Trump, the Border, & Depression on the 4th of July

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As my readers know, one of my main concerns in helping us fight the stresses of living in the American city is the lack of attention paid to mental health, especially to two of its most distressing problems: anxiety and depression.

I’ve been thinking about it again this 4th of July as I continue to learn more about the misery at the border. I’ve been worrying not only about the obvious physical effects from the unhealthy conditions, but also about the PTSD that will likely affect every man, woman, and child going through this​ ​horrible experience, leaving them to face ​months or ​years of lingering anxiety and depression. As you may know, chronic stress of any kind often leads to anxiety and depression, but being traumatized for long periods almost guarantees this outcome. Tragically, prolonged anxiety and depression ​often contribute to continued and new physical illnesses, ​creating a painful​ and expensive ​cycle for victims and those caring for them. 

Many kinds of stress and ​emotional ​abuse can lead to such prolonged mental suffering, and research shows in fact that depression is increasing throughout our country. This isn’t surprising given the current environment. While those at the border suffer both physically and mentally, many others of us watch with fear and horror ​King Trump’s destructive march through what’s left of many of our country’s goals and ideals. We see the end of being a respected leader on the world stage in peace, justice, and protecting the planet, and that we are no longer anywhere near the kind and generous example we used to be, or some of us thought we were, of welcoming the weary masses who yearn to be free. Even many non-Americans have begun to feel more stress as things deteriorate further with a Tweet or a dubious Executive Order. 

No matter how ​Trump and his yes-people twist the words or the history, this ​generalized ​misery as well as that at the border was and is largely caused by ​their own self-interested actions. Before writing more about this I wanted to check my hunch that since​ the beginning of this Presidency Americans’ depression and anxiety has increased even more than what I’d already observed by just talking to people in the first few months. I ​searched online only for a few seconds, and no less than nine articles​ appeared​ on Trump’s negative effects on mental health.

I’ll get to those in a moment​.​ Meanwhile it must be said the​re could be no better recipe for wrecking mental and physical health than the​ ​hell on earth going on at the border. Aside from the physical misery, those of us who have suffered from depression know that the new and acute depression that will result for many is itself its own hell on earth. ​This past weekend as we celebrated our freedoms ​including the right to pursuit of happiness, our desperate fellow-humans, already stressed beyond what most of us can imagine experiencing, continued to suffer. Continuing for them, for who knows how long–are the brutal effects of family separation, their loneliness for home, fears for the rest of their families and friends back home and fear of an unknown future, finding themselves living in cages and other jail-like ​containers, seeing their children ill with diseases that aren’t being treated, feeling looked down on or even hated by many people they now depend on for survival, being surrounded by filth they never would have lived with at home, and being emotionally and/or sexually or otherwise abused. Throw in constant doses of helplessness and hopelessness, and ​a US president lying to the world about how great things are for them, ​and you have a perfect storm for ​creating severe mental illness that can last for years.

​I can’t imagine the founding fathers envisioned us causing such anguish i​n people begging for asylum. Few people can bear such multiple prolonged abuses without psychic damage. Depression by itself, without all the other problems, is torture enough. ​Psychiatric drugs ​​take weeks to work, often don’t help at all, and many have awful side effects. ​Physical illness only makes depression worse, and depression makes physical illness worse. Add to these challenges increasing evidence that our culture is becoming more and more stressed, ​including increases in blatant hatred and hateful behavior, and you can see it will be more and more difficult, no matter who we are or where we came from, to recover from depression in our country​, without some major changes at the border and in our way of life in general. 

​So we must help each other, our leaders must ​also ​help, a​nd if they don’t help we must elect different leaders. Some of our leaders’ failures to call out hatred and its related crimes  are reprehensible, but it’s not too late for them to begin to make amends. Among other things we need them to work with us to change this culture of prejudice and hate, and to change as well the money-and-success-over-all state of mind that seems so central to our society and that most of us feel somewhat forced into by the resulting rush-rush never-rest American lifestyle. As for the hate, it’s salt on the stressed-out lifestyle wounds, and because much of it has been taught to the haters I can only recommend they un-teach themselves if they’ve been so taught. If they stop and think for awhile about it, they hopefully will see it’s a much happier, healthier way for all of us to live. 

