Disconnected…

We spend most of our lives disconnected.

As the founding executive and director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of MassachuImage result for separationsetts medical school, Jon Kabat Zinn PhD would probably say: We are disconnected from our sensations, disconnected from our perceptions, disconnected from our impulses, disconnected from our emotions, disconnected from our thoughts, disconnected from what we say and also disconnected from our bodies. And this seems to be due to the fact that we are constantly mired in worries, lost in the mind, absorbed in our thoughts, obsessed with the past or the future, immersed in our plans and driven by our desires, confused by our need to have fun and at the expense of our expectations, fears and desires, however unconscious and automatic they may seem.

Disconnected from the planet

The world is becoming increasingly polarized, our awareness of separation grows and the spending habits we have adopted disregard the responsibility we have with caring for the planet. Our fall from paradise –as a metaphor– seems to refer precisely to the beginning of this disconnection from nature that happened when humans transition from hunter-gatherer societies to become shepherds (Abel) and farmers (Cain). With the progress of agriculture, private property, States, armies and a new type of relations between men and women soon appear.

In a world progressively displaced towards urban life[1], we not only have we lost the acuity of our senses, but our instinct and intuition. Let’s take the example of a hunter: he has to learn to listen to the animal that stealthily approaches, identify the marks it has left on the ground, refine his ear to identify where a sound comes from. He needs to be able to see, feel the signs that his prey leaves on the road. In his job as a hunter, the individual needs a type of sight that would allow him to identify a target at a great distance and pursue it with his eyes. This refinement of his intuition, of his senses, of his abilities, makes him a more efficient hunter. We have lost instinct and intuition. The sharpness of our senses has deteriorated. We rely on external gadgets or additaments to make up for the loss of our senses.

Our disconnection from nature in modern life is such that we are unable to anticipate the impact that material “progress” has on our lifestyle, health, others and the planet from which we derive our sustenance. When we eat a hamburger we can’t see the relation between its fat content and the damage that a diet rich in lipids can produce on our immune system, and eventually the arteries, which years later could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack or an embolism. We only perceive the immediate gratification.

The news tells us about global warming, melting glaciers, increasing temperatures of the oceans. In the summer of 2017, the largest iceberg in the world split up from Antarctica and in 2018 the northeastern United States was hit by heavy storms of ice, rain and snow that apparently originated in the Arctic warming (this year began to melt early, in February). We know that sea levels are rising and the coastal cities in the Gulf of Mexico and the islands north of the Caribbean have been affected by more intense hurricanes and tornadoes than ever. We witness more earthquakes, devastating fires (related to droughts), endangered species, toxic algae blooms, all phenomena of unprecedented intensity[2]. The key question is whether these occurrences are a consequence of human activity or not.

One of many examples we could offer about the disconnection between our lifestyle and the impact we cause on the planet, is how comfortable we get to feel with the practice of buying products packed in plastic because (we shrug the shoulders) we can throw the container in recycling bins. But do we question where this waste is going? Much of the plastic that we throw away has to be transported (with a high fuel use) to the recycling centers. But also, the recycling process itself consumes energy or in many cases the plastic ends up being transported throughout the world[3]in huge tankers that leave a trail of lethal oil in the water, to be later deposited in batches on Third World countries fields[4]. And, what will happen to objects made of recyclable material when they their use value ends?

Another example of our disconnection: the Pacific Ocean draws approximately ten metric tons of plastic fragments to the beaches of the Los Angeles, California area. Birds, turtles, seals and other marine animals confuse plastic debris with food (their smell and appearance deceive them) and the animals can die from malnutrition, chemical poisons in the plastic or intestinal obstruction. In some cases, they get stuck or entangled in objects such as fishing nets. Can you guess where all that plastic comes from? The lack of regulation of certain industrial processes (production, waste disposal) is also responsible for both pollution and the consequences of the presence of plastic in the environment.

