5 years, and 1 day. Have faith in your ability to overcome the unimaginable.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Today, Ms. L has been away from Little V more days than she had been with her.  For parents who adore their children, that is unimaginable.  The grief of losing our children to racist thugs who collaborated with a known pedophile to take our children overwhelms.  The other day, while watching The Light Between Oceans,” we both broke down and cried inconsolably.  A story of the loss of a child cuts too close to home.  We live it daily and need not be reminded of the immeasurable pain.

Yet, we live on.  We breathe in and out.  We put one foot in front of the other.  We put food in our mouths and force ourselves to swallow the tasteless morsels.  We marshal our energies and live to fight another day.

If I were all powerful, I would have saved you from all of this pain.  But, we are but humans and not all powerful.  Life can be unimaginably cruel for no reason at all.  You must forge your path in life to the best of your abilities, but also accept the vagaries of life as presented.  Wailing about them does nothing.  Deal with the challenges to the best of your abilities, then move on towards your goals.

We are not the only ones to suffer.  Look at the Myanmar refugee crisis for example.

Twelve-year-old Sukhutara said she watched her family’s final moments from a hiding place in the bushes.

She had just finished taking the cows to pasture that morning when soldiers in olive-green uniform stormed her village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. She said her absence saved her life.

“The military shot my father, and then as he lay on the ground a soldier cut his throat,” she said.

In a refugee camp on the border, Sukhutara, who goes by one name, sobbed as she described how troops dragged her mother and several other women into a hut. She heard screams from inside. Then the soldiers came out and set the hut ablaze….

Sukhutara, a 12-year-old Rohingya girl, inside a makeshift camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh. She said the Myanmar army killed eight members of her family in an assault on their village in Rakhine on Aug. 30.
Sukhutara, a 12-year-old Rohingya girl, inside a makeshift camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh. She said the Myanmar army killed eight members of her family in an assault on their village in Rakhine on Aug. 30. Photo: Syed Zain Al-Mahmood for The Wall Street Journal

Tulatoli, the village where Sukhutara lived, was home to between 4,000 and 5,000 people before the massacre. It was victim to among the worst violence in the military’s campaign, with witnesses saying that at least several hundred people were killed.

Sukhutara said she lost eight close relatives: her parents, grandparents and four brothers. Her uncle, Jahur Alam, with whom she now lives in the refugee camp, said there were no militants in Tulatoli when the army swept in on Aug. 30.

“If there were militants in the village, we would have fled as soon as the troops approached,” he said at a camp in Bangladesh, his arm in a sling after he was shot. “The military killed the men, raped the women, they threw little children into the water.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/myanmar-refugees-tell-of-atrocities-a-soldier-cut-his-throat-1506677403.

Her story is not unique.  Having worked with refugees for years, I am aware of countless horror stories from numerous people from countries all over the world.  I have helped a refugee from Asia, who had burns covering more than half of his body, from Africa, whose ear was cut off before her throat was cut.  The stories never get easier to stomach.

The experience of helping other refugees never prepared me for my own experience of dirty prosecutors stealing notes and files of documents and communications between us and our lawyers, of the thugs keeping our lawyers outside so that they could hurriedly finish their dirty deeds, of thugs collaborating with a pedophile to take Ms. L’s son away from her to place with the pedophile as a foster parent.  Being a Constitutional Republic meant nothing.

Thugs are thugs, and they are the same the world over.  When they work for the government, who can you turn to for protection but the international community?  See, e.g., http://time.com/3609811/police-brutality-united-states-un-ferguson-torture/;  https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports98/police/uspo14.htm;  http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cerd/docs/ngos/usa/USHRN15.pdf; https://www.propublica.org/article/who-polices-prosecutors-who-abuse-their-authority-usually-nobody; and, https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/05/prosecutors-shouldnt-be-hiding-evidence-from-defendants/275754/.

Innocent people are harmed daily by thugs and evil-doers.  That’s part of life.  You take the card you’re dealt and do your best to overcome whatever evil may bring.  We will prevail.  We will clear our names and expose the evil.

