I am so fed up with Sexist “Male Brain”

Imagemale brain

This is how males see human brains / abilities. Men count: everything human (other than pregnancy and birth) is within the male domain, and in order to “understand” this totality of human intelligence and endeavor, one must have a male brain.

Women belong at the outer ring of the human experience. The only abilities they have are biological: get pregnant, give birth.

Therefore, any female who crosses the boundary must be male by default; to be male, one must have a mail brain. Asperger females don’t recognize any such boundary, because it’s a socially-constructed barrier: illogical, irrational and sexist.

this-is-bullshit

Intuition, Vision and Unconscious Processing

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First, I want to establish a phenomenon that (I think) we have all experienced.

You have a meeting that requires driving across town. It’s your turn to do a brief presentation, so you are a bit distracted. You pull out of the driveway, check your watch: it should take 20 minutes to arrive at the meeting. You are aware of stop signs, red and green lights and then, suddenly you’re aware of pulling into the parking lot at your destination, as if coming out of a trance. Twenty minutes have passed during which  you rehearsed  your presentation, but you are not aware of having driven to your destination. How does this happen?

The “standard model”

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The brain has two pathways for processing visual information: one is “unconscious” and its function is to guide movement in space. This would seem to cover “driving while unaware” and similar experiences: pretty amazing. The other visual stream computes information about objects, and a person who is driving will “pop out” of unconscious seeing (switch or integrate streams) when it’s important to identify a red light, a pedestrian, or the address on a building.

The visual system is not perfectly understood; research into how and where these two pathways interact is ongoing. What I suspect is that the unconscious pathway does a lot more than coordinate motion-vision (in all or some humans). Intuition is unconscious processing of information that may eventually “become” conscious .

What is going on? Is there stronger interaction between the two streams or processing regions that dominates intuitive (and visual) brains? ***I just came across a paper in which 3 pathways are proposed from new research: the unconscious stream not only serves motion, but perception.

This “problem” reminds me of synesthesia, which all fetuses experience before senses differentiate as discrete phenomenon. Some individuals experience “cross-sensory” brain experiences into adulthood.

More to come!

 

Religious Perception of Mental Illness / Evangelicals

This is but one article, but it would seem that Evangelical Christians are willing to accept, but are unable to fully embrace, official psych/psych diagnosis and treatment. “Stigma” appears to be the usual pan-social-fear of public judgment and not necessarily a religious obstacle. And most surprisingly: (not really – it’s the ultimate cultural conquest of American culture by Psychiatry and Psychology) The DSM is being used to interpret The Bible.
 
Full article:  Christianity Today online magazine

1 in 4 Pastors Have Struggled with Mental Illness, Finds LifeWay and Focus on the Family

“The Bible is filled with people who struggled with suicide, or were majorly depressed or bi-polar,” said Focus on the Family psychologist Jared Pingleton in the LifeWay release. “David was totally bi-polar. Elijah probably was as well. They are not remembered for those things. They are remembered for their faith.”

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LifeWay Research examines how well (or not well) churches address mental health.

LifeWay Research

Your pastor is just as likely to experience mental illness as any other American, according to a LifeWay Research survey commissioned by Focus on the Family.

Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) acknowledge they have “personally struggled with mental illness,” and half of those pastors said the illness had been diagnosed, according to the poll (infographics below). One in four U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Recent deaths by suicide of high-profile pastors’ children, including Rick Warren’s son Matthew and Joel Hunter’s son Isaac, have prompted increased attention to mental illness from pastors’ pulpits and pens. Warren launched “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” this past spring. High-profile pastors, including NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble, have publicly documented their struggles with mental illness.

“Here’s what we know from observation: If you reveal your struggle with mental illness as a pastor, it’s going to limit your opportunities,” Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, told CT. “What happens is pastors who are struggling with mental illness tend not to say it until they are already successful. So Perry Noble, running a church of 30,000 plus, just last year says ‘I have severe depression.’”

“We have to break the stigma that causes people to say that people with mental illness are just of no value,” he added. “These high-profile suicides made it okay to talk about, but I think Christians have been slower than the population at large to recognize what mental illness is, let alone what they should do.”

The majority of pastors (66 percent) still rarely or never talk about mental illness in sermons or before large groups, the survey found. About one-fourth of pastors bring up mental illness several times a year, and 7 percent say they tackle it once a month or more.

Struggling laypeople wish their churches dealt with the issue more; 59 percent of respondents with a mental illness want their church to talk more openly about it, as do 65 percent of their family members.

“Our research found people who suffer from mental illness often turn to pastors for help,” Stetzer noted in a news release. “But pastors need more guidance and preparation for dealing with mental health crises. They often don’t have a plan to help individuals or families affected by mental illness, and miss opportunities to be the church.”

Other “key disconnects” uncovered by the study:

  • Two-thirds of pastors (68 percent) say their church maintains a list of local mental health resources for church members. But few families (28 percent) are aware those resources exist.
  • Only a quarter of churches (27 percent) have a plan to assist families affected by mental illness, according to pastors. And only 21 percent of family members are aware of a plan in their church.
  • Few churches (14 percent) have a counselor skilled in mental illness on staff, or train leaders how to recognize mental illness (13 percent), according to pastors.

The disconnect isn’t because of a lack of compassion. Most pastors (74 percent) say they aren’t reluctant to get involved with those with acute mental illnesses, and nearly 60 percent have provided counseling to people who were later diagnosed.

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Instead, pastors can feel overwhelmed at times with how to properly respond to the mental health needs of members of their congregation; 22 percent said they were reluctant to do more because it took “too much time.”

“Pastors are trained for spiritual struggle. They’re not trained for mental illness,” Stetzer told CT. “And so, what they will often do is pass someone off. I don’t think what that 20 percent says is ‘Forget you,’ but ‘I can’t handle this.’”

The silence at church can lead to a reluctance to share, Atlanta-based psychiatrist Michael Lyles told LifeWay. “The vast majority of [my evangelical Christian patients] have not told anybody in their church what they were going through, including their pastors, including small group leaders, everybody,” he said in the release.

In fact, 10 percent of the 200 respondents with mental illness said they have switched churches after a church’s poor response to them, and another 13 percent stopped going altogether or couldn’t find a church.

But more than half of regular churchgoers with mental illness said they stayed where they were, and half also said that their church has been supportive. One way churches can be supportive, Stetzer suggested to CT, is regular meetings between pastoral staff and the person suffering from mental illness, even as the individual continues to receive consistent medical treatment.

 

 

Religious Perception of Mental Illness / Buddhism

My note: my own experience aligns with this cognitive approach. A significant problem with “disturbance” is understanding which symptoms are due to a “brain problem” and which are environmental-emotional: suffering caused by false concepts, social distress, acceptance of hostility as normal, and the belief that an individual cannot change how he or she negotiates life. An “authority” must tell us who we are and how we must behave.

Our body will tell us when we have found a healthier “way of being,” by returning us to “a mental place” at the center of our “self” rather than being tossed around by ever-changing human chaos – our own and that of western societies.  

http://chancenter.org/cmc/1992/01/31/buddhism-and-mental-health/

Lecture by Master Sheng-yen on October 25, 1990 at San Francisco General Hospital

Buddhism and Mental Health

 

Buddhism originated in India. It was there that Sakyamuni Buddha began to deal with the problem of illness. Illness begins at birth; when one is born, the peril of sickness begins. The person who has not suffered illness has yet to be born. Only after death does illness cease. We must suffer both mental and physical pain and illness in this life. Buddha said that we should see a doctor for physical illness, but mental illness should be treated with Buddhadharma.

Buddha saw that it was more important to save the mind than the body. One who has a healthy mind and a good attitude will be much less afflicted by physical difficulty than someone who has mental problems. If all of our mental problems are cured, that is liberation. One with a healthy body but a sick mind will suffer much more than someone who only has physical problems.

Physical illness is pain; mental illness is suffering. Buddhadhanna does not rid us of pain. It is not an anesthetic. It alleviates our suffering.

According to Buddhism, there are three causes of suffering:

1. Ignorance of No-beginning

Western religions talk about a beginning. Western science theorizes about the beginning of the earth and the universe. The problem of a beginning is quite difficult to solve. Buddha says there is no-beginning. Where is the starting point of a circle? Although there must be one, try as you might, you cannot find it. Thus we have no-beginning. If you ask, “Where does suffering come from?” a Buddhist will answer, “Suffering comes from no-beginning.”

2. The cause/effect cycle of vexations

The effect that we suffer now stems from a previous cause. This effect in turn becomes the cause for a future effect. As we move forward in time, we incessantly create future causes.

3. Vexations themselves

The vexations from which we suffer arise from three sources:

A. The environment

On this visit I’ve really had a chance to see what a beautiful city San Francisco is. The climate is quite varied: there is fog and wind; the temperature moves quickly from chilly to warm. Much as we may think that San Francisco is like heaven, it is no surprise that people do get sick here.

Earlier today I was riding in a car with a householder. At one point she sneezed and I asked, “Are you sick?” She said, “No, I’m just allergic to cold air.” Yes, there is sickness even in San Francisco. Obviously the great hospitals here were built for a reason. Even in such a place as this, with its clear sky and clean air, there may be pollutants or diseases in the air or microbes in our food that will cause us to become ill. The environment can be a great cause of our vexations.

B. Relationships

Relationships can cause us a great deal of suffering. Who is responsible for most of our vexations? Most people think it is their enemies. This is not necessarily the case. The culprit may be your husband, your wife, or your children. The people with whom we quarrel most are not our enemies but those closest to us. Each day we must deal not only with our close relations but many other people, some we know, some we don’t. Some help us, some hinder us. People compete endlessly with one another.