The United Nations has issued a resolution that seeks to eliminate plastic in the oceans in 200 countries, but they estimate that the task will take at least thirty years when it may already be too late (at present, about 115 marine species are affected by plastic debris). Presently, countries like Spain do not know what to do to dispose of the millions of plastic bottles that are thrown away every day. From the moment I write to the moment you’ll read this, it’s very likely the statistics will be worse. However, markets are still filled with plastic containers that we sometimes have no option but to buy and take home (shampoos, alcohol, medicines, all come in plastic bottles).

There is consensus in the scientific community (expressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC for its acronym in English) that human activity is modifying the atmosphere and affecting the planet. But legislators, the president of the United States, and many media still doubt these conclusions and are even reversing the advances made in the protection of the environment. The interests of large corporations, which are not willing to bear the costs of re-engineering, necessary to prevent future emissions of greenhouse gases, are behind this problem.

The careless appropriation and abuse of resources and mindless consumerism ignores the impact we’re having on the planet. Add the use we make of fossil fuels or the waste that we generate. In the main cities of countries like the United States, up to forty percent of the food that is produced is dumped and as long as the water continues to flow in the tap we will not realize the consequences of the insensible waste of water and wood, resulting from the expanding urban population.

The media also constantly inform us about acts of terrorism, wars, people displaced by violence, refugees, famines, natural calamities, human and drug trafficking, mass dismissals, corporations that sink overnight and others that are they amalgamate to form huge and all-powerful corporations. Symptoms and consequences of our disconnection as humanity.

[1] Urban population in 2014 constituted the 54 percent of the global population while in 1960 it was a 34 percent, and it continues to grow.
[2] In just a month (August-September 2017) three hurricanes, Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and María in Puerto Rico cause immense damages (calculated in 500 billions of dollars). Damages cause by Maria are considered the worst disaster ever registered in Dominica. At the same time, the very dry summer came with fires that affected 10.000 buildings and houses and 47,000 acres in 2017. New fires are ongoing.
[3] China recently banned the imports of foreign waste (they were recycling but the waste received was not properly sorted out). The U.S., Europe and Japan are having trouble finding an alternative. The European Union is considering a tax on plastics and some countries have started to ban the use of plastic bags, cups, plates, straws and plastic bottles. To give you an idea of the dimension of the problem: They have estimated that around 4.73 billion plastic cups are thrown away every year only in France.
[4] I hesitate in using the term Third World, which was coined in the fifties and might mean something completely different now. However, I’ll use it to designate the group of countries that are less developed technologically and where the living conditions, health indicators and income of most of the population is the least favorable.

Nos mueve la necesidad de conectarnos

Aparte del  nuevo libro, aún sin publicar, de Silvia Casabianca, Sin Amor no hay Civilización. Del Miedo a la Solidaridad.

Algún día cuando hayamos dominado los vientos, las olas, las mareas y la gravedad, aprenderemos a utilizar las energías del amor. Entonces por segunda vez en la historia del mundo, la humanidad habrá descubierto el fuego.  Teilhard de Chardin

A pesar de las palabras de odio terribles que se leen en los comentarios de los artículos de prensa y twitters, a pesar de lo candentes y hasta destructivos que se vuelven los debates políticos, a pesar de las múltiples guerras contemporáneas y de Viejitaque muchos medios se inclinan a dar preferencia a historias de abusos, corrupción y disputas, a pesar de todo, veo a diario seres humanos embarcados como yo en una misma búsqueda… y la búsqueda es la del amor. Nos mueve una necesidad de conectarnos, de sabernos parte del todo. Si no somos conscientes de ello, al menos intuimos en lo más profundo de nuestro ser que somos seres sociales, que necesitamos vínculos; queremos ser amados, sentirnos necesitados y útiles, sabernos protegidos, apoyados, parte de una tribu.

En 1943, el psicólogo Abraham Maslow[1] planteó una teoría de la motivación humana con una jerarquía de necesidades que debiera satisfacerse en una cierta secuencia, empezando por las básicas que nos garantizan la supervivencia, para poder seguir avanzando hacia la autorrealización. Propuso que cuando el déficit en una de esas jerarquías ha sido más o menos satisfecho, nuestras actividades se dirigen hacia la satisfacción del siguiente grupo de necesidades. En últimas, según Maslow, colmamos nuestras necesidades no tanto porque nos haga falta algo sino porque, siguiendo un impulso innato, queremos crecer.