We also need specific help from business leaders in altering those other stressful lifestyle practices, since all the stress and worry they contribute to not only make more of us sicker but also can make prejudice and violence more likely. If your life is filled with stress and you’re angry or upset a lot, maybe it feels easy to blame the person of another color or religion who works in your building or lives on your block. So business and government need to prioritize making everyone’s life less stressful. This is not impossible, as they seem to think. The idea of helping us by changing a few things that chronically stress us just isn’t at the top of their lists. For example they can help reduce noise and pollution in our lives, help us have more nature in our cities, and help us calm down about climate change by doing something about it and not lying and denying what science has proven. They can help us have more sense of community by encouraging the presence of friendly community meeting places, parks, and coffee shops. If we’re less isolated, meeting each other more than we do now, and making friends in our own communities, we’ll all be healthier both mentally and physically. Don’t leave it at the bottom of your lists, government and business. Do something.

These stresses and more (such as bad diet and too many guns) that they can help us decrease, have for now made our countr​y​ a hard one to get well in or stay well in, especially ​​if you’re traumatized, anxiety-ridden, and already chronically stressed or​depressed. A stunningly self-involved and ignorant administration doesn’t help. When it heaps more abuse on new refugees and continues to upset the rest of us with ignoring these known stressors, it only makes ​all of our stress worse. All stress-caused illness costs a great deal to treat, as do the addiction and even crimes it sometimes leads to, which I mention since so many of our business and government leaders are always thinking about profit.

​​To give you an idea of how the country’s mood is already being affected by the current leadership,  here are a f​ew quotes:

“While Trump supporters may have experienced a boost in ​’​psychological well-being, pride, and hope for the future,” in the words of the New England Journal of Medicine researchers, his presidency has been a pit of despair for others.​’ ​”

(from Pacific Standard, PSMAG.com,  article by Jared Keller, Jan.15, 2019)

Referring to a phenomenon called “Trump Anxiety Disorder,” author Matt Kwong ​writes that therapist Elisabeth LaMott’s patients ask questions such as “Is he gonna blow us all up?” and many others tell her they suffer from fear of how dire Trump’s decisions may be for the world. She told ​Kwong, “There is a fear of the world ending. It’s very disorienting and constantly unsettling.”

(from CBC News, CBC.CA, Matt Kwong, July 18, 2018, “In a divided U.S., therapists treating anxiety are hearing the same name over and over: Donald Trum​p,”)

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that Trump is making us ​both crazy and ​ill​, listing the many stress-caused symptoms people are feeling including his own increasing blood pressure ​since Trump b​ecame President. ​​He references a paper by New York Analyst Matt Aibel that was to appear in the journal “Psychoanalytic Perspectives​,” ​in which the analyst wrote ​that many mental health professionals are often using terms such as​ ​”Trump Anxiety” and “Trump Affective Disorder.”

(Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Sept. 22nd, 2017, “President Trump is Actually Making us Crazy”)

​In the blog Anxious Minds, ​Dr. David J. Leonard writes effectively and movingly of the PTSD and general anxiety, fear, and anguish being caused by Trump​. The post’s title says it all: “A Culture of Depression; the Toxicity of Trump.”  I recommend it, and it’s at his blog AnxiousMinds.org.

My Plan to Help at the Border:​​

Whatever your views are on ​our President or on our current society, you likely are among the many in this country who don’t want to see continued suffering at the border​, s​o I hope you agree with my prescription​ below,​ or something close to it:  

Trump must arrange to pay for ​the 3 to 5 years of mental health aid the border families or some members of them may likely need​,and at least two years of housing, ​two years of ​healthy groceries ​(fresh organic fruits and vegetables, so they can recover from the damage caused by the chemical-filled nutrition-less processed foods fed to them at the border), a two-year stipend for other necessities, and ​jobs, plus job training if needed, so adults can work once they’re stabilized. Jobs assigned must not be ones that cause ​new or ​worse mental ​or physical ​health issues​. All families must be reunited, all illnesses immediately treated, and all medical care paid for by the US. Endangered families and individuals must not be sent back home. US money and aid should be sent to each country from which suffering people are fleeing so that those places become healthy and safe ​to live in without terror. ​Finally, it would look really good and be even more healing if some of this money came directly out of Trump’s pocket. ​

When should this process begin? Today. The alternative, for ​those who let the suffering continue,  is to be remembered ​by a great many people as bullies, cowards, and pathetic leaders​ who did nothing​. ​There may be worse alternatives in store as well, such as going to jail, even if action is taken now, because so much damage has already been done. ​

Miserable, traumatized and frightened people can’t be very good citizens even if they try hard. We need to help them get on their feet. Jobs need to be done here, and these people ​​need jobs. The whole country needs a mental health boost which it could be given right now if the government act​ed​​​ humanely and did so immediately. ​This right and good action might ​do a little to ​begin to redeem the current leadership’s reputation and to help heal the despair of so many Americans that’s been caused by Trump. I personally would love to see this administration redeem itself in these ways and in many other ways, because besides ​feeling newly stressed most days like so many other people are, due to the behavior of this President and those who go along with him, I’m also perpetually stunned and embarrassed by their cowardice and cruelty. 