Yesterday I gave a lecture at Stanford University. Someone came up to me and complained that academics are really petty. Of course academics are bright people. Ideally, they should help and support one another. The last thing they should do is tear each other down. However, even intelligence does not obviate the basic pettiness and competitiveness that exists in human nature. I often ask, “Is there anyone here who has never competed against others or felt another’s competition? Anyone at all?” The answer is always no.

C. Emotional turmoil

Our greatest enemy is not to be found on the outside, We are vexed most by our own minds. We constantly change how we feel. We may move from arrogance to regret, but we never look at something in the same way as time passes. Thus we are in conflict, and we feel powerless to make a decision. We worry about gain or loss, right or wrong, and we cannot decide what to do. This is true misery. And there are many people who suffer in this way and yet believe that they themselves have no problems. As they protest that they have no problems, they may jump up and down, throw tantrums, and work themselves into states of extreme agitation. I once asked someone like this why he had so many vexations. “It’s not me!” he cried, “it’s these other rotten people who are making me so miserable.” Actually, he had many problems that were of his own making.

Yesterday I was riding in a car with four people who were involved in a heated discussion. One said to me, “Sorry that we argue so much, Shih-fu.” I replied, “You’re the ones arguing, it’s really none of my business.” Did I hear what they said? Yes, I did. But I was simply not part of the conversation. This morning another one of the four told me, “I cannot stand to hear people argue. The very sound of it upsets me.” You might think that he is reacting to something outside himself. The fact is that he is causing his own vexation. It comes from within him.

In Buddhism there are five kinds of mental vexation: greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt. When we are distressed, we can try to analyze the nature of our vexation. When we can determine into which category our vexation falls, and then reflect on it, we can greatly reduce its intensity. When we are distressed by greed, we may reflect: “I am greedy, I have strong desires.” Then the vexation of greed will automatically diminish.

When we suffer from anger, we may reflect: “Why am I so angry? My distress is directly related to my anger.” In this way the anger and distress will begin to subside. You look inward, not outward. It is not the problem but your own mind that you examine.

When we have done something stupid and we feel miserable about it, it is best for us to see what we have done for what it is. If it is something stupid, then reflect: “I have acted in a stupid way.” Thus will your suffering and vexation lessen.

Similarly, arrogance is itself a kind of suffering. To be aware of such feelings when you have them, will enable you to overcome them.

Doubt is also a type of suffering. Doubt will prevent you from making decisions. You will not be able to trust others and you will not be able to trust yourself. This is suffering indeed. If you know you suffer from doubt, you should reason as follows: “I want to accomplish such and such task, so I had better believe that I have the ability and that it is the right thing to do.” If you really believe this, you will be able to accomplish whatever you wish to do.

Doubt can be an invidious influence in our lives. Imagine a man who has decided to get married, but is plagued by doubt. He wonders if the marriage will end in divorce, will she abandon him after the marriage has begun, or did she lie or has she withheld something important from him. If this doubt is unchecked, he will be miserable at the prospect of marriage and miserable within the marriage. Even if there was no real cause for the couple to break up, the doubt itself can furnish the reason and result in marital problems.

If you have such doubts, you should say to yourself: “If I really have so many doubts, it would be foolish for me to marry. If I want to marry, I should accept her as she is and trust her absolutely.” If you cannot maintain such an attitude, you would be better off single, for marriage would only bring you misery. Are there any of you who have no doubts? I have yet to meet someone who has absolutely none.

 

According to Buddhism, there are five general causes of mental disturbance:

1. Pursuit of a given objective without considering your strengths and weaknesses. A variation of this is that you are not aware of the resources that you have and that you are never satisfied. Or when faced with a situation that is beyond your control, you are constantly tormented by the desire to resist the inevitable. Many people, especially the young, believe that they have unlimited potential. What they see others have done, they believe that they, too, can do. But when adverse conditions arise, they feel personally wronged, and resist rather than understand what is happening.

2. An insatiable desire to expand and conquer. Someone with this disturbance always wishes to magnify what he or she has. Such people wish to extend their influence beyond all limits. Some strive for fame so that they will be known to the world. Others use power to directly conquer those who oppose them. Power struggles such as these may occur among nations or simply within families. A wife may try to conquer a husband, or vice versa. Such desire to overpower others is indeed a mental disturbance.

3. Having achieved a particular objective or station, arrogance sets in. This may lead to callousness and a general disregard for others. An arrogant person may believe that he or she has the right to hurt others or sweep them aside according to personal whim.

4. Failure to achieve a goal leads to despair. Someone with this disturbance may tend to be greatly discouraged and lose all confidence in himself or herself. There will be a tendency to blame others.

5. Doubt pervades the mind. There is a profound sense of insecurity. Confidence quickly evaporates.

I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. I do not have a deep knowledge of classical psychology nor am I versed in the standard classifications of mental illness. I only know the Buddhist point of view which divides mental problems into the five categories above. These five may generate a myriad of other mental problems. Note that Buddhism is not concerned with the causality or the pathology of the particular elements that lead to a person’s mental distress. It is concerned only with the recognition and elimination of mental disturbances.

Now I will talk about how we can deal with balancing the mind and the treatment of mental illness.

People often confront their own mental disturbances by using two ineffective methods. The first is denial: “I am not sick. I have no problems. There is nothing wrong with me.” The second is self-treatment: a continual review in one’s mind of a list of faults and what one believes to be their remedies. This builds one false assumption on another. Both of these methods only make matters worse and more serious.

Psychiatrists and psychologists use a talking method to analyze and help explain their patients’ problems. Although it is true that the aim of this method is to have the patient come to his or her own realization, from the standpoint of Buddhadharma this is incomplete and temporary. This is because the doctor can discover only a part of your problem and you yourself can only know a part but not the complete picture of your illness. And it often happens that problems reoccur after counseling, and sometimes a patient continues in therapy for ten or twenty years with no real resolution. This might be enough to make the doctor sick.

The Buddhist method of healing is divided into two broad categories: change of concepts and methods of practice.

A. Change of concepts

1. The concept of cause and effect

While this concept is a religious belief, it is also a fact. It is a fact because throughout our lives, no matter what we do, there will be a response or an effect to our actions. Through faith we believe that there was a life before this life and one before that and so on through innumerable past lives. Much of what we experience now may seem unfair, but it is simply a consequence of actions we have performed in the past. To the extent that we believe this, we will be willing to accept what befalls us, good and bad.

2. The concept of causes and conditions

All phenomena arise and pass away because of the accumulation and interaction of different factors. The cause of a flower is the seed, but soil, water, and sun must be present for the plant to come into existence. Time, or uprooting, or lack of water or sun will cause the plant to wither and die.

When we have succeeded in something, there is no need for us to be particularly excited or arrogant. No matter how much we have accomplished, it was not without the direct or indirect help of many other people. And since we know that which is now coming into being will one day pass away, there is no need to despair when we encounter adverse or unfavorable conditions. As the proverb says, “It is always darkest before the dawn.”

A calm mind will get us past unhappiness or elation. This is a sign of psychological health. (Note the contrast to Western social demands which require ceaseless activity, emotional chaos and no respite: drugs, alcohol and consumerism do not supply peace of mind. 

3. Compassion

People usually wish others to be compassionate towards them, but the idea seldom occurs to them to be compassionate towards others. There are those who when they make a mistake demand to be forgiven: “Don’t measure me against the standards of a saint!” they say. But if they see someone else err they will say, “You’re incompetent. Why couldn’t you do it right in the first place!”

Compassion requires four criteria:

  • Understanding of one’s own conflicts and the development of inner harmony.
  • Sympathy for other people’s shortcomings.
  • Forgiveness of other people’s mistakes.
  • Concern with other people’s suffering.

The first criterion is especially important. In order to be at peace with yourself, you must have a calm and peaceful mind.

To do this, keep in mind the concepts of cause and effect and cause and conditions. This will give you a calm and peaceful mind. You will then be able to be compassionate, sympathetic, forgiving, and caring towards others. (Note: Compassion or empathy is not a “magic module” within the brain – isolated from thought and experience. There are preconditions, like learning to crawl before we walk.)

B. Methods of practice. (I think that these are not necessarily a “fit” for westerners; we can use the practices as a guide to developing our own.)

1. Mindfulness of the Buddha. This consists of chanting the Buddha’s name.

There are two reasons for this practice. First, reciting the Buddha’s name in order to be reborn in the Pure Land will provide you with a sense of hope for the future and consequently make it easier for you to let go of the present. Second, reciting the Buddha’s name can help alleviate your mental problems. When you are psychologically off balance, you can remove anger, doubt, or others mental disturbances by concentrating on Buddha’s name. I often tell people, “When you get angry and want to yell at someone, chant Amitabha’s name.” You will be sending your anger to Amitabha. It will be Amitabha’s problem.

2. Meditation

Sitting meditation can collect the scattered mind and stabilize a disturbed mind. There are many methods of meditation as well as levels of attainment, which we do not have time to go into in great detail. However, I can give you an idea of some of the more profound stages you might experience:

When you reach the point where there are no wandering thoughts in your mind, that is called samadhi. In that state there is no one and no problem that can bring you vexation. From the point of samadhi you can develop the wisdom of no-self. This is enlightenment in Ch’an, or Zen, Buddhism. To reach enlightenment is to be free of mental disturbance and illness. At the point when you are always in this state and you do not fall back, that is called Great Enlightenment. Short of that is Small Enlightenment. Your old problems may arise after you have reached this point, but you will know how to deal with them. Even Small Enlightenment is a significant step. But remember that even when you first begin to meditate that is a very important step, also.

Again from my experience, a western person can find a “way of meditating” that produces “no-self” (which to me means existing in the present) –  those moments when there is no past or future illusion. Motion may not seem like meditation but it works for me; walking or even driving in the wilderness does it for me.


Religious Perceptions of Mental Illness / Judaism

I did not intend to look at religious views of “mental illness” although I have concentrated on the pseudoscientific status of psychology and its basis in JudeoChristian / Puritanical hatred of Nature and free human beings.

