"Strength without a sense of direction leads to violence. Strength with a sense of direction is grace." —Matthew Sanford
For an unusual take on the mind-body connection, listen to our interview with Matthew Sanford, who has been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.
About the photo: A former patient of a Red Cross orthopedic center in Kabul, Afghanistan constructs a prosthetic leg as part of an effort to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims.
Photo by Kanishka Afshari/FCO/DFID
Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection ― or compassionate action.
—Daniel Goleman, from Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships
The Drawbacks of Putting a Price on Time
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Photo by Ofer Deshe/Flickr, cc by 2.0
The saying “time is money” may ask us to think carefully about the quality of our experiences, but the association of “time” with “money” can also diminish your ability to feel pleasure.
Researchers from the University of Toronto showed that, if participants thought about their income as an hourly wage, they felt as if they were wasting time while surfing the internet or listening to a pleasant song. The reasoning behind it? When there is no money to be made, we feel impatient doing leisure activities knowing that there is a price on our time. And when the scientists paid the participants for their leisure activity (for example listening to music), they didn’t feel as impatient about the experience, and thus enjoyed it more.
The authors conclude, “thinking about time in terms of money is poised to affect our ability to smell the proverbial roses.” And even the roses smell sweeter when we’re getting paid to do it.
How can we keep the urgency of the phrase “time is money” without losing our ability to value our (non-monetary) life experiences?
Our Twitterscript of Jean Berko Gleason Interview
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Wug graffitti on the street. (photo: Adam Albright/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
This week we interviewed Jean Berko Gleason, a psycholinguist who is now a professor emerita at Boston University, about how we learn and use the most valuable of skills: human language. She’s best known for her wug test experiment, revealing that children develop general systems to learn language.
We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Follow us next time at @BeingTweets and this Thursday, October 6th, look for the produced show via our podcast our on your local public radio station:
- For the next 90 minutes we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with psycholinguistics superstar Jean Berko Gleason. Join us! 1:27 PM Sep 27th
- Dr. Gleason’s famous “Wug” test forever changed our understanding of how humans learn language. 1:28 PM Sep 27th
- Professor Gleason settling in at the mic, asking Krista if it’s ok that she “doesn’t do religion.” 1:37 PM Sep 27th
- Dr. Gleason says her early experience translating her older brother’s speech (he had cerebral palsy) sparked her love for linguistics. 1:44 PM Sep 27th
- "Charles Darwin wrote notebooks of one of his sons and outlined how he acquired language." -Dr. Berko Gleason1:45 PM Sep 27th
- "Literacy, written language is a very late acquisition in terms of human evolution."-Jean Berko Gleason1:50 PM Sep 27th
- "It isn’t that kids learn language in bits and pieces, the children abstract the rules of the language in the same order." -Dr. Berko Gleason 1:55 PM Sep 27th
- "There’s a broad spectrum of belief of how kids come to, say, two wugs." -Jean Berko Gleason 1:56 PM Sep 27th
- "Your brain is not formed when you’re born, you have to build your brain." -Jean Berko Gleason 1:58 PM Sep 27th
- "Language develops by interacting with other people talking to you." -Jean Berko Gleason. 1:59 PM Sep 27th
- "Language development is a cooperative event, it happens between children and the people around them." -J. Berko Gleason 2:01 PM Sep 27th
- RT @GreggGraham: @Beingtweets But storytelling appears to be a human universal from the beginning. 2:02 PM Sep 27th
- "(to learn language) You need not just the cognitive stuff, but emotional underpinnings, you have to care about other people." -J.B. Gleason 2:02 PM Sep 27th
- "In the beginning language is there so we can say ‘mommy I want you.’" -Jean Berko Gleason 2:03 PM Sep 27th
- "Kids will use their own system at the stage that they are, they’re not (learning merely by) imitating you." -Jean Berko Gleason. 2:08 PM Sep 27th
- "A whole lot of creatures have complex and meaningful lives." J. Berko Gleason on sentience. 2:12 PM Sep 27th
- "We have this enormous connection to the living world that is reflected in our language." -Jean Berko Gleason 2:14 PM Sep 27th
- "Of the top 30 words that parents are calling kids’ attention to (‘look at the…’), 12 are animals." -Jean Berko Gleason. 2:18 PM Sep 27th
- "Undergrads should not just take business classes, but business classes plus Sansrkit. It has an affect on your for all your life." -Gleason 2:25 PM Sep 27th
- @WDET? @FightersDay: shoot I took Chinese Saturday School as a kid. How do I learn Sanskrit - where is a good school near Detroit (my city)? 2:28 PM Sep 27th
- "Different languages cut the world into different slices." -Jean Berko Gleason 2:52 PM Sep 27th
- "They are not talking, it is called jargon babbling" - Gleason on the viral twins video - http://bit.ly/gaojdQ 2:52 PM Sep 27th
- "It’s not just children who carry innate things. We come with a long history of being attached to other living creatures." -Gleason 2:53 PM Sep 27th
- "We’re innately predisposed to pay attention to little children. We’re not just watching babies unfold. We’re unfolding with them." -Gleason 2:55 PM Sep 27th
- "Human beings are able to reflect on their existence…for now that distinguishes us from other creatures." -Jean Berko Gleason 2:57 PM Sep 27th
- "I think people should be brave and take a chance and do what excites them." -Jean Berko Gleason’s advice to young people 2:59 PM Sep 27th
Belonging to Each Other in Our Darkness: I Am Lawrence Brewer, I Am Troy Davis
by Sarah Stockton Howell, guest contributor
"Love" by Christopher Brown (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Wednesday night at 11:08, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, a man widely believed to be innocent. A last-minute delay went to the Supreme Court, where a stay of execution was denied.