Until then, you fight on, my sons!  Breathe in and out.  Put food in your mouths, chew, and swallow.  Put one foot in front of the other, and marshal on.  For now, focus on being the best students you can be, the best person you can be.  Learn all you can from life because, some day, you might be called upon to use your knowledge to fight for the greater good.

All my love, always,

Dad

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4 years, 11 months, and 8 days. Rudeness is contagious. Avoid rude people; they will infect you with their rudeness. Be kind.

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Workplace rudeness is contagious, study says

Rudeness in the workplace isn’t just unpleasant: It’s also contagious.

Encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive in later interactions, a University of Florida study shows. That perception makes them more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.

“When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable,” said lead author Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.”

The findings, published June 29 in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provide the first evidence that everyday impoliteness spreads in the workplace.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” Foulk said. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

The study tracked 90 graduate students practicing negotiation with classmates. Those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner, showing that they passed along the first partner’s rudeness. The effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations.

Rudeness directed at others can also prime our brains to detect discourtesy. Foulk and his co-authors, fellow doctoral student Andrew Woolum and UF management professor Amir Erez, tested how quickly 47 undergraduate students could identify which words in a list were real and which were nonsense words. Before the exercise began, participants observed one of two staged interactions between an apologetic late-arriving participant and the study leader. When the leader was rude to the latecomer, the participants identified rude words on the list as real words significantly faster than participants who had observed the neutral interaction.

The impact of secondhand rudeness didn’t stop there, however: Just like those who experience rudeness firsthand, people who witness it were more likely to be rude to others. When study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding.

“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Foulk hopes the study will encourage employers to take incivility more seriously.

“You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance,” he said. “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”

https://phys.org/news/2015-07-workplace-rudeness-contagious.html

 

Rudeness At Work: On the Rise, And Coming With A Big Cost

Just because you’ve developed a thick skin for rude, discourteous behavior, doesn’t mean workplace incivility is not hurting you–and your family. A new Baylor University study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that workplace rudeness can follow you home, causing you to unleash “incivil” behavior on your loved ones.

That’s disconcerting news for the 43% of Americans who have experienced incivility at work, according to the report, Civility in America, 2011. To be clear, incivility is different from aggressive bullying, which usually carries the intent to harm someone. With incivility, the intent is ambiguous, and it’s less intense and characterized by demeaning remarks, showing little interest in a worker’s opinion, acting rudely or with poor manners, among other uncivilized behaviors.

The Baylor study found that those who experienced workplace incivility had lower levels of marital satisfaction and greater family/work conflict, particularly for the partner. It also found that stress from incivility was contagious to family members.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rudeness-at-work-on-the-rise-and-coming-with-a-big-cost/

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

Christmas is a difficult time for us, and I’m sure for you guys.  Your absence is felt more strongly during the holidays.  We miss you and love you boys so much!  Do try to enjoy the warmth and joy of Christmas.  It’s such a special season.  It has always been for us, and will be again some day.

For now try to get into the Christmas spirit and be kind to loved ones and others.  Like rudeness, kindness is also contagious.  Be kind.

Kindness is Contagious, New Study Finds

Imerman Angels, a cancer support organization based in Chicago, has “floods of volunteers,” according to John May, chairman of its board of directors and a long-time volunteer himself.

“You can’t help but just get excited to get involved,” he said.

These do-gooders are not alone: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 63 million people volunteered in 2009, 1.6 million more than the year before. But the question of motive remains: Why is being nice so popular these days?

New research may unlock the mystery: Kindness is contagious, according to a study done by researchers at University of California, Los Angeles, and University of Cambridge and University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom.

When we see someone else help another person it gives us a good feeling, which in turn causes us to go out and do something altruistic ourselves, the study found, which was the first of its kind to systematically document this tendency in human nature.

“When you feel this sense of moral ‘elevation’ not only do you say you want to be a better person and help others,” said Simone Schnall, of Cambridge, the lead researcher. “But you actually do when the opportunity presents itself.”

Researchers performed two experiments in which they showed viewers either a nature documentary, a funny TV clip or an uplifting segment from the Oprah Winfrey Show, and then asked them to voluntarily help with another task. In both cases, participants that watched Oprah and subsequently experienced the elevated feeling were more likely to help.

