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!



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.

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.

Keeping up

artfest Lalicich People for saleThe Internet has changed our world completely. To know that you can so easily have access to current news or past history, that you can consult a dictionary, use a calculator, connect with friends living 4 or 5 thousand miles away… you can’t deny there is a certain magic to all this. Today someone posted a picture of a newborn of Facebook to introduce him to the grandpa’s friends. But are all changes brought by the Internet that good?

Sometimes I have the feeling that everything that needed to be said has already been said. Take Facebook again for example. People post and repost words that don’t belong to them. In certain way, we have all cheap preachers,  teachers, aspiring sages. I’m afraid that popularity has become more important that being truthful, authentic or meaningful. What’s the point in all this sharing of bits of wisdom?

Facebook and the like have become overwhelming for many people I know. I use my personal account on Facebook to read news, mind you!

It is impossible to keep up with all that is being said. These Internet sites, anything “social media,” and not counting time playing games, is consuming most of our free time even though of course you don’t read all your friends post. I see people on waiting rooms, on Starbucks, in the restaurants, and even driving! with their eyes on the iphone. And that’s a problem, because for the sake of socializing online we’re not socialize in real time.

Besides, everything has become public: the grief experienced after a significant loss, the anniversary of your mom’s death, the first time that your child used the potty, what your boss told you this morning, the brand of the toast you ate. But do we really want or need to know that much?

I’m on the alert for anything that ends up alienating us and preventing us from exercising our critical thinking.

I can see how the social can be an instrument for change and it’s great to reconnect with friends from the past that we haven’t seen in ages. But, with a few exceptions of advocacy and protests that have gone viral and generated change, Facebook and other social media give us the illusion of a connection that doesn’t really exist. If we were feeling lonely before this madness exploded, we are even lonelier now. Dependent on a like click.

Just think a little. What’s a friend? Who is a friend?

Solitude in the times of Facebook

For years now, and even though I am a guilty participant, I have been expressing my frustration with social media. Gloomy_morning____by_jeremi121As many of you have probably gone through, I also joined Facebook with the desire to “connect” with friends and family members who were away.

It worked. At least at the beginning. Or maybe it was just an illusion?

I started to find people long gone from my life and, to say the truth, some even from my memory. With most of them it was only that I said hello, they said hello, we shared how many children we had, what we did for a living and a little more than that.

Occasionally, those who had been a little closer to me also shared some pictures, quotes, links or interesting articles. But that has been pretty much it. You don’t really express feelings openly in social media unless you want some attention or… Maybe  you want others to see what a kind, evolved, smart individual you are. Let’s be frank. These days, image is all there is. You want others to come to you, buy from you, “like” you.

With very few exceptions, the desired connection really never happened even though I now receive more wishes for my birthday these days than ever before in my life. Not because now my “friends” keep track and remember my day but because Facebook reminds them.

In social media you’re supposed to display your wit and/or show kindness. There is not much place for real, healthy debate with a few exceptions.  And then you get those obnoxious friends of friends who meddle into a conversation to shut you down with an insult but with no consequences since everyone can get in and out of a chat at any time without this being considered rude.

One of my favorite cousins, a friend on Facebook, recently sent me an interesting link to a video (in French) depicting how social media reshape our brains and lives and we’re lonelier than ever now that we have Facebook and Twitter and what not.

Psychologist Sherry Turkle talks about this paradox in TED: “Connected but alone.” This is our 21st century reality, she says. We avoid intimacy (we fear intimacy, totally being ourselves in the presence of others) and carry on the illusion of companionship. However, we are no longer connecting with our feelings, we’re not truly relating with others.

You know this. Facebook will never fill the void of a good conversation over a cup of tea, looking into each other eyes, comforting the friend with a pat on her hand or shoulder.

These days, we don’t really know if someone is listening to us. Most of the time, we feel they are not and we are probably right.

To conclude… we are becoming increasingly narcissistic and very lonely.

Stop the pursuit of happiness

What had Thomas Jefferson in mind when he considered essential to add the right to the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence? Life and liberty were of course vital rights that the forefathers of this country had to fight for when the British army was abusing the colonists and the colonies weren’t allowed the sovereignty to decide their own destiny.

But the pursuit of happiness? I’d like to understand the intention behind the words. I believe that it was not about individuality and not about possessions. They were fighting for freedom and I am inclined to agreeing with those who think that they were referring to happiness that can only be achieved when you work for freedom and for the public good.

The pursuit of happiness  is since the declaration of independence a goal linked to the American way of life. People have come to pursue happiness or what they believe happiness is through the most extraordinary ways. Money and fame have become avenues that supposedly take you to Heaven on Earth. But soon people realize money can’t buy happiness.  People achieve riches and fame and they party, drink alcohol, consume drugs, have sex, all in pursuit of happiness. Every time they get a quick peak at a brief sensation of elation that feels to them like heaven, but because it doesn’t last they go for more of it until it become obsessive and destructive. They are always unsatisfied. Longing, always longing.

Divorce between the soul and the ego might be the big culprit of people’s lack of satisfaction. The soul is capable of experiencing utmost joy and peace. The ego is greedy and lonely and afraid. It can seek experiences that can elevate the body to the heights of elation or manic moods but cannot achieve joy on its own. Joy is a less intense experience, but more sustained.

The pursuit of happiness has been misunderstood. It’s not about the individual, but about the collective; it’s not about possessions but about achievements. It’s more about doing the right thing than a lot of things!