Kind Acts that Reduce Stress

Susan Cooke

We don’t often think about these things, but if we all practice them, daily life, especially in cities, will feel so much less stressful, and will actually be healthier. The most benefit comes from all people practicing these kindnesses, not just a few people. But if you’re the first, that’s still a good start. We can help if we:

1. Use as few loud pieces of machinery as possible, both indoors (when windows are open) and outdoors

2. Use electric or battery-powered outdoor equipment–the quietest we can afford–to not only lower noise levels but also stop adding to pollution. Gas-powered leaf-blowers especially are now known to emit particulates highly suspected of causing cancer, endangering anyone (or any animals) who breathe near them, and adding them to soil and groundwater

3. Try not to slam car doors (or house doors), especially at night. Kids, moms, and many other people must sleep in the daytime too so quieter door-closing all the time is helpful.

4. Play music at home softly when windows are open, especially in the city where homes are so close. In an apartment that doesn’t have soundproof walls the same thing applies–we invade others’ rest space or their own sound space when we blast music. Of course they ideally will do the same for us.

5. Play music in the car softly if parked and waiting for someone, on residential streets, or even at a stoplight. Other people want to hear their own music or at least not to be assaulted by our music which they might not like, or they might have a headache, etc. Again we invade their space if we blast the car radio. We all need to help each other with noise issues, because we can’t close our ears the way we close our eyes.

6.  If we own or manage a business we can help many people by playing music more softly than is currently common. Unless a place is known to be a loud nightclub, many customers don’t want to be blasted with loud music. Many who want coffee or a meal or to shop don’t want to be hit over the head with a sound system, especially if they don’t even like the music (and businesses can’t possibly know which music everyone likes). Some people do enjoy loud music in a store or restaurant, but it’s likely they’d suffer less without it than those who can’t take the loud sound suffer when they can’t get it turned down. It’s especially stressful when they want very much to be in a place such as a cafe because they live alone and want to be around people for awhile even if they’re reading or writing at their own table (more people are now living alone). If they have to stay in some places awhile such as a doctor’s office it ‘s tough too, especially since some now even have TV which drives a lot of people nuts since they get plenty of that at home already. People sensitive to loud sound often tell me they’re afraid to ask that it be turned down since they’re often ridiculed or scowled at. They say they just don’t return to those places (so the places lose what might have become a longtime customer). But they miss going to many places they used to love now, all because of loud music, and in many cities this is making people lonelier and more isolated. This is happening in the UK in many pubs as well.

Often the “upbeat mood” managers want from loud music is made by customers on their own, no music required. Some managers are told by marketers that loud and fast music brings in more money, but how can they know for sure since people whose nervous systems can’t take it (an estimated 20% of the population) can never come in? Sometimes it’s staff that wants the music loud, but even if the customer isn’t always right anymore, you’d think she could have a say once in a while. (However, I understand that staff often find the music too loud too. Waiters in two different places told me the boss would fire them if they ever asked again that volume be lowered for a customer!) I read one article that said marketers tell owners we chew faster when the music is fast. Maybe so, but I say to both restaurant owners and marketers, the notion of secretly trying to make us chew faster for more profit is just…Ew, creepy.

Some people try to use headphones to block loud music, but that’s isolating too if you like to go to a coffee shop to be around people. This new cause of even more isolation contributes to depression and isn’t good for building the sense of community that’s so healthy for humans. So loud sound systems are contributing not only to more stress and early hearing loss (especially in employees), but also more isolation and depression.

7.  We might think more about outdoor grilling if we do it often. A lot of people do, adding a large volume of pollutants to the air, contributing to global warming, and making it hard for nearby neighbors with asthma, lung or heart disease or smoke allergy to be outside in their own space. We can try to find cleaner ways of grilling or at least do some of it without smoke, indoors or out, so on a lovely day neighbors too can be in their own yards (or on their own decks or balconies) without suffering. We can ask neighbors if smoke bothers them–they’ll appreciate it and be kinder to us about other matters later. The best part of an outdoor party is the people gathering to meet and eat, isn’t it? (You probably know this already but grilled foods contribute to cancer, and meat today is quite unhealthy too due to toxins, even in pasture-raised and organic meat.)

