Friday, November 18, 2016

The day after the day after election day

From Anger and Angst to ACTION

I know that I have a lot of company in current extreme emotions -- sadness, shock, disbelief, disgust, anxiety.  The stages of grief described by Kubler Ross are present at different levels all around us.  But fortunately, embedded in these emotions, is the question, “What do we do now?”
I’m a big believer in personal action to improve things - help a neighbor, tutor a child, be polite in traffic, etc. But lately I’ve been looking for a more formal, organized way to deal with these emotions. I don’t want to neutralize them; I want to “actionize” them.
To this goal I’ve been gathering information from the media, the web, from friends and from overheard conversations at the gym. What are we going to DO? The time for the stage of hand wringing is over.
 While I continue to believe in and practice personal behaviors to improve things, it also feels as if it is time to become part of an organization.
My list grows by the day: the ACLU, Amnesty International, moveon.org, Common Cause, the Democratic Party, and Sierra Club are a few. Even making the list has been encouraging. To see so many ways that people are trying to address the current “situation” and make things better.
         I’m at the research stage, but am getting close to finding the right place to focus my energy and skills. I don’t have a lot of money to donate, but my experience as a writer and psychologist are valuable. This is leading me to Tom Steyer’s organization. Its main issues are climate and kids. I like to concentrate on actions that will yield the most bang for the buck, and it’s also good to deal where there are plenty of bucks. Steyer’s organization seems, for me, to be a good place.
Long range, the emphasis of Steyer’s organization on education could bring about a populace more employable and, equally important, intelligent enough to sort through some of the flurry of information and misinformation that is dumped upon them. In the current election this is a skill that could have come in handy.
This brings up another action we can take. Even though journalism is not a group or organization we can join, we can support it through subscriptions, letters and viewing habits. Yes, much reporting on the recent election became a kind of click bait, but we also saw some signs of real journalism. There were good follow-up questions, unrelenting efforts to get an answer, and journalists able to not be distracted by the “Shiny Object.” Some were even taking risks to their own safety to seek and tell the truth.  They are my heroes, (along with classroom teachers and parents.)
Many otherwise sedentary people are trying to figure out what action to take before the energy wains and “settling” takes over again. This time and this situation might have brought a lot of us awake. So in that respect, maybe it could be a good thing. Many artists describe the experience of working on a piece where there was an obstacle or a mistake. As they address and work around that mistake they create an even better work of art. I’m trying to see this situation in that way. How can the mobilization of this sleeping giant of good intentions awakened into action create a more beautiful outcome?
Some will be satisfied with rallies and marches and the benefit is to let the opposition know that we are here, but those expressions are at their best if they mobilize us to action and let the other side know that we are here to DO something. If the anger is energizing us, then stay angry - but let it help us also stay focused, active and hopeful.
The advice around safety is, “If you see something, say something.” Another piece of advice around our safety might be, “If you feel something, do something.”


Also available at

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/582f7e71e4b0eaa5f14d4497?timestamp=1479507830665

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

THANKSGIVING FOR GRATITUDE

Gratitude training
At certain times to focus upon gratitude is very important -- this is one.
By Susan DeMersseman / November 24, 2004
BERKELEY, CALIF.
            It's a little ironic that the season in which we give thanks and the one in which our children are making their holiday wish lists come so close together.
            We try to give our children so much, but sometimes forget to give them the greatest gift, the capacity to appreciate and to feel grateful. Without that we can never give them enough. We may want to give them many things, but how do we do this and not give them a sense of entitlement? This, like most aspects of parenting, is a fine balance.
            Many of our own parents tried to make us feel grateful by pointing out the starving children in some far-off land. This strategy often resulted in us offering to send those children the horrible casserole or ugly tennis shoes. In spite of those responses, many of us grew up with far less than our children have, but with a greater sense of enjoyment and appreciation. Just a glance at the sea of media in which our children swim gives us a big hint as to how this happened. All around are material things that they (and we) are led to believe we must have - that we have a right to have.
            But there are little ways to swim against this tide. The most important is simply being an example of appreciation for the things in our own lives. It can rub off. The source of gratitude can be anything - the sight of glowing cumulus clouds, our warm home, or a nice meal. They may respond with eye rolling and an, "Oh, Mom/Oh, Dad" (as if we're so sappy). But someday when we say, "Come here a minute, look at that sunset," a big cool teenager might look and say, "Oh, yeah, and I like the way the sun streams from under the edges of the clouds." When that happened to me, I was grateful that I had put up with all the eye rolling.
            In my work as a school psychologist, a mother with a rather crabby 9-year-old came to see me for help. We worked out a way to instill a bit more gratitude - but not with reminders of how fortunate he was as a response to his complaints. Instead, we focused on bedtime. She started by spending a few minutes talking about what had gone on in her day that she was grateful for: a friend who complimented her work, the polite clerk at the store, or the quiet evening with not too much laundry. Then she asked him if anything good happened in his day. He got the idea, shared a few things, and it soon became a ritual. Like the Bing Crosby song:
"When I'm worried and I can't sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep and I fall asleep counting my blessings."
What she most appreciated is that this outlook started seeping into his day.
            I recently worked with a second-grade class at the teacher's request. She was concerned that she seemed to have a lot of complainers in the group and so we started gratitude training with them. One day I began a lesson by reviewing and asked what they remembered from our previous discussions. One little boy said, "Well, gratitude is like a skill that you practice and get better at." I'd never really taught those words, but he had put our lessons together into that sublime understanding, one that takes some of us many years to reach.
            Part of what I do in working with youngsters is to help them be aware of what is good in their lives. With the right perspective, there's so much to appreciate. Without it, there will never be enough. And only the things they don't have will seem important.
            So along with all the "stuff" on the wish lists this year, we can add our own item: appreciation. It might even help to start by letting our kids know that, regardless of their appearance, their SAT scores, or their athletic ability, they are a source of gratitude in our lives.
• Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator.