Una vez nuestras necesidades fisiológicas y de seguridad están más o menos satisfechas, procedemos a suplir las necesidades sociales de amor y pertenencia, lo cual explicaría por qué se forman familias, por qué tanta gente busca ser miembro de una iglesia, afiliarse a un partido político, un club o un equipo deportivo.

Maslow no presentó evidencia empírica de su teoría y en psicología se considera su modelo a veces muy lineal. Sin embargo, muchos estudios realizados con mamíferos, desde pequeñas ratas hasta los humanos, sugieren que nuestro bienestar depende significativamente de nuestro entorno y que sufrimos cuando nuestros vínculos son amenazados o truncados. Ahora tenemos abundante evidencia de que estamos condicionados para conectar con otros.

Cuando somos rechazados por parte de un grupo social, somos víctimas del bullying o perdemos a un ser querido, sufrimos lo que se conoce como dolor social lo que nos demuestra que las conexiones entre humanos no son opcionales o fortuitas, sino que existe una necesidad esencial dictada por razones adaptativas, de crear vínculos.

Los psicólogos Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary[2] analizan las razones que prueban que tenemos una necesidad psicológica de pertenencia. Sentirnos conectados y formar vínculos afectivos es una demanda adaptativa, dicen los autores. Esta necesidad se pone de manifiesto desde la infancia cuando los bebés desarrollan espontáneamente apegos.

Los autores basan su hipótesis en varias observaciones:

  • Una vez que una relación se establece, las personas son reacias a romperlas incluso cuando existe tensión, conflicto o incluso abuso. O sea, la gente prefiere evitar la separación, aunque haya que pagar un alto costo emocional.
  • Cuando nos sentimos cercanos a otros, nuestros pensamientos se adaptan y empezamos a incluir aspectos del otro en nuestro concepto de nosotros mismos hasta llegar a sentir que nuestros destinos están entrelazados.
  • Las relaciones cargan un peso emocional significativo: estamos felices cuando las cosas van bien; tendemos a sentirnos miserables, ansiosos, celosos, cuando hay conflicto.
  • Cuando no estamos en una relación cercana con otros, sufrimos.
  • Las estadísticas nos muestran que quienes sostienen una relación de pareja se mantienen más saludables, menos estresados y tienen una expectativa de vida más larga.
  • Las separaciones, incluso si son breves, producen malestar y tristeza.
  • La gente prefiere tener pocas, pero muy cercanas amistades y un número mayor de conocidos, siendo la calidad más importante que la cantidad. Esto es porque establecer un vínculo toma tiempo y requiere esfuerzo e inversión de energía. Cuando una relación se rompe, la gente tiende a buscar una nueva.

Baumeister y Leary concluyen en su estudio que los seres humanos estamos motivados por una necesidad de pertenencia, esto es, por un fuerte deseo de formar y mantener duraderos vínculos interpersonales.

Esta necesidad fue por primera vez estudiada y descrita por el psiquiatra John Bowlby[3] quien formuló la teoría del apego[4] (attachment theory) abriendo la puerta a una comprensión más profunda sobre el hecho de que somos animales sociales, pero también a entender que los primeros años de la vida de un niño son determinantes. Estudiando niños que habían sido separados de sus padres durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial encontró que aquellos que fueron criados en orfanatos presentaban retrasos cognitivos, problemas para regular emociones y para relacionarse con otras personas. Los autores e investigadores contemporáneos Daniel Siegel y Helen Fisher están hoy a la vanguardia del estudio sobre el apego.

En un bien divulgado estudio, Harry Harlow en los años 1950s diseñó “mamás” de alambre, fieltro y madera a través de las cuales se alimentaba a monos Rhesus recién nacidos. Después mantuvo a los animales en total aislamiento. El investigador concluyó que el contacto físico del crío con su madre, incluso con esa madre de alambre, era tan o más importante para su bienestar y desarrollo que la nutrición que recibía. En su laboratorio de Wisconsin, Harlow exploró la naturaleza del amor, tratando de entender cómo se formaban las relaciones entre infantes y sus madres. Probó que el amor a la madre era más de tipo emocional que fisiológico, relacionado con el cuidado que el crío recibe y que la capacidad para formar un vínculo estaba asociada con momentos críticos de la vida temprana, después de los cuales era difícil compensar la pérdida inicial de seguridad emocional.