Last night I was cruising for post ideas when I landed on an article written by a devotee of Simon Baron Cohen. Readers may remember him as the person who has labeled Autistic and Asperger children and adults as “Positive Psychopaths” – the co-psychopaths of rapists, murderers, sadists, dictators, tyrants and such.  Why? Like all evil people we have “No empathy, zero empathy” We commit evil, but can be excused, because our brains are broken. (My reply? How dare you.)

Anyway, while cruising for SBC references these articles came up: a rather different slant on mental illness and ASD. I can’t help with making sense of religious material: I flunked being Episcopalian, which is pretty hard to do. Not edited, so this post is long. Enjoy!

Religious thoughts on Autism, ASD

Question: Do autistic children have special souls?

This may sound like a silly question. I am the mother of two autistic children. I love them both dearly, but as any parent of children with special needs will tell you, raising them is challenging and can often be full of disappointment, hurt and frustration. I once heard somewhere that the Kaballah considers children who are autistic to be on a higher spiritual level, almost like angels. I found this idea to be extremely comforting and it gave me much strength to continue. I am trying to find out a little bit more about this concept — is there any mention and/or allusion to autism anywhere in the Torah and/or other holy texts?

Response:

Every time I encounter a parent or guardian taking care of someone with special needs, I am in awe of their dedication and love. Reading your email with the preface “This may sound like a silly question…” is also inspiring. If your question is silly, then what am I to say of all my problems I imagine to be so important?

You asked for a source in the Kabbalah stating that the souls of these children are somehow special. In fact, there is just such a statement in the Zohar. But, as with most of the Zohar, it is not something immediately fathomable, so I hope you are up to a preamble and some explanation.

In the Torah reading of Emor (which happens to be the week in which you are asking this question) we find the laws of kohanim who have certain disabilities and are therefore disqualified from serving in the Holy Temple. The verse states “Any man among Aaron the Kohen’s offspring who has a defect shall not draw near to offer up G‑d’s fire offerings” (Leviticus 21:21).

How can it be that one who has done nothing wrong is barred from serving in the Holy Temple just because of a “blemish”? The G‑d who taught us to look beyond appearances and treat all with equal love, the same G‑d who created this very kohen with his disability, tells us “Nope, due to his blemish, he cannot serve Me in the Holy Temple”?!

So here is what is written in the holy Zohar:1

Rabbi Shimon opened the discussion with the verse: “Only he shall not go in to the Veil, nor come near the to altar, because he has a blemish; that he profane not My holy places: for I, G‑d, do sanctify them” (Vayikra 21:23). “He shall not go in to the Veil.” Come and behold: at the time the river is flowing and comes out, and issues the souls, the feminine aspect above conceives. And they all abide in a room …

When the moon is rendered defective by the same aspect of the evil serpent, like all the souls that are issued, although they were all pure and sacred, are flawed. Since they emerged at a defective time, whichever place these souls reach [i.e. bodies] are crushed, and suffer pains and afflictions. The Holy One, blessed be He, cares for those who are broken, although their souls are sad instead of joyous.

The secret is that they remain as they were above. While the body is flawed, the soul inside remains the same as above. The one state resembles the other. Therefore, they are to be renewed like the moon, as it is written (Isaiah 66:23): “And it shall come to pass, that every new moon, and every Shabbat, all flesh shall come to bow down to the ground before Me, says G‑d.” “All flesh” assuredly, for they are in need of renewal along with the moon.

…These righteous are the constant companions of the moon and have the identical defects…. And “G‑d is near to them who are of a broken heart”2—that is, to those who suffer from the same defect as the moon, those who are always near her. “And He saves such as are of a contrite spirit,”3 by giving them a portion of the life …because they who suffered with her shall also be renewed with her.

…Those defects from which the righteous suffer are called “sufferings of love,” because they are caused by love and not by the man himself…Happy is their portion in this world and in the world to come…

As you can see, the words are quite esoteric. The thrust of them, however, is quite simple: There are souls born into the world that are whole on the inside, yet blemished on the outside. The reason is not for any punishment, but on the contrary, out of love. To understand further, you will need a little more explanation:

You need to know that the moon is a reference to G‑d’s immanent presence in the world, otherwise known as the Shechinah. You also need to know that the Shechina, like the moon, wanes and waxes, as G‑d’s presence sometimes shines brightly in the world, and at other times is shadowed and darkened. Some souls are conceived (not on earth, but above) at the waxing of the cycle. Those souls enter the world with a strong body and glide through life happily. Other souls are conceived with the darkening of the Shechina. Rabbi Shimon tells us that these souls share in the suffering of the Shechina—and that is why she is their constant companion. Eventually, this cycle of the Shechina will resolve in an everlasting fullness as G‑d’s presence will shine in ultimate intensity in this world, and these souls “shall also be renewed with her.”

So far, some answers. But many puzzles remain: Why must the Shechinah suffer? And what is the point behind these souls suffering along with her?

Concerning the suffering of the Shechina, Rabbi Yitzchaak Luria, the Ari, provided a deep and enlightening teaching. He explained that everything of our world is vitalized and sustained in existence by a divine spark. The higher the spark, he said, the lower it falls. The most intense divine light, therefore, is to be found in the darkest corners of our world. The Shechinah is both the light of G‑d’s presence and the mother of all souls. The function of the human soul is to rescue these fallen sparks from their darkness so they may be reconnected to the Infinite Light. The Shechinah suffers as she descends into the darkness to perform that rescue. This, the Ari says, is “the secret of the exile of the Shechinah,” as the Talmud says, “When the Jewish People go into exile, the Shechina goes with them.”4

The Tzemach Tzedek5 uses this teaching of the Ari to explain the above words of the Zohar. Generally, he writes, there are two ways to rescue the sparks from the forces of darkness. He equates the spiritual task of the unblemished souls to an army which engages another in battle. Eventually, the victors subdue their enemy but do not eradicate them completely.

Then, the Tzemach Tzedek continues, there are those born with a blemish—albeit external, since their soul remains whole. Their task is to totally eradicate evil so that it ceases to exist. Yet to do so, they must come into direct contact with that darkness. They are like those special forces sent out in camouflage in order to entice the enemy into an ambush. Obviously these soldiers do not have the outside trappings of a burly navy seal, after all, would any half intelligent fighter follow someone who appears as a threat to them into an ambush? But on the inside, internally, they are the elite troops, charged with a special mission.

Another way of saying this: In order to battle face to face with the darkness, the soul needs to have some of that darkness itself. Yet only externally—in order that this darkness itself can be redeemed.

How does this apply to the special needs child? Certainly all of us have seen clearly how these children—who were until recently neatly quarantined away from society in secluded institutions—have given us so much now that we allow them to participate in society. A school that helps mainstream such a child is doing a great service to all its students, teaching them compassion and understanding of others. A community that helps out finds itself bonded together in their act of caring. You may have heard of the Friendship Circles that have sprung up to assist in this mainstreaming. The directors tell me that the ones who benefit the most are the teens that volunteer—and end up learning so much from these special souls. As a parent, yes it is hard, but in the long run you certainly have the most to gain.

You ask if your children can be compared to angels, but in fact they hold a position much higher. The rest of us serve as the foot soldiers in G‑d’s army, which itself is position greater than angels. But your children are of the elite troops, completing a special task in this world. Their challenges are certainly no fault of their own, and neither of yours. On the contrary, you have been given the great merit of bringing these two elite souls into the world, nurturing them and caring for them as they complete their lofty mission. It is by no means an easy job, but G‑d only entrusts these souls into the hands He deems most appropriate.

Here is a short thought along the same lines: Gifted and Challenged.

Talking about Kohanim, and being a Kohen myself, I want to bless you with much nachas from your children, and with the strength to meet the challenge and privilege that G‑d has presented you with.

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Henry Makow.com / Asperger’s — The Jewish Syndrome? From an artist’s POV

Is an egoism bordering on autism a racial characteristic?  Is it a kind of genius? Playwright David Mamet an Ashkenazi Jew, suggests  it accounts for the many famous Jewish film producers & directors. by David Mamet (from his book Bambi Vs Godzilla, 2007)

I think it is not impossible that Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies. The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence and difficulty with transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutiae of the task at hand. This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director. Let me also note that Asperger’s syndrome has its highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants. For those who have not been paying attention, this group constitutes, and has constituted since its earliest days, the bulk of America’s movie directors and studio heads. Neal Gabler, in his An Empire of Their Own points out that the men who made the movies – Goldwyn, Mayer, Schenck, Laemmle, Fox, – all came from a circle with Warsaw at its center, its radius a mere two hundred miles. (I will here proudly insert that my four grandparents came from that circle). Widening our circle to all of Eastern European Jewry (the Ashkenazim), we find a list of directors beginning with Joe Sternberg’s class and continuing strong through Steven Spielberg’s and the youth of today. There was a lot of moosh written in the last two decades about the “blank slate”, the idea that since each child is theoretically equal under the eyes of the law, each must, by extension be equal in all things and that such a possibility could not obtain unless each child was, from birth, equally capable – environmental influences aside – of succeeding in all things. This is a magnificent and majestic theory and would be borne by all save those who had ever had, observed, or seriously thought about children. Races, as Steven Pinker wrote in his refutational The Blank Slate, are just rather large families; families share genes and thus, genetic disposition. Such may influence the gene holders (or individuals) much, some, or not at all. The possibility exists, however, that a family passing down the gene for great hand-eye coordination is likely to turn out more athletes than without. The family possessing the genes for visual acuity will likely produce good hunters, whose skill will provide nourishment. The families of the good hunters will prosper and intermarry, thus strengthening the genetic disposition in visual acuity. Among the sons of Ashkenazi families nothing was more prized than genius at study and explication. Prodigious students were identified early and nurtured – the gifted child of the poor was adopted by a rich family, which thus gained status and served the community, the religion, and the race. The boys grew and regularly married into the family or extended family of the wealthy. The precocious ate better and thus lived longer, and so were more likely to mate and pass on their genes. These students grew into acclaimed rabbis and Hassidic masters, and founded generations of rabbis; the progeny of these rabbinic courts intermarried, as does any royalty, and that is my amateur Mendelian explication of the prevalence of Asperger’s syndrome in the Ashkenazi. What were the traits indicating the nascent prodigy? Ability to retain and correlate vast amounts of information, a lack of desire (or ability) for normal social interaction, idiosyncrasy, preternatural ability for immersion in minutiae; ecco, six hundred years of Polish rabbis and one hundred of their genetic descendants, American film directors. — Related – Asperger’s & Jewish Social Ostracism