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

5G–New, fast, profitable, & possibly quite dangerous

Susan Cooke

Please pardon my long absence, caused by a need for lots of time  to research an upcoming post designed to help people find cleaner-running, quieter landscape tools, and therefore find city life a little less stressful. I interrupted that work to bring up something really important that I feel can’t wait. Let’s look at a new technology that may be affecting your health soon:  It’s called 5G.

Below are several links to articles I’ve found on 5G and the cell towers that apparently are going to be inflicted on all of us (lots and lots of them) without much concern for possible health effects. Personally I have enough to do battling and living with city stress both for myself and others already. It’s upsetting to me that  no matter what we do to be healthy–which is challenge enough in the modern world– we may have our efforts sabotaged by thousands of new barely-studied 5G cell towers near us, and have no control over what they might do to us. We already live and work in buildings full of people using a wide array of electromagnetic equipment about which there’s still not conclusive evidence of safety.  We have pretty much the same human body we did centuries ago but it wasn’t exposed to all this stuff 24/7.

If you’re concerned or want to know more, I hope you’ll take a look at these articles. I’ll mention a few more things before the articles come up below.

I’ve seen a variety of opinions on EMFs (electromagnetic fields), but I still find enough negatives to make me want to insist on no further electromagnetic radiation near where I live.  An accomplished software engineer I know says he doesn’t see that the new 5G technology is that necessary, especially if it puts people’s health at risk. He says instead what we need is faster connections to people’s houses, which you can do with  just wires only. (Full disclosure,  I’m married to the software engineer. His name is Victor Preston.)

We figured at our house we’re probably already swimming in electromagnetic radiation, and it’s likely you are too. We now turn wifi off at night so at least we’re not sleeping in so much of it.  (This was recommended to me by a book I read on possible causes of auto-immune illnesses.) Still, as a person with a PTSD brain and who seems to have a couple of ailments there are no explanations for (blood tests normal) like chronic fatigue) I’m not happy about having another not-well-understood threat added to the mix I’m living in. My understanding is none of us has the power to say “No” to these towers. As one article states it, they’re coming, period. That’s pretty pushy, wouldn’t you say? What I think we need to do then is block this technological “advance” until its proven safe for adults, kids, and animals.

Why not delay it until it’s known for certain not to cause harm? And if it does cause harm it clearly must be redesigned or scrapped. We’re going to be exposed to this stuff for most hours–maybe all hours–of every day. What’s the big hurry?  I suspect the usual–big money.

Unless and until  there’s proof all this activity in our environment is not already making people sick, we shouldn’t  allow ourselves to be bullied into accepting even more of it that’s even more untested.  If we don’t stop this plan to dump these towers on us, and we do get sicker, the companies profiting from them will likely just find ways to blame any resulting illnesses on something else.

Some people are already planning to uproot themselves and move just to get away from the towers (but where can they go?) This works further to destroy sense of community, which this country desperately needs more of–and it’s another way the towers will harm wellbeing. The companies–and also governments allowing the towers–should also consider what they may likely have to pay for the lawsuits that will likely show up later due to illness if they charge ahead.

The time to investigate and to protest is now, before they put all the towers up. I feel bad for the initial test cities, which you’ll see listed in one of the articles. Did those people have any say in the matter? In one of the articles you’ll see that one resident expects property values to go down a lot when the towers come since most people in her area don’t want them. I honestly don’t see how this many towers can be shoved on us all without asking our permission and with so much ignorance about future results. I saw a figure of 800,000 by 2026 for the US.  And even if a neighborhood wants them (I doubt that will happen given the risk) each house should be able to say no.

I’m all for technology making our lives better but when health is endangered and anxiety over the technology causes stress and the increased depression often caused by added prolonged stress, the change is not better.  Ignoring such concerns shows a lack of respect for people’s peace of mind, something too little attention is paid to already by government and business, and which deeply affects wellbeing and health and therefore the very length of our lives. It looks as if we’re going to need to stand up to protect our health and wellbeing since government is failing to do it,  and because profit can and often does roll over a people like a tank. As I say ad nauseam, enough money is one thing; more and more profit no matter the cost to health of people and the planet is another.

Those planning on big profits from 5G need to keep in mind the potential increased healthcare costs caused by more illness, not to mention the suffering. Is it worth the trade-off, especially if you’re making the public angry in the process?

