Addressing Ebola, The Secret Service, and Other Examples Of The Keystone Cops in Action

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I recently returned from a month long cruise during which our ship was infected with Norovirus among other things. Apparently Princess Cruise Line was aware of the problem but chose to continue their schedule anyway, without warning any of its new would be passengers. They did inform us a month before the departure that two of the ports for which we booked the cruise were being cancelled because of a problem that Princess had with one of their engines. When I suggested that we may want to cancel we were informed that we would only be refunded with vouchers, part of which would be on an airline we would never use again. So, we went, reluctantly. If you google “Sea Princess, trip from hell” you can discover more detail about this voyage. Because of the norovirus, the dining areas were supposed to be using universal health standard precautions; however, the staff in the buffet area was incredibly lax in following those guidelines. Additionally, we were stranded on a dock for over 4 hours because a gale wind arose that supposedly no one knew was coming? Many elderly people stood with walkers and canes and the cruise staff could not think of anything to do about finding shelter or comfort? When I asked about a bathroom and received an inadequate answer I actually had to direct them to arrange for a van to transport people to a bathroom. The question is, do the Keystone Kops run everything today? Doesn’t anyone have a brain? Is there no one who can take their job seriously and do what is necessary? I was just wondering———–

But even more troubling than enduring a vacation gone wrong are the recent examples of inadequacies with the Secret Service and those involved in the Ebola case in America. While the errors of judgment with the White House incident are surely troubling, the handling of the Ebola situation is more than frightening to me. When we contemplated our trip last March I was reading about the spreading Ebola epidemic in Africa and I expressed some fear of travel in August due to the risk of Ebola exposure through air flight. No one of authority seemed to take this threat seriously so we continued with our plans. Now 6 months later we have a case of Ebola here in this country and it continues to spread rapidly in Africa with thousands of deaths. We were reassured again and again, that in the unlikely event that Ebola would find its way here that our health care system was completely prepared to handle it.

Here is the problem as I see it. The responsible and competent operation of the cruise line, the secret service, and the health care system are completely dependent on the individual functioning of everyone involved. Often, it just takes one human error to cause a calamity. Only one individual! And sadly, in my observation of people at work these days, not too many people take their jobs very seriously anymore. In addition, those in higher positions of authority are too busy enjoying their perks to actually supervise what is going on around them.

Even when someone takes their job seriously in the health care field, it is very easy for contamination to occur. Having consulted in many nursing facilities over the course of many years, I personally witnessed competent individuals caring for patients with contagious infections while properly wearing their protective gloves. However, they would open the bathroom door with the gloves on and sometimes the room door as well when they finished. There were other things they sometimes touched while still gloved and all of these areas were potentially contaminated. Cdiff and MRSA are easily spread within health care facilities and more than likely it is not the patient who is doing the spreading!

So back to the case of Ebola in our country. We have already witnessed once again a rapidly cascading series of errors. Ebola is an illness about which we cannot afford to make mistakes. The one case will turn to two and most likely more. I hope I am wrong. I hope that the CDC does not remain stuck in arrogant attitudes that prevent them from seeing this threat in a new light. I hope that someone of vision takes the reigns of authority and begins to make better decisions about allowing air travelers from stricken countries to come here, someone who takes better precautions about isolating potentially exposed individuals so that the number of people exposed does not continue to grow. And someone who arranges better care for those frightened individuals who are in isolation, in terms of cleaning their exposed environment. Not one other individual in America should have to suffer this horrible illness unless the bumbling Keystone Kops remain in charge. It’s time to wake up to our failures and to begin to wonder why so many institutional operations are incompetent. The problem includes not only careless workers and their tunnel visioned supervisors, but also the management systems who fail to see the loopholes where failures occur.

I’m not really sure why it is occurring, but not enough people today have any sense of pride in their work. Perhaps we are spoiled and too rooted in our own issues. Or perhaps, as I’ve said before, we don’t really think enough. Whatever the problem, I know that you will agree we are always having to phone somebody about an appliance, a phone, a computer not working, a bill is incorrect, and just try getting a correct answer from India! It’s time for the Keystone Kops [and this definitely includes Congress] to bequeath our institutions and businesses to individuals of integrity who will take charge with competent authority. But who will that be? How do we fix this? I was just wondering——

 

 

 

The People of Kiribati

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As I was riffling through old travel pictures the other day I came across a picture from Kiribati, an island nation smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, isolated in all directions from civilization. We were on a cruise to Hawaii, but about halfway through the itinerary, we took a two day excursion south to this group of tiny remote islands.  There seemed to be no reasonable explanation for this four day excursion to and from the equator, so far from the populated Hawaiian Islands.  Rumors were that it afforded the cruise line some kind of tax incentive.  So as we ruminated about what these small islands peppered across the middle of the Pacific nowhere would be like, I wondered about the natives who lived there.  Would they be accustomed to visitors? Would they welcome us?  What would it be like to live at such a location, so remote from modern civilization?  How would one experience life on Kiribati?  Would we pity their lack of modern conveniences?  I was just wondering……………..