Daniel Siegel también ha hecho énfasis en el hecho de que los niños que desarrollan un vínculo seguro con sus padres saben que pueden acudir a ellos cuando necesitan apoyo. Esto los capacita para empatizar con otros más tarde.

Por lo que sabemos, en sus inicios, el bien colectivo, entendido como aquello de lo que se benefician todos los vecinos, era prioridad para los seres humanos y esto se ve aún en las comunidades indígenas en gran parte del mundo. Como tenemos una necesidad innata de conectarnos con otros, de sentirnos parte del grupo, la vergüenza que se deriva de cometer una acción que perjudica a la comunidad se vuelve un obstáculo para nuestra integración al grupo. Cuando se rompen las reglas y se cometen actos que atentan contra la comunidad, el miedo de convertirse en un paria y la consecuente vergüenza de saberse expuesto contribuye a corregir (a veces a ocultar) el comportamiento. El que las tribus acostumbraran aventilar en público los actos que afectaran a sus miembros, tendía a corregir conductas que no eran beneficiosas para la comunidad.

El Dr. Ed Diener es conocido como el Dr. Felicidad por más de 25 años de investigaciones en el tema del bienestar. Intrigado por el hecho de que en los Estados Unidos el incremento significativo en el ingreso no ha tenido un impacto positivo sobre el bienestar de la gente, se dedicó a estudiar qué otros factores contribuyen a una vida más satisfactoria. Diseñó un cuestionario que es utilizado por muchos terapistas. En uno de sus estudios con Martin Seligman[6], otro investigador de la Universidad de Illinois, encontró que los más contentos entre 222 estudiantes universitarios encuestados eran aquellos que mantenían vínculos estrechos con sus familias y amigos. Eran más extrovertidos y menos neuróticos. Otros estudios corroboran que la satisfacción que experimentamos está relacionada con el grado de nuestra conexión con las demás personas. Somos seres sociales y seguramente el psicoanalista Erich Fromm[7] tenía razón cuando afirmó que buscamos toda la vida vencer un sentimiento de separación y que nos enloqueceríamos si no lográramos de alguna manera unirnos con otros. Este sentimiento de separación, adquirido al nacer tanto como seres humanos y como individuos, nos lanza hacia un estado permanente de incertidumbre.

Aunque tengamos ese anhelo de conectar con otros, progresivamente nos sentimos más y más separados como individuos coexistiendo en un planeta y un universo del que también nos percibimos separados. Parafraseando al autor Charles Eisenstein[8], vivimos en un mundo en que la psicología nos considera una mente que habita en un cuerpo, las religiones predican que somos almas encarnadas, la física, que somos materia y estamos determinados por fuerzas impersonales, la biología, también determinista, que somos como un robot de carne y hueso programado por genes en beneficio de un interés reproductivo y, la economía, que somos actores racionales que buscan maximizar su propio interés financiero.

Pero la nueva ciencia empieza a desmentir tan tremendo disparate. Podemos superar la consciencia de separación, la cual contribuye grandemente a crear los síntomas que afectan a la humanidad en el presente. Esa percepción de segmentación nos lastima: nos vemos separados por género, fronteras nacionales, procedencia, creencias, color de la piel, estrato social. Y los mecanismos modernos que estamos encontrando para intentar vencer nuestras distancias (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, por ejemplo) son desde luego insuficientes si no contraproducentes.

