What We Value

Iconoculture, a global consumer research and advisory firm, has conducted research ranking the most important values shared across life stages in North America, Europe, South America and Asia/Pacific global regions.

Some key insights they identify are:

  1. Loyalty, success, honesty, courtesy and equality are top ranking values of North Americans, regardless of age. Meanwhile Latin Americans most value loyalty, authenticity, equality, sustainability and reliability.
  2. Europeans’ top value set includes loyalty, courtesy, authenticity, honesty, and sustainability. Consumers in Asia/Pacific regions value success, health, authenticity, comfort, and sustainability.
  3. Authenticity and sustainability are among the top values for everyone except for North Americans.

Given the Occupy movement across the US, I found it interesting those who valued equality the least are the very young, those in middle age and seniors.

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Can We Balance Our Brains?


In the RSAnimate video, The Divided BrainIain McGilchrist makes a fascinating argument that certain activities such as art, emotion and language aren’t uniquely left or right brain functions. Rather, his humorously narrated animation offers a more nuanced explanation for modes of thinking:  Our left hemisphere is concerned with narrowly focused attention while the right allows us to maintain sustained, broad alertness of surroundings.  Linda Verlee Williams relates this another way in her book Teaching for the Two-sided Mind: The left sifts out the parts that constitute a whole while the right combines those parts to create a whole.  Left hemisphere=fragmentation; right hemisphere=synthesis.  So what does this imbalance mean?

The more left brain dominant we become, the more we fragment reality so that it can be understood, quantified.  We emphasize critical thinking skills of analysis, logic, and accuracy over synthesis, creating, and relating.  McGilchrist argues this results in paradoxical conditions: we pursue happiness yet mental illness is skyrocketing.  We strive for freedom and technological advances but are weighed down by bureaucracy and  loss of privacy.  We strive for perfection, but end up feeling empty.

Can we tilt the cerebral scales in favor of more balance?  I googled “brain function balance” and was overwhelmed by info touting optimal brain functioning through hormone replacement, electric shock, and i-Phone games.  I’ll keep searching and share what I find.  In the meantime, I leave you with this from Thomas Merton, “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

4 Steps to Thrive Now and in the Future

Research shows we’re not good at determining what will make us happy in the future, yet setting and achieving goals is critical to our well-being.  Life coach Martha Beck offers a method for setting future goals but shows you how to experience the joy that achieving them brings today.  I liked that this exercise brings me back to the present and helps me identify the elements of my life I’m happy with now.  These serve as the foundation for all I strive for in the future.

Step 1: Pick your most ambitious goal. Write a sentence for it.  My example (please don’t laugh!): I make a living as a writer.

Step 2: Project into the future a few years. Imagine what your life looks like after you’ve achieved that goal.  I’m writing in my home office, a simple house filled with light, love, and the soothing sound of waves. I look out my office window.  Jack catches a perfect little wave on his favorite longboard.  At my feet, a black lab naps in a pool of sunshine.

3. Write at least three adjectives to describe how you feel in this scenario. I came up with content, secure, creative, joyful, loved, strong, humble, grateful, and purposeful.

4. Here’s the interesting part.  Beck says to find something you’re doing now that makes you feel those adjectives.  My projects to support low-income women achieve economic independence help me purposeful.  Yoga gives me contentment and humility.  When I do something unexpectedly kind for Jack or take a walk with Hobie I feel grateful and loved.  Writing this blog feeds my creativity.  Running the gorgeous Colorado trails gives me joy.

Try it and and let me know what you think!

Working the Dream: 2 Things I’ve Learned

Working the Dream Memorial Light

I woke up a year ago on a sun-soaked autumn day savoring the fact that I had my husband to myself for the entire weekend, a too-infrequent luxury.  But in less time than it takes to write this entry, that day and our lives since changed irretrievably as we got the tragic news that Fran Crippen had drowned during a 1oK open-water World Cup race in Fujairah, UAE.  Over the past year, there are two things I’ve learned as I’ve watched Fran’s family and friends come to grips with this tragedy:

1. A broken heart can expand outward to help others. Fran’s family and friends are moving through their pain to make sure no one has to go through the preventable tragedy they’ve experienced.  They show patience, resolve, and compassion in advocating for safer protocols even as FINA drags its heels.  They’ve established the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation to award scholarships to elite swimmers who share Fran’s passion and dedication to sport.  “There is nothing as whole as a broken heart,” said the Kotsker Rebbe.  I never truly understood this until now.  Their love and loss has transformed the sport for this and many generations.