I don’t want to be part of this experiment, or for you to be either. Too often in the past  we’ve accepted new technologies without asking enough questions and demanding proof of safety.  I believe a good chance to have a healthier, less angst-ridden life is a basic human right, and government and industry need to be reminded of this constantly.

I’ve already written two of my reps in Congress about 5G, and I hope you’ll do the same if you’re concerned. My  purpose in this blog and in my book is to find ways to increase wellbeing for all living things, and to show that profit need not always be king. Yes 5G does some helpful things, but it doesn’t seem near worth the possible price. If it’s forced on us where I live, I don’t know what I’ll do or where we can go, and am feeling more anxiety because of it–not good for the immune system! (By the way the towers don’t look that great either and would not be a garden enhancement for sure.)

Here’s a novel idea:  How about these big companies taking a kinder, wellbeing-promoting route? I urge them companies to make their money on something known to be safe. If they can’t find safer communication technology, they could turn their vast innovative powers to other businesses desperately needed to make life healthier. They could for example replace some of the many toxic chemicals the FDA allows with safer ingredients. They could work on ways to grow more healthy plant food and feed more people, or find ways to house more people. Instead they’re promoting possible increased illness and more of the chronic anxiety already rampant in our society by forcing 5G on us.

Before getting to the articles on 5G, I want to mention, for those of you who are interested, what I also just read about transformer boxes (a related issue). If you want to skip it just go to the next paragraph after the link to an article discussing these boxes.

We made a point when choosing our house not to get one near one of those transformer boxes on poles we were warned might have bad effects on health. I just read in a response by an aerospace scientist to one of the articles that the bigger wires running from those boxes may be also be a big health problem. To see an interesting discussion on transformers alone and on the effect of “hum” and vibrations related to them (all news to me),  go to this link:

https://www.quora.com/How-dangerous-is-electrical-transformer-for-human-health-if-it-is-near-to-house

Below are the articles. If 5G makes you nervous I hope you’ll alert those in power in business and government, including local government, that you’re worried and that you don’t want it around until and unless it’s proven to be 100% safe for health (which I doubt can happen for some time if ever).

Meanwhile, stay well and I’ll be back soon with quieter landscape options. Here are the article links and a couple of comments on some of them:


The first, from CBS News, includes some photos. Note that one person interviewed feels she’ll have to move to avoid living next to a tower.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/5g-network-cell-towers-raise-health-concerns-for-some-residents/

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This next article details some of the worries about 5G’s health effects including some studies. It’s thorough, alarming, and I think proof this is not a good idea, at least not as it’s now planned, and it should not be forced on us:

Why 5G Cell Towers Are More Dangerous


Next an important article from Environmental Health Trust:

For this one please just google “5G and the IOT: Scientific Overview of Human Health Risks”   (Sorry, I can’t make a link on some of these without pulling up a big piece of the article. If searching for this title doesn’t work, please go to the main site first, which is:  Environmental Health Trust, then search for the 5G title.)


Here’s one from ConsumerWatch (I had same problem with making a link with this one):  Please google “ConsumerWatch: 5G Cellphone Towers Signal Renewed Concerns Over Impacts on Health”


And from UK’s Daily Mail:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5784487/The-roll-5G-wireless-service-massive-health-experiment-public-health-expert-warns-a.html

The above UK report (which is mostly about the US) states that some studies have already linked older wireless service generations to cancers of the reproductive system and heart, and 5G health effects have hardly been studied yet. But still the plan is, without asking us, to inundate us with some 800,000 new cell towers to support 5G. (The report says now we have 154,000.)

————————————

These articles and reports make clear that it’s highly irresponsible, unethical, and, might I say, greedy, to bulldoze over the entire US population with hundreds of thousands of new cell towers we certainly can’t trust to be safe.

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.

Trump, human rights abuse, & racism

Susan Cooke

Despite the fact that most of us have observed that Trump rarely thinks about anything before acting, and that he’s focused not on planning but mostly on what he apparently perceives as his Almighty self, I can’t help but believe based on all his past actions and statements, that his ability to even think of separating parents and kids with no plan to unite them and not feel an ounce of guilt or responsibility is based on an innate fear and hatred of non-white human beings.

Yes you can say it’s just his obsession with staying in power by pleasing his base (notice I didn’t say “Presidency,” I said “power” which seems to be, as with Putin, his main reason for living), you can say occasionally he’s hugged a black person on TV, and you can say many other things, but let’s cut out the hedging and go ahead and call him what he is–a racist. We have a racist President.

When you combine the racism with a love of power, an egocentric impulsivity that makes him able to insult longtime allies, endanger the world order, and indeed endanger the world’s very existence by his willingness to invade other countries and by ignoring the science concerning climate change, you end up with an astonishingly toxic mix. By the way I believe  he does believe in climate change and global warming, yet loves power so much he feels no remorse about the damage he and the EPA are now causing.