“Elevation,” a term coined by Thomas Jefferson, is different from regular happiness, a specific emotion that we experience only when we see someone else engaged in virtuous acts, Schnall said.

And though previous studies have documented this emotional response before, little research had been done to see if people actually acted on their feelings of being inspired, she said.

“Human nature is essentially good,” she said. “And this study proves that seeing good things actually makes us better.”

https://helix.northwestern.edu/article/kindness-contagious-new-study-finds

Do you remember what Father Dave used to say?  Before you speak, ask yourself: (1) is it kind? (2) is it helpful? (3) is it necessary?  If it doesn’t pass all three of those tests, keep it to yourself.

Sometimes, you will be challenged to be kind when encountering rudeness — which appears to be more pervasive these days.  If that should happen, think of Emily Post’s advice.

Five Ways to Combat Rudeness

Handling other people’s rudeness is tricky. You can’t control someone else’s behavior. So focus on maintaining your own standard of good behavior instead. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Don’t take it personally. Perhaps the offender is having a bad day.
  2. Size up your annoyances. Is it worth it to make a fuss over something small, or is it a waste of your emotional time?
  3. Set a good example. Rudeness begets rudeness. If you speak sharply to the bank teller, don’t be surprised if you get the same treatment in return.
  4. Count to ten. When someone’s behavior makes you angry, take a few deep breaths and ask yourself, “Is it really worth blowing my stack over this?”
  5. Laugh it off. If you can’t come up with a friendly joke, just chuckle and change the subject.

http://emilypost.com/advice/five-ways-to-combat-rudeness/

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My goal for my life is significantly less ambitious than Gandhi’s.  I simply want to leave my little corner of the world a little nicer than how I found it.  That’s it.

In my younger days, I had grandiose goals — to change the world, to teach kids how to be altruistic, to create good laws and good policies that would elevate society, to fight the great injustices inflicted upon the weak by the powerful and greedy, to help the homeless, to protect the abused, etc.  These days, I just want my sons, a clean sidewalk, a patch of grass that is litter-free, hope for the future, etc.

Whatever your goals, try to reach it through kindness rather than rudeness, meanness, and pettiness.  For example, years ago, I thought about applying to law school at Georgetown University.  However, I was disabused of that idea by roommates who attended GU Law.  We agreed GU has a great law school, but it was also a mean one.  Students there were  known to hide reference books that were necessary for class assignments, steal classmates’ notes, and sabotage other students.  No doubt GU Law students are smart people — they gained admission to a top-tier program.  However, their conducts also revealed their insecurities.  They saw the world as a zero sum game, and believed they could only advance by pulling others down.  That’s a pitiful way of looking at the world.

Thankfully, not every one sees the world that way.  In graduate school for a social program at Duke University, for example, during the first week of school, we were given an assignment and the manual for SPSSx — a statistical analysis program used for, among other things, multi-variable programing and data analysis.  None of us were computer programmers.  None of us had programming experience.  The manual was gibberish to us — we might as well be learning Chinese.  In the Computer Lab, some of the girls cried out of frustration.  Others stewed.  (Remember, all of us were used to success and smart enough to gain admission to that top-ranked graduate program at Duke University!)  After a while, someone brought music. Others brought beer.  Slowly, as a group, we worked together to decipher that manual and teach each other SPSSx.

Success doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  If you help nurture others and surround yourselves with bright and capable people, think how much more you could accomplish as a group versus on your own.  Each of us bring different strengths to the table.  Why not utilize the different skill sets for the good of the group?  Insecure people tear down others.  Secure people understands the value of working together with others and that other’s gifts do not necessarily diminish their own.

Avoid those who tear you down to lift themselves up: work with those who believe it in working together to improve the lot of everyone.

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

4 years, 10 months, and 10 days. Looking out for #1 … isn’t necessarily a good thing. Learn to be grateful for others make you happier and healthier.

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Why gratitude is good for youth

Although gratitude, as a social emotion, has long been considered a powerful ingredient of health and well-being for both individuals and societies, for a long time no systematic attempt had ever been made to deeply explore its development in youth.

However, initial research demonstrated that, when compared with their less grateful (and more materialistic) peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, greater engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs—and less envy and depression….