A Comment: Asperger’s often goes undiagnosed. One child I worked with was in therapy since he was 4 years old, he was 12 the first time I saw him. He was very intelligent and complained of everybody picking on him.  I thought I would take the time and observe him in a classroom setting.  The other kids were verbally vicious towards him and his defenses were as a 4 year old.  He has Asperger’s. He was in therapy for 8 years with many therapists and not one caught it. Asperger’s runs in families, no doubt.  It usually affects males in the paternal line.  Asperger’s children truly suffer from constant harassment from their peers, siblings and parents.  The boy’s father was very abusive trying to force the boy to act normal, this lead to the end of the marriage as his mother was more understanding.  Most Asperger’s have PTSD and dissociation compounding the issue. Though I don’t work with autism, several of my colleagues are having good results. It is an epigenetic issue and David Mamet actually is somewhat describing epigenetics whether he realizes it or not.

Case study by a colleague:  12 year old Jewish boy, a virtual living vegetable.  He would only sit under a table. He was very still in his movements, quiet and strangely breathed slowly through his mouth as if breathing through a tube. His parents were asked many questions about their family tree. The boys paternal grandfather was asked many questions. This grandfather had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp; the guards saw him and gave chase. Terrified he hid among reeds in a river. He submerged himself using a hollow reed to breathe through. Guards were stationed only feet from him for 2 days. He could not move or he would be shot. The grandfather never spoke of this to anybody.  His autistic grandson snapped out of it the moment he heard the story. 

He was endlessly reliving the terror of his grandfather.

This boy then was able to describe his experience.  He said it was as if he were a stellar black hole, where information could come in, but not go out. He understood everything even though he appeared comatose.

I have heard that he has completely recovered and is doing well in school.

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The Baron-Cohens and the Problem of Evil

By Allan Nadler • Thursday, May 31, 2012

The pervasiveness of evil and the suffering of innocents have confounded religious believers throughout history.  Jews, with their history marked by abundant evidence of evil and their faith in an omnipotent and benevolent God, have unsurprisingly produced a vast Jewish literature that attempts to reconcile God’s justice with evil’s apparent dominion, in works ranging from the book of Job to Harold Kushner’s best-selling When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Relevant Links

The Evil Inclination  Raphael Magarik, Jewish Ideas Daily. For the rabbis, the yetzer hara is not a part of the human psyche or soul, and not a metaphor for it, either. Rather, it is an actual, physical demon.

The Male Condition  Simon Baron-Cohen, New York Times. According to what Baron-Cohen calls the “extreme male brain” theory of autism, people with the disorder simply match an extreme of the male profile, with an unusually low drive to empathize.

The Family Baron-Cohen  Sarah Glazer, Moment. Family legend has it that when Chaim Baron, a red-headed widower, emigrated to Britain, he tacked Cohen to his name to show his Jewish pride and his descent from the priestly cohanim.    

The history of Jewish suffering at the hands of evildoers has also produced an unrivalled body of comedy, often the Jews’ most brilliant and resilient response to such monsters.  The evil that most terrifies the Jewish state today is the nuclear holocaust threatened by Iran’s dictators; and it is no accident that the new film The Dictator, by the Jewish comic Sacha Baron Cohen, tackles precisely this subject.  The film’s protagonist, Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya, a composite of Middle Eastern dictators from Muammar Qaddafi to Saddam Hussein, harbors the same dastardly nuclear ambitions as Ayatollah Khameini.  He pursues them through tactics that are shrewd and stupid, highly offensive and very funny.  Laughing at Aladeen is a fine coping mechanism in a world beset by terrifyingly evil men.  

But, of course, such laughter does not help us understand or explain such men.  For those tasks we must turn to another Baron Cohen—Simon, Sacha’s first cousin, a distinguished British neuroscientist.  Simon Baron-Cohen recently published The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, an erudite but concise and accessible book devoted to the scientific explanation of human malice.  One benefit of Sacha’s recent piece of inspired lunacy may be to call more attention to Simon’s sane and scholarly work.

The Science of Evil is part of a trilogy of books by Baron-Cohen that summarize for non-specialists the results of decades of painstaking neuroscientific research by his Cambridge laboratory, much of it with children suffering from autism and Asperger Syndrome but also with adults exhibiting personality disorders from narcissism to criminal psychopathy.  Baron-Cohen has studied these individuals through clinical analysis, therapy, what he calls “gene-hunting,” and functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity.  Using this last technique, Baron-Cohen has found that all his subjects have a common denominator: a discernible deficit of empathy in their brain circuitry.

Baron-Cohen argues that trying to explain human cruelty through metaphysical or religious notions of good and evil produces “no explanation at all.”  But, “unlike the concept of evil, empathy has explanatory power”; and his book demonstrates this power.  In a minor masterpiece of popular scientific writing, Baron-Cohen takes readers on a fascinating tour of the ten-region “empathy circuit” of the brains of his empathy-deficient subjects, from the criminally psychopathic to the benignly autistic, examining them from angles environmental to chemical. 

Because Baron-Cohen uses a single, if complex standard—low scores on the empathy scale—to explain behavior in subjects from innocently autistic children to criminal sociopaths, his argument might appear dangerously reductive.  Some scientists and social scientists—including Steven Pinker, in his recent book  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined—have mentioned Baron-Cohen in deriding what Pinker dubs the “empathy fad” (an audacious criticism coming from a man who, unlike Baron-Cohen, bases his wisdom almost entirely on others’ clinical work)- How nasty!  And when Science of Evil appeared, advocates for autistic children criticized it for lumping those children together with heartless murderers.

But Baron-Cohen is no reductionist.  He takes pains to make the moral distinctions between innocent and culpable and between positive and negative manifestations of what he calls ZPE (Zero Percent Empathy).  Those with autism and Asperger Syndrome, he makes clear, are innocently indifferent—literally, clueless when it comes to reading the feelings of others.  In extreme cases they treat others like inanimate objects; but they have no malice or intention of causing harm to others, let alone deriving joy from doing so.  Baron-Cohen illustrates with a story from Joe: The Only Boy in the World, Michael Blastland’s memoir of raising his autistic son.  Joe was 10 years old:

Blastland and Joe were in an elevator in a local shopping center one day, and a mother came in with her baby in a stroller.  The baby started to cry, and Joe—to everyone’s shock—punched the baby to shut her up.  Michael asks in his book: how do you explain to a complete stranger, this woman who cares about her baby more than anyone else in the world, that the pain your son has just caused was not malicious, bad behavior, but is because your ten-year-old son has no idea that another person can suffer pain or feel hurt by a punch?

Baron-Cohen is sympathetic to this plight; indeed, as a clinician and therapist, he has pioneered the field of empathy training.  Among his works is the DVD The Transporters, designed to enhance empathy in autistic children.

Baron-Cohen also points to potentially positive consequences of “zero degrees of empathy.” Chief among them is a superior ability to systematize, which explains why many Asperger Syndrome individuals have unusually high aptitudes in math and science.  Their “remarkable attention to detail” and their “ability to concentrate on a small topic for hours, to understand that topic in a highly systematic way,” Baron-Cohen argues, “can lead the individual to blossom in certain fields.”

Strikingly, Baron-Cohen’s Jewish upbringing and education and his liberal Zionist sensibilities emerge throughout the book as central—indeed, formative—in his thinking.  He begins by recalling the traumatic impact of having been told as a child that Nazis used the skins of their Jewish victims to make lampshades.  His early exposure to the Holocaust’s evil triggered a life-long fascination with human cruelty—and, indirectly, his stellar career in neuroscience.  The book also describes Baron-Cohen’s engagement with the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” paradigm as a way of framing empathy; and the final chapter includes a calm, cogent demolition of Hannah Arendt’s thesis that the Holocaust is explained by the “banality of evil.”

The final chapter also includes Baron-Cohen’s ruminations, inspired by Shabbat dinner discussions and a Kol Nidrei synagogue sermon, about how increased empathy might bring about world peace, including Israeli-Palestinian peace.  Here Baron-Cohen reveals a political naïvete at odds with his scientific sophistication.

Baron-Cohen is a leading member of an international cadre of cutting-edge clinical scientists who painstakingly study the functioning of compromised human brains.  Antonio Damasio has done work similar to Baron-Cohen’s, mainly with victims of severe head trauma.  Damasio’s most philosophically intriguing book, Looking for Spinoza, describes the modern scientist’s discovery that the 17th-century Jewish heretic anticipated all of Damasio’s scientific findings about human emotions.  Spinoza’s pantheism—his belief that God and Nature are one and the same, bound by immutable laws—leaves no room for any beings beyond the physical universe, whether angels or evil spirits.  The work of scientists like Baron-Cohen and Damasio substantiates clinically what Spinoza intuited philosophically: It powerfully debunks religious and metaphysical approaches that explain evil as a struggle between benign and malignant spirits within human souls.  Instead, for these scientists, the biological explanations of all our feelings, emotions, and deeds, good and evil, are so concrete and precise that they can be mapped by MRIs.

