NOISE PART II  Widespread Stress & Illness from Noise & How to Reduce it

Susan Cooke

Noise exposure has recently been called the new secondhand smoke. This post considers how we can use awareness of this issue to A) be kinder by reducing  our use of products that harm others’ wellbeing with loud noise (and often toxic fumes), and B) create laws that protect the public.

These changes would provide a new sense of peace in cities, encourage more people to go outside and garden, exercise, take more walks in their own neighborhoods, and benefit from the many ways nature contributes to calm and health.  Less noise and this increased time outdoors would also encourage a closer sense of community as people find they meet many more neighbors simply because people tend to meet outside more easily than if they all stay indoors. They meet when walking their dogs, seeing each other working in a garden or sitting on their front steps, and in other ways that make it  easy to say hello. A sense of community, more exercise outside, and more exposure to nature (nature without noise) is proven by research to improve wellbeing and reduce stress and illness, which helps to reduce the healthcare costs of stress-related Illnesses, and in some cases even to decrease crime.

This post is divided into the sections listed below:

1) Our Beginnings were Relatively Quiet   

2) Non-Natural Noise Begins to Play a Part in our Lives 

3) Noise Becomes a Regular Participant in Our Lives 

4) Noise Today

5) Government and Business Remain Remarkably Clueless 

6) Noises we Need to Decrease now to Reduce Stress & Illness 

7) What Else we can do 

8) Two Final Thoughts

 1  Our Beginnings  were Relatively Quiet

Imagine you’re an early human, it’s morning, and everyone’s busy searching for and preparing food for the day’s meals. You’re outside with the rest of the tribe, getting things done, enjoying  the sun’s warmth, the sight of plants and trees of many kinds and colors, and the sounds of birds singing and leaves rustling. Sometimes a wild animal roars in the distance or there’s a thunderclap but mostly those are the only loud or alarming sounds you hear. You’re fairly contented with your daily life. Today we know being outdoors in bright light helps protect health and mood, and researchers say that in many groups of early humans depression was rare or nonexistent. They add that the close sense of community was also key in preventing depression.

2  Non-Natural Noise Begins to Play a Part in our Lives

Now imagine it’s later in history, in a small city. At least in times of peace you and your family enjoy few intrusions of alarming noise. You’re mostly able to open windows, work in your small garden if you have one, or walk in a nearby meadow or park, and enjoy nature and sunlight as did early humans. The most disruptive sounds you may hear are horses and their carts clattering along the streets. Sometimes, more thoughtful city leaders realize that when this noise occurs at night it keeps people awake. So they’ve established quiet times, barring horses and wagons from the streets when most people are sleeping. 

3  Noise Becomes a Major Participant in our Lives

Now we’re in a bigger city during the rise of industry. Loud, non-natural noises are common along with less healthy air. Living or working near these new businesses becomes stressful both mentally and physically, and in the city quiet time in nature is almost nonexistent unless you’re lucky enough to have a small park nearby and don’t live close to a big factory, or are wealthy enough to live in city areas removed from most industrial noise.

Unless you’re rich your life is difficult anyway due to long working hours in or near these unpleasant places, so the lack of stress relief when you get off work doesn’t help. Not only are there few chances to experience nature, it’s hard to even sit next to an open window because you’re surrounded by dirty air and loud noise from ever more crowded streets or the factory near your own street. Noise from construction, streetcars, trains, and more street traffic is increasing. You don’t enjoy walking around the neighborhood much, so you often feel closed in, sometimes suffocated. It’s stressful to even walk to a pub or tea shop to see friends, or to a friend’s home, so if you’re quite sensitive to smog and noise you may not be with friends as much as you’d like. It’s not great for your mood or health to be more isolated, or to live with so little  nature in your life, or exercise outside.  

4  Noise Today

We jump to a 21st century city, with industrial noise and fumes a constant presence, along with increasing stress for millions displaced by war, severe poverty, or climate-change-caused disasters, thousands suffering from effects of gun violence and terrorism, and everyone worrying about the constant threat of nuclear war. Yet more stress is piled on now because we at this moment live in a social atmosphere filled with the most hate and vitriol we’ve seen in decades. To top it off, we Americans and those who emulate us work ourselves nearly to death in an attempt to quickly find “success.” These stresses mount as we become more isolated as a country, and we also as individuals, lacking the social support and sense of security from which we once benefitted so much.  We live in a more chronically-alarmed state than ever.  

If we acknowledge the stress we’re under as a people, we can see we need to do whatever is possible now to reduce stress and have a much better chance to stay well. There’s a lot we can’t do anything about, but we can do a great deal to reduce noise as individuals and also with help from business and government.  There are things that can be done to reduce the constant attacks on us from noise from lawn care equipment, increasing numbers of planes and helicopters flying at all hours over homes, parks, and other places we used to relax, speeding delivery trucks, artificially-loud motors in cars and motorcycles, people playing radios super-loud outside others’ homes or near their open windows, and people shouting at each other and on their phones wherever they happen to be (including right next to others who don’t even know them). The upshot is either individuals or businesses with loud equipment are constantly invading each others’ desperately needed peace and calm with our noise, and mostly we feel we have no defense. (FYI, feeling helpless and/or hopeless is a major cause of depression.)