How gratitude builds relationships

In describing the design of his curriculum, Bono writes, “Gratitude interventions…should let students appreciate the different benefits and benefactors in their lives for themselves. Let’s go beyond lists and dry journals. When people ‘get’ us and help us through tough times, gratitude grows.”

As students learn gratitude, they are also learning about the concepts of intention and benefit: how others deliberately take actions that make our lives better, inspiring us to feel grateful. As Bono and gratitude researcher Jeffrey Froh explain:

  • Acts of kindness that inspire gratitude are usually done on purpose, with intention. Someone has noticed us, thought about what we need, and chosen to do something to meet that need. Reflecting on the intentions behind these acts deepens our sense of gratitude.
  • Each act of kindness has a cost to the person who performs it. The cost may include time, effort, or something that was given up, as well as any financial cost. When we understand those costs, we gain a deeper appreciation of the person who acted in a caring way.
  • Others’ acts of kindness benefit us personally in ways that may be material, emotional, or social. Noticing and acknowledging the ways we benefit from others’ actions enhances our gratitude.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

On days when I’m heart-heavy, like today, I turn to music and Greater Good Magazine to help lift me out of my funk.  Self-care is important.  Do what it take to survive and fight another day.

This may seem at at odds with the title of this post, but it is not.  It is complementary.  If you are down in the dumps, you are no good to anyone — including yourself.  Take care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health first.

But, in the course of that effort, you will find that being grateful and helping others go a very long way in making you happier and healthier, and lifting your spirits.  It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

And, don’t forget to listen to good and meaningful music.

Five Ways Music Can Make You a Better Person

Can listening to music change your behavior for the better?

People in the United States spend an average of 32 hours listening to music each week, an increase of five and a half hours over last year. That’s a lot of time—more than ever before. Has this influenced your behavior or the behavior of those around you?

Some people certainly think it can have a negative impact—remember Tipper Gore’s crusade against swear words and “the indecent liberties some entertainers take with [our] children”? However, studies have also explored possible relationships between music and positive social behaviors.

In particular, research suggests that three aspects of music—its emotional resonance, its lyrical content, and its unique way of synchronizing groups of people—may have the power to invoke good deeds. Here’s a list of the research-tested ways music can have a positive impact on you and your world.

1. Listening to uplifting music may make you happier—and possibly more generous

We’ve all felt strong emotions listening to music. Sad songs may bring us to tears, while joyful music can make us feel euphoric. While melancholy music can move us in fascinating ways, there is power in that second category, too. Indeed, one way music may make us better people is by making us happier—and therefore more likely to give of ourselves.

In a study by Adrian North, Mark Tarrant, and David Hargreaves, over 600 users of a university gym listened to either uplifting, top-20 singles or annoying avant-garde computer music while they worked out. They were later asked either to sign a petition in support of a charity (an easy task) or to distribute leaflets for the charity (a more demanding task).

While almost all participants from both groups signed the petition, significantly more of the participants from the up-tempo music group agreed to help distribute leaflets, suggesting that some music may make you more willing to expend energy and time to help others.

Other research shows that there is a feedback loop between happiness and generosity—feeling happier makes people more likely to give and vice versa. So, while more studies are needed to confirm the relationship, the results from the gym study suggest not only that music may be a good way to make people feel happier but also that this increased happiness may make people more generous.

2. Songs with “prosocial” lyrics may make you more helpful and empathic

Happy lyrics from upbeat songs may not have as much of an impact on people’s behavior as “prosocial” lyrics advocating kindness and helpfulness—think Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World.” While sometimes these lyrics may seem sappy or saccharine, they also may have the ability to change the way we think and act—at least in the short term.

For example, one study by Tobias Greitemeyer found that people who had listened to music with prosocial lyrics (such as “peace on earth to everyone that you meet”) were significantly more likely to think prosocial thoughts compared to those who had listened to songs with neutral lyrics. If a person was presented with the cue “g_____e,” they were more likely to suggest a positive word such as “give” over a neutral word like “guide” if they had listened to a song with prosocial lyrics. The impact went beyond word associations: The people who heard prosocial lyrics were also more likely to donate money they earned from participating in the experiment.

