Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!


There are many ways to look at Halloween sociologically. One way is simply as an American holiday, how interesting and different it is. When I was in Japan it was clear how different it was. As an American, I wanted to celebrate this holiday, but imagine being in a different culture dressed up as some creature or character - how strange that would look. And then to think of handing out candy and/or asking strangers for candy - how odd this would seem to a non-American. So, a few other Americans and myself found an American restaurant where they were hosting a Halloween party and we limited our celebrating to within that establishment where it would not be violatng Japanese norms.

Another way sociologists look at Halloween is through the costumes Americans wear and what they represent about our culture. Notice all of the costumes that promote sexism and misogony. There are so many costumes that seem to be accepted just for the day but they are sexy _____(fill in the blank). Checkout this post for a number of examples of the sexualization of girls' costumes. The message is that if you are a female, it is okay to dress up like these things as long as you are sexy and you use your body as an object to be gawked at. sexy (slutty) nurse, police officer, whatever...And this is even happening for young kids. Costumes can also promote racial stereotypes as in this post. Checkout these people being sociologically mindful by posting pictures that are against racially stereotyped costumes.  Checkout this poetry slam by four girls who are exposing this truth:


Another way to look at it is through the American values, especially consumerism.  Over the last few decades America has transitioned from a producer country to a consumer country. Both industrially and locally, we were a country that produced things. When we needed something, we made it, whether it was a car in a factory or a tomato in our garden or a Halloween costume at home. Now we have become a culture of consumers as typified in Halloween. Kids pick out their costume and then parents buy it. So when the trick or treaters come by, sometimes you'll see 4 or 5 of the same costume whether it's batman or a princess. I remember growing up and my mom struggling to find a way to make a costume for me. Sometimes it involved sewing, makeup, or creative use of materials. But it was always unique, creative and authentic; it was productive. I think that the contemporary thinking would be that if a costume is homemade, it doesn't look as good or as polished as a store bought one. And the assumption might also be that a homemade one is cheap. And so the value becomes consume; buy one at the store. So, culturally we are becoming as bland as our industrially produced tomatoes; a whole lot of us buying things exactly the same rather than growing our own tomatoes or making our own costumes.

Do you remember hearing, "Be careful of unwrapped candy and have parents check the candy before you eat it?" These ideas were popularized through the mass media as detailed in Barry Glasner's book Culture of Fear. But it took a sociologist, Joel Best, to research and publish that this was a myth propagated through the popular culture. See this post about the sociologist who discovered this urban legend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Socialization, Nurture and Love

I am convinced of the overwhelming power of love in the world. As a sociologist, my interest is in the effects that people's environments have on each other. Below I will outline the research that has lead me to believe in the power that loving each other has on our being. To learn to love each other and allow ourselves to love should be our ultimate cause. This may sound corny or anecdotal, however, there is research that supports this. From Henslin's Sociology; A Down To Earth Approach, we read about Skeels and Dye's study of institutionalized children (1939) and Skeels follow-up study in 1966. The research found that children given love, affection, stimulation and intimacy are able to be more independent, socially-attached, more successful adults later in life.  Look at the difference between the children that stayed behind at the orphange receiving proper care, but little stimulation, love and affection versus the children who went to a home where adults with special needs could show them love, attention, nurture and stimulation:
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Institutionalized Children (Skeels & Dye)
Orphanage 12                                                Home for Special Needs 13
More functional at first                              More severely dysfunctional
Proper care, but no stimulation                Stimulation, play, challenge and affection
    -30 IQ pts                                                       +28 IQ pts
     - avg. less than 3rd grade ed                     - avg. of 12th grade 5 complete 1+ years of college       
      - 4 live in institutions                                -  all 13 were self-supporting or homemakers
     - low level jobs                                            - 1 grad school
     - 2 marry                                                      - 11 marry


There is a power in our interaction with other people that is difficult to measure.
Dean Ornish M.D. writes about this force in his book, Love and Survival. Checkout the excerpt below:
Love and survival.
What do they have to do with each other?
This book is based on a simple but powerful idea: Our survival depends on the healing power of love, intimacy, and relationships. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. As individuals. As communities. As a country. As a culture. Perhaps even as a species....I have no intention of diminishing the power of diet and exercise or, for that matter, of drugs and surgery....As important as these are, I have found that perhaps the most powerful intervention-and the most meaningful for me and for most of the people with whom I work, including staff and patients--is the healing power of love and intimacy, and the emotional and spiritual transformation that often result from these.