5  Government and Business Remain Remarkably Clueless

Despite our being wired as we were in earliest times, this assault of loud noise, accompanied by pollution, has not been viewed by most business owners and government leaders as the enormous health problem it is. It’s been low or nonexistent on their priority lists. But the problem and its destructive effects are now so severe that many agencies and researchers are worried. In a recent Washington Post article, one expert who pushed for strict noise laws in Indiana calls noise “the new secondhand smoke” *(see link below). And there’s this quote from The Quiet Coalition (article link is just below the quote): 

Like secondhand smoke, excessive environmental noise involuntarily exposes the public to conditions that increase their risk of disease. In the case of secondhand smoke, the preponderance of scientific evidence linking it to cancer finally convinced decision makers to take action. 

https://thequietcoalition.org/health-and-legal-professionals-declare-noise-is-the-new-secondhand-smoke/)

One reason this government and business ignorance is surprising is that health and mood problems cost money, and the country is always in a dither about how to pay for healthcare. Stopping most noise and pollution onslaughts is simply Prevention 101. It’s amazing we haven’t figured this out as a nation, but it is time to take action.

If we had heeded science’s warnings about global warming much sooner, we would be benefitting from much less loud noise and pollution due just to having eliminated most gas and diesel power (for example). With Congress’s recent report on what’s coming in climate change this should happen immediately, with focus of course on supporting those people whose jobs are in the industries involving coal and gas and any other businesses  dependent on the older, now-destructive ways of providing fuel.  Instead of complaining  about how it will hurt those people, we need to step up and pay their salaries while educating them for new jobs and providing those jobs in areas where they’re needed including infrastructure and new cleaner fuel technologies.. While doing this we must take care of their anxiety and stress and avoid destroying their communities, to prevent an enormous load of post-traumatic stress that would be unconscionable. They need to be supported where they live now and in moving to a new area if they choose to do that. Yes it’s a big hassle and expense but nothing compared to the expense of not doing everything in our power to stop global warming now. 

It’s irresponsible and I have to say criminal at this point not to take action against global warming. No government or leader has the right to help destroy the planet and all people and animals that live in it.  Doing it in a cooperative way with the rest of the world would likely be the fastest and most successful way to do it. But one way or another we must do it or we’ll be known and hated as the most immoral and selfish generation that ever lived.

If we move now onto this path one extremely healthy side effect will be that we can all at least go outside our houses to tend a garden or  sit on our front steps to look at a tree without being blasted by roaring machines and dirty air (not to mention the particulates in leaf-blower exhaust known to cause cancer). More of us would take more walks around the neighborhood in bright outdoor light, meeting those neighbors,  enjoying that sense of community Americans so lack today, and actually seeing, hearing, and benefitting from nature without loud machinery and fumes that also aggravate asthma. Cars, trucks, and motorcycles with quiet electric engines will replace the roar and pollution of diesel trucks, gas-powered car,s and motorcycles.

We can help ourselves as individuals if we encourage–or should I say push –our leaders to begin a program of replacing gas and diesel engines, to use mostly electric and battery-powered vehicles of all kinds–and use the quietest ones of those–and require all gas-powered lawn care equipment to be replaced with battery or electric-powered and quieter machinery. This has already been accomplished in some cities, and some have helpful trade-in programs so you can bring in your old leaf-blower for a clean, quieter one. We can ask our cities to try such a program. Urge all to go for the quietest of the electric and battery-powered machines, since some are quieter than others.

We should also encourage government to place noise limits on manufacturers of everyday equipment people use often, such as hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, whose use many times per week or per day adds to the total hearing loss researchers say is becoming epidemic. The Quiet Coalition article explains that much of that equipment is dangerously loud, and  also that the usual 85 decibel limit people assumed for years was fine, is in fact very harmful. It recommends that 70 dB  be considered the safe upper limit. It also says many public places such as restaurants are dangerously loud and are harming hearing and, due to noise stress, harming health on a massive scale.

It’s not just average people who are suffering. Post-traumatic stress is rampant  and its victims can suffer from loud noise more than many others.  PTSD occurs in many populations–veterans, refugees from war and disaster, those in the line of fire or injured at mass shootings, those silently suffering from physical and emotional abuse, and those suffering from anxiety and depression which may or may not have been caused by abuse or violent crime. Many rarely get the help or understanding they need. Their fight or flight response is rarely turned off.  Many PTSD sufferers live among us and we may not even know it, and we can help them by not creating super-loud noise,   by encouraging sense of community where we live, and urging government to help create more calming green spaces (cared for without loud gas-powered equipment).

Our rush-rush American  lifestyle already puts us in fight-or-flight mode most of the time, and when we add other stresses such as loud noise we have few chances to calm ourselves. Yet many of us don’t realize what a high-stress state we’re in and may only find out after a stroke, heart attack, or major depression. If you’ve never been severely depressed, know it’s something you definitely don’t want to go through, is hard to recover from, and tends to come back. If we as a country changed our environments and some of the ways we think, we might calm our entire society in many ways including making less loud noise.  So we can help each other to be happier and healthier by reducing noise but also by trying to slow our pace , including our driving speeds (this makes traffic quieter and has  proven to save lives). We can give ourselves some extra down time to, in part, think about why we keep pushing ourselves so hard and fast, and about the kind of world we want to live in.

Such changes could encourage people like landscapers to want to cause less stress to others, and to consider high-enough earnings okay over insisting on highest possible profits (which may really not occur with louder equipment anyway).  Attitude change would help governments  to be less influenced by such people as noise tyrants and by the bottom line, and think first about health and wellbeing. Those still worried about money might see that stress is a major factor in many common diseases, and that decreasing stress would promote enough better health to reduce healthcare costs.  

6  Noises we Need to Decrease now to Reduce Stress & Illness:

Below are some of the things specifically causing our noise-related stress. We must remind ourselves how these add another stress layer to our other lifestyle stresses. If our leaders don’t help us with this, remember that we can  elect people who care about these issues, and work with organizations meant to promote and protect wellbeing of living things and the planet. 