8. We can think more about our fireplaces. We might consider some other way of heating that’s cleaner and smokeless. Sadly, it’s now known wood-burning fireplaces are really bad for us (see https://www.wsj.com/articles/one-fire-please-hold-the-soot-1449170833), and people with asthma won’t be able to visit for long even if they too love the idea of a fireplace. They’ll start coughing and their eyes may begin to sting, Many people won’t be able to take walks in neighborhoods where most houses use fireplaces (I only have mild asthma but can begin coughing within seconds of walking by a couple of houses burning wood, even though I love the smell!) You’ll again help decrease global warming if you use a different method, You might try to substitute for some of the lost coziness by simmering apples, orange peels, cloves, cinnamon, etc. on the stove, and there are other good fireplace choices, some on the site of the link I just placed above.

9. Driving kindness:  we help others a great deal if we use signals, pass politely, don’t drive on others’ bumpers (and start out earlier so we don’t have to speed), don’t run red lights just because we can get away with it (my friend was killed by such a driver), are kind to cyclists and pedestrians and expect them to make mistakes and unexpected moves at times, and remember that many drivers are new–we all have to start sometime!–and they can’t handle our unexpected or un-signaled moves, or our talking on the phone and not paying attention.. Pushing lost or new drivers will just frighten them and make an accident more likely. It’s good to assume most people on the road aren’t paying enough attention. When driving where people live we can be extra careful not to speed, especially up and down hills and in bigger vehicles since this is very noisy and stresses people and pets–especially at night. Finally, it’s better if we can control our outrage when something stupid or rude happens. Rage tends to make most people feel worse afterwards and will probably raise their blood pressure!

10. When cycling or walking we have to remember drivers can’t stop on a dime just because we dashed into the middle of the street unexpectedly. It’s best to use lights and reflective clothing, signal when we can, and try to get one of those new helmets with turn signals you control from the handlebars. (When I drive I often see cyclists and pedestrians dressed in muted colors at dawn or earlier, with no lights, and it’s nearly impossible to see them until I’m so close it’s hard to stop in time.) Also, ditto the last two lines of no. 9.

11. We can think more about phone kindness:  most people don’t want to hear others’ private but loud (even shouted) conversations either in person or on the phone, and lately there’s a lot of shouting going on for some reason. In my city, coffee shops often become personal private offices in a lot of customers’ minds, where they carry on loud business calls right next to some poor Joe who just wants to read a little in peace before going to work. People want to enjoy the space where they’ve gone for coffee, reading or writing some or talking quietly to their own friend. If some other person is shouting, the first person can’t do any of those things. Recently I’ve experienced a number of people shouting on phones while sitting by themselves next to me in a coffee shop, and somehow it’s even more disturbing than when they shout at a live person sitting with them when there is one (which is pretty unpleasant too compared to if they just talk to that person in a reasonable voice, and why are they shouting?)

It’s kind also not to talk loud on porches or in our yards if we can be heard by neighbors trying to enjoy their own porch or yard. They just want some of that quiet time outside we all need. One of our neighbors used to sit on his balcony and shout long business.  calls, and another did the same on his screened porch. They both did it often so when I was in my garden trying to have some calming time I felt like I was in the middle of an angry business conference, and the one on the porch was all the way across the street–now that’s shouting! (Again I ask, why do they do that?) When it’s that loud in the garden I can’t relax so I just have to retreat back inside. The garden gets no attention and I don’t get the dose of nature I crave. After enough days like that I get depressed. (But the the loud neighbor does get to enjoy seeing my garden. That’s fine–I love when others enjoy it–but there won’t be much to see for long if I can’t get out there and work.)

If we don’t protect each other from such disturbances we’ll all have to drive long distances to the country just to find even one hour of calm, if we’re to stay sane, and most of us could do with some calm in nature every day. I can’t manage that drive to the country often enough. That’s why I grew the garden! If we want others to grow gardens–great for their health and for our city’s air quality–we have to help them by not making it miserable to be outside.

We can also help others find badly-needed calm by not making a park bench our personal office either, so others can enjoy the park and the sound of birds or the whisper of leaves in the trees.

12. We’re kind when we decide we won’t ever leave butts, trash, gum, receipts, plastic bags, or dog poop in other people’s yards or sidewalks, or put the poop in their trash cans, forcing them to do constant clean-up. About the dog poop, they often don’t know it’s there in the trash, so after a while the bag degrades, the poop dries out, stinks, and sticks like cement to the bottom of the trash can. Then it’s a huge clean-up job. (So would whoever is dropping it in our trash can please cut it out?)

13. Before throwing a party it’s really nice if we talk to neighbors, tell them we’ll try to keep the noise down, and ask them to let us know if it’s disturbing them. They will LOVE this. Even if it gets a little too noisy they’ll feel they have some control–which we’ve given them–and they know we won’t be angry if they ask us to turn down the volume. So they’ll probably put up with more noise than otherwise just because we’ve given them some control. And hopefully they’ll do the same for us.