In another study by Greitemeyer, people who had listened to music with prosocial lyrics picked up more pencils for an experimenter who pretended to spill them accidentally, were more likely to agree to do further unpaid experiments and spent more time doing them, and gave more money away in an economic game when compared with people who had listened to music with neutral lyrics. Further analysis found that this effect was due to increased interpersonal empathy in the people who had listened to the prosocial lyrics.

When you tell someone to heal the world through song lyrics, it appears as if they’re actually more likely to try.

While both of these studies were limited in that they looked only at the short-term effect of listening to songs with positive lyrics, Greitemeyer suggests that repeated exposure to prosocial media might prove to have profound effects.

“Repeated encounters with prosocial media may yield long-term changes in personality through the development and construction of knowledge structures,” writes Greitemeyer. In other words, “when people may repeatedly listen to prosocial songs, the positive effects on prosocial behavior might be even more pronounced.”

3. Listening to prosocial songs may change how you spend your money

In one experiment, almost 800 French restaurant customers ate lunch or dinner while listening to music with prosocial lyrics or music with neutral lyrics—or music not selected for its lyrical content. Restaurant patrons who had listened to the prosocial music were significantly more likely to leave a tip—and their tips were bigger than the others’.

However, a more recent study by Nicolas Ruth found that guests who visited a German café while listening to music with prosocial lyrics tipped the same amount as those who listened to songs with neutral lyrics. That said, Ruth observed a different positive behavior: Guests who listened to the prosocial lyrics were significantly more likely to buy organic fair trade coffee.

In his paper, Ruth suggests a couple of possibilities for why this experiment failed to see an increase in tipping: Maybe it’s because tipping is viewed differently in Germany, or perhaps the prosocial impulse led people to choose to support fair trade coffee farmers and the environment, when given the option.

4. Song lyrics may change your attitude towards people different from you

Indeed, listening to these songs may make us less aggressive, more accepting of differences, and even—yes, for real—more likely to respect women.

A study by Ruth and colleagues, for example, found that participants who had listened to Bruno Mars’s “Count on Me”—a song with prosocial lyrics—had fewer aggressive thoughts (but not fewer aggressive feelings) compared to those who listened to Mars’s “The Lazy Song,” which is more neutral.

Another study by Greitemeyer found that German participants who listened to neutral lyrics were significantly more likely to help a student with a German-sounding name pass out pamphlets for a project than a student with a Turkish-sounding name, whereas participants who had listened to pro-integration lyrics were equally likely to help both.

In a similar vein, another study by Greitemeyer and colleagues found that participants who had listened to songs with pro-equality lyrics—such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin—showed evidence of more positive attitudes and behavior toward women compared to those who had listened to neutral lyrics.

It is important to note that these studies have limitations. Most used small numbers of college students as their participants, tested only a few songs, and looked only at short-term effects. Thus, it’s unclear whether these results are due to priming, which might affect short-term decisions without influencing how people see the world in general. Even so, it is possible that listening to more prosocial songs could lead to long-term changes in attitudes and behavior for the better.

5. Making and moving to music may boost cooperation and connection

It’s not just listening to music that can change our behavior for the better—moving to music helps, too. But it’s not the movement of dancing itself that inspires kindness and helpfulness (although it might contribute). Instead, it’s the way music helps to synchronize us with other people.

There are several studies that suggest dancing to music with others (as well as jointly making or listening to music) can boost prosocial behavior. In one study by Sebastian Kirschner and Michael Tomasello, four-year-old children behaved more cooperatively and prosocially after making music together compared to children who were engaged in another activity with similar levels of social and linguistic interaction.

Another study by Laura Cirelli, Stephanie Wan, and Laurel Trainor found that even younger children—14-month-olds—were significantly more likely to help an experimenter after bouncing synchronously with her to the Beatles song “Twist and Shout” than after bouncing asynchronously (an effect achieved by the experimenter listening to a sped-up track on headphones).

This increased cooperation isn’t limited to children. Studies have found that adults who did synchronous singing cooperated more in an economic game, and that people who participated in synchronized drumming were more likely than others to pick up pencils for an experimenter who had dropped them.

