COVID-19 and Loneliness

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No single state lasts forever. How will you react when things change and you feel threatened? People are creatures of habit, and in 2020 a form of coronavirus has unexpectedly risen to rapidly infect over 300,000 humans while disturbing our daily routines on a global scale. We are geared towards survival, and things that appear to threaten our survival often disturb us.

Our reaction to the virus may demonstrate our desire for predictability more than our frustrations with widespread death and disease. A person often seems less disturbed when that person thinks a disease has the potential to hurt many others. A person seems more disturbed when a disease has the potential to hurt that person or people who feel closer to that person. The speed and urgency with which this virus is spreading is another factor that produces a sense of dread.

If you want to explore this further, take some time to compare the statistics on coronavirus with the statistics on other causes of death such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer disease and other dementias, unintentional injuries (e.g. road accidents), and suicide (Center for Disease Control, 2020; CDC, 2017). The reproduction rate of coronavirus is disturbing, but other infectious diseases such as diarrhoeal diseases, influenza and pneumonia, HIV, tuberculosis, and mosquito-borne illnesses have killed many, many more people while remaining commonplace (World Health Organization, 2019). It may be that commonplace feeling combined with the privileges of age-group, socioeconomic status, and environmental advantages (e.g. geographic location, economic & technological development, community immunity, etc.) that allow our fears to be stilled in the midst of these other pervasive problems.

Diet, exercise, sleep, and social health habits impact our lives over long periods of time. A motor vehicle accident (MVA) or suicide only requires a few mistakes or a moment of ignorance. These problems can seem more insidious : “developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent” (e.g. heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, etc.) or “awaiting a chance to entrap” (e.g. unintentional accidents such as MVA’s, intentional self-harm, etc.) (Mish et al., 2014).

While it is important to realize that everything develops over time (e.g. even MVA and self-harm risk factors can be identified and addressed), these more insidious causes of death may be less disturbing to us due to their familiarity, slow onset, and rapid culmination. Atherosclerosis (“artery hardening” “…marked by cholesterol-lipid-calcium deposits in the walls of arteries that may restrict blood flow”), accumulation of radiation exposure (e.g. tobacco smoke, ultraviolet light, etc.), chronic sleep deprivation, social isolation, and obesity can all take years or decades to accumulate/develop before resulting in dramatic lifestyle changes over the course of a few months (Chabner, 2015; Venes et al., 2005). Feeling lonely is only a small aspect of one factor of many, many variables that accumulate to influence our health over time.

Coronavirus has spread at an unprecedented rate, and this fact alone is enough to awaken our instinctual fears. This is the time to be listening to local authorities and adhering to recommended precautions, not gathering together in groups. Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in the United States, and the longer people ignore social distancing and travel restrictions, the worse this pandemic is likely to be. We need to take this seriously while still caring for each other. See the World Health Organization’s updates on COVID-19, and adhere to their and the Center for Disease Control’s advice concerning this coronavirus (World Health Organization, 2019-2020; CDC, 2020). My goal with this post is to highlight a little of what I have been learning about another problem (loneliness) that could be exacerbated by the quarantine-like measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Loneliness is a common human condition to experience, especially in response to perceived threats (e.g. isolation and coronavirus). Lonely is commonly defined in many ways: “being without company” (i.e. lone), “cut off from others” (i.e. solitary), “not frequented by human beings” (i.e. desolate), “sad from being alone” (i.e. lonesome), and “producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation” (i.e. loneliness) (Mish et al., 2014). The last two definitions more closely resemble the way John Cacioppo portrayed loneliness in his 2008 book, Loneliness, co-authored by William Patrick.

When we have feelings of loneliness (i.e. “the anxious, depressed, or dysphoric mood that occurs as a result of physical or psychic isolation”), we need to react to them in a healthy way to prevent those feelings from accumulating over time (Venes et al., 2005). John Cacioppo and William Patrick describe loneliness as “…a stimulus to get humans to pay more attention to their social connections, and to reach out toward others, to renew frayed or broken bonds.” By comparing loneliness to hunger or thirst, Cacioppo is suggesting the feeling is an “…alarm signal…” that “…serves a survival function…”. The authors state, “…chronic feelings of isolation can drive a cascade of physiological events that actually accelerates the aging process.” Cacioppo and Patrick (2008) go on to describe the health implications of loneliness in detail, but the most functional takeaway from the book may be how Cacioppo encourages us to respond to loneliness.

“Whereas kind and generous behavior leads to social acceptance and the healthful feeling of connection, selfish antisocial behavior leads to physical decline and the disruptive pain of social isolation.” (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2009).

The authors are encouraging their readers to engage and invest in their communities in a healthy way. Instead of fearing society, we are encouraged to move towards others with whom we can establish mutually encouraging relationships that foster more kind, deep, and meaningful connections. I came to similar but much simpler and more rudimentary conclusion when I wrote a reflection on loneliness a year or two ago. We are all original and unique people, and the answers we find in life often look at least slightly different. My answers for loneliness often come from the values and people I have encountered throughout my past. You will need to find your own way to healthily respond to loneliness, but in this time of increased physical isolation here are a few suggestions to remain socially engaged…

  • Call or video chat with a kind friend/family member with whom you have a deep, mutually-encouraging relationship
  • Call someone who you want to encourage while expecting to be content regardless of how your encouragement is received (e.g. your friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, or other relatives)
  • Write some thank you notes or emails
  • Volunteer your time or resources to safely support others during this time
  • Hold virtual gatherings around meals or other events (e.g. a movie, a birthday, a spiritual or religious gathering, a book study, etc.)
  • Educate yourself about things that other people are going through or feeling during this time and how you can be helpful to them
  • Practice your artistic talents (e.g. music, crafts, sports, etc.) and practical skills (e.g. cooking, coding, handiwork, etc.) with the goal of being better able to use those skills to personally care for others in the future (e.g. I’m coping with my subjective feelings, expanding my knowledge, and reaching out to others through writing this blog post)
  • If your area is allowing person-to-person interactions in public spaces (the fewer the better at this point), casually screen you friend(s) for recent symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and meet in locations where social distancing (i.e. maintaining a distance of 6 feet at all times) is fairly easy (e.g. going for a walk in a local park or trail)