14. If we do end up having to sometimes hire loud yard work or construction teams at our homes, we can apologize  ahead of time to neighbors, tell them we hate all that noise too (so they know that for when they have to make noise and will then take care of us), tell them we’ll ask workers to be as quick and quiet as possible, and tell them to tell us if they’re going nuts so we can try to time things a little better depending on their sleep/work schedule. Or we can ask ahead when they need it the quietest and tell them we’ll at least try to keep it quieter then. We can tell them we’ll instruct workers not to play loud radios outside or with windows open. If we make such efforts, showing we care, neighbors will likely do the same thing for us or help us in other ways that are equally kind.

15. Write to me about other ways you’ve discovered to be kind or in which you need more kindness and consideration so we can all learn more.

Guns, Killing, & and Kindness

Susan Cooke

While an abundance of research tells us stress in cities is so severe that it’s making many of us quite ill, I’ve been encouraged to see how some countries have decreased some of these stresses. They’re using such methods as adding more of the green space we all desperately need, limiting the increasing toxic chemicals showing up in much of the world’s food and other products, and limiting industrial noise and fumes known to contribute to mental and physical illness.1  Here in the US we need to adopt some of these solutions more widely if we’re to climb up from our low rating on lists of happiest countries. We’re now a paltry #14 on one list, and on another we’ve fallen to 19th.2  While some of these stress solutions and those for other stresses I write about can be challenging, most are manageable with some public education and shared effort between private citizens and business and government leaders.

I’ve been thinking for some time however that it isn’t just this kind of stress that’s affecting us. People are telling me they’re dismayed by what seems increasingly ruder, inconsiderate, or just mean behavior in their daily lives. They encounter it while driving, or around town, or from reading and hearing hateful rhetoric in the news and online. When you add this to the usual city chaos from noise, traffic, construction, and so on, it feels almost like living in a war zone, but without the comforting closeness that wartime sometimes causes as people come together to support each other against an enemy. The enemy is right here, and it seems as if it will remain as long as we do or say inconsiderate, cruel, or hateful things.There seems to be a growing lack of regard for one another at a time when feelings of shared and supportive community where we live–something researchers say we must have for good mental health–are in short supply. Whether or not we’re all aware of all these stresses, it looks like they’re affecting us seriously, raising our blood pressures, causing other stress-related illnesses, making us feel anxious or depressed, or all these and more. In fact chronic stress from multiple sources is thought by many researchers to be shortening our lives, especially in cities which tend to be even more chaotic than rural areas.

THREE HARMFUL PRACTICES

I study solutions for many different stresses affecting our health in and out of cities, but for now I want to consider just three specific practices you might not think of as major contributors to our stressful environment. I believe they do affect us deeply, and that we must examine them carefully if we want to become a happier healthier country. Though they often lie under our radar and we’d mostly rather not look at them, we need to now because they contribute to unnecessary violence, cruelty, and suffering that go on here daily. I’m convinced they make us feel too comfortable with that suffering, and that continuing them belies our notion that we’re a civilized people.

I think it’s good to accept that we humans are fallible so we can keep it in mind in making all our decisions (more on this in another post). Our imperfectness is one reason that even when we know stopping a harmful practice would help us, we often find ways not to stop it if it’s inconvenient enough or takes us far enough out of our comfort zones. Most of us don’t mean to be cruel, but if we fail to try to stop suffering that we cause, we are cruel. As a result we make our culture less kind, and our country a darker place. To change this we’ll need to slow our current desperate rush through life long enough to look deeply into ourselves and ask whether we really need what these practices give us. (The practices also exist in other countries, and I hope they will ask the same question.) The practices and the misery they cause reach into our culture like ripples from stones thrown in a pond. They settle into our lives until it seems normal and okay that they’re there. But it isn’t okay.

The practices are:

1)  Widespread gun ownership

2)  Hunting

3)  Animal agriculture (raising and killing animals for food and products)

Millions of people already live life happily without them, which shows that the suffering they cause isn’t necessary and serves no purpose that benefits humanity. Before I get to the practices let’s first take a short detour:

AN ANTHROPOLOGIST’S VIEW OF KIND & UNKIND SOCIETIES

Anthropologist Ruth Benedict observed two kinds of cultures–she called them “synergistic” and “surly and nasty.” I like to call them “kind” and “unkind.”  In synergistic cultures, behaviors that benefit the whole society are rewarded, and those that harm it are forbidden. The people respect compassion and generosity, and wealth is circulated throughout the community. If your vegetable patch is overflowing, you just naturally give a lot of food away, and you don’t get (or need) social brownie points for being well off. Kids are taught early to share. These societies tend to be peaceful, healthy, and respectful of women, children, and the elderly. Individuals are happy, secure, and trusting.

