Friday, April 27, 2007

Goodbye Violence

“By age 18 an American child will have seen 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence.” -- Senate Committee on the Judiciary

In 1999 the Senate Committee on the Judiciary published its report on "Children, Violence, and the Media." It had reviewed more than 1,000 studies on the effects of television and film violence conducted since 1960, and found that the majority had reached the same conclusion: TV and film violence leads to real-world violence.

How wonderful it is, then, that this week has been TV-Turnoff Week. The idea started in 1995 by the Center for Screen-Time Awareness in order to “raise awareness about the harmful effects of excessive television-watching, and encourage Americans to replace TV time with activities that lead to more literate, productive lives and engaged citizenship.” The Center estimates that since ’95 more than 30 million people have taken part, with 20 million more taking part this year.

"American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV." -- The Kaiser Family Foundation

What a perfect time it is for parents, schools, religious organizations, and anyone wanting our focus on violence to be diminished, to promote alternative activities not just for children but for everyone. Here’s an exciting and helpful list of ideas from the TV-Turnoff Week group to help us say goodbye to violence and hello to activities we can fully enjoy:

Volunteer in a school to teach reading, math, computer skills. Learn to play the guitar or another musical instrument. Attend community concerts. Organize a community clean-up. Put together a puzzle. Attend library activities. Borrow a book. Go ice skating or roller skating. Paint a picture, a mural or a room. Attend a high school sporting event. Find out about your area's community center or park's activities. Go swimming. Join a community swim team. Read a book aloud to your younger sister/brother. Plan a picnic or barbecue. Go bird watching. Volunteer for a community organization or charity. Play with your pet. Go dancing. Write a letter to a friend or relative. Cook. Plant a flower, vegetable or herb garden. Read magazines or newspapers. Plan a slumber party. Start a neighborhood basketball, soccer, or kickball game. Go camping (even if it's just in the backyard!). Join a singing group. Go through your closets and clothes and donate surplus items to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or a local rummage sale. Start a diary/journal. Go to a museum. Take a nature hike. Collect seeds and leaves, then make a collage with the materials you collected and give it to someone. Play cards. Start a community exercise group that power walks, runs, or bikes. Read a story to a family member. Get out the family photo album. Research your family history. Go listen to a local band. Make crafts to give as gifts. Make up a story and write it down. Learn to say simple phrases in a few different languages. Ask a family member to tell you a story about his or her childhood. Write about it. Learn some new riddles or jokes. Bake two batches of cookies, one for your family and one for a neighbor. Watch the night sky through binoculars; identify the different constellations. Observe the moon. Visit a local bookstore. Walk to work or school. Start a kids bowling league. Train for a 5K race. Teach a neighbor about a computer program. Go fishing. Begin a family project. Have a party to celebrate a TV-free week!

(Photo: Baltimore, Maryland)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Trip to Brazil

Here's a movie of my March trip to Brazil with work colleagues to meet with a group of participants in a public health training program. How wonderful it was to connect with everyone face-to-face after working online for a year. We celebrated our shared accomplishments and affirmed our interest in understanding, protecting, and preserving the health of people around the globe.

(Photo: Sao Paulo)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Virginia Tech Inspires Change

Yesterday’s tragic shooting at Virginia Tech is profoundly saddening. Thirty-three people lost their lives through seemingly-senseless violence. Families lost beloved children, sisters, and brothers. Friends lost loving friends. The campus lost a sense of trust. Our country, our world is wounded deeper. Dissonance resonates as we try to understand how God, ill fortune, fate, or caprice could launch such a gruesome assault.

Some may feel that understanding is out of our grasp. In today’s Washington Post, for example, a writer says, “We always want there to be an answer, except there never is. We always want there to be a solution, and there is never one of those, either.”

I feel much truth in what the writer says, in light of the brutality. I wonder what possesses a young person with so many prospects for a meaningful life to be so commanded by fear and anger. What accounts for weapons being so readily available and desired? What drew 33 people together in this event and to the attention of the world? What as a society do we want to change to ameliorate our pitfalls? How can we cooperate with one another to achieve our ideals?

As confounding as the Virginia Tech event is, I still believe it’s valuable and necessary to examine all the questions we can think of. Through probing and searching, we can better understand why it happened and what patterns it conforms to. None of the influences in our complex world can remain hidden if we look closely with an open eye.

What I see in the elements of this event:

1. Violence: Our culture is obsessed with violence. We write, sell, buy, listen to, and sing violent songs. We do the same with ubiquitous television shows, movies, and video games that depict people hurting one another. We’re drawn to newspaper and other accounts of violence as it abounds the world over. And we support all the advertisers. At times this saturation makes us inured to violence; at other times it provokes us to engage our own angry and violent behavior. If it’s true, though, that we become what we think about, then why do we allow ourselves to think and breathe so much violence? Why not behave with the idea that peace on Earth and good will is a right of all mankind? By reducing our exposure to the energy of violence, we make a change in the energy of us.