If you are curious about the potential consequences and severity of loneliness, talk to your doctor and/or ask for a referral for counseling or behavioral health. You can also consider taking the UCLA Loneliness Scale and reading Loneliness by Cacioppo and Patrick. The book ends with practical ways to “EASE Your Way to Social Connection” (Extend yourself, Action plan, Selection, Expect the best) (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2009). If you want to know the details of and reasons for those strategies, you’ll have to read the book.

“The best ideas are those that benefit the individual, the family, the tribe, and ultimately the species.” (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2009)

If there is something good that is coming out of this pandemic, it is the undeniable interconnectedness of our species and of life on earth. In spite of our best efforts, we cannot yet escape each other. Each of our actions influences this little island paradise and the life upon it in some minuscule or small way. Only those who can decipher the butterfly effect will know the extent of the impact of those actions. We are lucky, blessed, and privileged to be living out our unique life-journeys on this oasis of a planet. If we draw larger and larger circles around ourselves while gladly holding ourselves accountable to our individual and social responsibilities, we will come out of this stronger together.

 

“…the hallmark of a successful, long-lived civilization may be the ability to achieve a lasting peace among the several brain components.” – Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden

 

“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.” – Viktor E. Frankl as quoted by William J. Winslade in the Afterward to Man’s Search for Meaning

 

“Any ideology that needs to attack the thing that least threatens it is an ideology that will not outlive its own generation. Inclusion not exclusion, gentlemen, is the key to survival.” – St. John, fictional character, The Power of One (1992)

 

 

Citations

Cacioppo, J. T. & Patrick, W. (2009). Loneliness: human nature and the need for social connection. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

CDC (2020, March 13). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

CDC (2017, May 3). FastStats – Deaths and Mortality. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

Center for Disease Control (2020, March 19). World Map. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/world-map.html

Chabner, D.-E. (2015). Medical terminology: a short course (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Inc.

Mish, Frederick C., et al. (2014). The Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

Venes, D., M.D. et al. (2005). Tabers cyclopedic medical dictionary (21st ed.). Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

World Health Organization (2019, May 6). Top 10 causes of death. Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.who.int/gho/mortality_burden_disease/causes_death/top_10/en/

World Health Organization (2019-2020). Novel Coronavirus situation reports. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2020, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports

 

“Feed my sheep.”

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We all get lonely and discouraged at times. Loneliness is a common human condition to experience. So, for all of the lonely people out there, here’s this…

How can one expect perfect love out of an imperfect life? No relationship is perfect. What do you do when things fall apart?

It is easy to look for what one wants to see and search for what one wants to feel. But, love is less concerned with the selfishness of others and more concerned with getting over oneself through focusing on the needs of others. Love is more about giving than taking.

As humans we’re social animals and we’re often inpatient. We can be over-analytical or ignorant. We can be isolated or over-bearing.

People were designed to observe one another in close relationship. Hold people in your heart and hands as loosely or tightly as they desire. They may very much become a part of you, but you will never make their decisions for them.

Your closest friends and family will define your life, for better or worse. Choose people who will love and cherish you as much as you love and cherish them. Make good decisions and anticipate good things. It is better to feel the pain of broken love than to give up faith in its existence.

Hold true to yourself and your values. Hold onto your convictions. Respect your boundaries and the boundaries of those around you. 

Treat yourself and others with honest skepticism and constructive scrutiny while also embracing compassion and forgiveness. Don’t neglect your need for discipline but don’t forget to grant yourself forgiveness. Do not give up the hope that you and others will change for the better. Distance yourself from unhealthy relationships, and hope for the best for yourself and others in the process.

Don’t fear love; respect it. Don’t shield yourself from love’s entanglements, but guard yourself and others from its dangers. Don’t forever fear unknowns. Conquer your fear of failure through learning to understand that which frightens you. Be practical and reasonable in the process.

You will fail time and again in order to succeed. Step carefully and choose you path intentionally while enjoying the adventures and journeys of life. Do your best to clear a better way for those who follow you.

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John 21: 15-19

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Whatever level of appreciation or respect you have for John 21:15-19, there is an important fundamental concept to internalize. Are you lonely and/or discouraged? Are you asking someone, “Do you love me?”, but they are not showing it? Or, are you telling someone “…you know that I love you.”?, but they are not feeling it? Maybe the answer you are looking for is less about words and more about your actions.

I have a deeply Christian background that I’ve begun to distance myself from in the last few years, but I can’t escape who I was because who I was greatly influences who I am. When I become lonely and discouraged, Jesus’s questions and answers to Peter encourage me. When I become overwhelmed with unanswered questions and future unknowns… When feelings of loneliness and grief feel like unwanted guests overstaying their booking… The built-in moral compass of my Christian youth stirs me to think, sometimes aloud, “God if you’re there and you care, help me out… God if you’re real, be real to me.”

There’s no audible answer. There never has been. Always silence.

That may be a good thing, because if I ever heard an audible answer I’m not sure if I would happily listen or go see a counselor. But, the bottom line is that I realize I need help. I am incapable of facing the things of this life on my own. I’m an interdependent creature.