Surly and nasty societies hold wealth in high esteem and reward behavior that benefits individuals at the expense of the group. The people tend to be paranoid, mean-spirited, warlike, and abusive to women, children, and the elderly. Individuals see others as threats or competitors, think only of their own interests, and often are self-aggrandizing, insecure, suspicious, and hostile, Wealth is in the hands of only a few.3  Now let’s get to the first of the three practices.

GUN OWNERSHIP, THE NRA, & DESTROYING LIVES

How would Ruth Benedict label us? For years we’ve seen repeated mass killings aided by a constant proliferation of guns whose increasing sales line the pockets of gun sellers who then enrich the NRA, a group of what seem to be rather tyrannical, self-interested people. One political commentator recently went so far as to say the Republican party is actually controlled by the NRA. There’s seems something very wrong about that if it’s indeed true. In any case the NRA appears to use its gun sale money to maintain and promote even more gun sales through encouraging more gun use. It fights ferociously to discourage gun limits, and supports political candidates who will support…the NRA. Members are devoted to the idea of millions of us carrying the guns that take massive numbers of human lives and traumatize forever massive numbers of families of those who lost their lives. The group and its supporters are also widely devoted to the loathsome “sport” of hunting, which, no matter what else you say about it, takes life away from millions of beautiful wild animals. How many animals? I’ve seen numbers from 100 million to 200 million a year in the US, not including the millions more for which kill figures are not maintained by state wildlife agencies. Even non-hunters are forced to be exposed to all this slaughter when they go to wildlife refuges and national forests. PETA reports that 40% of hunters slaughter and maim millions of animals on public land every year.

The NRA could not exist in a “synergistic” (kind) society. It’s made itself a poster group for surly and nasty behavior and rhetoric. How else can you describe the ignoring of desperate pleas of friends and families of Florida massacre victims to reduce guns in this country? Or Georgia’s lieutenant governor’s crippling Delta airlines which like a number of companies practiced kindness by distancing itself from the NRA after the massacre? While many factors were at work in the Florida killings, the NRA and its supporters do seem quite comfortable with their own contribution to regular killings by gunfire via the easy gun availability they rabidly promote. They seem proud of their self-perceived patriotism and goodness, professing that the right to own guns is “granted by God.”  Their CEO’s shouted speech after the shootings can only be described as astonishingly cruel. Besides keeping guns available and killing astounding numbers of animals, some NRA leaders increasingly display an almost swashbuckling cruel manner. It may be contributing more than we realize to the atmosphere that’s making many people feel the country has become a meaner, more hate-filled place.

If the NRA does control the Republican party, how much might it (and the party) have to do with other cruel and hostile public statements coming from some members of the party, such as from the President, and from a recent candidate in Pennsylvania concerning things he proclaimed that Democrats hate, including God? This is surely the rhetoric of surliness, and if it continues to be considered acceptable will only get deeper under the skin of our culture. Such rhetoric pulls us apart, providing fewer chances to form those health-giving social bonds with one another we all need. Wouldn’t it be better to be kinder in our attitudes and public statements, so we can come together as a country?  Any group–and there are many now–that does or says cruel or nasty things on the public stage makes this nearly impossible. I sense from the NRA that it wants things to remain as they are now: violent, scary, and terribly sad for much of the country. This is certainly an anti-kindness, anti-community, and selfish attitude. Of course leaders of some countries seem drawn to the same ends, but that’s another reason I hope our country will become a model for kindness.

Keeping in mind that surly and nasty societies support individuals at the expense of the group, the NRA, an individual, smaller (but powerful) group, wants widespread guns at the expense of a much bigger group (all Americans who don’t want to live surrounded by guns). It doesn’t matter to the NRA that keeping guns available reduces the chances of a long life for all those future massacre victims, and chances for today’s suffering families to recover from their loss and probable lifelong trauma. Imagine how it feels to think their loved ones died in vain as guns continue to proliferate, when what they desperately need for recovery is to see is major gun-reducing legislation. NRA’s lack of empathy is stunning, and the cowardly hesitation to act on such legislation in most of Congress is even more stunning. Even worse, many other hateful groups can get guns easily thanks to the NRA, and use them to bully, spread more hate, and kill and maim even more people. This simply cannot work in a kind society. We must choose whether we want to be that society, and act on that choice, or choose the status quo by doing nothing.

