Should I Help?

At a San Francisco playground many years ago, I watched as a father lifted his two-year-old onto an elevated walkway. He and I were the only two fathers there, and I took it on myself to advise him. “You might not want to do that,” I said.  “It’s a little high for him.”

“Oh, he’ll be OK,” said the other Dad. “He’s a tough little kid.”  The child ran happily along the walkway, until he found a series of climbing bars going down and grabbed on one to climb.

Next thing we knew he was screaming.

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A Gratitude Story

Kay Redfield Jamison is a psychologist, researcher and author. With the help of the drug Lithium, she was brought back from life-threatening manic depressive psychosis.  She has recovered to have a beautiful career and life.

At an American Psychology Association conference in New Orleans, Jamison met Mogens Schou (1918-2005,) the Danish psychiatrist who, “more than anyone is responsible for the introduction of Lithium as a treatment for manic-depressive illness.”

Dr. Schou revealed that his years of tireless research and activism had been motivated by his family’s history of illness.   Jamison and Schou each sat down with pieces of paper and sketched their family trees.  Each square (male) and circle (female) represented a family member. Anyone who had manic depression had their square blackened. Attempted suicides were marked with an asterisk. Those who had completed suicide had a slash mark through their box.

There were a lot of black marks on both pages, representing lifetimes of pain and suffering. At one point, Jamison looked over and realized, as she wrote in her book An Unquiet Mind,  “Every black circle and square on Schou’s family tree represented someone who helped save my life.”

I cried when I read that line.  What a gift to appreciate all those people whom she didn’t know, most of whom died without ever realizing what they had motivated.  Lithium treatment has saved tens of thousands of lives, although better drugs have since come along.

Think about those blackened squares and circles and realize: we are all boxes on someone’s family tree. We never know the meaning of our life or how valuable we will be.

Our lives intertwine with each other and motivate or change other lives. We don’t know what we ultimately bring into being, or who will be the agents that make it happen.  If we tried to go back and thank everyone and everything that has helped us, we would never reach the end. That’s why some people thank God instead.

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The Things We Do For Control

How much of human behavior comes from a need for a sense of control?  More than you might want to believe.  When it comes to health, money, love or safety, people get very insecure. We want more control, and this drive can take us to some unhappy places.

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Born Again

“This has not been easy,” my friend Marlon said.  “But after 29 years I can tell you, the worst day out here is better than the best day in prison. I’ve come a long way.”

In 2014, I wrote about Marlon’s impending release, his struggle to come home, and the challenges he still faced. Two years later, he has accomplished astonishing things.

Marlon’s story inspires me from two sides. He has received blessings and help from the world, and he has transformed himself.  His patience and persistence made people want to help him.  His energy, flexibility and determination enabled him to benefit from their help.

As Laurel Mellin wrote in The Solution, “Nobody is going to rescue you from your life.” But you can rescue yourself, and when you try, the world may help you in unexpected ways.  It’s working that way for Marlon.shelby

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Life Imitates Facebook

Lately my newsfeed on Facebook has been painful to read. FB sends me stories of war, of death and political corruption. They make me feel bad, yet they keep sending them.

Why? Because I’m telling them to.  Facebook is a bunch of computers. They are programmed to send me more of what I like. How do they know what I like? Because when they send stories about police violence or Palestine, I am likely to click on them. I’m more likely to interact with them with a comment or a “like.” The computers even  measure how much time I spend looking at a picture or video and include that data in their analysis of me.

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Don’t Ask Why

Last week was a hard one on Planet Earth. News came of 500 African refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. On the same newsfeed, I saw a report of the death by global warming of the Great Barrier Reef near Australia, the world’s largest living thing.

I grieved.  Who wouldn’t be saddened by such enormous losses? I stayed sad for days. I tend to such reactions, but there was more going on, and it might be valuable to look at the causes. 

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Five Things Not to Think About

“Name one thing that you can do better without thinking,” my science loving friend Parrish challenged.  It took me a while to call them to mind, but here are five such things.  It turns out a pretty important list.  If you think all the time, you will miss out on the best life has to offer and cause a lot of grief in the process.  Give your thinking brain some time off when you want to:

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Improv with God

Dev Rogers treated her cancer as a kind of liberation. Diagnosed when she was 70, she underwent a year of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation with all the misery and fear those treatments bring. Her response: she took up acting.

“Cancer gave me permission to act,” she says. “I was attracted to acting as a child, but it never translated. Now I thought, ‘Why not?’”  She took a class at her Neighborhood Playhouse, joined a theater company and has since played in several off-Broadway shows.

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Why Fear is Boss

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux says “When we feel anxiety, fear, or depression, we cannot force our emotional brain to stop them.” No amount of thought can convince the emotional brain that things are all right. Because life was so dangerous for millions of years, brains evolved to put fear first, ahead of love, pleasure, and rationality. Fear bosses us around for a reason.

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The Metropolis Within

The single most mind-blowing factoid I ever heard – the human body produces about 2.4 million new red blood cells (RBCs) every…..second. Day and night, second after second, 2.4 million new life forms. There is more going on in your body at this very moment than in all of downtown Tokyo at rush hour.

 

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