Whether that helps comes only from the actions and ideas of others or also from God(s) working behind the scenes, I don’t know. But, when I do find a satisfactory answer to my questions it often comes in the form of an old familiar thought, returning like an estranged or forgotten friend you didn’t realize you had been missing so much. A thought so practical, so old, so innate – you didn’t think you could ever forget it.

God, what do I do?… Right, I’ve had this conflict and resolution before. I knew that.”

Feed my sheep.

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The Black Keys

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Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are known for releasing up-beat songs like “It’s Up to You Now” from Turn Blue (2014), “Lonely Boy” and “Gold on the Ceiling” from El Camino (2011), and “Everlasting Light”, “Tighten Up”, and “Howling for You” from Brothers (2010). Brothers was the album that introduced me to The Black Keys, and their hearty rhythms immediately impressed me. From their beginnings, the Black Keys have almost always supplied a tune that you can get behind.

It has been 17 years plus some change since The Black Keys released The Big Come Up. Tunes like “Busted”, “Run Me Down”, and “Heavy Soul” felt aged when they were only fresh out of the studio. Now that those songs have aged, so have The Black Keys.

The Black Keys have released 9 studio albums in 18 years, not to mention the duo’s many other projects. They followed The Big Come Up in 2002 with Thickfreakness in 2003 and Rubber Factory in 2004. Magic Potion was released in 2006, and in 2008 The Black Keys released Attack & Release to increasing notoriety. In 2010 they took on a new Label that they would keep for their next three albums. Their songs have been featured in several motion pictures, and they’ve rocked out at Lollapalooza, South by Southwest, Coachella, Glastonbury, and other music festivals.

Auerbach and Carney have been doing some new things (see PBS Newshour story here and Rolling Stone story here) with their time over the past 5 years, but 2019 occasioned the release of The Black Keys 9th studio album, Let’s Rock. The two stay true to the albums title, but it’s the lyrics of this album that seemed to take on a deeper vibe. Shine a Little Light feels existential while Every Little Thing seems to advocate for some moderation and self-love while warning about the consequences of one’s actions. Eagle Birds, Low/Hi, and Tell Me Lies express various familiar themes of human nature, and while Breaking Down and Under The Gun deal with more dreary and dire themes. Get Yourself Together and Sit Around And Miss You add to the list of love-themed songs on the album, but Walk Across The Water may be the song with the purest themes of romantic love.

Regardless of my interpretation of these lyrics and the artists’ intentions for them, they are also up for your interpretation. What seems extra special about Let’s Rock, is that you can enjoy musing on the catchy lyrics or infectious rhythms for a longer amounts of time before moving on to something else. Conclusion: The Black Keys are back with their best album yet.

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Online Dating Review

In The Mathematics of Love author Hannah Fry shares a lot of practical dating advice designed to optimize dating outcomes for those who are looking for an ideal partner. One of the biggest bits of advice she gives is founded on Optimal Stopping Theory, and Hannah Fry gives a neat formula for calculating the best time to stop dating and choose a partner (Fry, 2015). You’ll have to read the book if you’re interested in the formula and all of the other good bits of advice on dating, but the over-simplified gist of Optimal Stopping Theory is that your best option for a life-partner will likely come after the first third of your dating years (Christian & Griffiths, 2016; Fry, 2015).

So, if one has been dating since the age of 18 years and expects to give up on dating by the age of 42 years, that’s a 24 year dating life. According to our over-generalized Optimal Stopping Theory, that means that 8 years into that dating life, the individual should be choosing a partner if that person wants to select the best possible partner. According to this individual’s dating life-span, the person should be choosing a partner at the age of 26 years old.

Of course, this estimation excludes a lot of information and context. In an age when Millennials are marrying later and have different expectations for relationships, we can expect that romantic relationships will take on different characteristics than former generations (Manning, Smock, & Fettro, 2019; Martin, Astone, Marie, Peters, & Elizabeth, 2014; US Census Bureau, 2018). Many other factors need to be accounted for when choosing a partner, but Optimal Stopping Theory does support some conventional wisdom. As a friend recently told me, “Don’t wait too long.”

In 2018, my attempts to optimally stop my search for a significant other were unsuccessful. I attributed this to a small sample size and decided to give online dating a chance. I signed up for a year of online dating on one website, and I was immediately met with a variety of conundrums.

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  • Starting a conversation

Online dating sites have a variety of ways in which one can start a conversation. Instead of sending a message to everyone who captures one’s attention, there are often more ambiguous options that can imply a variety of things (e.g. pleasant disposition, a desire to start a conversation, a passive pleasantry, etc.). Think of sending a “smile” emoji or a “like” to someone or someone’s published content on social media sites. One big difference between a “like” on social media and a “smile” on an online dating website is that in the case of the former it is easier to assume things.

One can often give into gut feelings. ‘She likes me!’ may be a easy thought to have. ‘He’s open to dating me…’ may be another. ‘That’s nice…’ or ‘No thanks…’ or ‘Nope…’ may be other thoughts. In my experience, “likes” and “smiles” mean one is open to starting a conversation, but ultimately, it’s hard to define or attach definitive emotions to these social media tools.

  • Ending a conversation

It’s nice to think people can easily survey a field of potential relationships and take or leave options as they choose without consequence, but is that a realistic thought? As I initiated conversations there were typically 3 defining points – the initial messaging, movement to another media of communication, and meeting up or ending the conversation.