    1. Lawn Care Equipment:  Gas-powered leaf-blowers, many too massive for the job, that millions suffer from, their pleas mostly ignored by government.  Often-hostile company owners using such machines and other loud and irritating ones are free to destroy peace of mind and raise blood pressure widely for long hours, with stunningly little concern for the wellbeing of others.

2. Air Travel:  Jets, helicopters,  and private planes, also freely allowed to destroy peace of mind at all hours in many cities, and which, like landscape equipment, keep people from getting needed calm outside in nature, in their gardens or on their porches. Jets  keep people from sleeping, essential not only to function but to reduce stress that can cause illness. Americans are already sleep-deprived, largely due to our overstressed lifestyle, but jet noise doesn’t help.  Many researchers think more business could be covered on Skype so that air travel can be at least somewhat reduced. Also there are jet silencers now, and more recently quieter planes (Boston’s Logan Airport to its credit is trying to using many of the quieter planes, yet sadly many people still suffer from jet noise often because there are just so many flights and so many residents in flight paths.) New technologies should be funded well, because while they’re expensive, they couldn’t possibly cost more than the health problems resulting from stress and lack of sleep suffered by millions due to constant flyovers. Many people must sleep in the daytimeincluding pilots who fly at night, other night workers,  those recuperating from illness, and small children and their mothers, and not only jets but all the other loud industrial equipment heard during the day keeps them awake. When they make the new laws needed to reduce these noise stresses, government and business need to remember that many people don’t work 9 to 5 in an office away from home. 

3.  All Other Gas-Powered Engines:  Diesel trucks, artificially-loud cars and motorcycles, car alarms, and construction equipment, which like landscape equipment is often allowed by weak laws to torture residents many hours per day.–in my town from 7 am to 7 pm, and on weekends 8 am to 7 pm. There is almost no relief at home all day then, or on weekends, holidays, or any part of any day when people may want to be in their gardens or on their porches or balconies. Often noise prevents them from even opening windows.

7  What else we can do

We have the same brain and nervous system we had centuries ago, so even though we like to think we can adapt to all this noise and to nature deprivation, the evidence from research is that we don’t. Yet we have little power to change things on our own. We do help ourselves and others by simply being thoughtful about noise, for example if we rake rather than blow our leaves, or if we buy non-gas-powered, quieter yard equipment (you might try those made by the EGO company, for example—more on this in another post). We can also help protect others by just talking more softly on our phones in public and not playing music or watching loud videos online or talking loudly when we’re around others in a cafe or a park bench. Those people may be desperate for some quiet time in nature, or in a cafe may just want to read or think or have their own quiet conversation, and we make these things impossible or very stressful when we’re loud. Usually they won’t have the nerve to ask us not to so it’s up to us to be kind. 

It’s become “normal” to make a lot of unnecessary noise and ignore others’ feelings and wellbeing, but there’s a reason people were taught in earlier times that this was the height of rudeness. It’s true that many kinds of rude or selfish behavior seem common right now, but we don’t have to participate, and if each of us helps to make the public environment less stressful we too will benefit. Because humans weren’t designed to hear constant loud artificial noise such as that from mechanical-sounding speaker phones, or just long shouted conversations (shouting can send a stress message of anger or danger to our brains), we help people near us by respecting their often over-stressed nervous systems, some of which are more vulnerable than others. 

When you add loud sound systems that so many businesses use now since they think loud music brings higher profits, you have the current norm of extremely loud noise in most places people used to go for a quiet cup of coffee and book or computer, or for a conversation with a friend.  Retail stores now, too, are off-limits for many who can’t withstand the loud music owners require store managers to play. The manager of one shop I used to enjoy but can’t go into now told me she could not turn down the music because it was controlled by the national office.  Many friends say they can no longer  set foot in  places they used to love, and miss the sense of community they used to have from going to them.  When this happens they often feel more isolated, especially if they don’t work in an office with others as is now common.

I have to call use of super-loud sound systems noise bullying, and yet another example of the almighty dollar winning out over public health and wellbeing. Individuals talking or phoning or playing videos loudly in public places with no regard for others near them are also noise bullies. Sound systems should be regulated. Individuals need to regulate themselves but will do so only if they learn or re-learn to feel empathy concerning others’ stress.  I doubt profits are truly higher with loud music because any increase would be balanced by loss of funds from all the customers who don’t go to the place any longer. Researchers say those who stay will suffer from higher cortisol levels, higher blood pressures–sometimes for hours, and if in the place often enough, gradual hearing loss.

You can do a great deal to protect your neighbors at home from added noise stress too. Use rakes and brooms more if you’re able, buy quieter non-gas-powered yard equipment if you must have it, and use it as little as possible at low volume levels and at reasonable times. You can check with others who live near you when you plan a party. Ask how much noise bothers them, and when they need to sleep. It’s kind anyway to try to keep noise levels down, keeping in mind neighbors’ children’s bedtimes or naps, and need for sleep of those who work at night or who are ill. Neighbors will love you for doing this and will likely reciprocate. So this kindness to others help to protect your own peace of mind, and you get to know your neighbors a little better. This gives an extra boost to your own health and wellbeing. More and more Americans complain that they feel little sense of community. This is a great way to begin to change that.

We can do little on our own about most other entities inflicting noise on us, and that’s why we need to encourage a return of more empathy and kindness in our society,. But we’ll also need to use some muscle to encourage government and business leaders to act to help us. It’s hard for residents to stop those who continue to make stressfully loud noise (some people never do acquire more empathy) without business and government help. But so far those entities seem unable to understand that loud noise is destructive to mental and physical health, and actually contributes to higher healthcare costs. The World Health Organization calls noise disturbance an epidemic. Somehow noise and the pollution often accompanying it remains low on priority lists. so we the people need to bump it up might higher by making a lot of noise ourselves about our need to de-stress and have a better chance to stay mentally and physically healthy. We need to remind them of the cost to them in healthcare dollars if they don’t help.