As the ship docked, we were greeted by the mellifluous singing of the children of Kiribati who were sitting serenely in a circle near the dock. The music, so enchanting, seemed to cast a spell on us as we slowly disembarked to the lilting melodies.  The emotional effect of the music and the overall scene was profound and many of us found ourselves weeping with an intense feeling of connection to these strangers. Yet, at that moment we were one.  It was magical. We were mesmerized.

My own reverie was interrupted when I suddenly noticed that people began to hand money to these innocent beings.  The idea of it was somehow disquieting to me.  It was a transcendent moment and money didn’t belong in it.  But my shipmates seemed to feel sorry for them and thus, wanted to give them something.  While I understood the reason for it, the idea of rewarding something that was a beautiful shared experience somehow didn’t seem appropriate to me. To muddy such an almost sacred event with money was sacrilegious. Then I wondered what they would even do with it.  There were no stores to explore.  There were no roads.  There was no electricity.

The moment passed and we moved slowly onto the island as the dulcet melodies faded behind us.  Many rushed toward the idyllic beach peppered with Norwegian Cruise Line plastic while chairs, and as I observed the onslaught, I could envision an Andy Warhol painting of that scene.  The entire beach area was prepared for a huge outdoor barbeque.  A volley ball net hugged the coastline as people gathered to engage in the prepared activities.

We continued to walk, slowly absorbing the surrounding beauty unfolding with sweet, fragrant scents, and a soothing breeze.  As we trekked inward from the coast, the sound of drums called to us and we soon found ourselves at a rustic pavilion. Dancers in native costumes appeared and soon a performance was underway. The dances were lively and invigorating.  Again, an enjoyable experience, but nothing like the moving event of our entry onto the island.  This, too, was followed by a reward of money, tossed by us into straw hats which served as native cash registers.  I continued to be confused, wondering again what they would do with the money.

As we left this area, we approached the “town” composed of huts made from bamboo and other plants native to the area.  While I have been to other primitive environments, I had never encountered one so completely isolated from the rest of the world as this one.  Nor have I since.

As we began to make our way back toward the ship, the usual and customary “gift shop” lined walkway greeted us, tables bountifully filled with hand -made trinkets.  Smiling faces waited, as these innocent people eagerly displayed their wares.  Again, money turned up, and my shipmates seemed, once again, more than happy to part with it to reward these lovely people for their labors.

I continued to ponder this experience as we approached the ship.  Is everything about money?  What would they do with it?  There was nowhere to buy anything that we observed.  Perhaps the reason for the journey to Kiribati was to take supplies to them that they purchased from the ship with this money they made from the tourists on it.

The island is pristine.  The natives seemed ingenuous, happy, content.  Everything they seem to need is at their fingertips.  They have the sea and the land for their food.  I wondered why we pitied them.  But did I?   Don’t we often dream of being on a deserted island?   Perhaps we were the ones to be pitied.  We have issues.  We have stress.  We have problems.  We get mad when we don’t get out way.  We need things that they don’t need.  I fear that our money will destroy their innocence.  Perhaps they, like us, already lust for money.  My thoughts roiled for clarity.  As I watched this idyllic land slowly fade from view I pondered my experience there.  Who are the lucky ones?  Who should be pitied, the people of Kiribati or us?

I was just wondering……………..

 

 

 

 

Bad Intentions and Mean-Spiritedness

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I recently received a contact submission form from someone named Jasmine with a message that was intended to be hurtful. Jasmine was an alias and she used a fake email, so she clearly did not want to be identified. Unbeknownst to Jasmine, however, my site has a method to track incoming messages so that I can identify the sender, despite the use of a fake email. So this got me thinking about people who have hurtful intentions, what causes it, and what the solution is for healing these negative, personally harmful thoughts. Why do people resort to attempting to hurt, damage or destroy someone else? I was just wondering………

