Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Virus of the Mind ~ Richard Brodie

We’ve been shaken out of the magnolias.”  

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I’ve always been particularly fond of that line, from Watch on the Rhine.  Quoted it just the other day to an older friend.  Spoken near the very end of the film, it’s my favorite moment in one of my favorite films.

That’s how I felt – in a positive way – after reading Richard Brodie’s, Virus of the Mind, about six years ago.  It was only today that I realized Richard Brodie did with memes what I hope to do with helping people of all ages live as expansively as possible – he doesn’t set himself up as the great expert, nor does he set out the scientific whys & wherefores of memetics, but simply raised my awareness that they exist & impact my life.  Profoundly.  His book made me look at everything in a fresh new light. 

How to describe a meme?  Whether working at Bryn Athyn Church School, US Healthcare, Prudential, BISYS or with older friends, my work has always involved doing what I can to directly influence individual & group memes.  Back then, we called it “branding.”  Looking back, it’s clear my job as a teacher, a physician liaison, a writer, an account executive all shared a common thread – creating an image/belief in the minds of one that would spread to many.  Aka – a meme. 

A meme is defined as “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The root comes from the Ancient Greek term mimeme, which implies cultural phenomena.  Although the word is often used to describe catch-phrases, popular music & basically anything currently trending, it goes way beyond the hottest new thing going viral on YouTube or sweeping through the Internet & into general culture.

Realized – with a shock – that my brain was host to endless images of others, particularly of myself, that had been wired into my mental circuitry through childhood & early adulthood.  Realizing that freed me to step back, look at the memes that had been running countless programs that had little if any relation to reality, and reconsider.  It gave me the space to reevaluate, reconsider & reconstitute, where necessary, all of my fundamental beliefs.  Actually, all of them – period.

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Virus of the Mind is a book for all ages.  Including my older friends in Late Adulthood.  Maybe especially.

For those seeking fresh perspectives, it can help them see how words formed our concepts which evolved into every sort of belief & ideal, 99.99% of the time without our awareness.   

Take a moment to think about your own birth family, the image & story that surrounds each member.  In our family, the most powerful meme was that Peter & Mim were the smart ones, while Mike & I were the social ones.  If I hadn’t read Brodie first, it’s possible I would never have realized that Mike & I were both social AND bright.  We never excelled because we believed the meme & never gave schoolwork our full effort.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was how a variety of messages were processed by a spectrum of others.  BUT, realizing that in my mid-50s helped me step past a clearly unproductive meme AND embrace a new, positive, empowering one. 

Let me repeat that – in my mid-50s.  And it didn’t really set in until a couple years ago, in my early 60s!  I belief that adults of any age would get a lot out of  Virus of the Mind.  

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Over the years, one constant in my life is my surprise at how often older friends, especially significantly older ones, seem more aware of the existence of life patterns than youngsters under sixty.  My bet is they would get as much from reading Virus of the Mind in their 80s & 90s as I did in my 50s & 60s.  Maybe far more than me, it might help them make better sense of not only global & national events (particularly politics!), but also what makes me tick. 

Maybe they’ll be shaken out of their magnolias, too.  Maybe, like me, their blooms will be better than they could dare dream.

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originally posted on

Friday, March 13, 2015

appropriate guilt - How To Be An Adult

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Fear has a use, anger has a use - even guilt has a use.  Although I would use the term regret in lieu of guilt, or at least appropriate guilt.  

How many times have you ever heard guilt used as a positive?  Okay, am willing to see David Richo's point that appropriate guild is our natural, healthy response to going against what we know to be right, act contrary to our integrity.  It is supposed to be experienced, acted upon, and released.  NOT held onto for all time!

Fascinated that David describes guilt as a belief or a judgment, not a feeling.  "Appropriate guilt is a judgment that is self-confronting & leads to resolution.  Neurotic guilt is a judgment that is self-defeating & leads to unproductive pain."  Resolution, reconciliation, restitution & accountability are associated with the first; punishment - our own or another's - & blame with the second.