A recent study by Jan Stupacher and colleagues suggests that just viewing synchronized movements can influence how we see others. In this study, adult participants watched videos of two people figures walking side by side and imagined that they were one of the people. When music accompanied the videos, participants were more inclined to see the two figures as close and they liked the other one better, compared to when a metronome or silence accompanied the video. Why? Perhaps the music made them happier (as in the gym experiment), suggest the researchers—or maybe music plays a unique role in social bonding.

Interestingly, messing with the synchrony between the music and the figures changed people’s impressions. In some versions of the experiment, the two figures moved out of sync with one another. When the other figure was moving out of phase with the music, but the figure the participant was pretending to be was moving in phase, participants rated the other figure as less likeable compared to the opposite situation (other-figure in phase and self-figure out of phase). Could this mean that moving to the beat could help you find a new friend at a party? Further research is needed.

So, music can do plenty of good, it seems—but can it really “Heal the World?” It’s hard to say, given that research into the prosocial impacts of music is still in its infancy. But this smattering of studies suggests that there are ways music may indeed help.

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_ways_music_can_make_you_a_better_person#

All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

4 years, 10 months, and 5 days. Learn to be a team player. Life is not all about you.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

History is replete with tales of those too smart for their own good.  Too often, people use their natural talents to elevate themselves at the expense of others, of their teams, of their communities, of their countries.  (Sadly, this is true also of those without talents, but who think they possess such attributes.)  The results are predictable.  Calamity ensues.  The news is replete with such stories, and books and movies have made much of such.  Yet, the lesson is frequently forgotten.

The most important lesson in life, my sons, is to be a part of something good and greater than yourselves.  The enigma is that service for others will bring you greater joy and happiness than the dogged and selfish pursuit of your own happiness.  As discussed earlier, we are wired to be bottomless pits.  We are built to adapt; thus, what joy a new acquisition gives you will soon fade and the need for another, newer acquisition will start you on the endless chase.

But, the critical terms here are “good and greater than yourselves”.  Beware of false promises and outright lies.  (I do not intend to imply mal-intent here; sometimes, people do not intend to be bad but become blinded to the truth because of their tunnel visions.)

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(Yes, Jim Jones claimed to be God and Buddha on occasions, yet he forced his followers to kill their children and themselves.  False prophets are many.  Beware of them.)

Use your head.  Think, always.  Assess the validity of what is presented to you.  What are the motives of the speaker?  What does he/she have to gain?  Is the information reliable and supported by data, studies, logic, etc.?  What is being omitted?  What are the counterarguments?

Always think.  Explore and find out for yourselves what you believe in, what projects you can invest yourselves in, and how you can help the less fortunate and make your community a better place.

My one regret with you boys is to not have involved you guys in my volunteer work.  I thought you were too young.  I was wrong.  It would have done you good, and exposed you to the harsh realities of the lives of many others.

My hope is you will find good people and good projects to engage with.  The joy that comes from team work and helping others cannot be overstated.  I want that for you.

All my love, always,

Dad

4 years, 9 months, and 24 days. Helping others is good for you. Make time to volunteer and help others.

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Why Doing Good Is Good for the Do-Gooder

From Hurricane Harvey flooding Houston to Hurricanes Irma and Maria ripping through the Caribbean to wildfires burning Northern California, cities and charities have been flooded with donations and volunteers. The outpouring of support is critical for helping affected communities to recover. But acts of generosity benefit the do-gooder, too.

“Research suggests that these community social connections are as important for resilience to disaster is as physical material like disaster kits or medical supplies,” explained Ichiro Kawachi, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Voluntarism is good for the health of people who receive social support, but also good for the health of people who offer their help.”

The day after Cristina Topham evacuated her home as a result of the fires in Sonoma, Calif., she and her boyfriend immediately looked for ways to donate and help.

“I just felt like I had to do something. I love my town and my community, and the reach of the destruction was astonishing from the very beginning,” she said.

 

Why is the first instinct for many to volunteer and donate after a natural disaster? One reason is that as humans we’ve evolved to survive in groups, not alone. Rallying together makes us feel less alone in the experience, explained the sociologist Christine Carter, a fellow at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“When our survival is threatened, we are going to reach out and strengthen our connections with people around us. We show generosity. We show compassion. We show gratitude. These are all emotions that function to connect us with each other,” Dr. Carter said.