En la conferencia The Future of Modern Love (El futuro del amor moderno) dictada en un simposio de psicoterapia (The Psychotherapy Networker, 2018), ante una audiencia de 4.000 personas, la psicoterapeuta belga Esther Perel mencionaba que la vida urbana, a la vez que ha significado una libertad individual sin precedentes, es responsable por nuestro aislamiento, nuestra desconfianza de los otros y nuestra segregación como seres humanos. La pérdida de nuestro sentido de pertenencia a una comunidad explicaría en gran parte la calidad de las relaciones de pareja modernas. Ya las relaciones no están dictadas por la tradición y las convenciones sociales, sino que sus términos son negociables. Los matrimonios han dejado de ser para la mayoría una empresa económica para convertirse en una iniciativa romántica en la que se ponen enormes expectativas. Como en la vida urbana se pierde gran parte del capital social (se disuelve la tribu), la pareja se convierte en el TODO para el otro.  Debe proveer los recursos emocionales y físicos que antes la aldea por lo regular proveía. Si la intimidad acostumbraba a ser el resultado de la convivencia, ahora el otro debe convertirse en el recurso que suple todas mis necesidades de conexión. Debe hacerme sentir que valgo y cuento y ser el remedio para mi soledad existencial, concluye Perel. Este nuevo y absorbente amor romántico es una receta para el desastre, predice la autora. Las expectativas son imposibles. Los rechazos y las rupturas son mucho más dolorosas.

[1]Maslow, A. (1954).Motivation and Personality (Motivación y Personalidad). Harper and Broth.

[2]Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995).The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation (La necesidad de pertenecer: Deseo de crear vínculos personas como una motivación humana fundamental). Psychological Bulletin, 117(3), 497-529.

[3]En 1951, Sir John Bowlby escribió una monografía para la Organización Mundial de la salud titulada Maternal Care and Mental Health (Cuidados maternos y salud mental) donde propuso que los niños pequeños necesitaban la presencia cercana y constante de su madre (o sustituto) en la cual ambos encontraran satisfacción y gozo.

[4]Los términos vínculo y apego como traducción de attachmenta veces se usan como intercambiables en español, pero el término apego es tal vez una mejor traducción en el sentido de inclinación hacia alguien o algo, mientras que el término vínculo se usa en el sentido de atadura.

[5]No uso aquí el término antisocial como patología sino como opuesto al comportamiento prosocial.

[6]Diener, E., Seligman, M. Very Happy People (Gente muy feliz)en https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11894851

[7]Fromm publicó The Art of Loving (El arte de amar)en 1956.

[8]Eisenstein es un conferencista bien conocido en temas de ciencia y filosofía. Para saber más visite: http://www.charleseisenstein.net

 

2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day – Could you call it progress?

Progress is defined as a concept including the improvement of human condition, “the development of an individual or society in a directpoverty_146592980ion considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level” (Thedictionary.com). However, many people equates progress with modernization. That is why construction, road projects and in general, technological advances plus a wider access to such advances are used to measure the “progress” of a group, region or nation. But I consider this is a limited view of what  true progress is.

A holistic concept of progress should include not just the material but the immaterial aspects of life. I would see it as progress if I saw more joyful people on the streets, fewer anxious people, less rush. I would believe it is progress when more people had access to preventative physical and mental health. When fewer people had the need for consuming alcohol and other substances as prescription for fun… or to relax. When there was more compassion and real team work and cooperation; more of a sense of collectivism and less individualism; less greed and more detachment.

But when we look around we find that in the midst of astounding advances there are still homeless people in the streets (only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations): on one end of the spectrum we find a little more than a handful of billionaires, while on the other end about 1,200 million people live in extreme poverty, trying to survive with a fixed income of a dollar a day (according to the WB) and lacking shelter, food, access to health or education. The World Bank calculates close to 2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day. And when we look at this reality, could we really talk about progress?

To calculate progress, statisticians use comparatives, like, “How did people live two centuries ago?” “How does the quality of live in different countries or regions compare?” The first thing we find is that social inequality has grown exponentially. The gap is enormous. By the beginning of the 20th century, the statistics show, the difference in the per capita rent between rich and poor countries was 10 to 1. Today it is 60 to 1. The concentration of wealth shows us there is a large section of the world population left behind when a few others are becoming extremely rich.

And the above numbers refer only to income. Add to that picture a lack of access to clean sources of water, education or health services.