GRATITUDE

Gratitude training
At certain times a little focus upon gratitude is very important -- this is one.
By Susan DeMersseman / November 24, 2004
BERKELEY, CALIF.
            It's a little ironic that the season in which we give thanks and the one in which our children are making their holiday wish lists come so close together.
            We try to give our children so much, but sometimes forget to give them the greatest gift, the capacity to appreciate and to feel grateful. Without that we can never give them enough. We may want to give them many things, but how do we do this and not give them a sense of entitlement? This, like most aspects of parenting, is a fine balance.
            Many of our own parents tried to make us feel grateful by pointing out the starving children in some far-off land. This strategy often resulted in us offering to send those children the horrible casserole or ugly tennis shoes. In spite of those responses, many of us grew up with far less than our children have, but with a greater sense of enjoyment and appreciation. Just a glance at the sea of media in which our children swim gives us a big hint as to how this happened. All around are material things that they (and we) are led to believe we must have - that we have a right to have.
            But there are little ways to swim against this tide. The most important is simply being an example of appreciation for the things in our own lives. It can rub off. The source of gratitude can be anything - the sight of glowing cumulus clouds, our warm home, or a nice meal. They may respond with eye rolling and an, "Oh, Mom/Oh, Dad" (as if we're so sappy). But someday when we say, "Come here a minute, look at that sunset," a big cool teenager might look and say, "Oh, yeah, and I like the way the sun streams from under the edges of the clouds." When that happened to me, I was grateful that I had put up with all the eye rolling.
            In my work as a school psychologist, a mother with a rather crabby 9-year-old came to see me for help. We worked out a way to instill a bit more gratitude - but not with reminders of how fortunate he was as a response to his complaints. Instead, we focused on bedtime. She started by spending a few minutes talking about what had gone on in her day that she was grateful for: a friend who complimented her work, the polite clerk at the store, or the quiet evening with not too much laundry. Then she asked him if anything good happened in his day. He got the idea, shared a few things, and it soon became a ritual. Like the Bing Crosby song:
"When I'm worried and I can't sleep I count my blessings instead of sheep and I fall asleep counting my blessings."
What she most appreciated is that this outlook started seeping into his day.
            I recently worked with a second-grade class at the teacher's request. She was concerned that she seemed to have a lot of complainers in the group and so we started gratitude training with them. One day I began a lesson by reviewing and asked what they remembered from our previous discussions. One little boy said, "Well, gratitude is like a skill that you practice and get better at." I'd never really taught those words, but he had put our lessons together into that sublime understanding, one that takes some of us many years to reach.
            Part of what I do in working with youngsters is to help them be aware of what is good in their lives. With the right perspective, there's so much to appreciate. Without it, there will never be enough. And only the things they don't have will seem important.
            So along with all the "stuff" on the wish lists this year, we can add our own item: appreciation. It might even help to start by letting our kids know that, regardless of their appearance, their SAT scores, or their athletic ability, they are a source of gratitude in our lives.
• Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

After Election Day?

(A  new thought on this day --In desperation to find one kernel of hope in this outcome I'm wondering if maybe the Republicans and Democrats can finally be united by the common enemy that is Donald Trump.)

After Election Day?
In the last few weeks the outcome of the election has become more certain, but this has raised new worries.  It’s possible that some Trump followers might find this outcome further confirmation of the conspiracy belief that has been one of the driving dynamics of the election. I'm also concerned that the hostile, tribal and sports-style of the contest will leave a toxic residue. (Interesting that Mr. Trump was once involved in the professional wrestling world.)
         As a psychologist and hopeful American, I'm trying to think what approach will help the "losers" accept and find a positive way to address their lingering and legitimate concerns. I honestly feel compassion for people whose very real concerns have been hijacked into a personal campaign to prove self worth in an insecure mean-spirited man.
So now, what can be done? I want Clinton to acknowledge, in no uncertain terms, the problems of people who have felt powerless. It’s not surprising that some found a solution to the feeling by aligning themselves with the power of a man whose identity and desperate effort is to be powerful.
       There are some who support him due to party loyalty. There are some who do believe his recent connection with the conservative issues they hold. Some followers have been duped by the magical thinking, simple solutions and unrealistic promises. They appreciate that he “tells it like it is”, even when he so often tells it like it isn’t.
In addition to acknowledging the legitimate concerns, Mrs. Clinton must lay out and follow through on specific steps. Mrs. Clinton has talked about a big investment in infrastructure. More talk, more specifics and more action are all necessary.
Perhaps those principled Republicans who did put country above party by rejecting Mr. Trump will find a face-saving way to collaborate and create plans and projects that truly benefit their constituents --especially those who feel cheated and powerless. It would be wonderful to see what can be accomplished when neither side is seeking the credit, (nor trying to ascribe the blame.) What a gift it would be to the American people, after this divisive period, to feel that the people who represent us actually do.
Then, my next question is, “What can we as individuals do?” Maybe as Democrats we can shut up, not gloat and keep those in mind who have been left behind as Mr. Trump moves on to his next self-aggrandizing mission.
For our Republican brothers and sisters maybe it is time to contact their representatives and let them know that they will not blame them? They will not blame them for working with Democrats to create jobs and a better country for them!
There are probably better metaphors than “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot” or “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” But the message is the same. Please don’t harm yourself (and us) in trying to harm the other.
My version of magical thinking is believing that there will be enough of us on both sides who agree on one thing -- we must demand that our representatives work together. For this to work, our job as citizens does not end when we leave the voting booth.



Also printed at
 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/580e91d1e4b099c434319ada?timestamp=1477349989621