Having ill-will towards another certainly begins in childhood. We are all guilty of wishing bad things on a childhood enemy or sometimes even a friend. When we feel hateful we desire to inflict it on someone else. Every child has had moments of even wishing nasty things on their own families, especially their siblings. Children are notoriously uninhibited and outspoken when they become angry. I can recall my own son as a child, pouting ruefully and expounding like a truculent sailor as only a child can, that he hated me. Just for a moment it lasted, and then when I would counter, unflappable with a slight smile, “Well, we’ll just have to go to the Mommy Store and find you a new mommy,” he would rapidly consider his options while being unable to restrain his own softening smile as his anger melted away. Children, unlike adults, don’t normally hold a grudge. I can recall my own escapades as a child and one past time that could have been very damaging to someone. At around age 10, my best friend Sandy and I would make random calls from numbers in the phone book. Sometimes we would say something silly and sometimes something that could have been more harmful about a family member, who of course, we didn’t even know. In this case it was not ill intentions, just naivety. To us it was all for fun! There are more serious reasons why someone may wish others real harm, however. There are narcissistic personality types who give very little thought to others and the harm that they cause is secondary because they simply do not think enough about others for it to matter. It’s more like the aftermath that they leave in their wake of which they are not even aware. It is not so much intentional, but if they become aware of their residual harm it is easily dismissed, justified, or perhaps met with a moment of regret and then forgotten until it happens again. The most damaging individuals are sociopaths. They are growing in number and there is an excellent book entitled The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout that explains this pathological behavior in detail. These are individuals we should avoid at all costs, but the problem is that their seductive, manipulative nature is almost always successful into luring us into a relationship with them, while we are convinced we have just met our new best friend, or worse yet, our soul mate lover. These individuals, like the narcissistic personality, don’t necessarily set out to cause harm, because their total modus operandi is geared for self-satisfaction, at the expense of anything or anyone in their way. This means they will use you while making you feel you are indispensable. They lack compassion and empathy, although they are often smart and have learned well how to fake these feelings. They also lack a conscience, which makes them very dangerous. There are no rules for them and they can justify just about anything and convince you of the appropriateness of their behavior, and perhaps even convince you to join them in illegal, immoral, or unethical activity. So the harm to others caused by them is really not even on their radar. Simply, they couldn’t care less! The majority of us fit into the last category, when the hurtful behavior is a result of what I define as a “call for love.” The term actually is derived from A Course in Miracles, a book and study group that helps us to redefine the way we see the world around us. In this category we are talking about normal individuals who are having a bad day, are feeling hurt and/or neglected, are depressed, unhappy, lonely, unfulfilled, unloved. Normal individuals in these negative states are often too self -absorbed to see anything beyond their own unhappiness. They are often unable to engage outside of themselves with another and sometimes their negative feelings spill over onto those around them with jealousy, envy, or other harmful feelings. And sometimes the ill will toward another is even intentional because people who are unfulfilled and unhappy, just like children, want to hurt back. Unhappiness can cause us to feel mean, intolerant, and even vengeful. The saddest thing about this is that the greatest harm from this negativity within oneself only compounds the problem within the unhappy person. The one envied or hated may not even be aware. So, if you find yourself to be one of those individuals in this last category, the good news is that there is hope for you. There are solutions to your problem. The best way to diminish negative feelings is to trek outside of yourself. Change your internal channel. Hang around with positive people. Help someone else. Be productive. Refine your talents. Practice kindness. Give love without expectation. Make time for things that you love in your life. If you still need help, find a good therapist. Eventually, watch for my book, Anger the Toxic Temptress: Understand It To Overcome It. If you are the receiver of someone’s intentionally hurtful behavior, try to see it as a call for love. Instead of reacting, try to have compassion for someone who is clearly suffering. Remember, hurtful people are unhappy. So, what are you willing to do when you find yourself in a snit? As for Jasmine and others like her, what are you willing to do to end your suffering that creates vindictiveness in you? There is so much wonder that life has to offer and there is so much given back when we are able to crawl out of our negative heads. Life is much more fulfilling when we focus on the cup half full. Which of these suggestions are you willing to try? Explore! Engage! Can you find a path to happiness?

I was just wondering……………..

Under The Skin

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Not to be confused with the recent movie of the same name, it was the movie, in fact, that got me thinking about this blog subject. The movie, a strange and surreal tale of predator aliens harvesting the skin of human bodies in order to experience human life, focuses on the alien’s disconnect from the human experience despite living under the human skin.  I began musing about our own human disconnect with what is beneath our own skin.  What goes on underneath there remains mostly a mystery, a mystery we spend very little time attempting to solve.  We know a bit about our physiological bodies, but we know almost nothing about the mind, the component that is essentially responsible for just about everything we do.  Don’t get me wrong, while we have incorporated the teachings of psychologists and neuroscientists, what do we really know about the everyday workings of our individual minds and how they dictate what our physical bodies outside of the skin and even our internal physiology are doing moment to moment?  The question, then, is how well do we understand exactly who we are and how aware are we of our intentions and behavior?   But even more concerning, how much effort do we make to have any understanding of this?

I was just wondering……

It has occurred to me that we spend millions and millions of dollars annually on clothing, makeup, toiletries, hair products, perfumes, cosmetic surgery and all things to improve our surface layers.  We also spend many more millions attempting to make ourselves feel better with alcohol, vacations, massages, relationships, movies, gambling, parties, cars, adventures, and so on.  We spend even more with physicians, chiropractors, and other health care professionals attempting to stay healthy and feel well.   So, compared with how much we spend attempting to improve the outside, and the physiological body, what efforts do we actually make individually towards self-understanding?