Returning to kindness and empathy for a moment, while we’re working on the usual slow response of government and business, we can try in any way we can think of to help increase awareness of the need to make our culture kinder. This can help not only with reducing noise but also reducing  aggression and violence caused by those kings of un-kindness, prejudice and hate.  So here’s a suggestion (and I”m sure you have more so do try them!)  How about schools and colleges teaching the importance of cultivating empathy and kindness curriculum-wide, especially in their business and law courses. Then the value of helping our society place wellbeing over highest profits, and place understanding and empathy over destructive prejudices, will be clear. Kindness will have a chance to become more widespread, even, if we’re lucky, becoming the new norm.  

It’s tragic to see something now common in our country:  people in a town begging–and I’ve seen them in tears–for quieter leaf-blowers or banning of gas-powered blowers, while the landscape companies respond with such ferocity that local governments back down. Residents aren’t trying to take income from the companies, but simply are desperate for relief from noise torture. The companies often say they can’t manage as many yards if they’re to do what residents ask. It’s doubtful the relief people need would reduce the companies’ number of yards by more than one or two per day, and with all the quieter non-gas equipment  available I think the companies overestimate how much quieter equipment would slow their work. They also likely overestimate how much profit loss they’ll have if hours are more limited. Do they even consider that if they use the cleanest, quietest equipment, the hours might not have to be limited  as much, and more people might be likely to hire them? One company in my area that does this now has a booming business. Customers and their neighbors love the quiet. So there seems no good reason these fierce battles must continue.

Yet even if we convince more companies to choose wellbeing of the public over the very highest profits, we’ll still need laws to protect us from companies and from individuals who don’t care if they harm others’ wellbeing. We can learn from some other countries a great deal about how to do this, and also how to provide more peace and calm for more people. To see exciting ideas for some of these look online for “happiest countries,”  “happiest cities,” “quietest cities,” etc. and you’ll be amazed. Pass the best of the ideas on to your reps in government, and say this is what you want.

8  Two Final Thoughts

First, as I write this post, one man among a group of people next to me in a coffee shop speaks to several friends at a volume suitable for making a speech to a full stadium. He dominates the others, and shouting on and on at this volume for over an hour. It’s almost impossible to read or think. This large coffee shop is loud, yes, but half the shop hears everything he says. The people he’s with sit just inches from him.  He invades the mental space of those at least a dozen  tables. In the past, or today in some European cities, he would be looked at by others in the room with extreme hostility. In these cities public gathering is as desirable as in other cities, but shouting one’s entire conversation is considered the height of rudeness.

Second, consider this:  loud noise has been used as an instrument of torture.

Below is the link to the above-mentioned  article on how noise is becoming the new secondhand smoke:

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/noise-exposure-is-becoming-the-new-secondhand-smoke/2018/05/11/dd080c30-52d3-11e8-9c91-7dab596e8252_story.html?utm_term=.c6c027241b39

Trump, Hopelessness, and Depression

Susan Cooke

 

Trump, Hopelessness, and Depression

It’s taking me longer than I’d like to finish my book on stress in American cities, a book that I hope will help all of us, especially if our legislators and business leaders pay attention. I address many stresses in the book, some of which I cover in this blog, and one point I return to often is the way chronic stress affects us both mentally and physically, hammering away at our brains, our moods, for many of us causing migraines and lack of sleep, and ultimately when it gets bad enough making us physically ill by increasing blood pressure and in other ways contributing to heart disease and other ills. You probably already know that stress has been shown many times by research to affect our quality of life and even how long we live. 

What I did not so far include in my discussions of all the stresses, because it wasn’t around when I began the book, was the gut-wrenching, happiness-destroying, anxiety-inducing, chaos-pushing, rudeness and crudeness-modeling, insulting-to-allies and embarrassing-to-Americans behavior of the current wrecking-ball residing in the White House. He is, if you ask anyone I know, the cause of a slew of destructive mental and physical symptoms from chronic worry, anxiety, and even panic, to insomnia to real hopelessness, all of which can turn into depression—a huge problem already in our country and worldwide. (Since legislators are often so concerned with finance, they should know that depression costs our country well over $210 billion a year.)

We suffer everyday shock and awe at Trump’s dictator-like behavior and narcissism, his bullying cruelties, his unprecedented delivery of coy, confusing messages, his turning around of many upsetting things he says, one of the worst of which was his recent glee over the idea of sending Americans to Putin to be questioned (which in the case of one of them was likely to mean certain death), and he didn’t turn that around until those Americans and their families had sweated through several long and fearful days and nights. We also suffer from his and his administration’s increasing secretiveness as with that recent Putin summit, secretiveness that leaves everyone churning in the wind with worry about what might happen next. Therapists sometimes use a term for how he treats the American people: he’s “crazy-making,” and he seems to enjoy the resulting chaos as much as Putin is purported to enjoy the chaos Russia adds to the mix as it tries to turn us against one another..

While we stew in confusion, we also watch helplessly as he destroys the environment, relations with allies, and the lives of desperate immigrants. He’s removed for many of us what little feeling of security we once might have had in a world that includes monsters like Putin. In short, Trump is stressing much of America, and likely shortening our lives right now, all by himself. He’s surely having much the same effect on millions worldwide. We do the world a great disservice by letting him continue, and the only moral and right thing to do seems to be to get him out of office as soon as possible, meanwhile limiting, curbing, and protesting loudly and constantly every step he takes that leads to more destruction. Occasionally he does something good, but these moments are so rare they can’t counterbalance the enormous amount of stress he causes.As I watch Congress react, I find most of them much too placid and not livid enough. I want them to get really angry (but not with weapons!) and stop all this destruction of so many facets of our country and our freedom we hold dear.