Yet, for Baron-Cohen, this work coexists with his deep affection for his Jewish identity and for Israel.  This, at least, he shares with his more flamboyant cousin.

A Comment: Why is there so much sickness, mental illness, hunger, violence, theft, murder, rape, deceit, embezzlement, lying and evil? The answer is unrighteousness and greed. Righteousness is directed by a gene within DNA. The righteous gene within the DNA of Jews comes from the Father. The gist of the Holy Commandments and laws given to Moses is to remove and prevent unrighteousness. Obedience of the laws is a promise to guard and protect the righteous gene.

Jews have migrated to all nations diluting their culture and consequently their genetics. Adultery is more than intercourse outside of marriage. Adultery is mixing righteous genes with the unrighteous. Adultery is forsaking the laws of righteousness and dwelling among the unrighteous for gain. To love the Father with all your heart and soul is to love and protect the gene of the Father that lives in you with all your heart and soul.

It is not a transgression to hate evil and love righteousness. It is not a transgression to destroy evil and nurture righteousness. Transgressors of the laws are those who interpret the laws. The laws cannot command a people to righteousness but by obedience laws can cause a righteous people. The Jews today are unchanged thousands of years after the laws and Commandments were given to them. Obedience of the Commandments and laws should have caused a righteous people worthy of salvation from destruction. Sadly though they are a people whose genetic pool is severely diluted and corrupted. Jews live the laws and Commandments but do not understand obedience. The righteous gene within DNA of Jews outside of Israel is abomination. Had the Jews obeyed the Holy Commandments and laws the entire

 Allan Nadler is a professor of religious studies and the director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University. He is currently on sabbatical in Montreal, serving as Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at McGill University and Interim Rabbi of Congregation Beth El.

 

Birth / Role of Fear

The rate of premature birth (infant ‘preparedness’ to be born) has skyrocketed in the U.S. The medical focus is to complete gestation by means of technology (NICU) and to surgically repair damage to the infant, but has this attitude normalized birth of preterm babies, and promoted the concept of impaired fetuses as normal? Has Caesarian surgery become expected, like fast food?

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The Role of Fear in the U.S. Birthing Process
by Colleen Bak

 

Birth is inherently a female activity. The choice, the ability, the power to give birth is innately female. Historically women were the sole possessors of birthing knowledge and technique, and in certain cultures and time periods men feared them as a result of this (Arms 1996). In some places and times it was thought that women’s control over life also enabled them a certain control over death, and in others, female birth attendants were murdered as witches due to their ability to magically aid in the birthing process. As a result of their pivotal roles in birth and death, female healers “began to be shunned, persecuted, and often even put to death…women healers everywhere were driven underground by those who feared their powers” (Mauger 2000: 126). The social space of birth and how it is collectively understood has changed in many ways since these periods. Today, in the U.S., the hegemonic consensus of birth is currently situated in the masculine realm of science and medicine. The once natural event of female-centered birth has effectively been medicalized. Power and control have been removed from midwives and women and shifted to science and the surgical specialization within medicine, today known as obstetrics. This historical shift resulted in numerous changes in the conceptualization of the birthing process and women’s roles within it. One evident change has been the shift in the experience of fear. Whereas once men were the primary candidates to experience fear of women and birth, today women are the primary candidates to experience fear of and during birth. This shift was caused by numerous changes in the environment of birth as well as in the attitudes and techniques of those attending it, which was largely brought on through the medicalization of childbirth. The fear can partially be attributed to external stressors, such as the unnatural setting in which birth normally takes place in current society, the inadequate level of support women are often provided with and the current lack of understanding and familiarity women have of the process. These causative concepts will be discussed further, but first it is necessary to elaborate upon and explain the negative physiological effect that fear has on the birthing process and thus the importance of the structural changes necessary to alleviate it.

It is a naturally occurring factor of the human psyche to fear the unknown, and through the scientific veiling of the birthing process, birth has been transformed into the unknown for the majority of U.S. primiparas.

The emotional state of fear, on the part of the birthing woman, can have a negative impact on the progress of her labor and her overall experience of birth. The negative response to fear is often manifested through the slowing down or arrest of labor. This physiological phenomenon is observable in animals whose bodies have been shown to instinctively cease labor when a threat is perceived. “Animal studies have shown that when animal mothers are frightened labor stops. This may represent nature’s way to let the laboring female flee a potential danger” (Klaus, Kennel and Klaus 1993: 144). The same occurrence has also often been noted in women upon arrival to the hospital or the appearance of the obstetrician. The hospital, as well as the obstetrician, can elicit nervous reactions that can trigger an instinctive response toward potential danger (Odent 2002). To some women, they may personify their personal lack of power or decision-making and thus evoke fear and subsequently anxiety and stress via feelings of powerlessness.

These situations indicate the power of the mind-body connection, in that emotional changes are shown to affect the physiological state of the birthing woman. In her book The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, Henci Goer (1999) specifically warns women that, in addition to purely physiological occurrences, “fear, anxiety and other psychological issues can also hold up labor” (109). This is a difficult concept to accept and integrate into current U.S. culture, where the separation of mind and body has been universally accepted under the tenets of Cartesian Dualism. “The assumption that mind and body are separate, so can be treated and studied separately—described as dualism—has played an important role in the origins of biomedicine in Euro-American society” (McCourt and Percival 2000). Modern U.S. biomedicine is deeply entrenched in this concept and rarely focuses its care on the mental side of medical situations. On the other hand, holistic models of care focus principally on this connection. In fact “connection” itself is the primary doctrine of holistic care models, which state that “total healing requires attention to the body-mind-spirit-emotions-family-community-environment” (Frye 1998: 3). The examination of the role of fear in the U.S. birthing process involves the integration of aspects that affect both the mind and the body in treating the physical state, and thus is more holistic than the Western philosophical norm.

In the specific case of fear and anxiety, biomedicine is unable to ignore the connection entirely. This is due to the evidence of scientific studies that indicates that certain hormonal changes take place in the presence of the emotions of fear, stress and anxiety. Studies indicate that “these feelings heighten the perception of pain, and they can help elevate stress hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which may slow or stop contractions” (Klaus, Kennel and Klaus 1993: 144). Adrenaline has been referred to as the antithesis of oxytocin, the naturally produced hormone that stimulates uterine contractions (Gaskin 2003). Another category of hormones (catecholamines, which include epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine) is indicated in other studies as one of the causative factors in fetal distress, as well as problematic labor. Catecholamines are neurohormones that “pass through the placenta to reach the baby…[they] circulate when the pregnant mother is anxious or afraid, and this affects the baby’s environment” (Wolf 2001: 109–10). Thus, as Naomi Wolf explains, the fetus is subject to the mother’s emotions in a physiological sense. Penny Simkin examined numerous studies concerning stress, pain and catecholamines in labor and found that maternal stress “causes increased maternal catecholamines production which may be related to dysfunctional labor and fetal and neonatal distress and illness” (Goer 1995: 100). This view of fetal danger is substantiated by French obstetrician Michel Odent (2002), who finds that “when a baby is made more fragile before being born through the stress hormones released by its mother, it is possible that the risks of fetal distress during labour are increased” (64). The physiological effects of stress, fear, and anxiety manifest through the maternal production of excessive levels of particular hormones. These hormones can serve as the body’s natural defense mechanisms against imminent danger by slowing down or speeding up bodily functions, but they have not been found to play a helpful role in the modern birthing process. Rather, evidence has shown that the production of these hormones can slow contractions and cause fetal distress. These are serious problems that inhibit the natural birthing process and often result in the need for medical interventions.

…the calm, quiet, darkened room is very different from … the hospital hustle and bustle…

The fact that the fear and anxiety experienced by many birthing women physiologically can result in the need for medical interventions seems to form a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It is arguable that the level of fear experienced by women today is in part due to the removal of birth from the natural feminine realm, or in other words its medicalization. Thereby, the medicalization of birth in part causes the fear, which causes the rising hormone levels, which cause the complications, which cause the need for medical intervention, and by way of circular logic make it seem completely sensible that birth is currently normalized as a medical event. It is possible to look at this hegemonic practice critically and see that the way birth is currently conceptualized might be playing a causative role in maintaining the status quo. Simkin also found that “much of the stress of labor is preventable because many of the stressors are not inherent to labor” (Goer 1995: 100). In other words, this is not a static situation; there is hope. The medicalization of birth may have shifted the emotion of fear to women, but that does not mean that women need to allow themselves to be tied to technology while their babies are removed from them rather than birthed. Research has indicated that excessive stressors are not a natural part of the labor process, therefore the fear and stress-inducing agents are outside, unnatural influences, and anything unnatural is subject to change. These unnatural elements simply need to be identified, examined and altered so health care providers can better enable women to give birth.

The unnatural setting in which the majority of births currently take place in the U.S. can be implicated as an external stressor to birthing women. The overwhelming majority of births today take place in hospitals. According to the National Vital Statistics Report of final data for 2000, the percentage of births that take place in U.S. hospitals has remained unchanged since 1989 at 99 percent (Martin et al. 2002). This frequency of usage suggests that the significance of the hospital environment, and its subsequent effect on the fear and anxiety experienced by birthing women, demands investigation. To begin with, hospitals innately embody concepts of sickness, pain and death. Previous visits to the hospital may have been highly emotional or even traumatic experiences for individual birthing women. “Many women associate hospitals with illness and the role of a patient, as well as with a potential for danger, use of unexpected procedures, a lack of privacy, isolation and confusion about high-tech equipment” (Klaus, Kennel and Klaus 1993: 144). Within this setting women often assume Talcott Parsons’ classical “sick role,” which socially requires them to surrender control of their bodies to medical personnel (Conrad 2001). The very environment in which birth is housed is intrinsically evocative of fear, anxiety and powerlessness in many women.

