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer—and not just because they smoke and drink less. They have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Parents and other caregivers who are able to form close, nurturing relationships with their children can foster resilience in them that protects them from many of the worst effects of a harsh early environment. This message can sound a bit warm and fuzzy, but it is rooted in cold, hard science. The effect of good parenting is not just emotional or psychological, the neuroscientists say; it is biochemical.

Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, has analyzed two separate neurological systems that develop in childhood and early adulthood that together have a profound effect on the lives of adolescents. The problem is, these two systems are not well aligned. The first, called the incentive processing system, makes you more sensation seeking, more emotionally reactive, more attentive to social information. (If you’ve ever been a teenager, this may sound familiar.) The second, called the cognitive control system, allows you to regulate all those urges. The reason the teenage years have always been such a perilous time, Steinberg says, is that the incentive processing system reaches its full power in early adolescence while the cognitive control system doesn’t finish maturing until you’re in your twenties.

…(T)he best way for a young person to build character is for him to attempt something where there is a real and serious possibility of failure. In a high-risk endeavor, whether it’s in business or athletics or the arts, you are more likely to experience colossal defeat than in a low-risk one—but you’re also more likely to achieve real and original success.

In the brief video below Tough talks about his ideas:

Feb 15

Lying (Dan Ariel Prefers “Dishonesty”) Now All Too Common

Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. Sam Harris, author of Lying (2013)

Many are now wishing—I’ve seen it on Twitter—for a sequel to comedian-not-yet-Senator Al Franken‘s 2003 Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them  in which he stated about the political Right, “We have to fight back. But we can’t fight like they do. The Right’s entertainment value comes from their willingness to lie and distort.”

Can You trust the current presidential administration? Any of them? Not the least of all Donald Trump, who displays a much higher than usual level of Politifact “pants-on-fire”-ness? Now-Senator Franken, for one, has significant concerns. His recent quote about guess-who-in-Chief: “We all have this suspicion that — he lies a lot. He says things that aren’t true. That’s the same as lying, I guess.”

Does Franken think that’s okay? “That is not the norm for a president of the United States, or, actually, for a human being.”

Another critic is comedian/commentator John Oliver, who recently showed on Last Week Tonight a clip of a real live reporter saying, “This is what makes covering Donald Trump so difficult. What does he mean when he says words?” Also known as: How do you know a politician is lying? His (her) lips are moving.

But to this degree? How did Trump get this far lying his pants right off?

Expert in dishonesty Dan Ariely, author of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves (2012) stated during the presidential campaign, “It turns out that people want their politicians to lie to them — people view politics as a mean to an end, and if they care about the ends, they’re willing for the means to be a little bit more crooked” (Jesse Singal, Science of Us).

Ariely also believes, however, that virtually everyone lies. Yael Melamede‘s 2015 documentary (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies, which featured Ariely’s research and insights, drew this review headline from Anna Pulley, Village Voice: “Dishonesty Reminds Us That Our Pants Are Still On Fire.”

“Perhaps most interestingly,” says Pulley, “(Dis)Honesty shows us how we rationalize that mendacity.”

Robin Pogrebin, New York Times, concludes in her review of (Dis)Honesty that we as a society are quite adept at this particular defense: “You can see the process of rationalization across the movie — every story is a story of rationalization. There’s the rationalization of doing something for other people, there’s the rationalization that nobody else would suffer, the rationalization that everybody else was doing it.”

But some lies are worse—way worse—than others. Dennis Harvey, Variety:

Any era is a good one for liars, but folks on every point of the moral or political spectrum are likely to agree: We are living in a fibbers’ renaissance. As Yael Melamede’s documentary notes, various bendings of the truth have among other things recently led us into war, crashed the economy, and allowed potentially catastrophic despoiling of the planet to continue more or less unchecked.

And, if you think politicians are the worst? Apparently bankers top them, says Ariely.

By the way, other tidbits about Ariely’s research are also well worth seeing, says film critic Bruce DeMara, Toronto Star: “The experiments are both ingenious and hilarious and the insights they provide are revelatory, e.g., the bigger the brain, the greater capacity to lie.”