What he’s done to the environment alone is keeping many people up at night as we watch the horrors of climate change and species extinction multiply right in front of us. What we needed in these difficult times was a leader of extreme intellect and ability, and what we got was a thoughtless, largely incompetent (for this job), and strangely non-empathetic person, who seems to thrive on making people feel awful. He is not in the slightest prepared for the emergencies of climate change such as the moving northward of tropical diseases and the endangering of wilderness lands and wildlife. In general problem-solving he seems mostly unable or unwilling to think ahead more than a few minutes, which to me is one of the most frightening things about him.

I’m stunned at how much he’s gotten away with so far, but to save what quality of life we might still be able to hold onto we need to take more and faster action. I beg Congress to act to repair the damage, and I beg us all to vote people into office who will do the same. Trump as we now know him simply seems too dangerous a choice as continuing leader for a country that needs to remain a beacon for the world. He doesn’t study, he doesn’t know history, and he doesn’t appear to make much use of the amazing brain power available to him. He thinks so highly of himself that he doesn’t think he needs to do any of those things I just listed, and that is not leading. A good leader prepares deeply and makes good things happen, or clearly tries to, and inspires and serves as a shining example to others. 

I realize many of Trump’s base may feel less stressed than before, but now that we understand better what their needs are, can we not help those people and address those issues without all this destructive fallout? Surely we have the ability and the smarts in this highly educated country to lift everyone in ways that we know they need but that don’t do this kind of harm in the process. But to do this we need a leader who is not mostly concerned with himself and his whims at the expense of the entire world. We need a leader devoted to undoing and stopping damage to the planet, to feeding, housing, caring for, and providing a better life for the poor and desperate in our country and in the world, and to helping others by building, with careful thought, study, consultation, and planning, the many systems and practices we need that are humane and good.

Another reason we need to stay stabilized (that is,Trump-less) and not fall further into fear and hopelessness is that we must work together as a country to keep Putin and other likeminded creatures away from our precious democracy and freedom. We need to remember when we see on TV or online spectacles of conflict and chaos, that Russia may be behind much of it. We’ll need to stand strong together so Putin can’t play us into more chaos so we’re too broken and weak to fight him. We need to stand together with our allies for the same reason.

Meanwhile here are some thoughts on possible ways we could make some other recent terrible events turn out at least somewhat less badly:

Some of Trump’s own millions should go immediately to getting every single parent and child he’s separated back together, and as I’ve mentioned before, to pay for the years of therapy they’ll need. (No, I’m not joking, I really think he should pay.) He should also give at least a thousand-dollar stipend to each family (though it isn’t near enough) to help them start again, wherever they end up living. And most should live here rather than be sent home to die in violent countries or to live in fear until they die. We need lots of workers here right now, so he should keep every person not clearly proven dangerous here in the country (with children) and find them housing and a job, and we DO have the resources for both, especially if money is spent more wisely (not on military parades–an offense to even think about in the face of so much poverty and suffering). I wish he could be made to pay also for the therapy, lost sleep, and illness caused by stress of the millions of Americans suffering deeply every day from the fear and desperation he causes, but I know that won’t happen. 

He (and Sessions) should go to trial for cruel behavior and emotional abuse of those immigrants. I so wish Trump could also be tried for emotional abuse of all Americans caused by increasingly frightening many of them as he acts more and more like a dictator every day, and a rather unstable dictator at that. As I write this the WH has removed phrases from printed versions of the press conference at the Helsinki summit, and decided that there will be no written versions of his phone calls to other leaders. He has told us not to believe what we read or hear on the news. Hardly anyone can figure out from day to day what he really thinks or means to do about anything. Does this sound like our forefathers’ idea of a good leader for the United States of America?

Trump should also send whatever money he was going to have us spend on his military parade directly to Puerto Rico right now, and keep sending more until they are back on their feet and everyone has power, food, meds, and clean water. 

For the wellbeing of the entire world the best thing for Trump to do on top of the above-listed items is resign. A President who regularly causes so much damage to health and wellbeing should not stay or be allowed to stay in office. An enormous apology to us, to the world, and to the founding fathers seems in order too, but we know that’s not going to happen either. In order to make a sincere apology, people need to be able to find within themselves at least a modicum of humility.

Be on the Mountain

Susan Cooke

My attempts at meditation have been spotty. I tried it on and off for some time, and even took a class at the Benson Institute in Boston where they try to help people with physical and/or emotional issues by teaching various forms of meditation, a little yoga, and a good deal of cognitive therapy (where they ask things like “Do you really think that person hates you or do you think maybe they were just having a very bad day?” which is certainly helpful to know about.)

It appears most of us can benefit from some of these practices, especially Americans in our chaotic cities, trying as we must to navigate the many days per year that are stressful for so many reasons. This post though is specifically about something I chanced upon while navigating my own super-stress not so long ago. I was fighting a terrible depression that arose from one of the usual suspects–a prolonged traumatic experience. My trauma was caused by a town tyrant bullying my family out of its few remaining funds as we tried to downsize and move from another city to our tiny new house in the new town. I was afraid through the weeks it continued that we’d end up homeless since our funds were draining fast as we tried to pay rent in the first town where we were living temporarily (and where I knew no one, which made me more vulnerable), and pay the mortgage on the very small house we’d built in the new town. My more resilient husband got some support from colleagues at his office, so luckily he got through the crisis in better shape. I won’t go into details here, but we finally in desperation hired a lawyer who within days he stopped the bully. But it was too late for me. A couple of weeks earlier, I fell one day–or my brain did–into a terrifying dark canyon. I could not eat, and could barely talk. This, I learned, was depression caused by extended traumatic stress. I thought I’d been depressed somewhat at times in the past, but I had no idea it could be like this.