2. Disease and Ill Health: As a nation we have one of the highest disease rates and health care costs of any country. Why? Are we eating real food anymore? Are we nourishing or abusing our bodies and minds with chemical compounds that we can barely pronounce in foods as simple as bread and butter? Are we pharmaceutical-happy? Does our medical establishment care more about detection and treatment than prevention and cure? If we learn more about the importance of pure water, clean air, and whole food, and release our dependence on substances foreign to Earth and to our physical bodies, then we can restore much of our health, our well being, and our overall ability to think clearly and in positive ways. Our behavior will always be tied to our thinking, and our thinking will always be dependent on a nervous system that ideally functions optimally.

3. "Rescue Me" Mentality: An ancient belief that we still collectively seem to hold still hold is that someone in a better position to help us than we are will make needed changes for us. This may not be a conscious thought, but if we look at society’s behavior, we often see its effects: rampant pollution that maybe someone else will clean; corporate fraud that maybe the public or the government will bail out; ill health that if the insurance company comes to the rescue then the medical establishment will cure. Who have we made responsible for our lives—the FDA, EPA, and USDA? industry executives, religious leaders? What is it we hold most dear—money? sexual image, food, power, big houses, big cars, big guns? If we want to create change in our society, I feel we could make a big impact by taking more responsibility for our own lives, giving new attention to what’s inside our minds and hearts (good will and love), getting more involved in activities that help promote and sustain health and well-being, and de-emphasizing some of the more materialistic aspects of our lives that may not serve us as well as we'd like. Ultimately, if each of us assumes a sense of being equal to and worthy of change, then change will extend deeper in our own rich lives, and we will be all the more rewarded.

What happened yesterday at Virginia Tech is stirring in so many ways. I am deeply sad about it, but I’m also encouraged and excited about the possibilities for change that it illuminates. Violence, fear, anger, destruction are emblems of our culture, elements of who we are as we grow and change. But they are also the flip side of peace, love, respect, and creation, which are all parts of us, too.

If we focus on the latter, we can transform the former, and be a shining light for all to see, an inspiration that begins at home.

NOTE: "States with higher levels of gun ownership consistently have higher levels of suicide, and that is not because of differences in poverty, unemployment, drug addiction or mental illness," according to a study led by Matthew Miller at the Harvard School of Public Health, published in The Journal of Trauma. More than 30,000 people committed suicide in 2004, Miller and his colleagues noted in the study; guns were used in more than half of those cases. -- (Shankar Vedantam, The Washington Post, April 16, 2007, published the morning of the shootings before they took place)

(Photo: Siler City, North Carolina)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Letter

Yesterday Lia sent me a scanned copy of a Kurt Vonnegut letter. She works with a woman whose husband teaches at Xavier High School in New York City, where the author was invited to visit this year (2007). While Vonnegut declined, he wrote the letter to the students, closing with an illustration of himself (left). It’s an inspiring letter; I hope it’s okay to share it here. His zest for life, his playfulness, and his enthusiasm for creating are inspiring.

“I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don't make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming
, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you're Count Dracula.

Here's an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don't do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but
rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don't tell anybody what you're doing. Don't show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separate receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what's inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!
Kurt Vonnegut”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Happiness, Enthusiasm...

If at my truest core I am a composite of thoughts, loving emotions, and infinite senses, then how can I adjust the way I use these aspects of myself in order to enhance the goodness in my life?

My affirmation: Today I will use my loving emotions (happiness, enthusiasm, excitement, joy...) to perceive all who are around me -- my fellow commuters, coworkers, people walking by me, family and friends, dancers in dance class, everyone! As I expand my awareness of my loving emotions and use them more freely, I feel the magnetism of love draw me to those of like mind. Good things come from expanding my awareness of the loving part of me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

TV Room

Sleep, dear sister, quietly sleep.
Drift away from the waking limbo,

the pseudo reality of quacking reporters,

Philip Morris promos and cigarette smoke.

Sleep, dear sister, gently sleep,

remembering what used to be

in fresher days, cleaner days

of no toxins, tainted food,

polluted water or choking air --

a world in our dreams of what was.

People sleep, walk in sleep,
wallow in the oblivion and stupor

of ignorance, fear, and compulsion.

Why can’t we see the signs of destruction?

How can we learn to love ourselves, our world, and each other?

I think, pray, dream, believe

that we can wake into the dream of loving,

respecting our shared promise with Earth

to protect one another.

Sleep, dear sister, sleep one more day,

or two or three. Sleep as long as you can
until it’s time to be renewed, relieved, restored.

I love you, Laurie. Sleep in peace.

(December 12, 2006)
Laurie passed away on January 5, 2007