For many years I have been hearing reports from my friends about the ease with which they have coped with cataract operations.   For some reason or other no-one had suggested to me that it may be time for me to undergo the procedure. And, then it happened!

Lost Driver’s Licence

I recently had new glasses made for driving.   I had lost my driver’s licence and in order to obtain a new one, I needed to pass a vision acuity test.    In South Africa many people fail the official test offered by the traffic department.  They are then given a form and sent to a private optician to be retested.   I have never understood why it is that the test offered by the licencing department is not the definitive test.   The answer still remains a mystery to me.

It Happened More than Once

I tend to be somewhat careless when it comes to looking after important documentation, so have needed recently to replace my drivers’ licence on a couple of occasions.   I had on a previously undergone the inconvenience of having to visit the optician and then return to the testing centre with the required certification.   Yes, I had passed this procedure offered free of charge by the profession.

On receipt of my new driving glasses I was somewhat disappointed that my vision when driving was not as sharp as I would have liked.   I consoled myself that maybe I needed a bit of time to get used to the new prescription.   My eyes needed to adapt.   A couple of months later however, I mislaid this new pair of glasses   They were nowhere to be found!

Yet Another Time

Back to the optician, I go to purchase yet another pair.  When I communicated my dissatisfaction with the previous prescription, my consultant suggested that I have my eyes checked with the ophthalmologist for the growth of cataracts.     Maybe I was ready for cataract surgery.  After all, said the consultant, “It is no good making you another set of glasses if you were not happy with the previous ones!”

“Yes,” observed the ophthalmologist after examining the results of numerous mechanical eye tests, “You clearly are more than ready for cataract surgery.”   I wondered why it was I had waited beyond the ideal time to undertake this procedure.   How could I have neglected my vision in this way?    Who am I to blame?   Is it the fault of the medical profession?   Is it my fault?   How could I have been so neglectful?    I have not yet managed to answer that series of questions.

Surgical Ramifications

Surgery was set for the next week.  “It will be a piece of cake,” quoted all my friends and acquaintances.   Well, In fact the operation took 50 minutes instead of the usual 20 minutes.    On my check up visit I learned that due to the delay in my undergoing of the surgery, the lens had become particularly hard, and thus made it more difficult for the surgeon to remove.   Her instruments had to be used on their strongest setting to achieve the desired result!   The usual conscious sedation was not sufficient, and for some time I was fully unconscious during the procedure because of my restlessness.

Applying the Drops

As I live on my own, I had some concern about how I would cope with applying the numerous drops when I was discharged.   Three sets of drop medication were prescribed.   Two needed to be used at one hourly intervals.   I could not ask my neighbour to come in every hour.   Not even, could I expect the nurse from the clinic to come in hourly.   I had to work out how to do the procedure myself.

So sitting in a comfortable chair with my head held back, I used my left hand to form a space for the drop, by stretching my lower lid, held the bottle of medication in my other hand next to my eyebrow.   Using my tactile senses I awaited the landing of the drop in my eye.

Rehabilitation

It all seemed to work.   It is now four days post the operation and I am having fun comparing my vision in the post- operated right eye, with my vision in my non-operated left eye.   What a revelation awaited my experimentation.    The white wall outside my home looked white when I look through the eye which had already undergone the procedure.   Whereas the left eye, yet to have the operation, perceived the wall in a dullish yellowish colour.   A clear demonstration of the effect of the growth of cataracts.

I am optimistically looking forward to a couple of months hence.  I have been promised clear vision for both reading and driving with no need for spectacles!   A pleasure indeed, and much safer for me and all the other road users in this part of the world!

If you want to find out more about cataract surgery, look here

 

What is Generation Theory?

American research and literature have been including references to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials for some time. Now the terms are starting to appear in the newspapers in South Africa. In the Cape Times of this morning, Wednesday 2nd October 2019, two articles suggest the public become aware of the influences underlying the habits, values and behaviours of the youngsters of today.

Mannheim’s Generation Theory regarding the influence of current events onyoung minds was brought to the consciousness of the West in the 1950’s.   He believes that significant events in the life of a young generation will be transformative as far as their values and lifestyle are concerned.