I couldn’t physically tolerate the meds–they dried my eyes so severely I got corneal abrasions. We read books on depression and tried what we could to get me back to something like normal. I discovered after beginning to try meditation and finding it upsetting, that some experts believe it’s not always good to meditate when you’re deep in a depression, and better to wait till you’re climbing out a little. I did the other things they recommend: exercise, being out in sunlight, and being with people more (difficult since I didn’t work in an office and all the coffee shops’ music was so loud I couldn’t last in most more than two minutes). So I was more isolated than was healthy, and while I added more exercise in the sunlight because I knew it would help later, it didn’t feel like it was helping for a long time.

When I felt ready I tried CDs of guided meditation, other CDs that are supposed to help you sleep if that’s part of your problem (it was), and CDs of massage music since I knew some of that might be relaxing. Most didn’t help much, and some made me agitated. Finally I stumbled on some music that used combinations of sounds I found soothing–Native American and Asian flutes, some Eastern-sounding delicate cymbals, and crickets! It all seemed to transport me to a new place where there was a little relief. I’d read it’s helpful to have a restful place in our minds to help us feel calmer, especially when we’re upset, but had wrestled with figuring out what that was for me. This music made it easy to visualize such a place, and once I did I realized it was the only place where I could imagine this music being heard.

I didn’t think about the place much, other than when I imagined it during those few minutes on days when I tried to do something like meditation. But weeks later I noticed that sometimes when I couldn’t relax or felt depressed again, that I was telling myself something new:  “Be on the mountain.”  I realized the place the music had conjured up had become part of me. It was on a mountain, a wide mountain ledge in Nepal (why? I’ve never been to Nepal!)  It was spring or summer, twilight but late enough that stars had begun to appear. Below was a small town with cafes and lights, and a small harbor leading to the ocean. Little boats rocked gently in the harbor, moonlight shone on the waves, and there was a gentle, warm breeze. Behind me on the ledge was a beautiful garden filled with fragrant plants and trees, then more mountain above it. The music came from below, and was played every night so that everyone around–in the harbor, the town, and on the mountain, was at peace, with themselves and with everyone else. Next to me were several much-loved animals–my childhood collie, a horse I rode in the Colorado woods for two summers, two cats who adopted me, the fawn and the lamb I held in my arms both on the same day, and the goat with soulful eyes at a rescue zoo in Maine who never left my side for nearly an hour.

When I am on this mountain, I feel calmer on some nights than others, but the miracle is that I feel calm at all. For a constantly whirling mind this is a great gift. I’ve accepted that it’s okay that this isn’t any particular kind of meditation, as far as I know, and I don’t know if it’s helping my brain a lot or a little, but I’m much better off going there fairly often than I am never going at all. I didn’t think it was possible for this to happen to me, that is, I look forward to those few minutes, whether it’s 3 or 20 or more.

I wish everyone could be on this mountain at least occasionally, feel what I feel there, then take it into their stressed out crazy lives and let it change them a little. In my imagination there is no place or need on the mountain for frantic speed, vast wealth, hatred, violence, gun protection, or cruelty. People are terribly considerate, and love and protect animals and each other. They find ways to live in the modern world that don’t cut them off but are the most peaceful possible, so everyone is soothed by nature every day  (without leaf-blowers and with many fewer aircraft overhead, or at least quiet aircraft which I hear is becoming possible!)  Relieving suffering and creating ways to live a peaceful, healthy life are  also priorities on this mountain. No one goes hungry because there are fruit and vegetable farms everywhere. There are no gas-powered machines of any kind–they’re all electric and quiet–so you can hear the wind in the leaves, and if it’s nighttime focus on the beauty of the stars. The lack of fumes means you can smell the jasmine, lilies, and roses in the gardens.

That’s not so impossible, not so very far from where we are if we put some group effort into getting there, is it? The human body isn’t designed to hear loud motors and smell fumes most of every day–it’s just too stressful, even if you think you’re used to it. Nor are our brains immune to the chronic stress caused by seeing or just knowing that others are suffering. We’ll all be happier and healthier if we live where nature without noise is available to us most of the time, and where we know all who suffer are getting help. For example we need to know our city, state, and country are helping the homeless and hungry right now, all day and every day—that wellbeing is a priority for all leaders. In my ideal place there is just no room left for selfish, narcissistic, or non-caring leaders.

I know I sound naive to many, but I can’t help believing these things are possible because we are as close to being there as we are to being in a much worse place. So why not go for the best one? So I wish for us all that soon we’ll have only caring people in power. I wish for you that soon you find your own mountain (or forest or seashore) and spend some time there.

The CD:

World Flute Lullabies, Native American & Asian Flutes for Sleep Therapy, by Lullaby Tribe (“ioda” seems to be the brand.). Not every cut is perfect, but on the whole it’s the best collection for me, and the third one is about 20 minutes long and one of my favorites. That one is good also if you’re looking for one meditation period about that long. I had to buy 2 copies because the first would not play. I took it off my ipod and use a cd player now for it because it took up too much room (80 minutes) but you could pick the cuts that do the most for you (if this turns out to be the right album for you) and just buy those. This group has made some other albums as well.