In addition to the problematic associations many women have with hospitals, there are numerous organizational and structural drawbacks to the hospital environment. To their credit, modern hospitals have done some work to adjust their environment to improve the state of birthing. For instance most hospitals allow a woman to labor and birth in the same room; this change alleviates the previous stressor, for the birthing woman, of having to be moved at the peak of transition from a “labor room” to a “delivery room.” Most hospitals also offer private birthing rooms that have been decorated in a modern manner. These are steps in the right direction, but they are largely superficial and do not compensate for the majority of uncomfortable aspects inevitably found in hospitals. One aspect that remains a cause of stress to birthing women is “the noise, bustle and continual interference from the hospital environment [that] often add stress upon stress” (Davis-Floyd 1993: 169). A hospital room is part of the public sphere, even if it is a so-called private room. That is, just because there is only one woman in the role of patient assigned to a room does not indicate that she will have any means of controlling the level of privacy that she experiences. Hospital staff may require that the room door be left ajar and will inevitably come in and out as they please, a condition over which the woman has no control. This is in direct opposition to the importance placed on privacy by Michel Odent (2002), who calls for a birth environment with “complete privacy in semi-darkness” to reduce adrenaline levels in the mother and thereby alleviate fear and anxiety (108).

Birth and sexual intercourse have been linked together due to the release of the female hormone oxytocin during both acts. The physiological reality, during both acts, is that “cervical and vaginal sphincters function best in an atmosphere of intimacy and privacy—for example…a bedroom, where interruption is unlikely or impossible” (Gaskin 2003: 170). This has led some to believe that both acts naturally occur in similar environments; that is birth should take place in a low-light, warm enclosure where women feel secure and safe. This makes logical sense because in the act of birth, just as in sexual intercourse, women are in an introspective physiological state that does not leave them ready to react in peak form to sudden danger. In order for women to allow their bodies to function as nature intended during the birthing process, they should be in an environment that allows them to feel safe while reducing fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, “the idea of the calm, quiet, darkened room is very different from that of the hospital hustle and bustle that is often observed” (Page 2000: 113). A warm, quiet, secure personal bedroom is far from the typical invasive fluorescent lighting and impersonal sterile feel of a modern hospital birthing room.

In addition to the fact that hospitals can cause fear in birthing women, as a result of mental associations and lack of privacy, there are structural aspects of hospital birthing rooms that inhibit natural birth. Due to the design of modern hospital birthing rooms, as well as certain hospital protocol, women are often restricted in their movements. One main problem that architects have located in hospital birthing rooms is the centrality of the bed, which “makes it clear that the woman is supposed to be on it, not moving around, and her posture is restricted and controlled by the professionals managing the labour” (Kitzinger 2000: 175). Hospital protocol often furthers this structural message by requiring a woman to be tethered to the bed via IV tubing and electronic fetal monitoring (EFM). The use of EFM is particularly restrictive to movement as almost any shifting on the part of the woman can cause a misalignment of the sensors (Strong 2000). A 1996 study reported by the Midwives Information Resource Service (MIDIRS) found that “most women being cared for in hospital will stay in bed during labour…this is to a great extent because of frequent use of continuous electronic fetal monitoring, which fundamentally restrains and alters the experience of labour” (Page 2000: 116). The restriction of a woman’s natural movements during labor can inhibit the birthing process in numerous ways including the increase of fear, anxiety and stress. Additionally, studies show that “activity during childbirth not only relieves pain and reduces emotional stress, but also helps the baby to descend and rotate into the best position for birth” (Kitzinger 2000: 185). Movement is intuitive to the birthing woman, thus naturally birthing requires movement, and this is supported by the reduction of negative fearful emotions experienced by women who are free to move about as they please. If women have the freedom to adopt the positions that they personally find the most comfortable they will naturally be less anxious about the physical process they are experiencing. The environment a woman births in plays an instrumental role in either supporting or not supporting this need to move.

Tangential to the environment or atmosphere that a woman labors in is the human support system that occupies it with her. This support group can comprise the birthing woman’s partner, friends and family. It may also include professional labor support from nurses, midwives, obstetricians and doulas. The efficiency of a birthing woman’s support system is one of the factors directly related to the amount of fear and anxiety from influences outside of labor that she experiences. It has been documented that “the most important factor in alleviating the anxiety that most women feel upon arrival at the hospital is the attitude of the people helping her” (Klaus, Kennel and Klaus 1993: 144). The effectiveness of support people in alleviating outside stress, fear and anxiety is reliant on their relationship to the birthing woman, as well as the type and/or quality of support they provide.

The initial qualifier of a support person is that she or he maintains a presence with the birthing woman. This minimal requirement is frequently impossible for busy nurses, midwives and obstetricians practicing in hospitals. However, it becomes more of an option for providers practicing in homes or independent birth centers, where the client-to-provider ratios are significantly reduced. Another 1996 study reported by MIDIRS indicated that “the most beneficial effect was found to be when a woman who had some experience of supporting other women in labour provided the constant support” (Page 2000: 114). According to this study, it did not matter if the support woman had a previously established social bond with the birthing woman or not. This description is unlikely to apply to a female obstetrician as, regardless of gender, obstetricians frequently attend birthing women only during the second stage of labor (Arms 1996; Davis-Floyd 1993). However, this description could apply to a midwife or doula, both of whom are women possessing extensive experience with labor support. Unlike midwives, doulas are not trained in the art of catching babies; rather they are women who have been trained as professional labor support. Having an “outside” trained woman for support during the birthing process has been found to enhance women’s birthing experiences. This is largely due to the fact that when a support person “shares an emotional bond and an ongoing relationship, it is very difficult for that companion to remain continuously objective, calm and removed…from the mother’s discomfort” (Klaus, Kennel and Klaus 1993: 5). This deep connection can result in a subsequent elevation of the support person’s levels of fear. Consequently, when a partner or relative acts as the sole support for a birthing woman, it is found that sometimes their rising level of “anxiety spreads from one person to another” (Page 2000: 112). This contagion can result in the birthing woman’s anxiety levels rising as a direct result of her support system (Arms 1996). However, Klaus and Kennel have found that “the presence of additional support in the form of an experienced woman, far from diminishing the role of the father [or partner], can enhance it by reducing his [or her] anxiety and freeing him [or her] to offer more personal support” (Kitzinger 2000: 123). Thus the presence of professional female labor support can reduce the anxiety experienced by the birthing woman both directly, through trained support methods, and indirectly, by reducing the anxiety of others present.

It is also vital that the support person(s) are knowledgeable concerning the different phases of labor and the various methods of support most beneficial in each. Two particularly helpful methods are touch and vocal encouragement. Although each can be beneficial throughout birth, these methods become increasingly important as women approach and enter transition. The Birthsong Midwifery Workbook defines transition as the time in labor when a woman’s cervix is dilated 7–10 cm. and warns that at this point in particular a woman’s “birth attendant is most helpful…[as] a calm, relaxed and centered environment is essential” (Singingtree 2000: 202). This is often the most intensely scary time for a birthing woman—a time when her body is almost completely open, which can lead to feelings of physical insecurity. Transition is also the “phase of labor that women later relate intimated the experience of dying” (Davis 1997). This is a time of physical detachment during which direct physical contact and clear vocal messages may be the only valid forms of communication with the birthing woman. Without specific people to communicate their support in these particular methods, a birthing woman may feel that she is alone, which would elevate fear and anxiety. Goer (1999) directly recommends both touching and vocal communication as methods for coping with poor labor progress because of the ability of these methods to reduce stress, anxiety and fear. She states “massage can ease pain and induce relaxation” (115) and “talk can provide comfort, reassurance and encouragement; [and] relieve anxiety” (116). Touch can also be utilized to simply convey the important message that the birthing woman is not alone.

The use of touch in birth is altered when birth is located within the social space of the hospital. In modern hospitals the “reliance on technology for enhancing and monitoring labour, may restrict and alter the way in which we use touch to comfort, support and encourage women through labour” (Page 2000: 116). The reliance on technology may also negatively affect the amount of overall interaction busy hospital staff members have with women. Often the vital signs of a birthing woman and her fetus can be monitored from the nursing station, which is advantageous and attractive to staff members as it allows them to watch more clients at a time (Arms 1996). In addition, U.S. research comparing the level and kind of support provided by first-time fathers and that of doulas indicates that “women touch the mother 95 percent of the time, but men only 20 percent of the time that they are present, and also that men choose to be there for shorter periods” (Kitzinger 2000: 123). Each of these findings increases the importance of adequate support provided for the birthing woman by outside trained women. However most women in the U.S. today do not employ doulas, nor do they compensate for this with other sources of adequate labor support. This lack of sufficient support during the birthing process often leads to increased fear and anxiety levels.

The lack of proper preparation, in terms of support, may be reflective of the overall fear-inducing lack of understanding and familiarity many U.S. women have with the birthing process. Knowledge is power after all, and if a woman feels powerful throughout her birthing experience, it is likely that she is embracing rather than fearing it. Unfortunately, the kind of hands-on knowledge about childbirth that is most helpful is something the majority of U.S. women lack. Most women in current U.S. society are not exposed to the birthing process, as was general practice in most traditional cultures (Arms 1996; Gaskin 2003). Rather, in the U.S., birth happens behind closed doors and the majority of women do not witness births before they themselves give birth. Kitzinger (2000) observes that if a woman “is having her first baby she has only the vaguest idea of how birth really feels and how other women cope. Birth is set apart from the rest of women’s lives and accepted as a matter of specialist knowledge” (8). Whereas once women possessed this “specialist knowledge,” the medicalization of childbirth polarized the birthing process, transforming it into a specific medical event and limiting legitimate birthing knowledge to medical professionals. Birth became something that was performed on women, rather than something that women performed, and along with this transformation the knowledge and experience of birthing was relegated to the confines of physicians and hospitals. Birth has been removed from its place in the realm of natural female experiences, and this removal has effectively denied generations of women the right to observe, participate in and fully understand the birthing process before they themselves experience it. It is a naturally occurring factor of the human psyche to fear the unknown, and through the scientific veiling of the birthing process, birth has been transformed into the unknown for the majority of U.S. primiparas.