    • Initial messaging or ending the conversation
      • This is the stage when the conversation starts. It can be characterized by a lot of questions with long, explanatory messages or by short, flirty messages. It depends on a lot of factors, but in my experience a lot of these initial conversations fizzled out through one of the conversationalists growing silent or politely moving on.
    • Movement to another media of communication
      • This stage involved a variety of different media, and it was not always solely dependent on attraction or interest. Many times it was simply more practical to move on to another form of communication, and this was often the primary reason for changing media forms. Communication through email is both laborious for long-term communication and impractical for getting to know someone in a personal way. Unless you can easily arrange via email to meet up in a safe public place, you will need to move to another form of communication in order to gain useful information about the person you are interested in.
    • Meeting up or ending the conversation
      • This last stage is the most nerve-racking and the most burdensome, but this is where you want to be if you really want to be in a personal and possibly romantic relationship. Although you can be hurt at any point, this is the stage where you are more likely to be hurt and more likely to actually learn more about yourself and the person you are interested in. If you are on an online dating site and are not reaching this stage, you may want to reconsider your motives and goals.
  • A Note About Cat-fishing (Online Scammers)

I routinely encountered online scammers (probably about one per month), and I have a list of embarrassing messages from one individual who “cat-fished” me for about a week. As the story became more and more outrageous and the person finally asked for money, I realized that my online profile pictures and email correspondence could be used to craft another story designed to manipulate someone else. So, don’t correspond with people outside of the online dating platform, don’t send people pictures or information about you that you don’t want to share with the world, and don’t ever send anyone money. I made the first two mistakes (I corresponded via email and sent pictures that included people other than me), and I regret it. All of this is a good reminder to re-think one’s privacy, social media presence, and online footprint in general.

  • The Overall Effort

I poured a lot of effort into online dating over a period of 7-8 months. I filled out every section of my online profile, often using the maximum allowed word count and photos. I had template messages set up to save time when introducing myself or not introducing myself to people who I was interested in or who were interested in me. I always endeavored to be polite when ending conversations, but I ultimately offended a few people. I filtered through over 1000 profiles and sent or received over 250 messages. I met up in person with few individuals, and I encountered very few online profiles (probably less than 10 in total) of people who lived within a 2 hour drive from me. Ultimately, the people who I did meet up with required me to travel to different states to meet them, and those conversations were eventually ended due to the impractical nature of distance between us.

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  • The Mental and Emotional Struggle

To explain the complicated, emotional roller-coaster that online dating can be, a reflection that I penned during the experience follows:

“Online dating, thus far, has stressed me out a bit because I find myself willing to chat with people and get to know them, but I also find myself realizing that I need to be a little selfish and certainly realistic with my expectations and the expectations of those women I interact with. I can control and be responsible for my feelings, thoughts, and actions but I can’t do the same for others. I have to keep in mind that many women may not want to just chat it up online. Also, I have to say yes to one person eventually and no to all of the rest. I don’t want to reject a lot of people on my way to finding one person – that’s a lot of pain for a selfish reason, but I don’t want to give my future self a bad situation because I wasn’t intentional about choosing to be with someone who can increase my future well-being.

It’s nice to think we can always be friends. It’s nice to think we can find time to hang out, near or far. It’s nice to think that as long as we really care about each other’s well-being and needs that we can be happy with one another regardless of romance or physical intimacy. But, this is a very generous thought. Someone is likely to have expectations unmet. Someone is likely to be the one giving up more to maintain a friendship.

I suspect a lot of people on online dating sites are looking for commitment to an intimate, romantic relationship. That’s something that I want too, but if I could choose one thing to have in a long-term relationship or a short-term relationship, it would be friendship. In other words, I find it very difficult to commit to a long-term intimate, romantic relationship (because I take that type of relationship very seriously), but I find it natural to commit to friendships because I believe friendships are self-sustaining (the interests and past experiences of friends continually revitalize the relationship). Different factors (e.g. geographical distance) often place barriers in friendships, but the best friendships in my life are the ones that I can pick right back up with the commonplace sense of humor, interests, or activities that fuel the friendship. So, my expectation is friendship first, and commitment to an exclusive relationship is something that, for me, must come after long, careful consideration.

People are naturally selfish, and it’s difficult to feel and think that we have found a good match. There will always be something right about someone and something wrong about someone. Every person is beautiful in one way and ugly in another way. To not see both the beautiful and the ugly in a person, is to ignore their humanity through elevating them to a god or demoting them to an inanimate object. When I think about the practicality of a long-term intimate friendship, I think it makes sense to look for someone easy to love well and someone who finds it easy to love me well over a long period of time. The problem is that love is a choice more than a feeling and that love is, at its essence, characterized by self-sacrifice. Also, the multiplicity of factors and variables that contribute to long-term compatibility is staggering and seems impossible to accurately predict. So, the two intractable problems related to love seem to be compatibility (i.e. love as a natural feeling) and plain choice (i.e. love as a sacrificial action). Humanity seems to lack the intelligence to predict or create the former and the strength of character to produce the latter.”