There is a paradigm known as Johari’s Window which addresses this concept.  It is shown as a square divided into four equal sections.  One square represents the aspects of self that both we know of ourselves and what others also know about us.  Another represents what we know about ourselves that we do not share with others.  Still another square represents what others know about us that we don’t (clearly an area we might want to get more acquainted with!)   The final square represents what both we and others don’t know about us.  So according to this model, we are actually acquainted with only about half of ourselves.  This is a startling comment on our lack of awareness and understanding of self!  This means that half of our behavior is occurring without any conscious awareness of it! That is surely cause for alarm, but the question is, what will we do about this?  Anything?

I have personally been involved in several spirituality groups that promote self-awareness.  Even in these situations with sincere seekers of truth, it appears to be a challenge for us to really look within.  I recall my frustration in one group, which spent a great deal of time every week examining the content of what we read.  After digesting all of these sainted messages of advice for over five years, I suggested that we begin focusing how we were applying these learnings to our lives, to explore how it felt to try new behaviors, to see how much we were actually assimilating.  This idea went over like a lead balloon!  It seems that it feels much safer to play with the idea that we are really exploring within than to really explore within.  But before you give me too much credit for trying, I’m sure I would have been just as blocked as everyone else when it actually came down to doing it.  This is why therapy such as Freudian analysis goes on for years.  It is fraught with defense mechanisms, like denial, minimization, intellectualization, rationalization, and the biggest block of all, resistance.

In my practice as a psychologist, resistance reigns.  I have found that there are actually very few people who really want to know themselves.  Most people just want to attain a quick fix from whatever is distressing them at the moment.  To really know oneself is a frightening and challenging journey that only few really attempt to undertake.

We are afraid of what may lurk under our skin.  We fear that our demons lie there, waiting silently to be released, when in truth, it is our demons that control us because we are unaware that they are already at the helm of our body ship. If we became aware of our dark urges they would be brought to the light and no longer have any control over us.  We could become acquainted with the bright beauty of our souls if only we would have the courage to look beneath the skin.

So I wonder myself what prevents us from spending equal time exploring our inner caverns.  Why do we resist?  What do we fear?  Are we just created so as not to look deeply this way?  Are we just so superficial that we only care about appearances and how we feel?  Are we just not interested in a true mystery? Do we just not have the courage to look within?  Are we brave enough to face ourselves?  Are you willing to discover your essence?

I was just wondering……………….

 

 

Respect, Creative Expression, and the “F” Word

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My husband and I went to a movie last night and like many movies that we have seen recently, the dialogue was replete with the F word.  While I have become accustomed to hearing this not only in movies, but also in everyday conversation, I must admit that I have not become immune to its vulgarity.  Now before you jump to the conclusion that I am just an old prude, just hear me out and see if you still feel the same at the end of this rant!  My objections are not necessarily about morality, but more about the deterioration of creative expression in our everyday language.  It is also about respect and especially self-respect.   I would like you, the reader, to think about your own use of this modern substitute for anything you want to express.  How do you feel about your personal use of the F word and how do you feel when you hear it every day?  Have you become immune to it?

I was just wondering……..

 So let’s start with whether or not the use of the F word has lost its meaning.  Yes, I do believe to some degree we have become benumbed to it. After all, it is everywhere. There is no escaping it! It’s at the water cooler at work, it’s in many homes, and it’s definitely in our school systems.  As noted, it’s in our movies, media, and more recently the civility of Congress has deteriorated to this language as well. So if it’s lost its meaning, perhaps you are wondering, then what is the big deal?  Well, I would suggest that the decline in our overall dress codes, particularly in school makes a good comparison.  When people are dressed better they tend to behave better.  I suspect that the same applies to the use of the F word and our language in general.  While the F word may to some extent have lost its meaning, the mere sliminess of it has remained intact.  So the question I pose to you, the reader, is how do you feel when you are dressed in old, dirty, sweaty  clothing?  It’s definitely a pick-me-up to get a hot shower, to wear a new dress or suit, to get a stylish haircut. The language we use is also a key component of the way we approach the world. Thus, I maintain that mouthing slime is like wallowing in a pig sty.  Even worse, what does this do to our attitudes toward everything around us for the day?