Brain Scans and Brain Disorders / Reality Check

REALITY CHECK

Brain scans CAN identify:

  • Brain cancer
  • Damage to brain tissue or vessels, as well as skull fracture
  • Bleeding or blood clots in stroke
  • Some indications of Alzheimer’s disease

 

Scientific American article: By Simon Makin on July 1, 2013

Can Brain Scans Diagnose Mental Illness?

THE CLAIM: Mental illness can be diagnosed with brain scans.
THE FACTS: Currently the technique might be able to diagnose people with a single, unambiguous, chronic illness but not tougher clinical cases.

________________________________________________________________________________________

From VOX science & health

Brain imaging research is often wrong. This researcher wants to change that.

CLIP: The researchers shared their findings in 2009 as a cautionary tale: If you don’t run the proper statistical tests on your neuroscience data, you can come up with any number of implausible conclusions — even emotional reactions from a dead fish.

In the 1990s, neuroscientists started using the massive, round fMRI (or functional magnetic resonance imaging) machines to peer into their subjects’ brains. But since then, the field has suffered from a rash of false positive results and studies that lack enough statistical power — the likelihood of finding a real result when it exists — to deliver insights about the brain.

When other scientists try to reproduce the results of original studies, they too often fail. Without better methods, it’ll be difficult to develop new treatments for brain disorders and diseases like Alzheimer’s and depression — let alone learn anything useful about our most mysterious organ.

To address the problem, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation just announced a $3.8 million grant to Stanford University to establish the Center for Reproducible Neuroscience. The aim of the center is to clean up the house of neuroscience and improve transparency and the reliability of research. On the occasion, we spoke to Russ Poldrack, director of the center, about what he thinks are neuroscience’s biggest problems and how the center will tackle them.

Julia Belluz: The field of neuroscience seems to have a particular problem with irreproducible results — or studies that fail when researchers try to repeat them. What’s going on?

Russ Poldrack: I think there are some parts of neuroscience, like neuroimaging, that have a number of features that make it easier for practices to happen that can drive irreproducible findings. (Fudge!) Passive used to hide the fact that PEOPLE do this. This makes it sound as if some supernatural force is making it “just happen”.

When we do brain imaging, we’re collecting data from 200,000 little spots in the brain, which creates a lot of leeway for false positives, bias, and false negatives. If you don’t do the proper corrections — to address the fact that you’re doing a statistical test in each of those places — it’s very easy to find a highly significant result [that’s not actually real].

Then why do neuroscientist persist in using the same “test” design over and over again?  Could it be that “funders” such as Big Pharma and the “helping, caring fixing” industry find that false positives are highly profitable? How many children are being drugged with dangerous medications that can permanently alter “unfinished” and growing brains based on false diagnosis?

 

Magic Words / Read this: Neoteny – or Insanity?

Hello fellow Aspergers:

It’s not just “Wrong Planet” it’s 100% wrong that we’re considered the “same species” as neurotypicals. LOL

 

The University of New Hampshire has issued a Bias-Free Language Guide which identifies the word “American” as a problematic term which should not be used. Other problem words: “mothering,” “fathering,” “healthy,” “homosexual,” “rich,” “poor” and “senior citizen.”

The goal of the UNH Bias-Free Language Guide is “inclusive excellence”.

“American” is “problematic,” according to the UNH because it assumes the U.S. is the only country inside the continents of North America, South America and Central America — with the word “America” in their names.

Language users should say “U.S. citizen” or “resident of the U.S.” instead of American.

For skin color, speakers ought to say “European-American individuals” instead of “Caucasian.” The notion is that the concept of race “was designed to maintain slavery.” The word “black” for black people is okay, though.

The words “mothering” and “fathering” are forbidden because speakers must avoid gendering a non-gendered activity.

The words “healthy” and “handicapped” are “problematic.” The currently politically-correct terms are “non-disabled” and “a person who is wheelchair mobile.”

Using the words “rich” and “poor” is also wrong. Instead of “rich,” speakers need to say “person of material wealth.”  Instead of “poor,” say “low economic status related to a person’s education, occupation and income.”

“Homosexual” —? “Same Gender Loving” is correct.

The absence of gender-neutral bathrooms and locker rooms (and special housing) are “ciscentrism,” which is a “pervasive and institutionalized system that places transgender people in the ‘other’ category.”

“Senior citizen” is bad but “people of advanced age” is good.

Obviously, the words “illegal alien,” “manpower,” “freshmen,” “mailman” and “chairman” are never acceptable. From now on “foreigners” must be “international people.”

Included is a “Gender Pronoun Guide” for “nonbinary pronouns” such as “ze,” “zie” and “hir.” Such pronouns “are often used by trans, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people.”

The UNH guide to unfair and prejudicial words includes among its references a style guide from the American Psychological Association called Guidelines for Respectful Language. Another reference is the “Making Excellence Inclusive” from the American Association of Colleges and Universities.

Earlier this summer, the University of California system, under current-president Janet Napolitano, has been training faculty to avoid phrases that administrators claim are offensive, including the description of America as a “land of opportunity.” Other offensive phrases include, “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “affirmative action is racist.”

(RELATED: California Trains Professors To Avoid ‘Microaggressions’)

erico@dailycaller.com.

Microaggression

The UNC Chapel Hill guide — “Career corner: Understanding microaggressions”

Christmas vacations are microagressions because “academic calendars and encouraged vacations” which “are organized around major religious observances” centralize “the Christian faith” and diminish “non-Christian spiritual rituals and observances.”

The microagression of liking a woman’s shoes, “I love your shoes!” if said to a woman in leadership, is a very specific microagression. The problem, the University of North Carolina document declares, is that the shoe admirer values appearances “more than intellectual contributions.” Similarly, interrupting any woman who is speaking is a microagression.

Golf outings are also a microagression, the University of North Carolina says, because suggesting a “staff retreat at the country club” or even just “a round of golf” “assumes employees have the financial resources to participate in the “fairly expensive and inaccessible sport.” (Daily greens fees at the gorgeous UNC Finley Golf Club, range from $30 for students to $40 for professors and administrators.)

The words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” — as well as “husband” and “wife” — are microaggressions, because these words set “the expectation that people do not identify as LGBTQ until they say otherwise or disclose their sexual orientation.” The correct terms are now “partner” and “spouse.” (What a luxury to be Asperger: we’re born with immunity to neurotypical insanity)

Forms that only offer the options “male” and “female” are microagressions. It’s also a microagression to refer to men who dress up as women with the pronouns “he” or “him.” Still more microagressions cited by UNC Chapel Hill include complimenting a foreign-born person’s English skills; saying “I get ADHD sometimes” and telling a person that you don’t judge them by the color of their skin.

UNC Chapel Hill is home to a “cultural competency workshop” that claims that white people are privileged because they can buy Band-Aids “in their flesh color”.

 

 

Who doesn’t follow the guidelines? / Am. Psych Assoc.

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American Psychological Assoc.

Again we see “Magic Word Syndrome” – the belief that changing the words, changes reality, but that’s neotenic magical thinking – infantile expectation of supernatural control over other humans.   

Guidelines for Nonhandicapping Language in APA Journals

Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology

The use of certain words or phrases can express gender, ethnic, or racial bias either intentionally or unintentionally. The same is true of language referring to persons with disabilities, which in many instances can express negative and disparaging attitudes.

It is recommended that the word disability be used to refer to an attribute of a person, and handicap to refer to the source of limitations. Sometimes a disability itself may handicap a person, as when a person with one arm is handicapped in playing the violin. However, when the limitation is environmental, as in the case of attitudinal, (WOW! There’s a slippery slope!) legal, and architectural barriers, the disability is not handicapping—the environmental factor is. This distinction is important because the environment is frequently overlooked as a major source of limitation, even when it is far more limiting than the disability. Thus, prejudice handicaps people by denying access to opportunities; inaccessible buildings surrounded by steps and curbs handicap people who require the use of a ramp. Is it legitimate to reconstruct the entire human environment around every case of disability? Note that Aspergers are disabled by social environments. What if we demanded that the other 99% of the population reinvent their environments and behavior for us?

Use of the terms nondisabled or persons without disabilities is preferable to the term normal when comparing persons with disabilities with others. Usage of normal makes the unconscious comparison of abnormal, thus stigmatizing those individuals with differences. For example, state “a nondisabled control group,” not “a normal control group.”

I’m really impressed that the Autism Industry follows these guidelines!

The guiding principle for nonhandicapping language is to maintain the integrity of individuals as whole human beings by avoiding language that

  • implies that a person as a whole is disabled (e.g., disabled person) (Autistic)
  • equates a person with his or her condition (e.g., epileptic) (Autistic)
  • has superfluous, negative overtones (e.g., stroke victim) (Disordered)

For decades, persons with disabilities have been identified by their disability first, and as persons, second. Often, persons with disabilities are viewed as being afflicted with, or being victims of, a disability. In focusing on the disability, an individual’s strengths, abilities, skills, and resources are often ignored. In many instances, persons with disabilities are viewed neither as having the capacity or right to express their goals and preferences nor as being resourceful and contributing members of society. Many words and phrases commonly used when discussing persons with disabilities reflect these biases.

Listed below are examples of negative, stereotypical, and sometimes offensive words and expressions. Also listed are examples of preferred language, which describes without implying a negative judgment. Even though their connotations may change with time, the rationale behind use of these expressions provides a basis for language reevaluation. I don’t agree with much of what is suggested here, but the

HYPOCRISY in the “helping, caring, fixing industry” is appalling.