And, could we truly talk about progress when depression and anxiety multiply as mental health symptoms of unhappiness? About 75 per cent of Americans have taken antidepressants and/or meds for anxiety sometime in their lifetime. Some of them unnecessarily, just because they were feeling sad or anxious, not necessarily depressed.

How could we talk about progress when the number of suicides in a country considered the kingdom of opportunity, one of the most industrialized countries, with a commitment to the “pursuit of happiness)” with no wars in its territory, increased a 25 percent in the past 15 years (according to CDC)?

When preventable conditions have skyrocketed, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, could we claim we’re progressing? I don’t think so; these conditions clearly point to a deterioration of our lifestyle… as we move away from nature, our diets are less organic, more artificial; our air and water are contaminated; our exposure to electromagnetic fields and x-rays increases with the risk of illnesses.

It cannot be progress when the percentage of deaths due to opioids and codeine have tripled in the past 15 years. But the most telling symptom against the idea that we are progressing is that we live in an era where terrorism is rampant and racism and discrimination are starting to bloom again.

Maybe we should include among our New Year resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles, waste less and be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly.

Happy holidays!

 

Let’s stop terror with love

These are of course, days to reflect on the recent tragic events.

News have identified  Tunician Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as the driver who drove a truck into people celebrating Bastille Day July 15, in Nice, killing at least 84 people.

After Nice, as it was after last June’s Orlando killings, or after any massacre perpetrated anywhere in the world, I feel confused, terrified, pondering how can a human being become so insensitive to human life. I strive to understand what intense pain, fear, anger or desperation existed in the heart of the assassins that led to planning and executing these barbaric killings.

Terrorists only purpose is to dominate by planting fear, that’s their real weapon. Terror expands compromising everybody’s health, safety, trust and lives in general. We’re collectively traumatized, we don’t feel safe any longer. Even silence and apparent indifference could be the result of terror… It’s more comfortable to hide, ignore, distract the pain with trivial endeavors, or adopting new addictions to stop mulling about what happened. However, I feel, something breaks inside… we’re left broken and incomplete. Our faith in humanity is shaken. What’d be the future of this planet?

While people who blindly support bigots and tyrants, might feel these tragedies are one more reason to hate, repress, build walls, divide, I feel, and wish that those who are not so blind will also see, tragedy is only one more reason to love. Love is the only thing that can heal and save the world.

Let’s become better friends, but not only Facebook-kind of friends. Let’s truly care, connect and express concern for each other. Let loved ones know that we stand there for them.

Let’s learn better ways to supporting each other, to come closer together, to understand each other, to forgive each other. Let’s remember that we’re all made of the same (stardust) stuff, we share the same essence; that when we are saying “we’re one” it is not just a snobbish slogan. Let’s make room again for poetry and laughter and joy.

But more than anything, let’s take responsibility for what’s going on in the world, by leading meaningful lives and not just this silliness infused by consumerism. Let’s appreciate life above stuff; let’s honor the planet and respect our bodies; let’s stop bigotry and hatemongering, which on the long run lead to these tragedies.

Let’s unite to stop terror.

Acknowledging natural need to learn in a knowledge-intensive world

By Silvia Casabianca

I have stubbornly differ from the idea that children need external motivation – to be rewarded, punished or pushed – in order for them to study and learn. Instead, I think, we should follow their lead and move our educational endeavors in the direction of the children’s interests. This – and not anxiety-eliciting strategies – would facilitate learning.

The late American author and educator John Holt said, “…the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”

Observe youngsters while, for example, playing video games.

Or watch them learning all they want about their favorite singers or sports idols. Children easily develop on their own the necessary knowledge and skills to compete with each other without any adult’s “motivation.”

Sadly, the need to socialize, fit in a group and develop the necessary skills to fulfill their psychological needs of admiration and respect are manipulated by the market.

Education should recognize that we have a natural need to learn and we learn about the things that matter to us, because it’s a matter of survival.

More so nowadays.

Survival of the fittest

Darwin’s notion that only the fittest survive can be applied to everything that humans do. Babies learn to sit down, roll, stand up, talk and walk without anybody needing to prompt them. Processes, characteristics and behaviors that develop across childhood can be explained by a combination of biological forces (nature) and environmental conditions (nurture).