Boomer Generation

Thus the Boomer Generation, whose youth was dominated by the Second World War, has only known growing prosperity and a heightened standard of living. America witnessed tremendous economic growth in the decades following WW2. Increasing prosperity influenced the lifestyle of this generation. Children born during and shortly after WW2 were a generation who witnessed an age of growing consumption and wealth.

Millennials of Today

The present generation has been the first cohort to experience the move towards Minimalism. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are significant aspects of this new culture. They are eating patterns which help to preserve the resources of the earth while minimising CO2 emissions. The last couple of decades have witnessed the lowering of the standard of living from one generation to the next. This generation is the first one since WW2 in which children experience a lower standard of living than their parents.

Learning from Milennials

With this very brief introduction to Generational Theory, let us now examine “What millennials can teach us about office life!” They have shown us that you don’t need to be in the office from 9 – 5 to be effective. Workforces are becoming more versatile and flexible as technology allows one to conduct one’s business in cafes, trains and even during overseas vacations!

Many bloggers are grateful to be able to work from anywhere in the world. Travel does not challenge their regular flow of income.

Working from Home

When I hear about this concept of a continuous income, I recall reading Vance Packard many years ago. He predicted in the 1950s the introduction of Cottage Industry. Businesses being run from home, cutting out the need for travel and rental of office space. In those days, I remember thinking that sounded like a fanciful dream; however, today it is a reality.

The downside of being able to work from home wherever you may be, whatever the time, is there exists no downtime. Burnout, caused by the stress of being on call at all hours of the day, is a phenomenon of the past twenty odd years. Youngsters starting their careers are made aware of the necessity of time management. This has become an essential skill in order to include leisure and family time are not compromised and are part of the daily agenda.

The Millennials of today are aware of the dangers of being dominated by their careers and are making choices. They realise that the top salary may involve a sacrifice of their mental health and are choosing a lower salary which allows them a more flexible lifestyle

“Don’t let the old man in; Baby Boomers break the mould again.”

This is the title of the second article of this morning’s Cape Times describing changes in the business environment dictated by a generation of retiring boomers. Today retirement does not necessarily mean the end of the time when you earn some money. As Nelson Mandela said, “This is the second time I am retiring from retirement!”

Retirement Villages have become a popular way for boomers to spend their senior years. What is being advocated in this latest study is the potential for building new retirement villages. While most contemporary retirement developments have been built as sanctuaries for non-working people, changes will be needed in the next 20 years. Contemporary retirees are looking at lock-up-and-go lifestyles with facilities for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. This will require future facilities for seniors to conduct their life with high-speed internet facilities, exercise equipment and spaces to socialise and entertain.

Further suggestions for future developers of senior lifestyle facilities are offered. It is suggested that wheelchairs and nurses be kept discreetly in the background as residents sip their chardonnay on the patio!

My personal experience

The recent severe drought we experienced in Cape Town has ensured my generation is acutely aware of the potential of further water shortages in the future. We will never squander water in the way we have in the past. The idea of witnessing a dripping tap is an anathema. No longer do we wash our dishes more than once a day. We all cut down on the use of the washing machine. We know water is a precious commodity.

Today and the Senior Lifestyle

As senior citizens, we have the chance next week to acquaint ourselves with what we can do to save our planet from environmental pollution. Dynamic young women like Greta Thurnberg, who at the moment is favoured to win the Nobel Peace Prize, have made us aware of our responsibility to educate ourselves and others regarding the use of our natural resources. We must understand the impact our daily habits have on global warming. We may not be planning to visit America by yacht, rather than by flying, but we need to be controlling our waste and learning the art and science of recycling.

Let me suggest a good place to begin. A crucial online seminar is starting this month. I suggest you go to this link and sign up. I have confidence you will learn what needs to be done to save our planet from the irreversible damages of human ignorance and mal-practices.

Not all of us are the owners of vast financial fortunes. We may not consider ourselves to be wealthy. Some of us may have limited monetary resources. However, each and every person needs to protect their family members by drawing up a Legal Will. Also, more recently, a Living Will has become an essential ancillary document to be considered. It acts as a directive for our families if we should develop a long term terminal condition. A Living Will can save a great deal of emotional turmoil if we should be in a state when we are not of sound mind to make our own decisions.