The specific recommendations are not intended to be all-inclusive. The basic principles, however, apply in the formulation of all nonhandicapping language.

Put people first, not their disability.

Most of this is beyond silly!

Comment: Preferred expressions avoid the implication that the person as a whole is disabled or defective.

Problematic Preferred
disabled person person with (who has) a disability
defective child child with a congenital disability; child with a birth impairment
mentally ill person person with mental illness or psychiatric disability

Do not label people by their disability.

Comment: Because the person is not the disability, the two concepts should be separate.

Problematic Preferred
schizophrenics people who have schizophrenia
epileptics individuals with epilepsy
amputee person with an amputation
paraplegics individuals with paraplegia
the disabled people with disabilities
the retarded children with mental retardation
the mentally ill people with a mental illness or psychiatric disability
the CMI or SPMI people with long-term or serious and persistent mental illness or psychiatric disabilities

Do not label persons with disabilities as patients or invalids.

Comment: These names imply that a person is sick or under a doctor’s care. (I’m glad we cleared that up.) People with disabilities should not be referred to as patients or invalids unless the illness status (if any) is under discussion or unless they are currently residing in a hospital.

Do not overextend the severity of a disability.

Comment: Preferred expressions limit the scope of the disability. Even if a person has a particular physical disability, this does not mean that the person is unable to do all physical activities. Similarly, a child with a learning disability does not have difficulty in all areas of learning nor does mental retardation imply retardation in all aspects of development. Chronicity in physical illness often implies a permanent situation, but persons with psychiatric disabilities are able to recover.

Problematic Preferred
the physically disabled individuals with a physical disability
the learning disabled children with specific learning disabilities
retarded adult adult with mental retardation
chronic mental illness long-term or persistent mental illness or psychiatric disability

Use emotionally neutral expressions.

Comment: Objectionable expressions have excessive, negative overtones and suggest continued helplessness.

Problematic Preferred
stroke victim individual who had a stroke
afflicted with cerebral palsy person with cerebral palsy
suffering from multiple sclerosis people who have multiple sclerosis

Emphasize abilities, not limitations.

Comment: The person is not confined to a wheelchair but uses it for mobility; a person is not homebound who is taught or who works at home.

Problematic Preferred
confined to a wheelchair uses a wheelchair
homebound child who is taught at home

Avoid offensive expression.

Problematic Preferred
cripple person who has a limp
deformed person with a shortened arm
mongoloid child with Down Syndrome
crazy, paranoid person with symptoms of mental illness

Focus on the right and capacity of people with disabilities to express their own goals and preferences and to exercise control over their own services and supports. (What a joke!)

Comment: In many instances, persons with disabilities are not given opportunities to participate in decisions regarding the services or supports they will receive as part of a treatment or rehabilitation program. Instead, they are viewed as requiring “management” as patients or cases, rather than as individuals with goals and preferences that should be taken into account.

Problematic Preferred
placement discussion of suitable and preferred living arrangements
professional judgment include a consideration of a person’s goals and preferences
patient management, case management care coordination, supportive services, resource coordination, assistance

Seeing people with disabilities as a resource and as contributing community members, not as a burden or problem. (What a joke!)

Comment: Discussions regarding the service needs of persons with disabilities and their families often use terms that define the individual as a burden or a problem. Instead, terms that reflect the special needs of these persons are preferable, with a clear recognition of the responsibility of communities for inclusion and support of persons with disabilities. (Blah, blah, blah!)

Problematic Preferred
family burden family supports needs
problem of mental illness or of the mentally ill challenges that people with psychiatric disabilities face
community support needs of individuals responsibilities of communities for inclusion and support

 

When Aspergers call neurotypicals stupid, this is what we mean

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…or try to start a conversation…

 

Part One: What Americans are forbidden to discuss, or even mention.

This taboo list makes it very clear why Americans know nothing about everything: How can one “get along” with people in other parts of the world, or even next door, when it’s forbidden to know anything about them? “Ignorance is bliss” – and dangerous

Neurotypicals, and without knowing it, take infinite pride in their robotic, puppet-like existences.

http://elitedaily.com By  Aly Batista

This weekend, I was in the presence of a grown man, with grown children, discussing these topics in public. Why? Why do you do this to yourself? There are certain things that no one should discuss in public.

Money / I don’t care if you have it or you don’t, you should never talk about money. Those who have money and talk about how much money they have are assholes. Those who actually have money, and do not flaunt it are the people that I love. The down to earth rich people are those who have my respect.

If you don’t have money, you really shouldn’t talk about money. It’s very uncomfortable for someone to say “I can’t afford” whatever it is you’re talking about. (Another human being’s poverty is embarrassing?)

Politics /  I’m very into politics. I actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world. However, it would have to be a very rare occasion for you to find out what my political party was or who I’m voting for in this upcoming election. Your particular views are your particular views, but discussing them in public when you know that most likely everyone around you has a different opinion will result in tension, and that, is rude. (Gee Whiz! Could this be why Americans are so extreme  in their politics? Again, how can working relationships in government ever come about if people are forbidden to talk about the fundamentals of running a nation?)

Sex / Everyone has sex, we all know what it’s like, you don’t have to tell me.

Religion / For the same reasons you should not talk about politics, you should not talk about religion. People begin wars and kill one another over conflicting religious views. Why would you discuss these things in public? You don’t know who out there is crazy. You could be having a conversation with someone you barely know about your religious views and next thing you know they’re flipping out, causing all this drama.

(?)The number of conferences called over Holiday Pageants in elementary school was ridiculous. Everyone should just avoid the possibility of starting an argument by never speaking about it.

Complaints / Everyone has problems; everyone has something going on in their life. Unless you are lying on a psychiatrist’s couch, do not talk about what’s plaguing your emotions. Don’t be the Debbie Downer. (How incredibly sad!) 

Part Two: What to talk about when forbidden to talk about anything substantive.

American Small Talk / From http://englishwithimpact.com

Tips for American Communication Culture

It may be called small talk, but it fills a huge space. Some internationals, or foreign professionals working in the USA, want to know how to be part of the casual and friendly conversation at work, the small talk. Not being part of the small talk might leave some people feeling, well, a bit small, which is to say left out of the conversation, and that’s not good. So what is there to do about it?

(Americans) talk a lot, and sometimes talk a lot about nothing that seems to be very significant or important.

Here are a few tips for becoming part of the conversation at work.

  1. Listen for something in the other person’s conversation or story that you can relate to in some way.
  2. Listen for anything that you could have in common with someone. If you find that you share a common interest, talk about it. Don’t ask what the point is in doing this. There doesn’t have to be a reason for it. If you want to be part of the conversation at work, the small talk, this is one way to do it. It could be pointless to talk about certain things to you, but to Americans it’s perfectly normal, and it’s their way of being social, being friendly, establishing rapport, and, in a way, cultivating good relationships. (Good relationships are shallow relationships)
  3. Listen for information gaps in what someone says. In other words, whatever anyone is talking about, take an interest in it and become curious. Ask a question or two. Ask for more information. Taking an interest in what your colleagues talk about and are interested in helps build good relationships at work, and it makes you part of the conversation. OMG!
  4. If someone is telling a story, listen for how you might be able to relate to it some way. Someone could be talking about something that they did, something that happened to them, something that someone else did, or something that happened to someone they know. If someone’s story reminds of something that has to do with you, or someone’s story calls to mind something you remember, then, maybe, you should talk about it. The key is that it has to be relevant enough in some way to what the other person is talking about. Become part of the conversation by letting your colleagues know, somehow, that you can relate to what they say.
  5. If someone talks about something that happened to them, then talk about how you can relate to it because something similar happened to you. Ask yourself this question: Does this person’s story remind me of anything in life that I can talk about? If the answer is yes, then listen for the “right time” to jump in and become part of the conversation. Be attentive to what’s going on in the conversation. Listen for pauses and breaks. These are cues to help you know when you can say something and be part of the conversation.

Here are a few more tips for becoming part of the conversation or getting into the small talk.

  1. Ask yourself what you can infer, or interpret, from what someone says. This might cause you to start sentences that begin something like this: 1) That must have been ___ 2) You must have been ___ 3) I’ll bet that ___ 4) I can imagine how that ___ 5) I can’t imagine how that ___ 6) I’m sure that ___. This tip might not be easy to understand at first. It requires some thought. OMG! Consider this an introduction to the idea.
  2. Listen for opportunities to express agreement. If someone says something you agree with, speak up and express your agreement. Talk about why you agree. Ask questions.
  3. And here’s one more tip for small talk. While complaining does not promote positive thinking or optimism, you will hear some people complain from time to time. It could be about the weather, the trains not being on time, their cell phone company, or anything. Listen to what people complain about. If you think or feel the same way about something, let them know. Even if you don’t think or feel the same way about something, then you can, at least, let people know you’re listening by saying something as simple as “Yes, I know what you mean.”  Or you could say, “Tell me about it.” Of course, this is not a request for someone to continue talking about what they’re complaining about. Saying “tell me about it’ just means that you understand what someone means and, maybe, you sympathize or empathize with what they’re saying, meaning you can relate to it in some way.

It takes practice and a little time, but if you listen and pay attention, you can become part of the conversation at work. And, by the way, if you’re American and you work with internationals, or foreign professionals, notice when people are quiet, or notice when they’re too quiet. It could be that they want to be part of the conversation but just don’t know how to start. Say something. Take it upon yourself to invite someone into the conversation. It’s not a lot of work, it doesn’t cost anything, and you’ll be helping someone. If you don’t do that already, do you think you can start?

One could make the argument that “Freedom of Speech” is wasted on Americans; there are millions of human beings around the world who would appreciate and utilize this privilege.