Scientific evidence supports the idea that acts of generosity can be beneficial when we volunteer and give back regularly — and not just after a natural disaster. Volunteering is linked to health benefits like lower blood pressure and decreased mortality rates.

Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been studying the effects of positive emotions, such as compassion and kindness, on the brain since the 1990s. He said the brain behaves differently during an act of generosity than it does during a hedonistic activity.

“When we do things for ourselves, those experiences of positive emotions are more fleeting. They are dependent on external circumstances,” he said. “When we engage in acts of generosity, those experiences of positive emotion may be more enduring and outlast the specific episode in which we are engaged.”

Helping others also gives us a sense of purpose. Dr. Linda Fried co-founded Experience Corps, a program that engages retirees as literacy tutors, after she discovered a strong association between a sense of purpose and well-being throughout life. Older adults who volunteered to help children with reading and writing tended to experience less memory loss and maintain greater physical mobility, one study suggested.

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

These days, it seems like every day brings bad news.  Terrorism in New York City.  Hurricanes in the Atlantic.  Shootings.  It’s enough to make you want to pull the covers over your head and not get out of bed.

If you need to take a mental health day, do it.  There were times during my practice — after working 12-13 hour days for 6-7 days per week for weeks on end — when I simply had to take the day off and head into the mountains to blow steam, recharge, and put life into perspective.  There, on the mountain top, I would be reminded, in the greater scheme of things,  that the “crises” I deal with at work are insignificant.

The other valuable thing that gives me perspective is volunteerism.  As mentioned yesterday, volunteerism was a mainstay in my life for a long time.  When younger, I tutored kids, interpreted for schools and churches, helped carry groceries for our elderly neighbors, etc.  As I got older, my involvement became more substantial.  For example, I researched and wrote policies to help the homeless and prevent them from freezing to death on cold winter nights, represented asylum seekers with court filings and appearances to help them gain refugee status, helped victims of domestic violence get protection from their abusers.  I also continued to help feed the poor, build houses for the disenfranchised, etc.

Your grandmother, on my side of the family, taught us at a young age that (1) you are never too young to help others, and (2) it does you good to help others.  My greatest take-aways from my childhood were to choose friends with care, and to help others whenever I could.  Even today, at 90 years old, your grandmother is still volunteering and helping those less fortunate than her.  She is making a huge difference in the lives of those she helps.

Grandma’s actions and lesson for us has support in the wisdom of the ancients.  Per Robin Sharma’s The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari,

[T]he sages of the Himalayas guided their lives by a simple rule: he who serves the most, reaps the most, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  This is the way to inner peace and outer fulfillment.”

Science also bears out the wisdom of her lesson.  As stated in article above, doing good is actually good for do-gooder.  Among other things, it contributes to more enduring positive emotions and a sense of well-being, gives our lives purpose, connects us to our fellow human beings, lowers blood pressure, reduces memory loss and  increases mobility as we get older, and decreases mortality rates.

Generally, volunteering is  good for you over the course of your life, and  specifically and in the shorter run, it helps you get into good colleges.  Top colleges care about more than your grades and SAT score.  They want to invest in the future of those who are not only takers, but also givers.  Kids who spend all their time studying and being tutored put themselves in the receiving end of others’ efforts.  There is nothing special about that.

Colleges, employers, and good people want to be associated with those who help others and who give back to the community, not just take and benefit from the community in which they find themselves.  Asian families tend to over-focus on the importance of grades and under-focus on the importance of personal growth.  That’s their failing.  I don’t care how smart you are or how studious you are: as an employer, I would never hire you or invite you to join my team if you could not collaborate with others, communicate with others, help others, or translate what you learned into actionable items.

That said, remember, volunteering is not about padding your resume — although that is a short term benefit.  Helping others is a way of life.  I promise that if you help others, you will get as much, if not more, out of the experience than the person you are helping.

Be good.  Be you.  Be the best you possible.  Help others when possible.  Be a humanist.

All my love, always,

Dad