Meanwhile in Texas, another man was executed. There was no widespread outcry for the life of Lawrence Brewer. His horrific crime was one of which he boasted, one in which there was no doubt of his guilt. He “deserved” to die.
I was troubled by the preoccupation with the “too much doubt” that characterized the Troy Davis case. Not because I disagree with the emphasis; the fact that our government would sentence an innocent man to death — and, by the way, “since 1973, 138 people in 26 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence,” according to the Death Penalty Information Center — and then follow through on that sentence amid mounting doubt is appalling. A crime was committed in Georgia Wednesday night. One friend commented that the only physical evidence or weapon connected to the Troy Davis case was that used in the execution. That should make us shudder.
However, I found myself forced to wonder why we were comfortable executing Lawrence Brewer on the same night. The answer is obvious: Brewer committed and reveled in an unimaginably cruel hate crime, the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. I didn’t want to know about his crime, but when the phrase “I am Troy Davis” was splashed across various social media outlets, I felt like I had to add “I am Lawrence Brewer,” and I needed to know what I was really saying. Reading more about Brewer, I found a part of myself glad that he is no longer on this Earth. According to an article in The Huffington Post comparing the two death penalty cases, Brewer wrote a letter with these chilling words while in jail for Byrd’s murder: “Well, I did it. And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I’m still licking my lips for more.”
No one in their right mind wants this man on the streets. But it seems to me that part of the desire to shut away and then kill someone like Brewer is not only that we want to maintain public safety — it’s that we are afraid to acknowledge what we have in common with him. We do not want someone like Brewer to be human because we do not want to see ourselves in him. I do not want to identify myself with a white supremacist whose racism led him to torture and murder a black man. It is easy for me to say that I would never commit such a crime, but what really separates me from Brewer?
"It Is Finished" by Christopher Brown (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” This quote gets used a lot of the time to highlight the nice things about human community and relationships, the ways in which we can and should build one another up and take care of one another. That is absolutely right, but it seems to me that in this broken world, if there is ever going to be healing and reconciliation, we must admit that we belong to each other not only in our goodness but also in our darkness.
The reason that history continues to go through cycles of violence, even genocide, is that we continuously (and with good reason!) distance ourselves from the perpetrators of horror, so much so that we fail to recognize those same impulses in our own hearts. We condemn German citizens who did nothing while Jews were rounded up and murdered in their midst, and yet we allow men to be killed by the state, systemic injustice to deny basic healthcare to the poor, suspected terrorists to be held and tortured with no evidence but their ethnicity or nationality in the name of homeland security, and unjust wars to be waged abroad by soldiers with no resources to deal with the repercussions of taking a human life.
Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun and anti-death penalty activist (and the character portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the movie Dead Man Walking) said, “The profound moral question is not, ‘Do they deserve to die?’ but ‘Do we deserve to kill them?’” I am reminded of John 8:7, where Jesus challenges the men accusing a woman of adultery: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
I am not advocating lawlessness and disorder. But, innocent or guilty, no human being should have their life taken by the state. We need to acknowledge the inhumanity of the death penalty as being the very thing we are trying not to see in ourselves when we wash our hands of the humanity of someone like Lawrence Brewer.