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  • Things To Learn From Online Dating
    • If you cannot or are not meeting up with people, it’s not personal and it’s not worth it…
      • If your goal is a romantic relationship outside of the virtual world, do yourself a favor and safely meet up with people in public places or don’t waste your time.
    • Be kind, and don’t be offended…
      • You will stop talking to someone and you find people who will stop talking to you. Be as polite as you can be, and don’t get upset when people stop talking to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean they think you are a terrible person. If people are trying to make the best decisions for themselves, we cannot reasonably expect those decisions to be found easily. Try not to imagine that people are rejecting everything about you. It’s more likely that they didn’t like a few things, and those things were their “deal-breakers”. If you can figure out what those things are and if you want to change them, please do. Otherwise, be aware that the person who you are will be rejected by many, especially when it comes to romance, and unless you are apathetic toward a pattern of problems in you life that need to be addressed, that’s okay.
    • There are a lot of amazing people out there…
      • I met some amazing people living in other nations and cultures. I had great conversations about culture, work, and life. I tasted foods I had never tried before, and I was introduced to ideas I had never thought before. I considered what it may be like to be a responsible single parent – reflecting that it’s both difficult and that it’s a privilege that needs to be protected. I empathized with fears, desires, and experiences that I had not previously considered. I thought about what it may be like to live in other nations and/or on other continents as foreigners or nationals. I considered what it would be like to live life absent from some of the voluntary constrictions that I currently place on my life. I was introduced to some really intelligent people, adventurous people, and some really grounded people. And, If I got nothing else out of the experience, I can recall the individuals who introduced me to the ideas of circus and R-stats. I had conversations that helped me to understand that elevating cultural, biopsychosocial, and socioeconomic needs above the manufactured idea of race may help to soften the dangerous rhetoric and divides arising from people’s innate and developed prejudices. Of course, I took and left a lot of ideas I was exposed to. The point is that I was exposed to new people whose personalities, experiences, and ideas enriched my life.
    • Go on some dates…
      • When I was online dating I went on a few dates. While those dates were with some pretty cool people and while I experienced some new places along the way, it’s way easier for me to date people who live where I live.
    • If you live in a rural area, you may want to try multiple online dating sites, be open to long-distance relationships, or not try online dating at all.
      • While I thought the online dating would help my chances of finding a partner, I only signed up for one dating site and I went on a few dates as a result of my search. I drove or even flew to meet up with those people. If, like me, the small town and rural area that you live in decrease the sample size of your dating pool, and you have discovered that you are not good at nor have a desire for starting relationships over a long-distance, do yourself a favor and move or date locally.
    • Study yourself (i.e. learn your strengths and weaknesses)…
      • As my online dating experience progressed I began to realize that I have issues with trust and commitment, among other things. I already knew about my fear of failure and my analytical nature, but after my online dating experience, I better understand that my perception of the lack of commitment trending in my generation is something I am not immune to. I wanted a romantic relationship to be easier, and my embrace of online dating was likely fueled in-part by my own fears and lack of commitment. If you, like me, have a desire for a long-term, monogamous, and romantic relationship, you should gird yourself with practicality, patience, and courage as the journey is fraught with as much if not more risk and rebuke as reward. If you want love to be as easy as possible, focus on compatibility. If you want your love to involve devotion, self-sacrifice, and conscious choice, focus on practicing that love and finding someone who shares that conception. If you want a joyful long-term love that embraces compatibility and sacrificial love, focus on both compatibility and conscious choice (i.e. friendship, values, intentional practice, reconciliation, etc.).
        • Note: One piece of advice that I have always found beneficial is to write out a “Top 10 List” for your “Top 10 List”. In other words, you should be able to find 10 characteristics that support or complement the 10 characteristics that you desire in a significant other, then you should practice those behaviors. I have also find it helpful to make the “Top 5” of that list most important and the “Top 3” of that list non-negotiable (for both you and your future partner).

There’s plenty of online dating advice freely available on the internet. Here and here are a few of my favorite Technology, Education and Design (i.e. TED) Talks addressing online dating. Also, Hannah Fry’s book, The Mathematics of Love, is an intelligent resource for dating in general.

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If you don’t know how to create an algorithm to find your best potential mate or if you grow fatigued with the online dating journey, join the club. My intuition was that online dating was not for me. In 2018, I abandoned that intuition due to my feelings of loneliness and desperation to find a partner. Now, I’m embracing that old intuition once again. After 7-8 months of what often felt like online shopping for a romantic relationship, I quit the online dating scene. I have heard that it works out well for some, and I certainly learned a lot from the experience. So, if you are considering online dating, I encourage you to be careful with your expectations and vulnerability, heeding some of the above advice, as you give it a try.

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Resources

Christian, B., & Griffiths, T. (2016). Algorithms to live by: What computers can teach us about

solving human problems. New York: Henry Holt and Company. Audiobook.

Fry, H. (2015). The mathematics of love: Patterns, proofs and the search for the ultimate

equation. New York: TED Books / Simon & Schuster.

Kang, A., & Kang, D. (2015, July 27). The Beautiful Truth About Online Dating. Retrieved July 4,

2019, from http://www.tedxucdavissf.com/talks/the-beautiful-truth-about-online-dating/

Manning, W., Smock, D., & Fettro, P. (2019). Cohabitation and Marital Expectations

Among Single Millennials in the U.S. Population Research and Policy Review, 38(3),

327-346.

Martin, P., Astone, S., Marie, Peters, N., & Elizabeth, H. (2014, March 31). Fewer Marriages,

More Divergence: Marriage Projections for Millennials to Age 40. Retrieved July 1, 2019,

from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED575460

US Census Bureau. (2018, November 14). Historical Marital Status Tables. Retrieved July 1,

2019, from https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/families/marital.html

Webb, A. (2013, October 2). How I hacked online dating. Retrieved July 4, 2019, from

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_webb_how_i_hacked_online_dating

 

The Laws of Medicine

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In The Laws of Medicine Siddhartha Mukherjee uses his skills in writing and storytelling to elaborate on medical realities learned from invaluable education and experience. Mukherjee sets out to describe principles of medical practice, pointing out that practicing medicine is about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of knowledge gleaned from patients, tests, experiments, and one’s self, then making the best decision with that information. Mukherjee much more eloquently elaborates on that point, emphasizing his three “laws” or principles of medicine.