 Let’s take a look at the modern day meaning of the “F” word. If you’re surprised, you may say “F!”  When you’re happy perhaps you say “F!” When someone is mad, you’ll most definitely hear  ”F!”  But then you may hear “F!” when someone has suffered a loss and is depressed.  You may say “ F!” when you forgot something. You will hear the F word as an adjective describing various things, such as “I got the F….ing job,”  in this case a good thing, or “My F…ing boss railed me out today,” a bad thing.  Or you may hear, “You’re a F…ing genius,” or “You’re a F…ing idiot,” the same adjective to describe completely opposite concepts. The F word is a noun, it is an adjective, and it is a verb!  It is primitive and completely lacking in creativity! It’s a perfect word to use if you can’t think of anything else. It’s nondescript yet perfectly understood. You probably only need an IQ of about 10 to use it! So you may ask yourself, what does it say about the user?

 A few months ago I was having an unpleasant text exchange with a tenant from whom I was attempting to extract the rent.  The tenant, as usual, peppered me with the F word while I listened patiently. She added that we were not friends and therefore I did not have the right to ask her for the rent.  I concurred that we were not friends, but that we did have a business relationship to which she had a contractual obligation, adding, that in fact, I would never have a friend who talked like her.  I went on to suggest that the only person she was demeaning was herself.  This idea must have struck a note of truth in her.  Surprisingly since that exchange, she has never uttered the F word to me again.  In addition, she has become the epitome of politeness and civility. I used to brace myself for her onslaught whenever I had to communicate with her and now every exchange couldn’t be more pleasant.  I actually have come to like her!

So, what have you learned about the “F” word?  Do you feel better towards yourself if you delete the “F” word from your vocabulary? Do you feel you are more linguistically creative so that you can avoid using this primitive form of expression?  Wouldn’t you prefer your listener to know how you really feel with a more descriptive word?  And if you do not use this word yourself, how might you affect someone else’s use of it in your presence?

I was just wondering……

WHAT’S YOUR SECURITY BLANKET?

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The other day, like many in the past, I was trying to watch TV when my mini schnauzer mix pooch named Roxy began shoving her beat up, broken in half, orange, silly toy into my side. This can go on for hours, even if I ignore her, she’ll just keep shoving that thing into my side, my leg, my arm, whatever body part is within reach. Mind you, she has many newer, bigger, and better toys, toys that squeak louder and are more colorful, but this beat up old toy is clearly special to her. It is one of the first toys that we got when we first obtained her from someone in the midst of a divorce last November. This toy often gets hidden into one of her special stash spots, especially under the bed. So I watched her with a smile as she sat peering up at me with expectation, that dirty old toy hanging crookedly from her mouth.

This is much more than a toy, I mused. Why, I believe it’s her security blanket, I thought to myself!

This got me thinking about the whole idea of security blankets, and does the baby ever graduate into not having one?

No, I speculated, we probably all have some sort of “blankie” we gravitate to when we feel needy, lonely, insecure. I began to consider what I might be using myself without even being aware of it. Then, of course, I began to consider what others might use for a security blanket as an adult? I was just wondering…….

Not coming up with a quick clear answer for myself, I began exploring with others, explaining my curiosity about security blankets and wondering what they turn to, other than another person, during times of stress or insecurity. My yoga instructor said her garage was always her escape haven. A strange place, I thought silently, but then, just like the dog toy, it’s not about the thing or the location, but really more about the symbolism, what that place or thing represents, the feeling of security that emanates from being there or with the item. In some ways, it is like a drug, a natural drug, which offers a quick jolt of relief and peace.

Of course, for some, an actual drug may be the answer. Some individuals have actually graduated from the baby “blankie” to marijuana, cocaine, or even worse, heroin or crack. Others rely on prescription medications to soothe them when they feel ruffled. Some still rely on cigarettes, despite the health risks. Then of course there is always alcohol. Many can relate to the comfortable feeling of sitting with a nice glass of wine. Nor can we leave out food addiction, eating for comfort.

As I continued to explore I found varied and fascinating answers. One friend said she liked driving in the dark and especially also looking at the moon. Let’s hope she doesn’t moon gaze while driving! She described her contemplation of the moon as her spiritual connection to all that is and all that has been, noting that everyone who has ever lived has at one time peered at the moon. What a lovely thought! Another mentioned a nice soak with candles in a warm tub.

This reminded me of how I love to sit in the dark with candlelight and do nothing. There is a serenity to this environment when the power goes out, and sadly, it’s the only time I stop what I’m doing to sit in the dark and relax. I know two people who literally hop into bed, get under the covers for a brief stint, and then get up and feel renewed. One friend declares that clean sheets must be part of this process. This same friend insists that a car wash cleanses not only her car but also washes away her insecurities while re-establishing her sense of mastery over her world! Go figure!

Others find that peace in exercise, especially runners. I used to drown all my problems when I swam my laps almost daily for years, and lost myself in my rhythmic breathing. More recently I rely more on my bicycle where I get a feeling of total peace and freedom as the breeze ruffles through my hair and I soak in the beauty of my surroundings. My son and his wife like to walk in the woods with their dogs.