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While none of us are immune to neurotic guilt, we can be on the alert, to know the difference between it & appropriate guilt.  Guilt that hangs around, makes us feel badly - especially about ourselves, seems endless is neurotic.  On the other hand, appropriate guilt is temporary, vanishing after we admit what we did, stop doing it, make appropriate amends, then affirm in words & action that we won't do it again.  

It helped my mother to realize - almost 70 years later - how deeply she felt she'd let her father down by not saving his life.  She was ninety years old, but still part of her was experiencing his death through the perspective of a teenager.  If she hadn't been swept so unexpected with waves of guilt over his death, she wouldn't have realized how long she'd held onto that bottomless grief & irrational sense of responsibility.  She was able, finally, to go through the steps & release the guilt, although never the sadness.

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An NCIS episode from Season 11 touched on the sadness that can come from guilt & a beautiful way it was resolved.  I'd recap it here, but would hate to ruin a excellent story well-told & acted.

In preparation for seeing The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I popped a double bowl of popcorn & settled down with John to watch our video of the first.  It also features a story of life-long, misplaced guilt that's tenderly resolved.

Both stories dealt with neurotic guilt, ultimately released.  How wonderful it would be if we all had such a wonderful outcome.  I think about my mother, who carried the guilt of her father's death with her to almost the very end of her own life, a guilt she didn't consciously realize was an acid in her heart.  

Neurotic guilt loves drama & nourishes it.  Our best defense against it to remember that there is use in feeling accountable, but none in placing or taking blame.  Blaming self or others can feel good, very drahhhmatic, but leads nowhere.  

Mantra time - admit, amend, affirm; admit, amend, affirm;  admit, amend, affirm.  And feel the release!

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Atul, YouTube and "Failure & Rescue" - BLISS!

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Not simply another "must-read" New Yorker article by Dr. Atul Gawande - a YouTube video of him presenting his 2012 Williams College commencement speech at that fall's New Yorker Festival! 

Why the "must-read" designation?  As Atul points out, what is true for hospitals is true for all of us - failure seems less tied to how well we initially handle situations using knowledge acquired in schooling, training received on our jobs, and more on turn situations around when things go sour.  The medical term for this is "failure to rescue," a term coined by researchers at the University of Michigan.

The Michigan researchers discovered that hospitals with the best outcomes didn't do a better job at minimizing risks & keeping things from wrong, Their post-surgery complications rates were practically on par with other hospitals.  Where they stood out was in rescuing patients after a complication.  They're better at rescuing patients who took a turn for the worse.  

As Atul put it, "More than anything, this is what distinguished the great from the mediocre. They didn’t fail less. They rescued more."
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Atul succinctly captures something I'd love to share with youngers striving with such love & devotion to help aging loved ones experience a life as full & rewarding as possible, with oldsters striving to stay engaged with all that is around them.  We can't avoid calamities, but we can stay focused on doing all we can to turn them around.  

As the Michigan study showed, success isn't in the ability to avoid risk & calamity, but in how we respond when risks kick in & a good outcome turns bad, in our ability to keep moving forward.

(originally posted on older2elder)

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URGENT - The Age of Dignity

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Whatever your age - early 20s or late nineties, pushing the big 5-0 or past 100 - buy or borrow a copy of Ai-Jen Poo's, The Age of Dignity Clear & to the point, it focuses on opportunities to turn around our culture's current dunderheaded attitudes, practices & policies affecting aging.  

Get it.  Get it now.  Read it.  Discuss it with friends.  

Its timing freaks me out, in the best sort of way.  Ai-Jen has the experience & gifts to say what's been pinging around my heart for the past few years - that this moment in time presents remarkable opportunities to shake things up in ways that will benefit everyone - the aging (i.e. all of us), the physically dependent, the elderly, their families & loved ones, caregivers, our economy.  

What are you doing, still reading this post?  Run out to your local book store or order it online, but GET IT!  Get it NOW!  And share with us what you think about it. 