Fran with his beloved Phillies. Photo: T. Crippen.

2. Love is stronger than death.  My husband, Jack, and Fran’s teammate and friend, Alex Meyer, have taken Fran’s spirit with them as Alex works his dream of making the 2012 Olympic team. After placing 3rd in the Viedma (ARG) Open Water Swimming Grand Prix in January,  Jack and Alex got back into the water with a treasured photo of Fran who’d won the race the year before.  The same photo of Fran accompanied Alex on the 1st place podium at Worlds in Shanghai where he achieved his and Fran’s dream of making the 2012 US Olympic Team.  While Fran’s physical body is no longer here, his love for life, swimming, and his friends remains a spark igniting inspiration.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Fran made us feel special with a smile, kind words of encouragement and his laughter.  His spirit lives on through all of us who loved him.

A Roadmap for Social Change

"All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual." Albert Einstein

Since a perk of my work is learning what amazing non-profits are doing to help families survive these difficult economic times, I was thrilled to talk to Crittenton Women’s Union, an .org located in Boston, MA.  CWU provides direct services, conducts research, and advocates for public policy to better support low-income women in their journey to economic self-sufficiency.

The foundation of CWU’s work is a theory of change for what moves a family from poverty to self-sufficiency, Bridge to Self-Sufficiency.  This model not only provides strategy and internal structure for developing programs and measuring outcomes, it gives the CWU clients a tangible set of goals to strive for in the difficult journey from poverty to economic independence.

CWU has a keen focus on specific, relevant data such as their Economic Independence Calculator that determines the actual costs of living depending on family size and location. A single mom in Boston with an infant and school-aged child knows she’ll need earn almost $60K/yr (about $28/hr) to achieve economic independence.  This data is linked to Hot Jobs, “careers that require two years or less of post-secondary education or training, meet the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index income level for a single-parent family with two children, and currently post high-vacancy rates.”  CWU is giving a woman clear, meaningful data to develop a career path that offers opportunity for advancement and breaks the cycle of poverty for her children.

To see what your community’s livable wage is, visit the National Center for Childhood Poverty’s Basic Needs Budget Calculator.

What is your community doing to support upward economic mobility of disadvantaged families?  I’d love to share your story!

Should Occupiers Take a Stand or Keep Marching Along?

"Make Jobs Not War!"

First, let me say I support the #Occupy movement.  This country was established to be a fair and just society and it’s clear for 99% of us it is ceasing to be so.  As Nobel prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz pointed out,

“We have a social problem, not only an economic problem. We have this strange situation of a country where we have increasing numbers of homeless people and increasing numbers of vacant houses.”

Watching city parks across the US fill up with occupiers intent on tweeting grievances but no concrete ideas, I’m wondering if protesters have read the  American Jobs Act?

The AJA has several initiatives that would positively impact our economy.  Two in particular would provide relief to the unemployed: 1) Reauthorization of unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year; and, 2) Establishing the “Pathways Back to Work Fund” to create jobs for low-income and unemployed youth.  The former is a given, or 6 million people might lose whatever economic stability they have left.  The latter is a proven success in states as diverse as Mississippi and Michigan.

So, occupiers, while you’re marching for jobs can you take the opportunity to help create some?

Make funny signs AND jobs!

Jimmy & Lucinda!!!

See y'all in Denver!

Jimmy Buffett and Lucinda Williams in Denver!

One of my favorite lines from a Buffett song resonates with me more and more each year: “Wrinkles go where the smiles have been!”  It’s a good reminder that thus far I’ve been blessed with A LOT to smile about.

Opportunity is Like a Cupcake…

…or is it?  UC Berkeley College Republicans think so.  Their “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” charged customers different prices based on race and gender in order to demonstrate opposition to California legislation SB 185, which would allow public universities in California to consider race and gender in university admissions policy.