An inherited genetic code determines phenotype (physical appearance), while family, sociocultural factors, nutrition and physical activity influence development.

We learn best what we can. Nature endows us with certain talents and abilities that facilitate specific learning, and the educational system should be offering the opportunity for all to develop those gifts.

Our performance and creativity would greatly improve if we could feel comfortable and confident doing what we’re doing.

The world is becoming knowledge intensive

I agree with late management guru Peter Drucker who has said, “From now on, the key is knowledge. The world is becoming not labor intensive, not material intensive, not energy intensive, but knowledge intensive.”

But you instinctively know that. You urge your child to get a high school diploma and then attend college because you are confident that he or she will find better job opportunities if they have an education.

You also know that when you’re looking for a job, your personal value to any employer depends on your experience and training, in other words, on your knowledge.

But high-stake testing, that pushes students to devour and memorize content because college admission is contingent to SAT scores and grade point average (GPA) is not helping.

Are educators aware of the level of anxiety these tests create? Of the possible relationship between tests, fear of failure and aversion to school?

A child is by nature an explorer

Babies first explore the world by putting things within reach on their mouth. Then they crawl away and continue exploring by grabbing objects from the floor, they taste them, bang them, throw them trying to understand what they are about.

Infants learn to sit and stand up by a repetitive process of trial and error. Testing behaviors that give them –hopefully- what they want mark their interactions with people.

I believe we are to blame for spoiling the natural tendency of the child to explore the environment and learn from it.

We hush them down

With few exceptions, the three-year-old kid’s exciting whys from cute turn into a nuisance (‘cause we’re busy talking about “more important matters”) and we soon get tired of answering the endless stream of questions. We hush them down.

Then we go and nanny them with cartoons that start modulating their behavior (‘cause we’re busy doing “more important things”). And when they go to school, we basically tie them to the chair and demand focused attention.

Their particular interests are deemed a distraction in the class. We forget that all roads lead to Rome.

Curiosity could lead to learning opportunities

I once pictured a school where the kindergarten teacher would be wise enough to allow the child to run after the colorful butterfly strayed in the classroom.

Then the teacher could use the butterfly as a nice excuse to explain forms and colors, proportions, aerodynamics, gravity and symmetry (among other basic math and physics principles) in a natural and understandable way. And she could ask the children to make a drawing of the insect so that they could learn to express and represent the world in which they live.

But unfortunately our teachers are usually more concerned about complying with the school’s curriculum and methodologies that are mostly based on millenary scholastic theories. It’s not their fault; it’s a matter of survival for them too. In my experience innovative teachers who follow their instinct end up clashing with the system and losing their jobs.

Never before the ability to learn has been so important for people to survive in our increasingly complex, brain-based and technological economy. I don’t think that our society can be up to the challenge without seriously reforming education.

Keeping up

artfest Lalicich People for saleThe Internet has changed our world completely. To know that you can so easily have access to current news or past history, that you can consult a dictionary, use a calculator, connect with friends living 4 or 5 thousand miles away… you can’t deny there is a certain magic to all this. Today someone posted a picture of a newborn of Facebook to introduce him to the grandpa’s friends. But are all changes brought by the Internet that good?

Sometimes I have the feeling that everything that needed to be said has already been said. Take Facebook again for example. People post and repost words that don’t belong to them. In certain way, we have all cheap preachers,  teachers, aspiring sages. I’m afraid that popularity has become more important that being truthful, authentic or meaningful. What’s the point in all this sharing of bits of wisdom?

Facebook and the like have become overwhelming for many people I know. I use my personal account on Facebook to read news, mind you!

It is impossible to keep up with all that is being said. These Internet sites, anything “social media,” and not counting time playing games, is consuming most of our free time even though of course you don’t read all your friends post. I see people on waiting rooms, on Starbucks, in the restaurants, and even driving! with their eyes on the iphone. And that’s a problem, because for the sake of socializing online we’re not socialize in real time.

Besides, everything has become public: the grief experienced after a significant loss, the anniversary of your mom’s death, the first time that your child used the potty, what your boss told you this morning, the brand of the toast you ate. But do we really want or need to know that much?