I have to point out the reactions of each victim’s family to these two executions. The family of James Byrd, Jr., whose body was mercilessly mutilated by Lawrence Brewer, who was unrepentant to the last, begged the courts not to kill him. But the family of Mark MacPhail, whom Troy Davis is accused of killing, welcomed his death, feeling that justice had been served.
I was 14 years old on 9/11. I watched our country’s sense of security crumble with those towers. I still cry almost anytime someone talks about 9/11. And yet, I have never feared terrorists. I do not worry about my safety when I travel. I have caught myself looking at Middle Eastern people with curiosity that borders on suspicion, but I have never really been concerned that he or she is a terrorist or would harm me in any way. What I do fear is that darkness that lies in the human soul, in my own soul, that darkness that leads people like the MacPhails to see death as a victory, that causes crowd members at a GOP rally to cheer when Rick Perry is asked about the record number of executions that have taken place in Texas during his term as governor. I do not fear people like Brewer. I fear the part of me that wants to cheer at Brewer’s death.
As a Christian, I believe that there is only one death in all of history that constituted a victory. If we celebrate any other human death — even the death of Osama bin Laden — we have, indeed, forgotten that we belong to each other, and until our memory is restored, we will have no peace.
I am Troy Davis. I am Lawrence Brewer. May God have mercy on my soul.
Sarah Stockton Howell is a student at Duke Divinity School and regularly blogs at The Fast I Choose.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
The better we understand human psychology and neurology, the more we will uncover the underpinnings of religion. Some of them, like the attachment system, push us toward a belief in gods and make departing from it extraordinarily difficult. But it is possible.
We can be better as a species if we recognize religion as a man-made construct. We owe it to ourselves to at least consider the real roots of religious belief, so we can deal with life as it is, taking advantage of perhaps our mind’s greatest adaptation: our ability to use reason.
—J. Anderson Thomson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Clare Aukofer, a medical writer, have struck a nerve with their op-ed "Science and Religion: God Didn’t Make Man; Man Made Gods" in Monday’s Los Angeles Times.
Like the authors, I marvel at the advances and insights brought about by recent DNA research and neuro-imaging studies. How these findings help us better understand the psychological and physiological underpinnings of our predilections of religious belief is of great value. Perhaps this could help us understand people of other cultures and religious traditions better.
But, I thought we were past the “God is dead” argument. So why do the authors insist that people can “make departing” from innate religious impulses “possible” rather than embracing our physical and mental adaptions. Our ability to use reason may be a wonderful complement to ask the spiritual questions that elevate our transcendent natures rather than ground them all the time in practicality.
And, perhaps, Thomson and Aukofer’s use of divisive statements such as “religion hijacks these traits” makes religious believers the “out-group” and atheists who rely on reason the “in group.” Even as this non-believer writes this post, I sense that the dichotomy of the two poles is a false one that ignores all the other wonderful adaptations that may make us mere mortals and extravagant beings. Let’s have a more inclusive conversation that uses science as an instrument of understanding rather than a blunt object to make others wrong.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
New research reports a key part of the brain apparently atrophies more rapidly in Catholics and born-again Protestants, the result of the cumulative stress that comes with being a member of a religious minority.
When Choice Means Different Things to Different People: Sheena Iyengar on Sources of Control
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
"It depends on how you define control. If you define control as ‘I will entirely write my script,’ that could be one way of thinking of having control. Another way to think about having control is to say ‘Look I was given this script, and I executed it with great aplomb.’ And there’s nothing to say that that means you don’t have control, it’s just a different kind of control."
Sheena Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University and author of The Art of Choosing, has come to view cultural and religious rules as “life scripts.” She says they are empowering rather than stifling. In Krista’s interview with her earlier this year, Sheena Iyengar describes her journey to this revelation.
In the audio above (download mp3), she starts by describing a study that shows that religious followers are less depressed than atheists. Sheena Iyengar then talks about another study that demonstrates most Asian children are more motivated and performed tasks better when their mothers made choices for them, whereas the converse is true for most Anglo-American children: they were more motivated if they were able to choose the task themselves.
And, she explains that her interest in examining culture’s role in choice was especially informed by her own Sikh background.
Here, for example, she discusses whether an arranged marriage, such as that of her parents, is in fact devoid of choice. You can listen to the clip to the left (or download the mp3) of this portion of their conversation as well, and then share with us examples of how your culture has influenced your view of choice.