  • Before Mukherjee describes the three principles of his book, he sets them up in a forward. He wonders if medical jargon is partly subconsciously employed to escape unknowns. He briefly discusses the modern history of medicine from the cure-all treatments of the 1800’s to a more careful observance of the Hippocratic oath in the 1900’s. Mukherjee pays homage to William Osler (commonly referred to as the “Father of Modern Medicine”), and Lewis Thomas’s The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher. Mukherjee is careful to differentiate the “laws” he is about to expose from more pure scientific laws such as those in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology.
  • Mukherjee explains that assessing a patient involves raising or lowering the probability of a diagnosis through interpreting test results in context. Mukherjee uses Thomas Bayes, an 18th century Philosopher and Clergyman, to illuminate the imperfect nature of tests.
  • Mukherjee continues his excellence use of relevant storytelling to explain how the unexplained abnormal results of tests or experiments are keys to better understanding. Hearkening back to history once more, Mukherjee uses Karl Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery to point out that medical knowledge is scientific only when it carries a stipulation that can disprove it by new information or discovery.
  • Mukherjee adapts Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle to medicine to question how generalizable experiments are. He mentions that Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters may have been apt in the early 20th century, but in the 21st century, bias is the prey of physicians. Mukherjee reflects on the role of physicians to hunt bias, including their own bias, while using imperfect information to help patients make better decisions about their health.

In The Laws of Medicine, Mukherjee impresses a sense of understanding upon the reader through taking complex issues and breaking them down into manageable pieces of information. He doesn’t need to explain the science behind his examples to give the reader a little understanding of the big picture. Furthermore, bleeding through the pages are rich examples of medical history that incite an appreciation for great minds that have come before Mukherjee’s imparting knowledge for him to build upon.

Another theme of Mukherjee’s book is the uncertainty within medicine. His comments on medical jargon and the imperfections of tests are humbling. Still a relatively young science, medicine continues to experience a boom in information and technology. These advancements may clarify some things while opening up new areas vast with questions.

Studies, companies, and patients all have opinions on medicine, and it seems correlations are often unexplained while being sold as causation to the public. Statistics, anatomy, physiology, epidemiology, pathology, advanced mathematics, history, etc. are each worthy of in-depth study. Combine all of those subjects while adding many others and you will begin to understand the challenges of medicine. It’s edifying to see an author acknowledging the difficulties of his field while simplifying the principles within it.

With all the avenues with which information and opinion is accessed in today’s world, it is difficult to focus on what matters most. Focus is what Mukherjee encourages with his three laws of medicine. Sifting through a myriad of information to find relevance seems an ever-increasing challenge among today’s youth, whether or not they are interested in practicing medicine. With the precision of a great writer, Mukherjee illuminates invaluable principles learned through a wealth of experience. These principles help thin the overwhelming fog of information to be processed, and if put to use are likely to improve the work of those practicing medicine.

Mukherjee’s The Laws of Medicine is a short and worthy read for anyone interested in the practice of medicine. At less than 100 pages, The Laws of Medicine seems to be Mukherjee’s most concise and easy read. Mukherjee’s other books, The Gene and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, are both over 500 pages. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2011, and Mukherjee has also written for NEJM, Cell, Nature, and The New York Times.

 

On Statues

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There are certainly some persons who deserve to be remembered more than others, but does anyone deserve a statue molded in their likeness? Should any man or woman be memorialized by a larger than life image?

First hearing by word of mouth of the controversy in Charlottesville, Virginia last Sunday, it was hard to be surprised. There have been many acts of terrorism in the news lately, and one more senseless act added to the numbness. Terrible, egregious, disgusting, inhuman, evil… these words may be accurate descriptors, but they often fall short of empathy and feeling. It’s one thing to describe an incident, and it’s another to live it.

Later that night after having some time to reflect on the incident, a discussion with a friend commenced over a game of pool. What motivated the event? Why now? Is our society in regression or experiencing growing pains?

Then came the discussions of this week. Should memorials to rebels and slave owners be maintained? Historical figures were compared, and the differing perspectives on their memorials were illuminated. Oppressive or defensive? Worthless or worthy? Hate or heritage?

During another brief personal discussion I told colleagues I could “…understand both sides…” and didn’t want to condone “…censoring history…”. “Understand” was inaccurate, and “both sides” was a poor choice of words. Some emotion brewed in a friend’s face as he asked if a memorial to Hitler would be appropriate? The question was rhetorical, but thoughts comparing Confederate leaders to Nazi leaders immediately came to mind… Do these men deserve to be memorialized?

Is there enough goodness in those Southern soldiers that is worth remembering? Or, does the obvious evil that these soldiers died defending rule out a position of honor for their statues? Is felling a Confederate leader’s memorial ignoring history, or would destroying theses statues be an acknowledgment of past crimes? It’s clear that history often, if not always, remains up for interpretation.

Another reality is that honorable intentions do not right injustices. Every human seems more dynamic than people are willing to admit, and stereotypes or generalizations often cloud the complexity of a life. However, are there things that must not be condoned, even if done by a generally good man?

The most accurate interpretations of the integrity of the men who’s statues are being debated should be left up to those honest individuals willing to search historical records and primary sources for the facts. That is not the subject here. The more relevant issue seems to be one of putting the present into historical context.

The men memorialized by these statues lived through events that changed the course of history. The nation that was split in two reunited, but were wrongs righted? Were all hurts healed?

Roughly 8 years after the inauguration of President Obama…

  • nearly 50 years after the death of Dr. King…
  • approximately 70 years after Robinson first swung a major league bat…
  • around 114 years after W. E. B. Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folk and 116 years after Booker T. Washington published Up From Slavery
  • something like 154 years after the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry…
  • 160 years since the Supreme Court’s decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford…
  • 184 years after the death of William Wilberforce and the subsequent abolition of slavery in the British Empire…
  • nearly 200 years since the birth of Frederick Douglass…
  • thereabouts 243 years after General George Washington halted the recruitment of black soldiers for service in the Continental Army…
  • 228 years after the publication of Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography…
  • around 398 years since the first Africans were enslaved on American soil in Jamestown…
  • more or less than 516 years after Saint-Domingue (Santo Domingo) became an international slave port…
  • and circa 525 years since Columbus planted the seeds of European colonialism in the Caribbean – what would prove to be a tragic event for millions of indigenous people in Africa and the West…

…these American lands are still reeling over past sins – sins that cannot be made right.