GUNS AID SUICIDE

As people become more upset, many become more anxious and depressed. If they’re upset enough at any one moment and have a gun, they’re likely to use it on themselves. According to a 2017 Medpage report, suicides in the US are increasing, and now occur at a rate 125% higher than several decades ago at which time they’d begun to decline. There are also 90 attempted suicides for every completed one, and it’s notable that many of these suicides occur in adolescents.4  Here and now I’m begging members of groups sowing hate and violence or pushing gun availability to help the current generation and ones that follow. Help them have long, happy lives, and have better chances to avoid depression, suicide, and being murdered, by reconsidering your thinking and your messages. Help us become the kindest country on earth. It doesn’t hurt to try thinking a different way, and to remember kindness rarely harms and almost always helps. I believe it can transform us.

HUNTING

Hunting is one of the best ways to keep guns widespread in America. It adds to the suffering of living beings  by terrorizing and traumatizing animals, often separating forever animal mothers and babies or entire animal families. It’s hardly ever needed anymore to feed people in this country, and as you’ll see, animal food of any kind including seafood is now pretty unhealthy for us for several reasons including that much of it is contaminated with toxins such as dioxin, DDT, and other chemicals. Our industries have added these toxins to our air, water, and soil, they’re then stored in animal tissues, and end up in our own.

Besides acknowledging the physical suffering of animals, let’s no longer kid ourselves about their emotional pain. Research shows increasing evidence of animal consciousness, emotion, and intelligence. I’ll get into this more deeply in another post, but it’s clear animals can suffer great physical pain, mourn loss of loved ones, and in some cases go nearly insane with grief. We’re just beginning to learn how intelligent and sensitive they are.

Let’s stop excusing hunting as a good ol’ American sport. Yes it’s a long-practiced, age-old tradition. So are human trafficking and torture. Yes some families love annual hunting holidays, but you can vacation in nature, camp, hike, see beautiful woods, lakes, and animals (breathing ones), all without causing anguish and death. Yes some animal populations grow too large and annoy some people, but rather than hunt them let’s give them back some territory to live in, and they won’t encroach near as much. The extra green space will help to cool the planet. Yes heritage breeds should be preserved, but they don’t have to be killed and eaten. Yes hunting is practiced in other cultures, but most modern ones no longer need to do it in order to eat or dress, and no matter where it’s done, it’s cruel. So let’s lead in stopping it because it adds more guns and more acceptance of unnecessary suffering of both humans and animals. The more guns out there for hunting, the more often people can and do easily grab one to kill other people or themselves.

I heard a news commentator say NRA members often show people photos on their phones of their “latest kill.” I don’t know how widespread this is, but clearly they must not believe animals feel either mental or physical pain, or worse, they do believe it but just don’t care. You have to teach that kind of attitude toward killing and causing suffering, and if you teach it to kids, as hunters apparently often do, then you raise yet more people who don’t mind causing death and suffering. How can such an approach to life not affect our culture? Another way it adds to suffering is that people who think killing animals isn’t cruel don’t care if their killing upsets people who think it is, and many who think it is suffer chronic mental anguish due to seeing evidence of so much of it. Just walking by the grocery store meat department upsets many animal lovers, who can become so depressed that entire web sites have been established to help them deal with these constant reminders of animal suffering.

When we accept that millions of animals are slaughtered each year in our country not just by hunters but also by industries using animal products, and see that hunters are proud of killing animals, it takes us far from making our culture kinder. I believe this is true of all cultures in love with hunting, and all who raise and slaughter animals for food, clothing, or other products..

ANIMAL AGRICULTURE

The misery caused by the animal farming industry is something most people would rather not think about, but it clearly adds the weight of more cruelty to our consciousness and to the cultural atmosphere. Mostly brutal and these days truly unnecessary, animal agriculture systems cause the suffering and killing of millions of animals around the clock, with many of them condemned to utterly tragic lives from birth to death. Many are separated from their mothers at birth despite desperate protests of both mother and baby. Many of those babies are slaughtered not long afterwards, or suffer first in terrible confinement and are then slaughtered. Slaughter is terrifying and painful despite so-called humane techniques, partly because it’s often rushed and done badly (producing more meat faster yields more profit) but also because there doesn’t seem to be any method that reliably prevents suffering.5

Animals are killed for food, clothing, and furnishings that all can be provided in other ways. Numbers I’ve found so far for animals killed every year for their fur alone are over 1 billion rabbits and 50 million other animals. We of course are not the only country participating in this suffering.