My mind began to flood with images now, as I realized all the wonderful and beautiful substitutes I have developed for the baby “blankie.” My newly acquired love of painting engages me only in the creation that is taking form before me. My yoga class reminds me that the baby blanket is within, always there to comfort me as needed, when I remove the concerns of the world around me. There is something wonderfully fulfilling about a nice hot cup of tea, sitting in a beam of sunlight like a contented cat, listening to exquisite chamber music or a haunting flute melody on a rainy day, and yes, watching my happy dog with her silly beat up orange toy in her mouth, a sight that never fails to bring a smile to my face and make me feel that all is well with the world.

So, I have found my answers and have become aware of my “blankie” substitutes. I’m sure there are more I have overlooked. The question that remains, though, is what have you learned about your own “blankie” substitutes? As you become more aware, you can make better choices. Are they good crutches or are they harmful to you? Are they so beat up and full of holes so that it is time to throw them out and find better ones? Are you satisfied with your choices and can you remember to use them as needed?

I was just wondering……..

CONVICTION OR COMPROMISE

I have always been resolute, at least in my belief system, that my personal integrity is something that I hold dear, something that cannot be touched or compromised. I feel so strongly about it that, in fact, it was the subject of my dissertation study, “An Heuristic Exploration of the Effects of Compromise on One’s Integrity.” I can sometimes be dismissive of others who appear to compromise their personal integrity so easily, but if you’re with me, just back up a minute, because it is something we all do, probably every day, without giving it too much a thought. The issue is though, when it REALLY matters, for you or for another human being, do you have the courage to really be true by maintaining your personal integrity? I was just wondering……

I thought a lot about this issue again recently after reading “LITTLE BEE” by Chris Cleave, a powerful story about the struggle of an innocent Nigerian teenager to find physical safety while interfacing with a young professional English wife’s effort to honor herself while she struggles painfully to find herself. Both women, in their own way are struggling with very different issues of personal integrity and they each make some very difficult choices in order to honor their convictions, choices many of us may not have the courage to make.

I am reminded of the Milgram electric shock experiments where volunteers participated in a study in which the true purpose of the experiment was hidden from the participants. While being coached by the experimenter, the research volunteers were urged to deliver over and over increasingly large electric shocks to the subjects in the next room. Despite the subjects’ cries of agony, pleas to stop the experiment, and even screams of fear of death from the electric shocks, the research volunteers almost unanimously continued to deliver the shocks as instructed by the experimenter. Almost none of the volunteers delivering the shocks refused to continue. Among other things, this experiment demonstrated the powerful influence of a fellow observer who spurred them on. This, I believe is when the subject becomes really sticky.

I am reminded of another time when I felt personally betrayed that none of my co-workers stood up for me. I had been out sick for two weeks as my physician had ordered me to rest in order to avoid another hospitalization for a serious chronic disease (one, by the way, which I no longer have, but that’s another whole story). I was working in child abuse at the time and when I returned to work there had been a huge increase in the referral numbers, so a meeting was called to discuss and assign new cases. Now mind you, I was already behind due to my illness, but nevertheless it was determined that I should take two new cases that were not even in my assigned territory. One of my co-workers noted that I had been seen in the grocery store, so my illness was being questioned. At the time I was a struggling single parent with a 7 year old child, and the nearest relative was 600 miles away, so of course, I had to take care of necessities, sick or not. The incident was devastating to me, especially as I considered all my co-workers to be my friends, but not one of them would take a stand to support me at this difficult time for me. I was reminded by a very wise therapist friend that it is a rare individual who will take a stand in the presence of a group.

And that reminds me of a recent film, “Twelve Years a Slave,” when the protagonist, saved from a hanging, but not released from the rope or tree, continues to dangle precariously, balancing delicately on tiptoe from one foot to the next, as the other slaves watched in horror and despair, yet did nothing to release him.

So you see from these examples that maintaining one’s personal integrity can be a very slippery slope. It is often compromised in the presence of a group but even the presence or influence of just one individual can alter the choice we make. It can easily be compromised by fear, fear of physical harm or death, fear of judgment, fear of ostracization, fear of humiliation, and so on.

But even more critical, what happens to your psyche when you do compromise your integrity? Do these instances adhere to us like inner scars? Does it change us in the long run so that we give up, stop worrying about our integrity? Does it make us less true to ourselves? No one can be true to themselves 100%. But when you do have the courage to honor your convictions you will feel better for it. You will like yourself better. It will enhance your self-esteem. I challenge you today to become more aware of your personal integrity, what’s really important to you, and what issues cause you to compromise it. You can begin by just being honest about how you feel. Monitor yourself. Try it. How does it feel? I was just wondering……..

