2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day – Could you call it progress?

Progress is defined as a concept including the improvement of human condition, “the development of an individual or society in a directpoverty_146592980ion considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level” (Thedictionary.com). However, many people equates progress with modernization. That is why construction, road projects and in general, technological advances plus a wider access to such advances are used to measure the “progress” of a group, region or nation. But I consider this is a limited view of what  true progress is.

A holistic concept of progress should include not just the material but the immaterial aspects of life. I would see it as progress if I saw more joyful people on the streets, fewer anxious people, less rush. I would believe it is progress when more people had access to preventative physical and mental health. When fewer people had the need for consuming alcohol and other substances as prescription for fun… or to relax. When there was more compassion and real team work and cooperation; more of a sense of collectivism and less individualism; less greed and more detachment.

But when we look around we find that in the midst of astounding advances there are still homeless people in the streets (only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations): on one end of the spectrum we find a little more than a handful of billionaires, while on the other end about 1,200 million people live in extreme poverty, trying to survive with a fixed income of a dollar a day (according to the WB) and lacking shelter, food, access to health or education. The World Bank calculates close to 2,800 million people living with less than US$2 a day. And when we look at this reality, could we really talk about progress?

To calculate progress, statisticians use comparatives, like, “How did people live two centuries ago?” “How does the quality of live in different countries or regions compare?” The first thing we find is that social inequality has grown exponentially. The gap is enormous. By the beginning of the 20th century, the statistics show, the difference in the per capita rent between rich and poor countries was 10 to 1. Today it is 60 to 1. The concentration of wealth shows us there is a large section of the world population left behind when a few others are becoming extremely rich.

And the above numbers refer only to income. Add to that picture a lack of access to clean sources of water, education or health services.

And, could we truly talk about progress when depression and anxiety multiply as mental health symptoms of unhappiness? About 75 per cent of Americans have taken antidepressants and/or meds for anxiety sometime in their lifetime. Some of them unnecessarily, just because they were feeling sad or anxious, not necessarily depressed.

How could we talk about progress when the number of suicides in a country considered the kingdom of opportunity, one of the most industrialized countries, with a commitment to the “pursuit of happiness)” with no wars in its territory, increased a 25 percent in the past 15 years (according to CDC)?

When preventable conditions have skyrocketed, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, could we claim we’re progressing? I don’t think so; these conditions clearly point to a deterioration of our lifestyle… as we move away from nature, our diets are less organic, more artificial; our air and water are contaminated; our exposure to electromagnetic fields and x-rays increases with the risk of illnesses.

It cannot be progress when the percentage of deaths due to opioids and codeine have tripled in the past 15 years. But the most telling symptom against the idea that we are progressing is that we live in an era where terrorism is rampant and racism and discrimination are starting to bloom again.

Maybe we should include among our New Year resolutions to adopt healthier lifestyles, waste less and be more compassionate, empathetic and friendly.

Happy holidays!

 

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Let’s stop terror with love

These are of course, days to reflect on the recent tragic events.

News have identified  Tunician Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as the driver who drove a truck into people celebrating Bastille Day July 15, in Nice, killing at least 84 people.

After Nice, as it was after last June’s Orlando killings, or after any massacre perpetrated anywhere in the world, I feel confused, terrified, pondering how can a human being become so insensitive to human life. I strive to understand what intense pain, fear, anger or desperation existed in the heart of the assassins that led to planning and executing these barbaric killings.

Terrorists only purpose is to dominate by planting fear, that’s their real weapon. Terror expands compromising everybody’s health, safety, trust and lives in general. We’re collectively traumatized, we don’t feel safe any longer. Even silence and apparent indifference could be the result of terror… It’s more comfortable to hide, ignore, distract the pain with trivial endeavors, or adopting new addictions to stop mulling about what happened. However, I feel, something breaks inside… we’re left broken and incomplete. Our faith in humanity is shaken. What’d be the future of this planet?

While people who blindly support bigots and tyrants, might feel these tragedies are one more reason to hate, repress, build walls, divide, I feel, and wish that those who are not so blind will also see, tragedy is only one more reason to love. Love is the only thing that can heal and save the world.

Let’s become better friends, but not only Facebook-kind of friends. Let’s truly care, connect and express concern for each other. Let loved ones know that we stand there for them.

Let’s learn better ways to supporting each other, to come closer together, to understand each other, to forgive each other. Let’s remember that we’re all made of the same (stardust) stuff, we share the same essence; that when we are saying “we’re one” it is not just a snobbish slogan. Let’s make room again for poetry and laughter and joy.

