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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

It’s Never Enough

Our society jokes about being “OCD”, and obsessive compulsive disorder figures in many tv shows like Monk, so it’s a familiar concept to many people. I’m not going to talk about the psychiatric disorder, but rather its precursor that is in all of us, that need to have or do more.

I have several friends who have Christmas villages that take over their houses every Christmas. It may take them months of free time to set up and take down. Yet, there is always something else to get for the village. As far as I know, they are still collecting.

My mother had anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where there is no stopping the desire to lose weight by not eating. Their only goal is to lose weight, and there is no reasonable end point.

No reasonable end point. That’s the problem, isn’t it? While we get aggravated by the perceived slackers in our society, even they will play video games till they lose jobs or need Redbull to go on. It’s what appalls us about capitalism, that no matter how much money a person or a company makes, it’s never enough. It’s a biological drive run amuck, or subverted in ways we don’t see anymore. It’s why athletes take drugs to do more, it’s at the root of addiction, it’s why people amass huge collections. It can make people either impressive or pitiable. It took us to the moon, and causes there to be a “1%”. It is part of our nature, for better or worse, once you look for it, you see it everywhere.

We always talk about obsessive behavior in terms of the rewards. Hoarders supposedly have a sense of loss that the stuff around them staves off. Of course, if your obsessively focused behavior gains you money or status, the payoff is obvious, but I would suggest it is a drive, like hunger, and that the payoff is in satisfying it. I know for myself, I have that driven feeling very strongly, but fortunately I can channel it any number of ways, although once something takes hold, it is hard to stop it. I “need” to make things, and I “need” to exercise. I put those in quotes, as they both have the type of urge in them. It is an emotional/mental need for me, that if I don’t do it, I can’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t make anything during the last semester, I subverted all my drive into school. I literally went on a creative bender once school ended.

I usually like to end my blog entries with a solution. But is this a problem? I picked some examples that can end in problems, but the drive itself can lead to great things. I just want to float the idea, to get it out there for others to play with. Maybe if we start thinking about the drive itself, instead of its objects, maybe we can get a better handle on it.

What are your drives? Do you know the feeling I’m talking about? That need to do the thing,  that is gets you out of bed in the morning and what you go to sleep thinking about? Is it your motivation, or your bane?

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The One you Feed

Alert- this  post features Christian thought.

So our Sunday school lesson this morning is on Psalm 119:9-16. I was struck by these verses, “9  How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”

I was thinking how hard it is for me to memorize bible verses, and what it means to hide God’s word in your heart. It made me think about the story of the Two Wolves, an old Indian legend about the war in the human heart being a war between two wolves, one good and one bad, and the one that wins is the one you feed. Reading God’s word is feeding the good wolf.

I don’t know how many of you know about neural plasticity, the idea that our brain actually reshapes as we learn, a blessing since we don’t grow new neurons, and damage does occur. When we learn things, our brain makes new physical connections between the neurons. When someone has a stroke, other parts of their brain can “rewire” to take over for the damaged parts, making connections to cover those lost areas. We can see this happening for physical tasks, like walking, talking and feeding yourself. This also true of the more nebulous things like feelings, personality and remembering phone numbers.

This time of year is difficult for me, I get sad and maudlin. All the negatives in my life, from childhood to mistakes in raising my own children rear up and assault me in the emotionally charged atmosphere of holidays. Last night I did not allow those thoughts to take over, instead, I found the things that gave me pleasure, and focused on those. I have not had an alcoholic beverage in over 20 years, and I was musing on how quickly a bad mood  of such magnitude could arise as to cause fleeting thoughts of it to pass through. Through long experience I knew other choices to make, and made those instead, reinforcing the positive pathways in my brain.

Feelings come and go, we can stoke the good ones, and tamp down the negative ones. Our decision making ability is the one thing under our control. We can’t control emotions springing up, but, like water, we can channel those emotions so they can become positive things. We can choose what thoughts we allow, and where our thoughts will go. Thoughts are what trigger emotions. If you don’t believe me, just think about whether you turned the stove off, or if a bill is overdue!  If we spend time in God’s word, or around positive people, or reframe our experiences for the positive, we can remake our thoughts. Reframing means changing the context of a thought. For example, I can think “my friend didn’t call me because she is angry with me”, causing a cascade of negative feelings, or I can think “my friend didn’t call me, because like me, she is busy and had no reason to call”, causing no feeling. In other words, don’t go borrowing trouble.  If any of you are suffering from depression, I don’t mean to make it sound easy, I have been there, I know you need help getting a foothold on that ability to reframe.