 

Bullies On the World Stage

Susan Cooke

I’ve been thinking about some of our world “leaders” and how they got so mean. The classic answer, I figured at first, is someone was mean to them when they were kids, but that happened a lot to Winston Churchill and he turned out mostly okay. His dad was fiercely critical at times, and his mom was pretty much hands-off, so there wasn’t much affection (though his mother was verbally supportive). Both parents failed to visit him at school much and were pretty self-involved. Luckily he had a loving nurse, “Womany,” who was in essence mother and father to him, always giving support and affection whenever he was home. As an adult he snapped at his wife a lot, and suffered from chronic depression. The strikes against him emotionally could have made him both a miserable and perhaps tyrannical leader, or no leader at all, but some magical combination of good things must have changed what might have been an awful course for his life to take, altering what is now such an important moment in history. His father’s at least occasional closeness, and his admiration for his father seemed to inspire him periodically, though sadly this was cut short by the syphilis that gradually destroyed his father’s mind and ended his life too early. Thankfully he was also strengthened enough by the love, even if distant, of his adored mother, and the unending unconditional support of Womany even as he grew older–until she died–so that the world gained an inspiring leader rather than a powerful bully.

I’ve known other people with not the greatest childhood experiences who did not turn into bullies, and some who bullied part-time yet could be caring at other times. But what about the people who bully most of or all the time? This of course includes most heads of governments of countries whose unfortunate people we’ve seen suffer a great deal, both in the past and today, and also heads of governments who want to make people in other countries suffer too. You know the names–tyrants and dictators through the ages and those bullying millions right now.

KID BULLIES

On the bullying information site “Ditch the Label” which largely addresses school bullies, it says bullies usually want to gain a feeling of power, purpose and control over you. In their research they found that many bullies were likely to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past five years before they bullied someone. They say while some people meditate or find other ways to deal with their trauma, some simply don’t know what to do and may bully as a coping mechanism. 66% of the people who told these researchers they’d bullied someone were male.It’s believed this has partly to do with the way boys are raised, not feeling it’s okay to show emotions, while girls are usually encouraged to talk about their feelings.

Their research shows those who are bullied are twice as likely to bully someone else. One in three who bullied told researchers they felt their parents/guardians didn’t have enough time for them. They were more likely from larger families, less likely to live with biological parents, often felt rejected by their parents, or came from violent households with lots of arguments and hostility. They tended to feel relationships with their friends and family were not secure. They were more likely to feel those closest to them weren’t very supportive or loving, and made them do things they were not comfortable doing.1

I was bullied often as a child, but I guess there was enough love and support from various people along the way to prevent me from turning into a complete jerk. For what it’s worth, being bullied is probably partly what made me want to fight on behalf of victims of all sorts. (Still, I don’t recommend the experience.) So this seems an imperfect science–predicting who becomes a bully–but I do think based on my own experience that the people I quote here have a lot of ideas that make sense.

ADULT BULLIES

Psychology Today‘s page on adult bullies tells us one way people bully others is to use title, position, or material leverage to intimidate, threaten, harass, and/or harm. The bully uses his advantage in stature and/or resources (like wealth) to control and dominate the victim. It quotes Edmond Burke: “The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.” It also mentions verbal abuse as bullying, including threats, shaming, hostile teasing, insults, constant negative judgment and criticism, or racist, sexist, or homophobic language. Quoting Lundy Bancroft, “The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds or punches but are often not as obvious.”

The site discusses physical, cyber, and “passive-aggressive or covert” bullying. Author Preston Ni describes the latter this way:

This is a less frequently mentioned form of bullying, but in some ways it’s the most insidious. With many bullies, you can see them coming because they are quick to make their intimidating presence known. A passive-aggressive or covert bully, however, behaves appropriately on the surface, but takes you down with subtlety.

Examples of passive-aggressive and covert bullying include negative gossip, negative joking at someone’s expense, sarcasm, condescending eye contact, facial expression or gestures, mimicking to ridicule, deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity, the invisible treatment, social exclusion, professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success. 2

On another Psychology Today page, Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D, author of the book A Unified Theory of Happiness, reports bullying is widespread and increasing:

Bullying is an aggressive behavior with the aim to intimidate and harm another, repeatedly over time and with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one. While it happens more frequently in countries that promote violence and that are intolerant of inter-individual differences, bullying is everywhere. Even in other species: chimpanzees do it; dogs do it; mice do it. 

We might bully, she says, when we feel threatened by someone who stands out or who seems to have a competitive edge over [our] perceived limited resources. She says anyone different from the group is a potential target. Her quote from Hogan Sherrow of Scientific American is especially apt and I think interesting in our present culture:

Individuals whose behavior challenges, disrupts or are considered unusual are often the targets of aggression, and that aggression continues until those individuals change their behavior…Bullying-like behaviors are used to enhance an individual or coalition’s competitive ability, or to coerce others into changing their behavior to conform to the rest of the community. Bullying-like behaviors provide the individuals who engage in them with advantages over their targets, through enhanced status or access to resources, or both.

If I understand her correctly, Polard is saying some (I would think mostly insecure) people want power of various kinds, either just because they want it or because that power leads to getting resources like money, attention, status from a peer group, or fame. Such people seem to have no qualms about bullying to get those resources.

STOPPING BULLIES

Polard says the victims’ coming forward to say they were bullied isn’t near enough to stop the bullying. You have to understand bullying better, and understand what’s up with the bully and why he/she feels insecure, threatened or disempowered enough to do this. It’s also the responsibility of the community to stop the bully by building powerful coalitions around the victim (I assume she means provide widespread protection of people who tend to be bullied.)