Carriage of Treasures

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As my husband and I leisurely enjoyed our late lunch at a Main Street restaurant in downtown Hyannis, our attention was diverted outside the window to a woman on the street.  She was talking to the maitre’d and she was thoroughly decked out in the most colorful garb consisting of pink sneakers and  a heavy blue winter coat with a bright yellow scarf encircling her neck.  She also wore a colorful ball cap and she was bedecked with large dark sunglasses, obviously ready for any weather.  The day was cloudy, but about 62 degrees, so that she was clearly overdressed.  Beside her stood a bright blue baby carriage, devoid of baby but filled instead with all of her earthly belongings.  She was clearly homeless, and I wondered what had brought her to this place in her life; what was her story?  As I mused over this I began to realize that everything that was important to her was in that baby carriage.  As the meaning of this began to sink in I thought of my own belongings and what I truly treasured of them.  Can we fit what we most treasure into a baby carriage?

I was just wondering…….

Some years ago my mother was contacted by someone who thought they might be related to her. The individuals involved were led to her by the meager contents left in an old shoe box by their father when he died.  No one in the family had previously known of the existence of the shoebox, nor its contents, but it was clearly treasured by the keeper of the box and remained a secret until his death. You probably know people yourself who keep a box of treasures.  Many of us had an old cigar box as children where we kept our precious found stones, post cards from faraway places, little mementos and secrets that meant everything to us.  My father had an envelope filled with his secret treasures that we discovered when he died. It was filled with all of his artistic endeavors that were stifled by the demands of the time when he lived, stuffed into an envelope and stuffed inside of him, never again to be released until his death.  Beautiful poems and tentative drawings from his younger self, untarnished by the vicissitudes of life, revealed themselves after years of being concealed.

Then there are those of you who have collections such as cars, dolls, teacups, stamps, comic books, baseball cards, art,  and so on. Maybe you treasure most you house or your car, your jewelry, or perhaps your job or your bank account. Whatever it is, your initial response may be something material.

But what if a disaster were to occur and you had 24 hours to collect your most important valuables into something the size of that baby carriage?  Besides your loved ones, what would you preserve? Or if the time were only hours or minutes, what would it be?  What is most important to you?

As we left the restaurant the homeless woman was still out there chatting away, carriage in hand.  She seemed surprisingly unperturbed about her situation. As the sun broke through the thick clouds above I noticed the smile on her face.  She seemed strangely happy, content. Well, she had no bank account to worry about, no car payments to stress over. I began to think about what we could learn from her.

So what would you pile into that small carriage?  I guess I would have my family photos and some sentimental mementos. But I realized as I left that scene that what is most important is in my heart and cannot be taken from me no matter what happens. What she reminded me of was that the love I feel for my family, friends, and my memories and experiences are what I most covet from this interesting journey called life.  What would be in your treasure box?

I was just wondering……..

The Splendor of September

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I love the heat of summer but for some reason, September has always been my favorite month.

I am acutely aware of it now, having just come inside from my deck at my summer home on Cape Cod. The tourists have all departed now and there is a sweet serenity lingering in the air before the cold sets in. I don’t know if it’s the way the sun hits the earth at this time of year, but there appears to be a brilliant glow bathing the terrain that delivers a magical sensory bath of peace. I think it is a love affair I have with this month because for me, no other time quite captures the beauty of life so well. September somehow manages to enhance my sensory awareness so that if I take a moment to relax I can quickly lose myself in the wonder of it all.

Do others have this experience as well, I wondered?

Are you too caught up in your everyday matters that you miss the splendor of September?

I was just wondering……

Take a deep breath and join me in my reverie.

Back on my deck as I sat in the warm silky sun with closed eyes, I heard the comforting sound of the crickets, mingled with a few chirping birds and an occasional caw of a crow. Everything is in order, I mused. This was interrupted with the distant sound of my neighbor’s saw, followed by hammering, not the annoying kind, just the sounds of life on a nice day, when you feel that all is well. I opened my eyes to the clear blue sky to see the sun shimmering through the branches as a tiny green inchworm swung gracefully in the breeze, attached to a barely perceptible glistening strand anchored to the fir tree above. I became aware of the soft rustling of the breeze as the branches swayed softly to the rhythm of the earth below. I noticed the patterns created by their changing shadows and then looked above to see the beauty of the fractal pattern of the treetops against the September sky.

The September sun sprayed diamond encrusted sea awaits as we make our lasts visits to the beach for the season. There are few people there now, but this is my favorite time, devoid of the cacophony that exists in the summer. There are no loud voices, no announcements, no radios blaring, only the sound of the waves as they come crashing into the awaiting shoreline. There are a few dogs running around and my little guy Mocha dances excitedly in the sand as a band of seagulls lands nearby to scavenge for the crumbs someone left in the sand. The sand is cooler now and does not sting the bottom of your feet as in the summer, and we walk leisurely along the shore, basking in the sensations of our surroundings, the briny smell of the sea, the cool wind, the coarse damp sand.