In this book, I describe the increasing scientific evidence from my own research and from the studies of others that cause me to believe that love and intimacy are among the most powerful factors in health and illness, even though these ideas are largely ignored by the medical profession. As I review the extensive scientific literature that supports these ideas, I will describe the limitations of science to document and understand the full range of these implications--not only in our health and illness, but also in what often brings the most joy, value, and meaning to our lives. I give examples from my life and from the lives of friends, colleagues, and patients.

Medicine today tends to focus primarily on the physical and mechanistic: drugs and surgery, genes and germs, microbes and molecules. I am not aware of any other factor in medicine--not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes.

Cholesterol, for example, is clearly related to the incidence of illness and premature death from heart disease and stroke. Those with the highest blood cholesterol levels may have a risk of heart attack several times greater than those with the lowest levels and lowering cholesterol levels will reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, cholesterol levels are not related to such diseases as complications during pregnancy and childbirth, the incidence of illness and premature death from infectious diseases, arthritis, ulcers, and so on, whereas loneliness and isolation may significantly increase the risk of all these. Something else is going on.

Smoking, diet, and exercise affect a wide variety of illnesses, but no one has shown that quitting smoking, exercising, or changing diet can double the length of survival in women with metastatic breast cancer, whereas the enhanced love and intimacy provided by weekly group support sessions has been shown to do just that, as I will describe in chapter 2. While genetics plays a role in most illnesses, the number of diseases in which our genes play a primary, causative role is relatively small. Genetic factors--even when combined with cholesterol levels and all of the known risk factors--account for no more than one-half the risk of heart disease.

Love and intimacy are at a root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it--yet, with few exceptions, we doctors do not learn much about the healing power of love, intimacy, and transformation in our medical training. Rather, these ideas are often ignored or even denigrated.

It has become increasingly clear to even the most skeptical physicians why diet is important. Why exercise is important. Why stopping smoking is important. But love and intimacy? Opening your heart? And what is emotional and spiritual transformation?

I am a scientist. I believe in the value of science as a powerful means of gaining greater understanding of the world we live in. Science can help us sort out truth from fiction, hype from reality, what works from, what doesn't work, for whom, and under what circumstances. Although I respect the ways and power of science, I also understand its limitations as well. What is most meaningful often cannot be measured. What is verifiable may not necessarily be what is most important. As the British scientist Denis Burkitt once wrote, "Not everything that counts can be counted."

We may not yet have the tools to measure what is most meaningful to people, but the value of those experiences is not diminished by our inability to quantify them. We can listen, we can learn, and we can benefit greatly from those who have had these experiences. When we gather together to tell and listen to each other's stories, the sense of community and the recognition of shared experiences can be profoundly healing.

I have just started reading another book about the psychology of love and it's impact on our lives. The book is A General Theory of Love by Amini, Lannon and Lewis and here is a review:
Drawing on new scientific discoveries and seventy years of collective clinical experience, three psychiatrists unravel life's most elemental mystery: the nature of love.

A primordial area of the brain, far older than reason or thinking, creates both the capacity and the need for emotional intimacy that all humans share. A General Theory of Love describes the workings of this ancient, pivotal urge and reveals that our nervous systems are not self-contained. Instead, our brains link with those of the people close to us, in a silent rhythm that makes up the very life force of the body. These wordless and powerful ties determine our moods, stabilize and maintain our health and well-being, and change the structure of our brains. In consequence, who we are and who we become depend, in great part, on whom we love.

A General Theory of Love applies these and other extraordinary insights to some of the most crucial issues we face in our lives. Its authors explain how relationships function and where love goes wrong, how parents shape a child's developing self, how psychotherapy really works, what curbs and what fosters violent aggression in our children, and how modern society regularly courts disaster by flouting emotional laws it does not yet recognize.