EAT PLANTS, FEED THE HUNGRY, & LIVE LONG

There are multiple reasons to convert animal farming operations to plant farms. Plant farming can feed the world much more efficiently and in a way that promotes much better health than animal farming. Stopping animal farming would dramatically decrease both pollution and global warming. We would live longer, healthier lives because plants are naturally high in critical health-promoting, disease-fighting micronutrients, while animal foods have many fewer micronutrients. It’s now known that most animal foods are causing early onset of many serious illnesses due to industrial toxins and to connections between animal fat and heart disease, and between animal foods and cancer (the cancer connection is especially strong with dairy foods). Eating animal foods also keeps most of us from eating enough of the plants that are the major contributors to good health.

There are legions of books and articles full of healthy plant-based recipes that taste as good or better than any animal food, and  many high quality substitutes for animal hides, furs, and other animal ingredients used for products. Toyota, Lexus, and Tesla offer leather substitutes in their car interiors, and PETA and many other sites list retailers that sell vegan leather clothing and cruelty-free (no animal testing), animal-free cosmetics and household products. For more on plant food being the healthiest for humans read The China Study or just read summaries of the study, and any book by Joel Fuhrman, MD (Eat to Live is a great one to start with), or articles on his website such as a recent one on flame-retardant chemicals in almost all foods made from animals (including organic and pasture-raised), and in human breast milk as a result of eating those foods.6  For those who feel they can’t live without animal food, there are wonderful plant-based animal-like foods being created every year. An easy sub for cream for example is cashew nuts blended with a liquid. (Pets too can eat well without eating other animals, though some may need a supplement or two added. For an introduction to feeding such a diet go to https://www.peta.org/living/animal-companions/vegetarian-cats-dogs/.  Much supermarket pet food is full of toxins such as dying or diseased dead animals, and the same hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides in much meat sold to humans.)

You can see why increasing numbers of people now believe farming and eating plants rather than animals is a no-brainer. People are switching fast, with plant-based diets in the US increasing by 600% over three years.7  It might take a week or two to begin adapting to an all-plant diet, and most people love how they look and feel–thinner and healthier quickly–especially if they avoid most oil and stick to healthy fats like nuts and avocados (more on this in another post). Cookbooks that help include Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Thirty-Day Vegan Challenge, Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Cookbook, and Kathy Patalski’s Healthy, Happy Vegan Kitchen, all of which are good for beginners, and many more I’ll post later. For those whose business is creating food or other products made from animals and who fear loss of profits or of their business, it may be that profits will be higher due to more people now looking for vegan products and attracted to vegan retail stores, restaurants, bakeries, shoe stores, and grocery items.

KILLING ISN’T HEALTHY FOR THE KILLER EITHER

A final reason to stop animal farming is that no one should have to work in a slaughterhouse. How could the bloody and violent work of executing animals–even fish–not damage the human psyche? My father worked in a slaughterhouse briefly when he was a young man desperate for a job, and never got over it. I know many people who find fishing cruel. Research shows that slaughterhouse workers often become violent, abusive, or suffer from post-traumatic stress in their personal lives.8  My father did not become violent, but was traumatized and depressed by the cruelty and the horrific things he saw.

Because many of those workers do become abusive it confirms that if you can (or are forced to) get past the suffering and violence of killing, it’s easier to accept more suffering and violence later, even if part of you is rebelling against it. In some cases you may be so horrified that you react violently later, as sometimes happens to traumatized soldiers. I realize most slaughterhouse workers must only take those jobs because they’re desperate for work like my dad was, but I think it’s wrong to employ humans in mass murder of any kind. It would be a great kindness to train them in another field and liberate them, along with the animals, from such a terrible life.

These common reactions to killing make it hard for me to understand what would make most hunters continue to hunt. Why aren’t they affected by what seems a natural human revulsion for bloodshed and cruelty? Why doesn’t it affect owners of animal food and product businesses? How do you conclude you have the right (from God again?) to cause so much suffering and death? Why are there still so many people willing to participate in massive cruelty? Despite a brief respite a few years ago, and with so many substitutes available, it’s heartbreaking to see so much fur, down, and leather in use now. We must be messing up the minds and lives of lots of the poor workers who must labor in these businesses. Who wouldn’t be traumatized after even one day of slaughtering hundreds of bunnies? Do we realize what we’re supporting when we buy calf-skin shoes, kid gloves, or purses or make-up brushes made out of ponies?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