(originally posted on older2elder)

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Fourteen Friends Guide to Eldercare

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One great essential for helping spearhead change is to have A Great Idea.  A Great Idea whose time has come.  Alas, .The Fourteen Friends' Guide to Eldercaring was printed in 1999, 15+ years before its time.  With Ai-Jen Poo's just-published The Age of Dignity climbing best seller charts, hopefully this earlier gem will go into reprint, because it's a perfect companion read.  Better yet, now that they are in their 70s, the friends should update it!  

Confession:  I've only gotten about 30 pages into the book.  But already it has proven to be a treasure, a must-read book for all ages, from teens to octogenarians & beyond.  

The fourteen friends all graduated from the Yorktown High School, Class of 1962, but some have been buddies since primary school!  Every year, they reconnect for a week, celebrating friendship & sharing experiences advice expertise.  

One year, someone came up with the idea - let's write a book.

These are women I can relate to, making no pretense to any formal training in geriatrics or institutional elder care, but wise beyond what most specialists can offer.  Their great strength is their range of hands-on, heart-touched experience, offering real-life stories rather than empirical statistics.  

Sitting at my customary Thursday morning table at Hatboro Dish, tucking into the best french toast (sorry, Mom), with my constantly refilled coffee cup close at hand, kept smiling & nodding, reading their different tips suggestions stories.  Having been through the crucible of elder care, it was especially satisfying to see how the ladies treated the reader as one of their own, providing lots of lined journaling pages for notes memories stories.  

Stories stories stories - that is the soul of this book.  Not study-based data or scientific treatise or high-fallutin' expertise - stories & the lessons learned by from through them.
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So far, the only bone I have to pick with the friends is that while they present simple, direct & effective "best practice" ways to approach elder care, being simple & direct isn't always going to turn out well.  Yes, it is ideal for families to provide mutual, if not equal, support when parents or other loved ones need a little TLC or a lot of care.  The reality is that all sorts of real & imagined, overt & covert barriers often hamstring families, making it impossible for them to talk about, let alone share, support for the loved ones & various caregivers.  

A lot of memories - most of them happy, all of them educational & ultimately inspiring - have been stirred over the past 24 hours.  The majority of the friends still live in or near Northern Virginia.  My first 2015 conference is in Falls Church.  Will I do everything possible to connect with at least one during my stay in Falls Church?  You betcha.

Stay tuned! 

(originally posted on older2elder)

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entering No Drama Zone! - How To Be An Adult

Hands - how many were raised to believe anger is BAD?

A lot of people still are.  In my parents' day, it was a given that anger was a sign you were out of control, even that the hells had filled your heart.  

The reality is that anger has a use.  Feeling it rising gives a heads up that something is amiss.  Problems with anger happen when get swallowed in its drama.

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It was startling how much better my relationship was with Mom after we reviewed David Richo's breakdown of True Anger v. Drama - together.  Helped my relationship with John when we did, too!  Reading the comparisons, discussing them & our personal experiences changed our understanding of & relationship with anger, how we related to it & to each other.

Drama is frightening, meant to silence others.  It blames others for our own feelings.  It's out of control, even when it seems like its not.  It represses true feelings - our own & others'.  It creates stress, holds onto resentment, vents frustration.  

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On the other hand, True Anger informs us about something that disturbs us.  It can contain sadness or disappointment, but these are acknowledged.  True Anger takes responsibility for whatever feelings it brings up.  It asks for change without requiring it.  Rather than holding on until it brews into resentment, True Anger is brief, released, with a sense of closure.  While Drama demands others acknowledge it's justified, True Anger needs no response.

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Because the person is focused on hearing & understanding rather than being acknowledged as being right, True Anger is never belligerent infuriated indignant.

David calls anger a secondary emotion, masking another feeling, such as sadness or fear.  Unlike Drama, True Anger never masks those feelings.  

