Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Lying for Justice"

Bradley Wright, in Upside: The Surprising Good News About the State of Our World, documents the many ways in which the world is actually doing pretty well. Which naturally leads to the question, why don't most people realize this?

Some of the reasons are psychological tricks we play on ourselves. One of the big reasons is that the media makes a living by telling bad news. But the one that made the normally cheerful Wright mad (and I agree with him here) is that advocates often lie. Even the advocates for good causes have an interest in making us believe that things are bad and not getting better. So when things are not really so bad, and when they do get better - which is the case in nearly every category of social problem that Americans worry about - the advocates "lie - for justice."

This is wrong, no matter what the cause. And if you are dedicated to solving a problem, finding out that things are getting better - or were not so bad to begin with - should be delightful news that you shout from the housetops.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The World is a Better Place Than It Was

Bradley Wright has a nifty new book, Upside: Surprising Good News About the State of our World.

He points out that most Americans think there own lives are good and getting better. We think most things will be better in the future (except morals). We think things were good in the past.

What we can't admit is that things are getting better in the nation and the world now.

This leads me to propose a first step:

The simplest way to make the world a better place than it is now is to see that the world is a better place than it was before.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do Mothers Suffer More Because They Anticipate Pains More?

At the International Positive Psychology Association congress, Richard Davidson gave a fascinating presentation on the many good effects that becoming an expert at meditation and generating compassionate feeling can have on your life.

One study he shared compared expert meditators - Buddhist monks sent by the Dalai Lama - with a matched control group of novices. Their brains were monitored as they went from a neutral state where they were just trying to be "in the moment," to a warning that they were about to be touched with something hot, to being touched with the hot thing.

The expert meditators had low brain activity in the pain and suffering parts of the brain until they were actually touched with the hot probe. The control group, by contrast, started firing up the pain and suffering parts of the brain when they were given the warning. That is, the novices increased their suffering by anticipating pain.

This made me wonder whether mothers suffer more than other people because they worry more than other people. That is, they are anticipating pain for themselves and those they love (whose pain causes the mother suffering, too). Mothers may even go out of their way to think of things to worry about - that is, to think of unlikely pains to suffer from - as a way of being loving.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Timely Study About Integrating Immigrants.

John Berry, a Canadian researcher on acculturation of immigrants, gave a report to the World Congress on Positive Psychology that I am attending. He studied the different ways immigrant youth in Canada dealt with the tension between their old and new societies. He identified four ways this tension could be resolved.

The best way, for both the immigrants and the host society, is integration of the two cultures. Some immigrant groups encounter more discrimination, and are more inclined to keep their own culture, leading to separation. A few immigrants favor assimilation to the new society - mostly refugees who fled a bad situation in the old country. Most dangerous for both immigrants and natives is the marginalization of the immigrants, who feel no attachment to either their new or old culture.

The results for his survey of Canadian immigrant youth:
Integration 36%
Separation 23%
Assimilation 18%
Marginalization 23%

This seemed a very timely study to me in the light of the right-wing anti-immigrant terrorism in Norway that happened as the Congress is meeting. Berry reported that settler societies, such as Canada and the United States, promote integration of immigrants, which reduces tensions between the two groups. European nations, by contrast, fall into separation, or worse, which heightens tensions between the two groups - and sometimes leads to nativist terrorism against immigrants and those who welcome them.