I believe our letting animal agriculture continue, along with hunting and easy availability of guns, are among the main reasons we remain far from being what I know we could be: a kinder, less violent, happier, and mentally healthier society. If we don’t change, I see us heading further down our current path of increasing rudeness, self-centeredness (which makes empathy less likely), and acceptance of causing suffering. We also have much work to do in stopping other forms of misery such as that of refugees, people in our crueler prisons, our hungry and homeless, and others. We’re a largely-rich country, we see the suffering, and yet and we continue to drag our feet. I believe once we increase our attempts to help, it will become easier to do it more often. We have the brain-power, innovators, visionaries, and plenty of money that could address major issues causing suffering. It just doesn’t seem convenient now (or any time) to start changing, or those who have the money needed might not care enough about helping the downtrodden (even though helping would likely make them feel pretty good). Rather than living in a place of tragedy of our own making, wouldn’t it be better to help create a place where all people and animals are cared for and respected as part of the community of living beings on earth? Life anywhere can be difficult at times, but I believe we traumatize ourselves further by living in an atmosphere in which unnecessary misery is widespread.

Some people may think kind and peaceful means being weak. I hope they see it takes courage and fortitude to pay attention to, study, and work to solve these problems that cause suffering. Besides the other good such changes can do, they can help slow the rising tide of depression and suicide. We can save lives by helping to prevent the tailspin people go into when they feel trapped in a cruel, uncaring world. How is that not strength? And for those who think removing guns is weak, I say life without guns would do wonders to calm some of the chaos, helping us to feel safer as people now do in Japan, where it’s hard to get a gun and where in one year (2014) the death rate from gunshot was 6. In the U.S. that year it was 33, 599.9

I ask gun users worried about self-defense to consider using alarms and other methods to protect their homes and families. These methods are quite sophisticated now. Of course we need to make schools more secure, focus hard on mental health, catch problems early, and have counselors widely available at schools, prisons, hospitals, and maybe even many businesses. We need to assure that police, doctors, and others learn how to handle mental health emergencies. One way to do that and to learn yourself is to study MHFA–Mental Health First Aid–a relatively new method and teaching organization already training people all over the country (just google Mental Health First Aid.) Our mental health would of course be better in general if we didn’t have to witness repeated massacres and so many other cruelties in our culture.

But these changes aren’t enough to decrease the current epidemic of death by gunfire as dramatically as would banning all guns. I’m amazed there’s so much talk of banning only guns that kill more people faster, and allowing all others. It seems to me a lot of Americans have an unhealthy obsession with guns. I no longer think it has that much to do with the second amendment. I don’t know where it comes from, but can only say again many people around the world have lived and do live happily without guns.

It’s time for one country to lead the world in peaceful, caring behavior. Why shouldn’t it be us? We can do this, but it will take guts–do we have enough? Why not evolve, become deliberately kinder, let go of guns, stop bullying, hunting, torturing, maiming, and slaughtering. See how it feels to live more gently. It’s got to feel good to show traumatized families we respect their lives and terrible losses, and to deliver all animals from anguished suffering caused by hunters and animal farming. If we can get on this road to living with kindness we can demonstrate to others around the world what a kind society looks like, how strong it can be, and how it can help give us, them, and all our children something they desperately need–hope for a peaceful future in which we all care for all living things and for each other.

 

Footnotes:

1  Drew, MacFarlane, Oiamo, Mullaly, Stefanova, & Campbell, How Lloud is too Loud?, Toronto Public Health, April 2017, https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-104525.pdf and other sites on industrial noise and health

2  Rankin, Jennifer, “Happiness is on the wane in the US, UN Global Report finds,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/20/norway-ousts-denmark-as-worlds-happiest-country-un-report

3  This information on Ruth Benedict’s observations comes from the book A Language Older than Words, by Derrick Jensen, which I learned about in another book, Healthy at 100, by John Robbins.