Which brings me to my last thought. Every time I read about a person changing their life, it comes down to making up their mind to do so.  But most of them had tried changing more than once. Most of the people who succeeded had failed previous attempts. I really think it is like Dumbo’s magic feather. For those that don’t know, Dumbo was an elephant whose enormous ears allowed him to fly, but he didn’t believe he could, so his friend gave him a “magic feather” and convinced him it gave him the power of flight. I think most of us just need a magic feather. You have to have faith that you aren’t in this alone, that you can do what it is you are attempting, and that it will work. Without that faith, attempts fail. I had tried to quit smoking numerous times before I succeeded. Someone said to me “don’t smoke, even if your butt falls off”, and that thought carried me through. It reframed the situation for me. Instead of thinking “can I get through stressful situations without a cigarette?”, it became “nothing is more important than quitting.”

Of course, as a Christian, I believe God is the ultimate object to have faith in. If anyone is familiar with 12 step therapy, you know that they frame it as a higher power, which can be anything outside yourself. Sometimes you need a “subcategory” of something to have faith in, like the fact that others have done what you are doing, or that the process is worth it.

I wrote all of this to pass on what it has taken me years to learn, and what benefits me on a daily basis, as someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, who did go down the road of addiction and come back. I hope my explanation is clear, and that you might get some benefit from it.

American Sniper and Other War Movies

This is another of my philosophical musings, so if you came here for the fitness, sorry! Although the person deadlifting the hex bar in one scene had darn good form. I wonder if it’s the actor or a replacement? Anyway, we went to see “American Sniper” last night. Prior to seeing it, the only talk I had heard about it was some talk about whether it was pro-war or anti-war. I don’t remember where I was listening to the discussion, but one person talking said that Clint Eastwood was anti-war.

Seriously? That’s what you got out of the movie?

The movie hit me hard. I didn’t even want to talk afterward. To boil it down to a stance on war, seems ludicrous and petty. After seeing numerous war movies, I have never come away with the feeling that “this movie glorifies war”, or “this movie is a good anti-war movie”. I don’t “like” war movies, but I feel watching them is the least I can do to honor those who have endured what war inflicts. Having seen it, this movie may show more of what motivates someone to go to war, but I’d hardly go so far to say it is in favor of war.

To say someone is pro-war is like saying someone is pro-hurricane, or pro-house fire. I think every war movie I’ve seen shows how terrible war is, the pain and devastation it wreaks on everyone involved. There are never “winners” in a war. Not like there are in sporting events. There may be one side that surrenders, but both sides pay, and pay, and pay.

There was a scene where they were going after a “bad guy”. I don’t want to give anything away, but the guy they were going after was clearly a psychopath. I’m becoming more and more convinced that wars occur because psychopaths get the upper hand. If I’someone willing to kill and torture to get what they want, and gather other like-minded people around them, if there isn’t a strong social structure in place, they will become the leader. I think that is how all the horrible dictators got in power. They made promises, threats, bullied, then finally killed and tortured to get to the top of the social structure. What happens when a psychopath is running the country? Certainly he won’t be making decisions that are in the best interests of others.

So what choice do others have? If there are sociopathic people running a whole country, and the world sits back and does nothing, what happens? Do these people calm down and turn to the business of running a country? Or do they start attacking any and everyone around them? I know we all think “Just get rid of the crazy guy at top, and it’ll be over”. That’s just not true. Those kind of leaders surround themselves with people just as blood thirsty and crazy as they are, and one of their underlings just rises to replace them. Any you know it won’t be good, since they will have to fight off other bloody minded people to take over, so they will have to be smarter and more vicious than the rest.

So no, I don’t think this was a pro-war movie. It was definitely a pro-Chris Kyle movie. I do hope he lived up to his story, he was portrayed as a hero. “War is hell” as Sherman once said, but by definition it creates heroes. Anyone who can do what they need to do, and not lay down and quite under the circumstances war creates has to be a hero.