A small plane glides above, and I wonder about the passengers and how they experience the breathtaking scene below. In the summer the ocean sky becomes a billboard for these planes carrying messages for their advertisers, but now the plane above is just a lofty purring passerby, minding its own business.

September is the whole deal. It brings an inviting sense of solitude unlike any other season. It is still part of what has been, but it is the best part, free of the hurry of vacationers and the accompanying chaos. It is also the promise of what is to come as glimpses of fall begin to intrude with nippy mornings, along with an emerging hint of the change of clothing soon to occur for the surrounding foliage as it prepares to dress itself in its brilliant display before retirement for the winter.

So I will spend every last moment indulging myself in the splendor of September as long as it lasts. I hope that you will not miss it. I will be leaving here soon but I will take my memories of sweet September to warm me through the winter.

Will you take the time to immerse yourself in this golden month before it is gone?

I was just wondering…..

These Feet Were Made For Walking

These feet were made for walking

            The other day my husband and I were sitting on the beach enjoying the beautiful day when he began to massage my foot.  He studied it pensively, looked up at me and said, “These feet have walked a long way since you were a little girl,” a simple statement that grew increasingly profound as I contemplated it.  “Yes,” I thought inwardly as I mentally skipped over my journey in life.  As my mind flooded with memories of where those feet had actually been I began to wonder how the journey of my feet had affected me.  Where had those feet taken me and where were they going next?

I was just wondering……..

There have been many metaphors about our feet and walking such as “walking the walk,” a statement about doing what we should be doing, or having someone “walk you through it” when they are showing you how to do something. Then there is “Don’t put your foot in your mouth,” meaning don’t say something you shouldn’t. Those of you who are old enough may recall the lyrics crooned by Nancy Sinatra about her “feet made for walking,”   in this case to “walk right out on you.” All of these metaphors relate our feet to our behavior, or more precisely, define our feet as the instrument of our actions.

So, back to the beach…..Encouraged by my response to his query about my feet, my husband continued to give me fodder for this column I was already writing in my head. “Think of the feet on the battlefields,” he said “and the feet that walk in the ghetto,” as I wondered how the bodies of those feet absorbed those experiences.  I returned to my own feet again, remembering how they used to feel in the freshly mown grass of my barefoot days as a child, how I screamed in pain when shocked by my first bee sting on my foot.  I remembered running with the speed of a bullet to my grandmother’s house when I got a new pair of sneakers, thoroughly convinced they made my feet run faster.  I recalled the gritty feel of the sand and the bumpy, painful rocks as I waded into the cold Lake Erie water and years later repeating that experience into the icy North Atlantic. I recalled with delight the memory of my father tickling those feet, much smaller then and much less worn.

I shifted then away from the physical sensations of my feet to the experiences those feet absorbed from their physical location back to my body. I remembered walking tentatively into my new high school at age 14 when my father’s job transferred us to a new town.  I remembered 4 years of 100 plus steps to reach the main campus from my dorm at Ohio University and many ”side”-walks  of college life throughout my tenure there. I remembered my first tremulous steps after the birth of my son and my years in Boston before his birth when my feet eagerly joined in the “love-ins” in Boston Common. I recalled the first step on the island of the Republic of Kiribati where the native children sat in wait, greeting us with a melodic, haunting melody that brought many of us to tears.  Those feet stood strong in St. Mark’s square in Venice as, surrounded by pigeons, I drank in the wonder of that awesome setting. Those feet climbed the hill of the Parthenon while I was flooded with feelings for those who had lived before me, those who built those marvelous structures that still stand today. These feet have risen from illness and walked me back to health. They have overcome many obstacles with firm determination. They just kept moving along. They have trudged the hills of Thailand to mingle with the people of the hills and they have draped the sides of an elephant while thrilling to the wonder of an elephant camp.  They have sailed the Amazon and walked the tiny villages with the rainforest natives on the rain soaked muddy shore, always to be grateful to be back home.

No, my feet have experienced neither a battlefield nor a ghetto, but they have had their share of challenges.  It has not been “a walk in the park,” but nevertheless, one I would never want to miss. Each misstep was only an opportunity for growth and each correct step has been a gift for appreciation. I would not take another path if I could.  You know what they say, most people would not want to walk in your shoes, but that’s okay with me, I’ll own my own, scuffs and all, as I plod on to my next adventure.  Where will it take me?  I don’t know, but I’m ready to learn more about life.  That’s where my feet have been, deep in the trenches of humanity.  They have affirmed to me that humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’ quote, “What is most personal is most general,” is so true. No matter how different we may appear, we are basically all the same! Where have your feet been and what have you learned from your journey?  I was just wondering…….