You can't hold onto True Anger, because once it is expressed, it is released.  Drama keeps replaying whatever brought up the original anger, often morphing it into something totally unrecognizable.  

Am remembering long-ago talks with Mom about anger, how it felt caused by an event, but was actually rooted in our belief or interpretation of what happened or said.  

It was powerful to realize that both of us had thought everyone responded to a same situation with the same emotions.  If something makes me angry, it must make others angry too.  

Not necessarily.  Yet it felt so right, so good to lay that assumption on others.  We talked over hot tea & generously buttered cinnamon bread about how different people experience the same thing in different ways.

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That was a radical thought for Mom, who assumed that the way she viewed things would naturally be the way others would too.  This new information about True Anger & Drama gave her pause.

So much happened in my mother's life that would make any of us disappointed frustrated.  For most of her life, she responded in the only way that made sense - with denial repression suppression.  It helped her cope with doing what she deeply believed needed to be done.  

Psychologists & counselors might say that of course Mom had the ability, even the responsibility to feel the anger & constructively express it, but I could totally understand why she never had - the person on the receiving end would never have been able to process it.  So, she stuffed it down, slapped on a smiley face, and forged ahead.  

Am forever happy that in the last few years of her life, Mom was able to feel sadness disappointment frustration, experience them as True Anger, and work with it rather than deny them.  Pretty darned WOW if you ask me!

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

three little words - How To Be An Adult

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For examples of the havoc wreaked by fear, no need to look any further than my own family.  And no further than my John for the blessed oil that soothes the soul troubled by fear!

My oldest brother is utterly focused on producing perfect results in all he does, all the time.  Anything less than perfect is unacceptable.  Perfection or nothing.  Naturally, since perfection is as rare as Alexandrite, not much luck in producing hoped-for outcomes!  

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Even the most casual observer can see my brother's life seems put on permanent hold.  Not by his desire to achieve perfection, which could spur him to do incredible things as he strives for his goal, but by fear of anything less, which keeps him at a virtual standstill.  The result of insisting on perfection, rejecting anything less, is that you do nothing.  The fear engulfs rationality need action.  

Contrast that with my John.  The first time I made some glib, offhand remark about seeking perfection in something or other, my beloved said those words forever engraved on my heart, "Perfection equal paralysis."

Did my jaw actually drop, or did it only feel that way?

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ZOWIE!  Three little words from John that made my heart zing almost as much as "I love you."   Paralysis caused by the FEAR of anything less, the opposite of the kick in the butt of authentic inspiring desire.  

Where it once frustrated me, my brother's heartbreaking expectation only makes me feel deep compassion for such a tortured view of what we are put in this body, in this life, on this planet & at this time to do.  

Making perfection part of a complex marking system - rather than simply doing the very best you can - is a devastating example of negative excitement.  Rather than seeing himself shackled to an impossible expectation, my brother took immense pride in only accepting perfection.  

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As I learned from David Richo, negative excitement fuels our ongoing drama, boosts our energy level, and gives a sense of purpose, however false.  Perfection is right at the top of the list of crippling negative excitement, feeling so good & creating such misery.  It's rooted in, creates & embodies fear.  Perfectionism is high octane for ongoing drama, fills us with a sense of soaring great purpose, while blinding us to the reality we're at a full stop.  Insistence on perfection is more than "the enemy of great" - it's the enemy of acceptable & good, of mediocrity & instructive failure.  

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John is right - it does mean paralysis, keeps anything from being done - inferior, acceptable, good or great.  Praise be I married a man of few, but insightful words!  

Fear is the very essence of negative excitement, the dark heart of the belief that only perfection is acceptable.  Love - embodied in my John - is its opposite.  Love liberates includes supports.  

Connecting to the love I feel for - instead of  frustration with - my brother has opened wonderful opportunities to connect with him, without getting wigged out if things don't go perfectly.  

Peter, here are the three little words that truly empower life - I love you.  Where our relationship once felt paralyzed, now it's free to be whatever blessed imperfection it is! 

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