Until we can find a way to neutralize the psychopathic personalities among us, there will be wars. As long as there are individuals to want power and blood and have no regard for their fellow-man, there will be the need to stop them, and we will have war.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I probably ought to give my articles more straightforward titles, but I like playing with writing a bit. Anyway, this entry is based on an article I just read, “Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You, “Wellness or Else””. It was very interesting, as it plays into some of my favorite thought patterns.

First, I love listening to and economist’s take on things. I read “Freakonomics”, and I listen to the “Planet Money” podcast. This article focuses on the economics of workplace wellness, and do the perceived savings really add up, or are the savings coming from other sources? The article states that much of the savings come from throwing more of the health care costs back on employees in the form of penalties or denial of coverage if they don’t participate in wellness programs. It states the actual cost benefit is programs costing 100$-300$ per person, with only a 25-40$ drop in medical costs per year. If direct health savings were the only incentive for companies, obviously they don’t have a lot of reason to institute these programs.

Second, I’m fascinated by incentives and whether they work, or, as my title implies, create unintended consequences. Are health incentives helping motivate us to get healthier, or are they coercive and unfairly punishing people? For example. Let’s say I offer to pay any employee to quit smoking. How do I prove it? Do I demand blood tests? If I’m a non smoker, it hardly seems fair. If I restart, can I get the quitting bonus again? Incentives seem like a great thing, till you see how they play out.

I want everyone to do everything in their power to get healthier. We know that people will engage in unhealthy behavior, in spite of repeated negative consequences. It is hard to know what will motivate people to change. It seems like this is a positive tool, but maybe not. What do you think? Do you have any personal experience?

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)

I was reading this article about how upset the Harvard professors were over the changes to their healthcare plan. I have to admit a certain amount of malicious enjoyment as major universities, such as Harvard, were behind the impetus for the Affordable Care Act. Like congress, I guess they wanted to make laws that would only affect the “other guy”.

Faculty members were quoted as “not being concerned for themselves, but for less well paid employees”, and “It’s the principle”. No, lets face it, any time you give something to someone, there is an outcry when you take it away. The fact that they are the elite of American society, living in a world where they are largely sheltered from the realities of poverty and having to make ends meet makes their belly aching less palatable. The objections they have are what the rest of us have been living with for years. MOST healthcare plans have high deductibles and copays.

I say “why not?”. We need insurance to pay every time we go to the doctor? How about save that sort of transaction for those horribly expensive things, like surgery, cancer, etc. I know there are those who would argue that health care should be free, a right. The sad truth is, nothing is free. Every “free” thing you have ever gotten was paid for, just not by you. Why don’t we educate doctors for free, then they won’t have high debt, so won’t need high salaries? Why don’t we pay their malpractice insurance, relieving them of that cost, so they can distribute their services for free? Why don’t we pay pharmaceutical companies for their R&D, so they don’t have to charge large amounts for their medications? If those ideas sound ludicrous, why then do we insist someone else should pay at the other end?

When all this health care debate started, I had hoped to see some of the basic issues addressed. Insurance distorts the cost of health care. The insured person has no idea what the cost of something, but doesn’t care because he’s not paying it. The insured and the providers have this weird dance going on of formulas and partial payments, obscuring the real cost. Without a direct market, there is no competition, no advertised prices and a huge chunk of the medical cost goes to insurers, who are not directly involved in health care at all.

If you pay 2,000 dollars a month to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and only use 50$ of that for your health care, does the other $1,950 go to another subscribers bills? Not hardly. Not when insurance companies have enough profit to sponsor every last sporting event and charity in your community. While I don’t mind that they are using that money back in the community, wouldn’t be nicer to have that money to spend on health care? If we have to pay a parasitic third-party, why don’t they take all their profits and use them to open clinics in underserved communities? Or pay the outstanding medical bills for someone who is uninsured or underinsured.

The more we monkey with the system, the more cumbersome and less responsive it becomes. Look at our tax system. It’s all one big complicated game with real winners and losers. Health care is the same. Maybe these Harvard professors, now that they see how superficial the changes they championed are, will go back and lobby for some real change. Lets just make sure that we all experience the changes, that way if they don’t work, they will be quickly scrapped.

Let me know what you think. Does all this get your dander up, like it does mine? Do you feel common sense is sadly lacking in the higher echelons of power?

It’s Not 99%, That’s for Sure

close up of a cows nose

mmm, nummy.