But more than anything, let’s take responsibility for what’s going on in the world, by leading meaningful lives and not just this silliness infused by consumerism. Let’s appreciate life above stuff; let’s honor the planet and respect our bodies; let’s stop bigotry and hatemongering, which on the long run lead to these tragedies.

Let’s unite to stop terror.

Enough is enough: no more lies about vitamins and antidepressants

Regain Body Wisdom

AntiDepressants-FE01-wide-horizontalI was not surprised when three recent studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested people are wasting their money on multivitamins and minerals to no avail.

“In conclusion, β-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful. Other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases (…) supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.” (Annals)

Pharmaceutical companies such as Baxter (Oneaday multivitamins) or Pfizer (Centrum) haven’t precisely proven impeccable ethics or that they truly work for the benefit of their clients.

Instead, they have excellent lobbying, public relations and marketing skills. They have pushed vitamins on us for decades, convincing the public…

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The intelligent immune system

Sports-Nutrition-runner
Living healthy can prevent almost any illness. Healthy environment, diet and stress reduction strategies are key to health.

Fifty years ago, we knew little about the immune system. Back then, only a handful of illnesses were classified as autoimmune conditions where the immune system doesn’t recognize proteins normally present in the body and attacks its own cells. Today, researchers have found that autoimmune responses explain about at least 10 percent of the diseases that affect the planet’s population; among them, diabetes (type I), lupus, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, to name only the most common ones. But other conditions such as ulcerative colitis and even schizophrenia are possibly linked to autoimmune responses. Furthermore, coronary disease has been related to the efficiency of the immune system in clearing up plaque deposits in the arteries of the heart.

By the end of the 19th century, when vaccines were invented, Louis Pasteur discovered germs as the cause of many illnesses and later bodily reactions to specific microorganisms, like the tuberculosis Koch’s bacillus, were identified, confirming the existence within the body of the immune system. Initially, immunity was conceptualized as a defense army in charge of destroying an enemy, concept that reflects a predominantly martial mentality in society. Mainstream western medicine still holds this concept. However, a holistic approach will more accurately reflect the amazing immune system.

Researchers Koch and Pasteur inaugurated a craze where most illnesses started to be explained as caused by germs. In the early 1940s, viruses were found capable of generating illness, and the sixties and seventies saw a great boom in virology, when researchers tried to establish a causal relationship between viral infections and cancer. This causal relationship has however not been confirmed. In some cases, like the infection by papilloma virus (HPV) there seems to exist a strong correlation to cervical cancer in women. However, scientific evidence points to chronic inflammation (not the viral infection) as the precursor of cancer. Take into account that inflammation is modulated by the immune system and that our inflammatory response depends on our lifestyle.

Science has advanced  a great deal. Studies have established that human bodies continuously produce cancer cells but thanks to an immune system capable of recognizing misbehaving cells, cancer can be prevented. By isolating, reeducating and/or destroying those crazy cells, the immune system can keep us cancer free. A clear relationship between cancer and the immune system has thus been established. When the immune system is not working optimally, cancerous cell growth might go out of control.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, investigators have plunged into studying what exhausts the immune system, contributing very interesting insights into its multiple functions.

Beyond this concept of the immune system as an army that chases, confronts and destroys invaders, the immune system is a self-governing network that participates in the body’s learning process, and is responsible for both its molecular identity and the biochemical communication between organs. That’s why author Fritjov Capra deems it our second brain.

Different from other bodily systems, which are confined to a precise anatomic location, the immune network penetrates each tissue of the body. It is made of a number of tissues and organs (lymphatic organs) and specialized cells (lymphocytes and macrophages or white blood cells) that swim back and forth along the circulatory system during surveillance missions, gathering data to ensure the organism’s accurate functioning.

This extraordinary system learns and evolves with experience! From the moment we are born, the immune system learns how to react to unfamiliar agents. It learns to discriminate which molecular features typify bacteria that are usually not present in mammals. It also recognizes the body’s idiosyncratic proteins. Vaccines are developed based on the immune system’s capacity to memorize how to react to alien proteins.

There is also a kind of natural selection taking place in the thymus, where only T-cells (a specific kind of immune cells) that have learned to unite harmoniously with other cells in the organism can survive.

The thymus is one of the most important organs of the immune system. It is a small gland situated behind the breastbone (sternum) and is fundamental in shaping the way in which the body responds to infections. Half of the white blood cells, which originate in the bone marrow, go directly to the blood stream and interstitial fluids. But the rest of them have to go through the thymus where they become T-cells. These have three main roles: to stimulate the production of antibodies and other lymphocytes, to stimulate the growth and function of phagocytes that ingest and digest viruses and bacteria, and to identify foreign or abnormal proteins.