4. https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/kevinmd/64557

5.  See this page for many articles on animal slaughter, most of which offer little hope of a reliably non-scary, non-painful death:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Can+animal+slaughter+ever+not+be+painful%3F&oq=Can+animal+slaughter+ever+not+be+painful%3F&aqs=chrome..69i57.15730j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8I’ll

6.  Fuhrman, Joel, MD, Drfuhrman.com, The Health Inspector,”  Living Nutritarian E-Magazine, https://www.drfismuhrman.com/learn/eat-to-live-blog/33/introducing-living-nutritarian-a-magazine-for-members

7.  Chiorando, Maria, “Veganism Skyrockets by 600% in America to 6% of  Population,” https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganism-skyrockets-by-600-in-america-over-3-years-to-6-of-population

8. Go to this link for an entire pageful of articles and studies on links between working in slaughterhouses and becoming violent or depressed:

https://www.google.com/search q=do+slaughterhouse+workers+become+violent+in+personal+life%3F&oq=do+&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i60l2j69i57j69i60l2.2578j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

9.  Low, Harry, BBC World Service, News Magazine, “How Japan has Almost  Eradicated Gun Crime,” 1/06/2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38365729

 

Welcome to TheSereneCity.com

Susan Cooke

Cities worldwide are mostly growing larger, and as they grow, many become more stressful to live in, so stressful that they’re making people ill, and according to some research even shortening their lives. I began observing a while back that American cities have their own particular brand of stress, influenced by key aspects of American culture such as living at high speed with little downtime, too little nature and too much industrial noise in our daily lives, and so much connection to screens and devices we can barely catch a breath or think our own thoughts. I began writing the book Stress in the American City in hopes of helping others in American cities (and in cities elsewhere that share our problems) to make city life less stressful, healthier, and happier. I do this by studying research on the major city stresses and also studying other cities and countries that have successfully handled any of these stresses.

Currently I spend much of my time trying to finish the book, yet I do want to start the conversation online as well. Just now I may not be able to write or respond here as much as I’d like to in the near future, but comments will be much appreciated in any case and I’ll do my best to respond when possible. I’m especially interested in what stresses you the most in your own city, and any solutions you’ve seen or heard about that other cities might try. That way we can all learn together and hopefully help our own cities become healthier, happier places.

Finally I want to mention that my comments may seem at times naive to some people. I think it’s necessary to find hope where you can, and I sometimes need to write about some upsetting things people are tired of thinking about (I don’t blame them!) I try to add a positive spin so we don’t all get too depressed about these things, and in fact I  believe that in many cases there are good solutions available to us if we all work hard on it together on them. We’ll need to do that as private citizens, business owners, and government leaders. Some readers have told me they feel more hopeful after seeing some of my comments. Others have said of my perhaps over idealistic notions, “someone does need to say these things,” and have asked me to continue. Whatever your reaction, I hope you can get something worthwhile here–some useful information and some hope–and not think too unkindly of my optimism even if it does at times seem unrealistic. I couldn’t continue if down deep I didn’t believe solutions were possible.

A VERY BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

I was born in New York City, raised in Houston, Texas, and now live in the Boston area.

BLOG BACKGROUND

I research and write about stress in cities, especially American cities, and about hunger, homelessness, and changing from a cruel to a kinder culture. I’ve worked on and off (to support my singing habit, mentioned below) as a radio and print news reporter, anchor, writer, and editor on a variety of subjects, often with an emphasis on medicine and mental and physical health. Sometimes I’ll write about current events here, but I’ll also offer some ways we can reduce stress in our cities or wherever you may live. (See my list of anti-depressant movies, for example, or the list of music that helps you work but is calming at the same time.)  At other times I might just tell a story about something I think readers will enjoy. The blog will tell me over time where it’s leading.

ARTE LYRICA

In addition to having written about one thing or another for most of my life, I’ve also lived much of my life primarily as a classical singer (opera, musicals, some jazz)and founder, artistic director, and singer with the concert and opera performing group Arte Lyrica (currently on hiatus). We produce intimate narrated song concerts, usually with two to four singers, piano, and sometimes other instruments, and a narration I research and write on the history of the composers, poets, and the times and places in which the songs were written, resulting in such concert titles as “An Evening in Paris,”  “A Salon in London,” or “Songs of Love and War.”

We’re best known for song concerts, plus the U.S.East Coast premiere of Handel’s great opera Rodelinda, edition by myself and conductor/keyboard master Michael Beattie. We also produced Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas and the wonderful comic opera Bon Appetit! featuring Julia Child baking a chocolate cake on TV, by American composer Lee Hoiby (who adored her and her programs). To avoid name confusion in case the reader attended any of our concerts, Rodelinda was produced when we were called Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society, and for a while we shortened that to Cambridge Opera. When operas mostly became unaffordable and we focused more on concerts with narration only, we switched to the name Arte Lyrica.

My husband Victor Preston serves as CEO in charge of all things business for Arte Lyrica, also scenery making, lighting, sound engineering, recording, singer-wrangling, website development and maintenance, co-PR director, co-program designer, and encourager in chief. He is also a software developer and created this blog using WordPress.