Watch the trailer for Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies below. Then look for it on Netflix, Amazon, and elsewhere:

Feb 13

Love and Relationships: Five Experts on the Subject

The following love quotes are among the most well-liked by readers of Erich Fromm, Dr. Sue Johnson, Harville Hendrix, Ty Tashiro, and John Gottman.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving (Centennial Edition 2000)

Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.

Immature love says: ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says: ‘I need you because I love you.’

The task we must set for ourselves is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity.

Sue Johnson

In insecure relationships, we disguise our vulnerabilities so our partner never really sees us. Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2008)

Learning to love and be loved is, in effect, about learning to tune in to our emotions so that we know what we need from a partner and expressing those desires openly, in a way that evokes sympathy and support from him or her. Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2013)

It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent. The Love Secret: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships (2014)

Harville Hendrix,  Making Marriage Simple: Ten Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have Into the One You Want (2013)

Romantic Love is just the first stage of couplehood. It’s supposed to fade. Romantic Love is the powerful force that draws you to someone who has the positive and negative qualities of your parents or caregiver (this includes anyone responsible for your care as a child, for example: a parent, older sibling, grandparent, or babysitters).

“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in relationship?” Because you can’t always have both. You can’t cuddle up and relax with “being right” after a long day.

About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you are really about their issues from childhood. That means only 10 percent or so is about each of you right now. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Ty TashiroThe Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love (2014)

Although 90 percent of people will marry in their lifetime, only three in ten will find enduring love.

No partner is perfect, and part of a relationship is showing a consistent effort to manage your own weaknesses, while showing some consistent grace when it comes to your partner’s weaknesses.

When being in love is broken into its smaller parts, we see that it is three parts liking to one part lust.

John M. Gottman

Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (1999)

…one of the most surprising truths about marriage: Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values. By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage. The Seven Principles…

Converting a complaint into a positive need requires a mental transformation from what is wrong with one’s partner to what one’s partner can do that would work. It may be helpful here to review my belief that within every negative feeling there is a longing, a wish, and, because of that, there is a recipe for success. It is the speaker’s job to discover that recipe. The speaker is really saying “Here’s what I feel, and here’s what I need from you.” Or, in processing a negative event that has already happened, the speaker is saying, “Here’s what I felt, and here’s what I needed from you.” The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples (2011)

Feb 10

“Stranger Things” We Battle Every Day

…Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts — those who have no homes — [and] we will get past the lies, we will hunt monsters and when we are lost amidst the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the weak, and the disenfranchised and the marginalized and we will do it all with soul, with heart and joy. David Harbour, accepting the SAG acting ensemble award for Stranger Things, 1/29/17, in the midst of outrage over Trumpism

The first season of Netflix’s Stranger Thingsa blend of drama/kid-hero/fantasy/sci-fi/horror, is extremely popular and only eight episodes long. In a nutshell, as described by IMDB: “When a young boy disappears, his mother, a police chief, and his friends must confront terrifying forces in order to get him back.”

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times, on its 1980’s Indiana setting:

‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ earth tones, rotary phones, wood paneling, banana seats, ‘Aliens,’ ‘Star Wars,’ pudding cups, Stephen King, John Carpenter, rugby shirts, all manner of terrible haircuts, John Hughes, the Evil Empire, ‘War Games’ and, above all, the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg — ‘Stranger Things’ creators Ross and Matt Duffer reference and re-reference the cultural touchstones of an American childhood they are too young to have shared with loving, amber-hued abandon.

Now let’s get this creepy trailer out of the way:

SPOILERS INVOLVED AHEAD: Sparing you the details of the search for young Will by his single mom (Winona Ryder), his brother, the police chief (Harbour), and Will’s three male friends, suffice it to say that at the core a mute female runaway (Millie Bobby Brown) winds up providing some eerie clues.