While there is no way to right the wrongs of the past, there is hope in the present.

  • First, those who have ancestors that were responsible for the injustices of genocide, slavery, or other acts of racist oppression and/or those who have benefited from systemic social hierarchies reinforced by a history of white-European colonialism, would do well to seek recognition of how evils of the past have influenced their current circumstances. Besides an awareness of the history of these injustices and their direct or indirect effects on the present, regret for the racially motivated decisions of the past would benefit current societal relationships. A sense of “white guilt” is not something people need to be ashamed of. Feelings of remorse for generational transgressions do not necessitate self-hatred or despise for one’s own skin color. Descendants of slavers and people who benefited from slavery have the right to feel guilty for the sins their ancestors committed, condoned, and/or tolerated.  This guilt is not something to fear or be ashamed of but something to act on. Shame can often feel like self-loathing, but guilt can feel more like catalyst for positive change. “White guilt” can simply be a lesson from history and a motivation for creating or maintaining more just societies. In that context, “white guilt” is not holding oneself individually responsible for the crimes of another individual. Rather, it is an individual confession of past crimes that are relevant due to their direct or indirect effects on the present. One could argue that as living creatures, mammals, or in the very least as human beings, we are all one human family, and any society interested in social justice, human rights, and general civility will take on a communal responsibility to never repeat the sin of slavery.

Furthermore, there is no shame in discouraging voluntary segregation or prejudice, even if one’s blood-line may have systematically oppressed the ancestors of another ethnicity or people-group, and vice-versa.

  • Feeling fear of unknowns at the site of a dinner party crowd of different cultures or skin tones can actually incite an urge to join their company rather than remain in the comfortable circle of more predictable commonplace.
  • Discussions of injustice driven by petty things such as skin color, wealth, or greed need not be constantly avoided but rather should be addressed with humility, authenticity, and caution – especially regarding an experience a person could not understand unless she or he took on the appearance, heritage, environment, and event of the one who lived it.
  • Having affections for an individual of a skin color quite different from one’s own may feel odd to some (especially if one grew up learning that such a feeling should feel odd), but it should not feel wrong simply for sake of appearance or for avoidance of surface-level judgments. If such feelings and affections spark a romantic relationship, people can find solace in the long history of many joyful couples who have ignored skin color as a deal-breaker for their romantic relationships.

On statues, carved or modeled – molded or assembled, they are lifeless things meant to represent or honor something greater. What benefit do these motionless creations have to offer besides reminders of higher ideals and heroic deeds? At best, statues are but a caricature of the people they are meant to emulate. Far from the beating hearts and original minds of the persons they represent, these monuments are cold giants that use size and art to vainly seek to make up for whatever piece of humanity that was lost.

This humanity is not flawlessly set as sinner against saint or hero versus villain. As much as people aspire to glorious perfection, it has yet to be reached by any of the finite creatures that populate this planet. Rather, each memorial should be purposed to bring out the best of this human condition while acknowledging the truth of the times which the figure represents.

An effective memorial should not encourage people to wallow in its presence or rage against its existence but carry on with their lives, taking with them a memory that will spark to light part of what it means to be truly human. There has been far to much tragedy in this world already. While history must be remembered for what it was, humanity needs not to abide memorials that recall and breed division in the present.

Statues should be constructed to promote a sense of righteous resolve, connectedness, and/or hope.  History has afforded us many examples of individuals and events, flawed, but resulting in courageously righteous action. Uplift that which will uplift. If statues fail to meet this criteria, history can continue to be honestly maintained while the figure is respectfully and democratically removed from a place of honor or, disrespectfully, torn down.

Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan is known for movies like Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, and Interstellar, but while Dunkirk holds true to Nolan’s bold style unlike the aforementioned films it is based on actual historical events. The Battle of Dunkirk was a retreat for the Allied forces (the majority of which were British and French troops) who were being driven towards the English Channel by the German forces. The Allied forces were failing to defend France against Nazi Germany, and the only alternative to surrender was to die fighting or escape to the British mainland.

Nolan’s Dunkirk focuses on snapshots of the evacuation, making the evacuation Dunkirk feel more like one day rather than ten days. While Nolan delivers his typical high octane action through dogfights and bombings he also highlights the humanity of soldiers and citizens through displaying a range of heroism and cowardice, sometimes presenting itself in the same character. This contrast of courage and fear is fitting considering the heritage of Dunkirk remains one of victory and defeat.

Another thing to note about the film is that Nolan focuses almost entirely on the British. There is recognition of the French and at least one Belgian makes an appearance, but besides their war machines, the Germans are silent. Nolan is telling a story about the resilience of the British and Allied forces in what would be a loss crucial to eventual victory for the allied forces. The movie avoids dehumanizing German soldiers while remaining entirely uninterested in the antagonist that is Nazi Germany.

The film displays star actors like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance, but also sports breakout performances from Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles. The actors fit their roles well, and the quality costume design and cinematography creates a believable cinematic experience. The stubborn pride of the British shines through the film.

Dunkirk rightly highlights fear alongside courage, but the sweetness of this film is displayed in its summation. The audience is left with the words of Winston Churchill as the fate of the film’s characters is left hanging in the balance. That’s exactly where Britain and the whole of Europe was left in 1940. With the United States remaining uncommitted to the War and the Soviet Union maintaining its Non-aggression Pact, Britain, France, and the rebel forces of other European nations were abandoned, caged with the monstrosity of Nazi Germany.