Many immune system organs function as gatekeepers. This is the case of the lymph nodes (in the neck, armpit and groin), the tonsils and the Peyer’s patches in the intestine. The lymphatic fluid, or lymph, goes through these customs checkpoints where lymphocytes capture particulate matter and microorganisms and decide if they should be granted admission to the system or not. Another lymphatic organ, the spleen, is in charge of recycling old and dysfunctional cells.

This amazing system only uses its defensive resources when facing a massive invasion of foreign agents.

Recent research shows that the brain, the endocrine glands and the immune system cooperate and share functions. Moreover, the borders that science had delineated between these systems start to blur, bringing opportunities for new understandings of the body’s functioning. Candace Pert used the term net to describe these systems, because their function encompasses a constant exchange, processing and storage of information. Most substances in charge of transmitting information in the body are peptides, and recent research has shown they are multifunctional; they accomplish different functions for different systems.

For example, the brain produces neuropeptides that are antibacterial precursors; the immune system has perceptual functions, and the endocrine system produces substances that work as neurotransmitters. Initially deemed exclusive to the nervous system, the neurotransmitters have also been found in the bone marrow, where the immune system cells are produced.

The three systems are thus, multifunctional. They form a network that exchanges, stores and passes on information, using peptide molecules as messengers. But, also, our physiology is modulated by emotions. Popular wisdom, which results from observations transmitted from generation to generation, has always correlated emotional stress with vulnerability to illness, and science has proven that our thoughts, mood and emotions influence the functioning of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems.

In a nutshell, science is telling us that we can regulate the production and efficiency of our inner messengers (peptides) by adopting healthy lifestyles. It’s telling us to eat healthy, have fun (to reduce stress) and exercise.

On Mothers, patriarchy and false expectations

When, many years ago, I read Funerales de la Mamá Grande by Nobel Prize García Márquez, the figure of the ‘Big Mama’ the “absolute sovereign of the Kingdom of Macondo” didn’t sound like a hyperbole to me. I had already lived in Colombian towns where mothers were idolized and motherhood overrated to extremes.

Idolization of the mother figure, presented as a glorification of the feminine, is rather an inheritance from patriarchal times. Overstretched images of female beauty or saintly motherhood, a strategy used to cover up oppression, has contributed to patriarchy burying women’s voices and dominating social action to the benefit of men and detriment of women.

The more I traveled and met people, the more I witnessed how among Hispanics, moms respond to the supermom myth by overdoing their maternal role. We don’t have to go very far to find the overprotective, the intrusive, the co-dependent or the abusive mothers. And maybe, because we were immersed in such culture, all of us bear at least traces of each of these. Mea culpa! I confess my sins.

Many Latino mothers’ lives revolve around their offspring, and their ‘care’ can become asphyxiating. Which explains why it’s not infrequent to find awfully dependent adult children in our culture.

We also often find mothers overwhelmed with guilt, blaming themselves for their children’s shortcomings, feeling pushed to behave up to impossible expectations about what motherhood ‘should’ be.

If we were to be totally truthful to ourselves, Mother’s Day could each year be the perfect timing to examine unfinished business with moms, assess our current relationship with them and even quit seeking the impossible ideal of a mother that only has existed in our minds.

‘Good-enough’ mothers

To help average moms overcome guilt and shame about not being perfect, English psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott coined the term “good-enough mothers” in 1953.

Those were the days when psychology research started to support earlier Freudian thoughts that interactions between mother and child during the early years were central to the development of the child’s inner world. Mothers, paralyzed with uncertainty about the extent to which their deficits could affect their brood, flooded pediatricians’ offices.

Providentially, psychology also discovered that it’s the frustrations stemming from mother’s impossibility to attend her child’s every need what challenges the child’s forcing him to adapt to reality.

So, in a way, what Winnicott was telling moms was: dare to err. Your children might even learn to appreciate those mistakes as opportunities to mature and grow!

I’ve seen mothers doing sacrifices that children should acknowledge and praise. Many mothers proffer unconditional love; their hearts healing from wounds caused by insensitive accusations or blaming by their offspring, made in a moment of rage.

No doubt. Exemplary women, who forgive faults that only their mother’s heart could forgive, also exist. And, yes, many moms are available when things go oops! for their children.

But there are also dark sides to this story.