Goodies were priced at $2 for Caucasian students, $1.5 for Asian and Asian Americans, $1 for Latinos,  $0.75 for African American students, and $0.25 for Native Americans. Women got a $0.25 discount.  “The pricing structure is meant to be discriminatory,” said Shawn Lewis, the group’s president.

Accordingly, Native American women qualified to pay nothing for the cookies which inspired some enterprising  individuals to don feather headdresses in order to get free cookies.

Satire? Oops! I thought we were going for irony!

If demonstrators meant to highlight opportunity gaps by race and gender wouldn’t they’d have used a more accurate pricing strategy? Regardless of whether the metaphor is a fair one (bake sale = opportunity via college education), the question remains: “Is legislating affirmative action an effective strategy for increasing access to opportunity?”

Justice Restored?

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night, Georgia death-row inmate Troy Davis exhausted all appeals for clemency. At 11:08pm EST he was put to death for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail.

Troy Davis

While CNN switched between the jail where Davis supporters congregated and live interviews with the victim’s mother, Anneliese MacPhail, legal pundits commented on the convoluted Davis case which polarized people into two camps, those desperate to save a life versus those determined to see it ended. At the heart of both arguments was the idea of justice; or, “a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal”.

Is the death penalty just? Does it protect society? An overwhelming majority of the country’s top academic criminology experts reject the idea that there is “any deterrent effect from the death penalty.”

Perhaps Davis’ case will highlight the need for restorative justice. Restorative justice differs from our current system in that it views a criminal act more holistically; instead of defining crime as “breaking the law”, it recognizes that offenders harm victims, communities and even themselves. It recognizes that the criminal justice system is not effective in reducing crime; rather than rehabilitating or deterring criminals, prisons make offenders less likely to reintegrate successfully into society. Studies show a majority of felons released were rearrested within 3 years. Importantly, restorative justice acknowledges victims’ dissatisfaction with their treatment by the criminal justice system.

Looking at “justice” not by how much punishment is inflicted but by how much harm is repaired or prevented means we try to get a head of the problem rather than constantly react to it.

What do you think? Is it time for a change? Is our current system of justice working for us?

3 Signs You Might Benefit from Yoga

1.  Is stress making you cranky?                                                                                  Henry Kissinger once said, “There cannot be a stressful crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” All of us can relate.  But when we’re stressed for extended periods, our bodies release cortisol at levels toxic to the body.  This can cause irritability and anxiety which negatively impact work performance and relationships. Elevated cortisol has also been associated with weight gain and heart disease.  Studies show yoga benefits stressed individuals physically and mentally through regulating cortisol. Consider which is more important:  the quantity of the work you do or the quality? 

2. Are you trying to break a habit or establish a new one?                         Even though my rational brain tells me I don’t need the whole pint of Cookie Dough ice cream or that second glass of wine, I can’t always control myself.  Research demonstrates (Slaughter, H. & Davidson, R., 2011) that those who practice meditation showed increased “cortical thickness” in a region of the brain important to controlling behavior.  Since yoga is a form of mediation that incorporates poses, or asanas, with controlled breathing, it not only offers the benefits of meditation but offers the positive effects of exercise. 3.  Do you have trouble sleeping?                                                                          I’m sometimes able to travel with my husband to the fun places his work takes him.  But upon my return, I have to hit the ground running with work, school and other commitments.  In other words, no time for jet lag!   I’ve discovered yoga helps me get the most restful sleep I’ve ever had.  But don’t take my word for it, there’s scientific proof.  A six month study found yoga (60 minute session six days a week, with a 15 minute evening session) helped increase total sleep time compared to control groups.           

Maybe it’s time to give yoga a try!  If you’re in the Colorado Springs area, I can highly recommend Pranava Yoga Center owned by fellow Texan Charlotte Matsumura and her husband Mike.       

Namaste, y'all!

                                 

Slagter, H. A., Davidson, R. J., & Lutz, A. (2011). Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 5(17). doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2011.00017 PMCID: PMC3039118