Have you heard about “nose to tail”? That is another movement to change how we eat. It is really simple, in theory. If you are going to eat meat, you should eat all of it, and not waste it. In our modern culture, this is rather silly, in that few of us will butcher and process our own meat.  In light of what we now know about good nutrition, it isn’t even sound, since that is why our forebearers made all that yummy, yet unhealthy sausage, to use up the less appetizing bits. The idea behind this is the idea that there are so many of us, and it takes so much land to raise meat, that getting us to use every bit is better ecologically.

Learning about this made me think about all the different movements out there to get us to eat healthier, help the earth, prevent global warming, or in some way live a more mindful life. I don’t think we need to go to the extremes that some movements promote.

We don’t even agree on what we need to do. I do think we all agree on recycling, unless the energy it takes to recycle creates to much carbon. We agree on using less, unless the economy suffers. We agree on using renewable resources, unless that renewable resource is controversal, like ethanol. Oh, but we do agree on green energy, unless they are putting a wind farm in your neighborhood. Sigh.

I have a friend who is convinced if she can get us all to go vegan, the world would be a better place. I don’t know that she’s wrong, We’ll never try it to find out. I won’t even do it. Do I think that eating less meat is a good thing? Of course. Meat should be the side dish, not the veggies. I had some shrimp tacos at Red Lobster that were out of this world. I gorged myself and probably ate 10 shrimp. The rest was veggies and bread. However, I live with a raving carnivore. I have gotten him to eat smaller portions, and occasionally have chicken, fish,soup or something other than straight red meat at a meal, but he still thinks two hamburgers is a serving. The funny thing is, there is a significant portion of the health community that would see bread as the problem, not meat.

My chiropractor just gave my husband some info on the paleo diet. I have a bunch of clients going gluten free.  I applaud people for taking steps to control their health, I just wonder why everything has to be so extreme. Just eating healthy is extreme enough. Put down the crueller and have fruit and oatmeal for breakfast. Have the Southwest Salad instead of the Big Mac. Have a small coffee with one cream and sugar instead of the latte, frappe whatever. Have pudding for desert instead of ice cream. Better yet, have a yogurt parfait, with homemade strawberry rhubarb sauce. Ok, that’s it, I’m outta here. There’s some of that in the fridge calling my name. I put some in my salad this morning and it was really good.

Some Thoughts on Religion

There. I put it right in the title, so if it isn’t your cup of tea, skip it and we’ll get back to fitness and nutrition shortly. I’ve just heard some things lately that bug me and want to air them here, because I do think some of the world is rational.

First, the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls by Boko Haram. The stated purpose is to sell them as wives, aka sex trafficking. This is “an Islamic extremist terrorist organization”. How often do we hear that? Are the non-extremists terrified into silence? If there is a main stream Islam that isn’t extremist, can they do nothing to turn the direction that their faith has gone in? How can any group claim any right to access their higher being in the name of violence and degradation? I don’t know about all religions, but the ones I do know about espouse the same things- seeking for the higher side of our natures, sharing over selfishness, giving rather than taking, cherishing God’s creation. Whatever your definition of God is, I can’t see how it could be a being that glories in harming others. If so, than that being must always be happy, we are so inventive at destroying each other.

Second, banning prayer in public places. I was listening to Albert Mohler talk about the court case in Greece, NY. They made a sincere effort to get many faiths involved, but they didn’t want to end the practice of praying before council meetings. The point was made that such practices have gone on since our founding father’s day, and congress still opens in prayer. I think banning any kind of speech is dangerous. Any time you say there is only one kind of acceptable speech, you are getting into serious government intrusion. I happen to be reading “The Book Thief”, reminding me what  attempts to control others leads to. I also think it is ridiculous to think that prayer, and invoking God, is somehow dangerous. For those who think a secular world is safer and more rational, need I remind you about Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot? They were no friends to religion, and their efforts for a better, secular, rational world led to more blood shed than all the religious wars put together. Rhetoric is far more dangerous than prayer. Well, I guess that depends on if you think anyone on the other end is listening….

In any case, if my praying out loud, in public, makes you so nervous you can’t bear it, then can I ban all music that has misogynous references, glorifies shooting, and uses the f- bomb? While we’re at it, add Two and a Half Men and Two Broke Girls. If I can’t have my prayer, you can’t have your sexually explicit conversations.

There, I’m done. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programing.

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