‘Good children’ and ‘not good-enough’ mothers

Let’s take the times of the infamous Colombian narco Pablo Escobar, when sicarios justified horrible crimes as means to meet the terms of their ‘duties’ as good sons. They were determined to take their moms out of poverty. Sadly enough, many of these mothers gladly and gratefully or at least silently received dirty money not even asking where it came from, as if ignoring the truth would made the misdeeds right!

Studies showed that most of the above moms were awfully permissive. It’s difficult to believe that Pablo Escobar’s mother herself never thought of his son as a criminal.

History offers many cases of mothers who used their children for profit. Far from being ‘good enough’ mothers, these moms – maybe forced by poverty and lack of methods for birth control -exploited their children. This was common in the early days of industrialization, when parents gave up their 5-year-olds to sweatshops for survival. These children worked 16 hours in a row; tied with chains and whipped to force them work beyond their capacity.

Even to this day, millions of children are exploited or neglected and abused in the world.

Not all moms are created equal

It’s easy to see that motherhood is in no way the same for all moms. While some rave on their experience, others may have trouble bonding with their child.

Many women decide to hand on their child’s care on to another person so they can carry on with their careers. Some openly neglect their children out of lack of knowledge about their parental role, lack of energy, mental illness or deficient love. And there are even moms who consistently say and do terrible things to their children, scarring their lives forever.

But in all truth, we have all been marked in some way by our mother’s mistakes. Moms are human! They will never be up to our idealistic expectations.

The consequences of prizing maternity too highly

I wish that we could from an early age understand that mothers can’t (won’t) be perfect.

Myths about mothers that continue lingering in our society, on one hand promote adoration of mothers and on the other hand allow for all the blaming mothers take for the weaknesses and shortcoming of their offspring.

Another troublesome aspect of valuing maternity too high is that women who decide they won’t have children tend to be seen as unsuccessful by their peers. Pressure comes from their families and friends. The choice of not having children seems unbelievable in a world that thinks a woman finds realization in maternity.

Moving from the perspective of the ego to that of the soul

We’re multidimensional beings and as such, always spiritual… However, our consciousness resides or focego and souluses on this or another dimension. So, we say a truly spiritual person is that person who privileges the perspective of the soul over the perspective of the ego. (No, the ego cannot be eliminated… it has a purpose, it regulates our physical dimension, but sets us in fear when disconnected from the soul).

So here is what I think the differences are between the perspectives of the soul and the perspectives of the ego. In my view, if  the ego is kept on check, the soul will lead us to a life that is a lot more peaceful and fulfilling, with less drama.

TIME FRAME:

Being eternal, the soul has no sense of time and therefore is in no rush to experience or accomplish something. Since, it lives in the present, life is an adventure where every experience is welcome. Joy is the natural state of the soul. Love is the soul’s North.
Being vulnerable and finite, the ego rushes through life and has trouble living in the present moment. Being here, it wants to be there. The ego gives us the experience of  fear because it lacks faith in own capacity to create and survive hurdles.

SENSE OF SELF:

Being boundless and unattached, the soul has no sense of roots and property… therefore, for the soul, sharing is not an issue. Being alone is not an issue. Change is not an issue. Asserting needs and standing ground are just natural things to do to maintain healthy relationships. When the individual lives, sees life from the perspective of the soul, life is good. For the soul (and I think many people has it wrong) it’s okay to use the pronoun ‘I”… to share experiences, to teach, to support others. The soul uses it to say, “this is what has worked for me, you may want to try too” and not to say, “this is the way you should be doing things because I know better.”

For the ego, property is of the essence, as are boundaries. Owning “stuff” provides the ego with a sense of security.  I own, therefore I’m okay. 

The essence of the soul is freedom. Instead, possessiveness is not uncommon for the ego and it extends to ownership of land, water, animals and people… which the soul would never consider owning. The ego swings between extreme defensiveness and privacy to extreme fusion, dependency and symbiosis. From depression to grandiosity. An ego that is disconnected from the soul, experiences fear of losing what it has the illusion of possessing. For the ego, nothing is safe, we’re not enough, we don’t have enough.

SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG:

The soul can very well discern right from wrong but makes no judgment, condemns not. Understands that inhabiting the body makes individuals susceptible of making mistakes. Errors are mere stumbling stones, learning opportunities, moments that demand changes. Everyone deserves a second, a third and a fourth chance. Taking responsibility is not an issue for the soul. It’s ready to own its actions and consequences.

SENSE OF COMMON UNITY (or community):

Since the soul understands that we’re connected, parts of a whole, different aspects of the same universe, there is no point in competing. Adding and multiplying are better options than subtracting and dividing. The soul’s way to do things is by supporting each other, not by eliminating competitors. For the soul, there is no vertical ladder, we’re all in a horizontal path, each one standing on a different stretch of the path.