I’m on the alert for anything that ends up alienating us and preventing us from exercising our critical thinking.

I can see how the social can be an instrument for change and it’s great to reconnect with friends from the past that we haven’t seen in ages. But, with a few exceptions of advocacy and protests that have gone viral and generated change, Facebook and other social media give us the illusion of a connection that doesn’t really exist. If we were feeling lonely before this madness exploded, we are even lonelier now. Dependent on a like click.

Just think a little. What’s a friend? Who is a friend?

Solitude in the times of Facebook

For years now, and even though I am a guilty participant, I have been expressing my frustration with social media. Gloomy_morning____by_jeremi121As many of you have probably gone through, I also joined Facebook with the desire to “connect” with friends and family members who were away.

It worked. At least at the beginning. Or maybe it was just an illusion?

I started to find people long gone from my life and, to say the truth, some even from my memory. With most of them it was only that I said hello, they said hello, we shared how many children we had, what we did for a living and a little more than that.

Occasionally, those who had been a little closer to me also shared some pictures, quotes, links or interesting articles. But that has been pretty much it. You don’t really express feelings openly in social media unless you want some attention or… Maybe  you want others to see what a kind, evolved, smart individual you are. Let’s be frank. These days, image is all there is. You want others to come to you, buy from you, “like” you.

With very few exceptions, the desired connection really never happened even though I now receive more wishes for my birthday these days than ever before in my life. Not because now my “friends” keep track and remember my day but because Facebook reminds them.

In social media you’re supposed to display your wit and/or show kindness. There is not much place for real, healthy debate with a few exceptions.  And then you get those obnoxious friends of friends who meddle into a conversation to shut you down with an insult but with no consequences since everyone can get in and out of a chat at any time without this being considered rude.

One of my favorite cousins, a friend on Facebook, recently sent me an interesting link to a video (in French) depicting how social media reshape our brains and lives and we’re lonelier than ever now that we have Facebook and Twitter and what not.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle talks about this paradox in TED: “Connected but alone.” This is our 21st century reality, she says. We avoid intimacy (we fear intimacy, totally being ourselves in the presence of others) and carry on the illusion of companionship. However, we are no longer connecting with our feelings, we’re not truly relating with others.

You know this. Facebook will never fill the void of a good conversation over a cup of tea, looking into each other eyes, comforting the friend with a pat on her hand or shoulder.

These days, we don’t really know if someone is listening to us. Most of the time, we feel they are not and we are probably right.

To conclude… we are becoming increasingly narcissistic and very lonely.

Stop the pursuit of happiness

What had Thomas Jefferson in mind when he considered essential to add the right to the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence? Life and liberty were of course vital rights that the forefathers of this country had to fight for when the British army was abusing the colonists and the colonies weren’t allowed the sovereignty to decide their own destiny.

But the pursuit of happiness? I’d like to understand the intention behind the words. I believe that it was not about individuality and not about possessions. They were fighting for freedom and I am inclined to agreeing with those who think that they were referring to happiness that can only be achieved when you work for freedom and for the public good.

The pursuit of happiness  is since the declaration of independence a goal linked to the American way of life. People have come to pursue happiness or what they believe happiness is through the most extraordinary ways. Money and fame have become avenues that supposedly take you to Heaven on Earth. But soon people realize money can’t buy happiness.  People achieve riches and fame and they party, drink alcohol, consume drugs, have sex, all in pursuit of happiness. Every time they get a quick peak at a brief sensation of elation that feels to them like heaven, but because it doesn’t last they go for more of it until it become obsessive and destructive. They are always unsatisfied. Longing, always longing.

Divorce between the soul and the ego might be the big culprit of people’s lack of satisfaction. The soul is capable of experiencing utmost joy and peace. The ego is greedy and lonely and afraid. It can seek experiences that can elevate the body to the heights of elation or manic moods but cannot achieve joy on its own. Joy is a less intense experience, but more sustained.

The pursuit of happiness has been misunderstood. It’s not about the individual, but about the collective; it’s not about possessions but about achievements. It’s more about doing the right thing than a lot of things!