“Eleven, named for the number tattooed on her wrist, is obviously terrified. On the run from ‘bad men,’ headed by a stone-faced Matthew Modine in a sinister blue suit and ignorant of basic human relationships, El (as the boys call her) is more alien than ‘E.T.’ ever was, but she reluctantly aids the search for Will” (McNamara). We learn that Modine’s Dr. Brenner works for the evil government and that there’s a major amorphous creature that mysteriously swallows people up whole and is somehow connected to Brenner’s secret experiments.

Daniel Reynolds, The Advocate: “There’s also the matter of what the characters call the ‘Upside Down,’ an alternate dimension where the monster lives. Characters who are outsiders…are dragged there and left to die.”

Many of us who don’t regularly watch this kind of fare nevertheless love Stranger Things. Why?

Reynolds has an intriguing answer. He believes the Upside Down is a metaphor for the gay closet, with the monster being homophobia. “In fact,” he notes, “nearly every episode of the eight-part series contains an antigay slur or an act of bullying aimed at characters who step outside the borders of heteronormativity.”

A second viewpoint about the appeal and meaning of Stranger Things comes from Jacqueline AdamescuHuffington Post, who lauds “its insistence that girls and women are authentic heroes. They are smart, powerful, and damaged, without the necessity of being beautiful or demure.”

Eleven for sure is enthralling. Yet “she’s strange, a more extreme type of reject-weirdo than that of the group of boys she befriends.”

Third reason we love Stranger Things? It relates to the we’re-living-in-a-particularly-scary-world -right-now concept. Vinnie Mancuso, New York Observer:

Isn’t it reassuring to realize that no matter how comfortable OR terrified you are, there are always going to be stranger things? Always have been. Friends to find. Monsters to fight. But there are people–the dedicated mother, the kids who get picked on in high school hallways, the redeemed bully, the town outcast–who will fight with you.
…Stranger Things reminds you of what it’s like to be alive right now.

Feb 08

Keeping Life Balance in This Anti-Honeymoon Period

People cannot take useful political action—whether organizing their communities, going to protests, or calling their representatives—if they are feeling burned out, overwhelmed, or paralyzed. When we take care of ourselves, we are investing in our ability to meaningfully resist injustice. L.V. Anderson, Slate

What’s the opposite of honeymoon period? Whereas there may not be a term to denote it, many of us are currently experiencing it, the opposite of what we wish we were enjoying or appreciating early in a U.S. presidency.

L.V. Anderson, the source of the above quote, refers readers to an article by attorney and feminist Mirah Curzer, Medium.com, who warns:

This is not going to be an easy four years. We’re going to be subjected to constant gaslighting by the President and his administration. We’ll be dealing with a ferocious, multi-front attack on the entire progressive agenda, without exception, and a lot of it is going to succeed. We’re going to helplessly watch institutions we care about and depend upon destroyed. The Trump years are going to be emotionally exhausting and deeply traumatic for all of us, but particularly to those dedicated to protecting the vulnerable and preserving democracy.

Despite the popular wish for impeachment-and-soon, many experts don’t believe this is likely. We may be in it for the long haul and lots of fights.

So, in the meantime, here are Curzer’s helpful suggestions for maintaining or achieving needed life balance. Explanations are either paraphrased by me or quoted:

  1. Don’t Get Used to Trump — Get Away From Him. Unplug for a while. Get back to things when you feel refreshed. Enjoy your usual activities. Avoid living “in a constant state of anxiety and anger…You will do more good if you make time for non-Trump conversations and non-political activities.”
  2. Focus Your Energy on One or Two Issues—Things you really care about the most. “There is a spectrum of support, and nobody can be everywhere at once.” Also, no matter how active you’ve been in the past, “YOU ARE HERE NOW AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS”.
  3. Make Activism Fun—“You don’t have to suffer to make a difference.” Humor is still important. “As Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals, protest and activism is supposed to be loads of fun for the protesters.” Make it easier by doing things one small step at a time. Do the things that “play to your strengths.”
  4. Take Care of the Basics—Self-care, in other words. This can include such things as therapy, sleeping well, taking care of your body, physical exercise, socializing, me-time, eating healthily, and enjoying nature—and whatever else turns you on.