SENSE OF PRIDE:

Pride is overrated. Humility is overrated. The soul is proud of the opportunities found, of the goals reached, of the service rendered, of the impact loving actions might have on the lives of other people. Pride is not a sense of superiority because the soul has no sense of hierarchies. It’s a sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and it’s good.
Instead, for the ego, pride is grandiosity, an inflated sense of self and therefore, it is destructive. It is out of pride that bigotry, abuse, hate, despise, envy and greed are born.

Acknowledging natural need to learn in a knowledge-intensive world

By Silvia Casabianca

I have stubbornly differ from the idea that children need external motivation – to be rewarded, punished or pushed – in order for them to study and learn. Instead, I think, we should follow their lead and move our educational endeavors in the direction of the children’s interests. This – and not anxiety-eliciting strategies – would facilitate learning.

The late American author and educator John Holt said, “…the anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.”

Observe youngsters while, for example, playing video games.

Or watch them learning all they want about their favorite singers or sports idols. Children easily develop on their own the necessary knowledge and skills to compete with each other without any adult’s “motivation.”

Sadly, the need to socialize, fit in a group and develop the necessary skills to fulfill their psychological needs of admiration and respect are manipulated by the market.

Education should recognize that we have a natural need to learn and we learn about the things that matter to us, because it’s a matter of survival.

More so nowadays.

Survival of the fittest

Darwin’s notion that only the fittest survive can be applied to everything that humans do. Babies learn to sit down, roll, stand up, talk and walk without anybody needing to prompt them. Processes, characteristics and behaviors that develop across childhood can be explained by a combination of biological forces (nature) and environmental conditions (nurture).

An inherited genetic code determines phenotype (physical appearance), while family, sociocultural factors, nutrition and physical activity influence development.

We learn best what we can. Nature endows us with certain talents and abilities that facilitate specific learning, and the educational system should be offering the opportunity for all to develop those gifts.

Our performance and creativity would greatly improve if we could feel comfortable and confident doing what we’re doing.

The world is becoming knowledge intensive

I agree with late management guru Peter Drucker who has said, “From now on, the key is knowledge. The world is becoming not labor intensive, not material intensive, not energy intensive, but knowledge intensive.”

But you instinctively know that. You urge your child to get a high school diploma and then attend college because you are confident that he or she will find better job opportunities if they have an education.

You also know that when you’re looking for a job, your personal value to any employer depends on your experience and training, in other words, on your knowledge.

But high-stake testing, that pushes students to devour and memorize content because college admission is contingent to SAT scores and grade point average (GPA) is not helping.

Are educators aware of the level of anxiety these tests create? Of the possible relationship between tests, fear of failure and aversion to school?

A child is by nature an explorer

Babies first explore the world by putting things within reach on their mouth. Then they crawl away and continue exploring by grabbing objects from the floor, they taste them, bang them, throw them trying to understand what they are about.

Infants learn to sit and stand up by a repetitive process of trial and error. Testing behaviors that give them –hopefully- what they want mark their interactions with people.

I believe we are to blame for spoiling the natural tendency of the child to explore the environment and learn from it.

We hush them down

With few exceptions, the three-year-old kid’s exciting whys from cute turn into a nuisance (‘cause we’re busy talking about “more important matters”) and we soon get tired of answering the endless stream of questions. We hush them down.

Then we go and nanny them with cartoons that start modulating their behavior (‘cause we’re busy doing “more important things”). And when they go to school, we basically tie them to the chair and demand focused attention.

Their particular interests are deemed a distraction in the class. We forget that all roads lead to Rome.

Curiosity could lead to learning opportunities

I once pictured a school where the kindergarten teacher would be wise enough to allow the child to run after the colorful butterfly strayed in the classroom.

Then the teacher could use the butterfly as a nice excuse to explain forms and colors, proportions, aerodynamics, gravity and symmetry (among other basic math and physics principles) in a natural and understandable way. And she could ask the children to make a drawing of the insect so that they could learn to express and represent the world in which they live.

But unfortunately our teachers are usually more concerned about complying with the school’s curriculum and methodologies that are mostly based on millenary scholastic theories. It’s not their fault; it’s a matter of survival for them too. In my experience innovative teachers who follow their instinct end up clashing with the system and losing their jobs.

Never before the ability to learn has been so important for people to survive in our increasingly complex, brain-based and technological economy. I don’t think that our society can be up to the challenge without seriously reforming education.