A work of rare originality, passion, and eloquence, A General Theory of Love will forever change the way you think about human intimacy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (3 of 3)

Happiness v. Work, Personal Achievement, Success, Materialism
What are some ways that Mitch values hard work, achievement, success? Is this true for you or your parents? Does this start in high school or even sooner? What ways? Is it possible to obtain a different type of success? Think about (click here for more info) the Nothing assignment and how we connect what we do to who we are as people. Our culture constructs a reality where we are not allowed to just be. We must be doing at all times; it is valuing personal achievement, time, work, competition, materialism and success. Note that happiness is never a a part of the equation.  The hegemonic assumption is that happiness simply comes with those values.  See this post about happiness and it's relationship to money.  Contrast these values with the values that Michael Buettner writes about in his book Thrive.  What are the lessons you learned from Thrive?  How would you like to live your life differently after reading this?  What would be a message you would like to share with the rest of your classmates who don't have the privilege of being in our class?  This value cluster also reminds me of this joke about an American businessman and a Mexican fisherman

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (2 of 3)

Understanding and Applying the American value cluster of Independence, Freedom, Individualism & Personal Control v. Dependency

1.  Individually, reflect on Tuesdays with Morrie.  What are some examples within the movie of characters being individualistic (as opposed to being dependent)?  How does the value of Individualism combine with the value of personal control?  Cite examples from the movie.



2.  What are some ways that you see the values of individualism and personal control shaping your own life or the lives of your parents/siblings/friends?



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3.    After you discussed number one above in your small group, do you understand how the American cultural values can shape individuals’ lives?
_____Yes
_____No
If yes, what was one example from your group partners that was a good example?
If no, why not?  What questions do you have?



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4.  Close your eyes.  Think of someone influential in your life.  Now write down who you thought about and why you thought about that person.


When you are finished, click here.


In what ways are Americans afraid of being dependent on others? Do you think that this is related to our value of independence and freedom? In what ways do you depend on other people? Does this bother you? Another great example of these values influencing us negatively is explored in this TED talk by Brene Brown. She speaks about vulnerability and our culture. We want to numb our feelings of vulnerability, but in doing so we also numb our feelings of connection to others and our sense of worthiness which allows us to feel love and happiness.
The feeling of individualism and independence that creates this lack of invulnerability may also detach us from feelings of gratitude that help contribute to our happiness.

Friday, October 7, 2016

American Culture and Tues With Morrie (1of 3)

Tuesdays with Morrie can be a case study in examining American values.  If we think with sociological mindfulness we can see how these values become a part of who we are and how we help to promote the values.  Then, we can start to choose how and when the values influence us.  This can help us prioritize our life.  Here is a link to a story about priorities.

Death v. Materialism, Individualism
Are Americans afraid of death? Is death a taboo topic? Why do you think this is the case? How might our feelings about death be related to our materialism? I also think that our feelings about death are rooted in our culture's individualism. See this post about the way our culture associates individualism with grieving one's death.  That is why I think most students would say the movie was a sad movie (at least parts of it) even though those same students would admit that Morrie doesn't want them to be sad.  Morrie himself explains,"Don't be so sad because I'm going to die Mitch...Death ends a life but not a relationship..." And Morrie explains, I'll still love you and you'll always love me.

 Love v. Individualism, Materialism
Do you think that Americans are afraid to love each other, or show that they love each other? If we are afraid to love, why might that be? Does our culture socially construct our reality so that we are afraid to love? What values in our culture might make us feel this way? How can we overcome this? What is the difference between the value of “romantic love” and real love - the love Morrie talks about?   I think these different types of love are related to American values too.  See this post for more on the idea of romantic love vs. real love.  How is this a part of your life?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tuesdays With Morrie

We watched Tuesdays With Morrie as an example of American culture. Watch it here on mediacast. The movie reflects on both American norms and taboos and on American values.

As you watch the movie, look for all of the ways that the American values  affect Mitch and look for the ways that Morrie talks about those values.
Try to think about how those values show up in your own life and in your parents' lives.

Here is a list of quotes from the book.