Trump in fact seems to loves Trump more than anything else, and the world’s and little children’s and their weeping mothers’ welfare be damned. They’re mostly brown so they’re not quite human in his book, meaning the suffering isn’t quite real to him or doesn’t matter. Many monsters want to continue acting monstrously but will say to us, how dare we call them monsters?  If he doesn’t like being considered a monster, he should drop everything else he’s even thinking of doing and personally make certain those families are reunited immediately, pay out of his own pocket all the money it’s going to take to get it done now, and pay all the bills for the therapy these people will need. He should also, along with Sessions, be tried for human rights abuse.

As he might say himself, he should man up and be tried for all the destructive blunders he’s made, blunders that have damaged so many. Yet there’s no sentence heavy enough to pay for causing what may well be lifelong depression and other mental illnesses for thousands of traumatized children and their parents.

American Priorities

Susan Cooke

It’s wonderful to see the country fight back against the Trump administration–well–at least much of the country. I hope the others will someday come around to understanding that people and kindness coming first is part of what makes a country and a culture great.

No matter who is President, we the people will always need to remind each other about kindness, and then make decisions from there. Even protection from enemies can be engineered with the most kindness possible with some effort. Whatever we do that’s noble in this country will demonstrate to other countries what we’re truly made of. It would be good if they could see such values right now since many of them must be quite disillusioned with us.

In my forthcoming book Stress in the American City I write about kindness and a few other things that help to make our lives more peaceful, happier, and healthier in both mind and body. These include paying vastly more attention to mental health and what harms it, caring for and providing more nature for all (humans desperately need it, especially in cities, and it reduces crime), making sure Americans get help with reducing our increasing isolation from one another by providing more gathering places such as coffee shops in every neighborhood (feeling part of a community close to home  is critical for good mental health), and respecting the science that tells us we must save the environment rather than continuing to wreck our children’s future (that is, we need to get on with practices we know will help to keep global warming from being a permanent, irreparable tragedy).

There are many more practices and issues we need to take off the bottom of priority lists and move to the top, Without paying attention to the wellbeing of all living things on the planet and caring for the planet itself, tons of money won’t keep us from having the sicker and shorter lives now seen in many large cities including American cities. Enough money, or we could say adequate money, and more peaceful, less driven “success”-and-wealth-oriented lives for most of us will help everyone live longer, allay more anxiety and depression, and help provide some leftover funds to lift those at the bottom. Research shows that even the rich are less happy in a terribly unequal culture.

I ask government at all levels to put wellbeing and kindness at the top of its priority lists, and I believe everything else will fall into place in ways much better for all than what we’ve seen lately.

Classic movies for a good mood

Susan Cooke

If you’re stressed, depressed, or anxious, these movies are a joy and might help. I’ll post more here later as I think of them. I bet you’ve never heard of some of them! I list movie first, then main actor(s):

My Man Godfrey—William Powell & Carole Lombard

The Voice of the Turtle—Eleanor Parker & Ronald Reagan

Lucky Partners—Ginger Rogers and Ronald Coleman

Desk Set—Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy

Vivacious Lady—James Stewart & Ginger Rogers

I Love you Again—William Powell & Myrna Loy

Biography of a Bachelor Girl—Ann Harding, Robert Montgomery & Edward Everett Horton

Hands Across the Table—Carole Lombard

Miranda—Glynis Johns

You’ve Got Mail—Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks

The Runaway Bride—Julia Roberts & Richard Gere

My Big Fat Greek Wedding—Nia Vardalos (& edited by my cousin Mia Goldman!)

When Harry met Sally—Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal

Double Wedding—William Powell & Myrna Loy

The Talk of the Town—Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, Jean Arthur

The Shop Around the Corner—James Stewart & Margaret Sullavan

Never Say Goodbye—Errol Flynn & Eleanor Parker

Easy Living—Jean Arthur, Ray Milland, Edward Arnold

The Devil and Miss Jones—Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, & Charles Coburn

A Foreign Affair—Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund

The  Doctor Takes a Wife—Ray Milland & Loretta Young

The More the Merrier—Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn, Joel McCrea

Key to the City— Young & Clark Gable

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford—Jean Arthur & William Powell

More than a Secretary—Jean Arthur & George Brent

Mother is a Freshman—Van Johnson & Loretta Young

Come to the Stable—Loretta Young & Celeste Holm

People will Talk—Cary Grant & Jeanne Crain (only partly a comedy but wonderful)

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