The righteous rebellion of the Allied forces in the face of failure and defeat lights a fire of emotion and ignites endurance and hope within the human spirit. Though no war is black and white in its justifications and no person is entirely pure, World War II may be the best example of a just war. The struggles of the Allied forces at Dunkirk are amazing not only for the overwhelming obstacles faced, collective heroism displayed, and divine grace received but also for the moral argument fueling the British zeitgeist to “never surrender”.

Mud

Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray Mckinnon, and Sarah Paulson take up most of the screen time in Mud. Written and directed by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and directed Loving, Mud is a well-paced and well-acted film that steadily builds to its climax. Mud‘s characters are so well-developed that supporting actors feel more intimately understood, and the film seems to use its characters full potential.

McConaughey’s performance is raw and authentic. His slow, rumbling voice and southern accent match his character’s unkempt appearance, and McConaughey appears to play a difficult role with ease. In 2012 McConaughey was no newcomer to Hollywood as he has had been headlining blockbuster films since the 1990’s. But, blockbuster films are typically bypassed by the Academy Awards.

Mud was overlooked at the 2013 Academy Awards, but McConaughey would not be overlooked in 2014 when he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for Dallas Buyer’s Club. Mud seemed to set off a new chapter in McConaughey’s career as the actor seemed to gravitate towards more complicated character roles like Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Mark Hanna in Wolf of Wall Street, and Rust Cohle in the True Detective series. In addition, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland give convincing performances in Mud, and the film uses its dialogue efficiently.

Besides its main theme of love, Mud explores life in rural Arkansas and vigilante justice. The movie captures beautiful shots of river life while subtlety questioning the righteousness of its characters. The crime of murder is juxtaposed with a case domestic violence. The audience is treated to visuals of Arkansas country and rural river culture while grappling with their attitudes toward the films protagonists.

Mud seems to do its best work exploring romantic love across a spectrum of ages and situations. Young teenagers, married parents, adult singles, and an old widower all share their stories of love. Wisdom and foolishness mingle as the lines between right and wrong decisions seem to blur. Love itself is called into question.

Humans are social animals with the ability to shower or shatter one another with love. Reopening the wounds of a broken heart may develop deep scars that suppress the pulse of romantic feelings, but acts of kindness and words of encouragement can heal the naive hopes and vulnerable boldness of persistent affection. Mud gives the audience a good glimpse of the complexities of life and love.

True concern for another’s well-being more than one’s own often means being willing to stay or leave – to hold tight or to let go. That means that true endearment frequently involves sacrificing one’s own desires. It also means that long-term romantic relationships can be often untidy and downright difficult. In a selfish world it may be futile to struggle for lasting love, but Mud advocates for endurance in the effort.

On Inequality

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On Inequality is another short read from Philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. Frankfurt immediately sets out to critique economic egalitarianism. He points out that the haves are not as much of a concern as the have-not’s (i.e. addressing the problems of society’s poorest is more of a concern than taking away from society’s richest), but he points out that the excesses of society’s richest are distasteful. Frankfurt points out that the inequality of political power that sometimes accompanies extravagant wealth is more of a concern than the wealth itself. Frankfurt advocates for the “doctrine of sufficiency”, emphasizing that although more economic and political equality may have a positive impact in many ways, the notion of societal equality as a fundamentally right moral principle is incorrect.

Frankfurt illuminates the dangers of comparison when he deals a deadly blow to the idea that it is right and fair for everyone to possess equal amounts of materials and goods. As an individual with differing ambitions, obligations, and requirements, it is silly think that one person’s fulfillment comes through having the same amount of wealth as the next person. All of this Frankfurt establishes within the first 12 pages.

Frankfurt then goes on to elaborate on some of the defenses of equality as a fundamentally right moral principle. He makes an argument about distribution of goods and utility thresholds when resources are scarce. His argument compellingly emphasizes that there are situations in which inequality is necessary for survival (i.e. the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people may not always result from equal distribution of goods if there are not enough goods for everyone to subsist on).

Resources are often not globally scarce, even for the large population that this planet supports, but resources are often scarce locally. In these situations populations must make decisions about the distribution of resources, and prioritizing the distribution of resources towards that which will provide the most efficient output seems to be common sense. With the technology and communication that modern society possesses, it is the hope that such local catastrophes may be adverted more and more, but Frankfurt’s point holds true – prioritizing equality in situations of scarcity is unlikely to produce the most utilitarian beneficence.

Besides the practical utility of goods, Frankfurt emphasizes that equality is not a fundamentally right moral principle in part because inequality does not prevent a person from being contented with his or her life (i.e. contentment is not dependent on having as much as the next person). This point again acknowledges the individuality of the person. Individuals do not want or desire the same things, but for some reason people often advocate for attainment of similar or equal resources thinking that will lead to fulfillment in life. It’s refreshing to realize that one person does not need the same things as the next person, and that one person may be significantly more contented having less than a discontented but wealthy neighbor.

Frankfurt does not appear to be defending price gauging, lobbying, or other advantageous uses of resource or wealth distribution. Frankfurt states that rights, respect, consideration, and concern should be afforded to every person. On Inequality may be disturbing to some who misinterpret what Frankfurt is saying, but the book is ultimately a rational examination of the idea that economic equality is intrinsically the moral high ground.

On Inequality, like other small books that Frankfurt has written, provides a critical outlook on a subject that deserves more examination. Frankfurt provides an encouragingly detailed reflection on the concept of equal distribution of resources. His words are not idly written, chosen out of a reflexive feeling of defensiveness, or issued based on an immediate emotional response. Rather, Frankfurt provides a non-polarized assessment of a subject that receives far too many sound-bite responses. That is essentially what make Frankfurt’s books enjoyable to read.