Her next thought seems important to remember: we can’t wait for bullies to become aware of how they need to change. We need to empower the victim now with education about why bullies bully, and help the victim discover his/her own power. Next, victims (and I would think the rest of us too) should let the bully know we know they bully because they’re fearful and insecure or don’t feel they have enough or are good enough. We should demand not only an apology, but that the bullies examine their behavior, get help, and not bully again. She suggests a support group for the victim, and finally a look at the entire society. Is it hostile or unkind, for instance?

I know she is talking largely about kids at school in this instance, but in many ways this applies to adults in the larger world, for example she writes:

All parties ought to look into the contributing factors of an atmosphere of intolerance and aggression. If schools promote competitiveness from an early age on, dividing kids according to their test taking skills, offering special classes, discussing college in elementary school and the “rush to nowhere” in general, we ought not to be surprised that kids start to elbow each other. We need to look at racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other discriminative behavior and engage in open discussions. Where is the dialogue about uncomfortable truths?

Also helpful are her observations on the contribution of mental illness, which itself is added to by unhealthy trends in our culture:

We need to address the fact that a myriad of people are unhappy and highly medicated, suffering from depression and anxiety, triggered by the great recession, social injustice, glorified aggression in movies and actual warfare, extremely high divorce-rates and dysfunctional families, inertia, anorexic role models and reality TV stars whose one God is money. Happy people are the exception, not the norm and are therefore an easy target for those who are fashionably unhappy. The least we can do is to be mindful about mental health and the lack of thereof. 3

TODAY’S BIG BULLIES

I imagine as you read through these various quotes and ideas about bullies, the behavior of many people comes to mind, people both in your inner circle and in public life. Since I was looking primarily for keys to help us stop political bullying from those in power in the world now, I’ll only comment on them here.

I might in the future look into those bullies’ childhoods and see what I can find, but I think our main problem is what they’re doing right now. I’m not sure we can undo enough childhood damage to change those bullies, although I’ve always thought we should have the best psychotherapists around working for the government to help formulate policies with regard to world bullies. (Those psychotherapists should be selected carefully, using peer review, etc. and no politics!)

Our own President is a bully in more ways than I can get into here, but I’ll mention one that applies to several comments of Preston Ni on covert or passive-aggressive bullying mentioned earlier: “…deliberately causing embarrassment and insecurity…professional isolation, and deliberately sabotaging someone’s well-being, happiness, and success.” Trump just did the above to ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe by firing him a few hours before his pension began. Even if it’s found that McCabe broke the law he could have been given his pension for now. This was classic, mean bullying. We need to act on Polard’s direction to build a coalition of safety around McCabe, support him in his efforts to obtain justice, and call out the bully Trump for what he is as well as let him know he’s showing his fear, insecurity, and the fact that underneath his shows of bravura he doesn’t think he’s good enough. He needs to know we’re onto him and how he’s using power and money to belittle and harm someone (and the someone’s family). Trump’s behavior in general is also reflected in part of another statement mentioned earlier, on using verbal abuse to bully. Methods include “threats, shaming, hostile teasing, insults, constant negative judgment and criticism, or racist, sexist, or homophobic language.” My experience of him has been he uses many of these methods constantly.

As for Putin, we need to let him know even more certainly than we have already that we’re onto him, that he’s using resources and the power he used bullying to get, to then bully millions by threatening their very existence. Kim Jong Un doesn’t have as much money from what I understand, but his nukes and the friends (I think some of them are also bullies) who give him money for nukes and for whatever other brutal stuff he’s cooking up are all clearly a threat to us and seem happy in that role. (I’d like to see an entire book on what makes people happy to be monsters. And what does it take to go from bully to monster? It seems hard to know where to draw the insanity line.)  I’m not sure but I think Kim is more transparent about what’s bothering him than is Putin, though Kim may not mean to be. We all know he feels unsafe, so I say do what we can to make him feel safer, but let him know the world can see he’s feeling insecure. On second thought he might be too unstable to withstand that. (It really is time to consult the world’s therapists.) Maybe we should just let him know we think he’s acting dishonorably, in case there’s an ounce of him that cares about that.

I’m afraid Putin would be unaffected by our calling him dishonorable. He seems both a covert and overt bully, with his constant denials that he’s done anything wrong while he continues to threaten and frighten people. I guess Polard would say we need to build up our own methods of protection against both these bullies, but maybe we should also remind them that if they did even only partially destroy us it would in the end give them a very expensive clean-up job to do. Our country wouldn’t be worth near as much to them in the terrible disarray, death, and destruction a nuclear (or severe cyber or wide chemical) attack would leave. We might mention that most history books and countries would vilify them forever if they did enough such nasty stuff to us or to other countries. They’re already down for some pretty negative pages in those history books now of course. It’s worth mentioning, since we don’t have lots of alternatives left to use to defend ourselves from all of their many methods of causing death and chaos, other than harming yet more innocent people in an un-winnable war. If they do contemplate lots of expensive further destruction, I’d like to remind them that we could all (including them) put that money to great use helping each other’s countries become wonderful rather than scary places. So I refer them to a new idea on the off-chance they ever read this: They should look at my posts on making and living in a kinder world. Better yet, they should just start doing it. Bullies, put your energy and money into something that will really make you famous–doing good.

At some point we have to hope today’s big bullies can stop thinking about their own amassing of power for a few minutes to remember they won’t live forever and may leave behind terrible reputations as hateful, useless humans who had the power to contribute wonderful gifts to the world but chose instead to use power to harm. The mess they make will be an embarrassment to their memories and for their families down through the generations for eons to come, that is, if they haven’t wrecked or blown up the whole planet before then.