Making use of Opportunities

So when I heard that a local Care Organisation was offering a presentation from an attorney who specialises in this area of advice giving, I decided it would be a good idea to go along and enhance my awareness of these two relevant documents.

Unexpected Insights

While I have drawn up a will based on the counsel of my Financial Advisor, I had not sought the advice of someone who is professionally trained in the rules and regulations around the drafting of a will, so decided to attend the meeting to enhance my knowledge on this topic.

As it happened, I learned something profound from a member of the audience, Kate Brown of Fiscal Private Client Services, who is a financial planner.  She is particularly focused on tuning into the emotional needs of her clients From Kate I gleaned a thoughtful lesson.  It is so important for professional people who are giving technical advice to be tuned in to the nuances of family relationships.

The South Africa Reality

Many senior South Africans have been called geriatric orphans.   They may have middle aged children who have traversed continents and live together with their offspring all over the world.   The apartheid era which started in this country in the later 40’s was the predominant political perspective for the next 50 years.   Many people growing up during this time were pessimistic about their future in this country.    As a consequence many senior South Africans have their grown up children living in different parts of the world.

So, our senior population may have had three or four children, but because of the prevailing political insecurity most of their offspring may have left the country.   Frequently just one of the children remains behind and this person’s job becomes caring for the ageing parents.

When paying their regular visits to their parents, these ‘overseas’ siblings may well question the ‘local’ sibling who has the caring role.   This could be in the field of finances, or health or any other meaningful supporting function played by the remaining child.

Sensitivity or Role Players

This local sibling is playing the numerous roles which, in different circumstances, may have been shared by all the family members.   The home resident, may feel exploited and becomes hyper-sensitive to any comments made by their visiting relative.    A casual suggestion can easily be misinterpreted as being a criticism of the single overworked care person.

It was in this situation that Kate, as financial planner, pointed out the role played to ease the situation.  This potentially hurtful scenario can be anticipated.  The caring professional can offer a warning to all concerned about possible comments and questions so that each player can be sensitised to the possibility that a casual, well-intentioned remark will not be unnecessarily received as a criticism.   In this case a warning offered in anticipation may be of great assistance.

Living Will

There were many questions asked about the validity of a Living Will. Each country will have its regulations regarding this document.  However, if you live in South Africa then a model document is obtainable on the internet from this site

There are five good reasons why a Living Will has become important for all senior citizens to consider in this era of advanced medical knowledge.

  1. It allows everyone to make his or her intentions known at a stage when they are still lucid. A statement as to whether or not you wish to be kept on artificial life support may well be appreciated by your family if you should in the future lose your ability to make decisions for yourself.
  2. You will save your close relations from having to debate whether or not to prolong your life artificially. This document may protect them from many emotionally straining discussions.
  3. It will ensure that excessive expenditure is avoided to extend your life if this is not your wish.
  4. You can make your own decision as to whether or not you would like your organs to be offered for saving the lives of other patients.
  5. Making a Living Will protects you from worrying about what may happen if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. This document can bring you peace of mind.

The Role of Professionals

A chat with the attendees at the end of this productive session of current advice left me feeling more confident of making plans for any potential end of life scenario I may experience.

I felt grateful to be in the company of some wise professionals who can offer guidance in a caring and non-judgemental manner.

 

Chantell Ilbury is considered to be one of Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers.    This modest and attractive young woman spoke at a meeting under the banner of the Cape Town University of the Third Age, at our local Baxter Theatre.

Scenario Planning

What a treat it was! Chantell is consulted by major companies all over the world, who seek her advice on the possible happenings in the realm of scenario planning. In this role, she makes predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour. She is consulted by major businesses all over the world to advise them on the way forward.

Chantell shared with us some of the ‘flags’, she and her partner Clem Sunter study in their role as scenario planners. They make predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour.

The Flags 

  1. The Religious Flag: The biggest danger to watch is Iran. If this country should follow through with any of its aggressive threats to attack Israel or the USA, then the price of oil will be heavily implicated.
  2. Trade War Flag: They need to watch what is going on between the USA and China, each of whom wishes to dominate in this arena.
  3. Environmental Flag: We are already seeing dramatic floods, heatwaves and droughts, yet the denialism of President Trump needs to be monitored. The role of young people is proving significant in this area.
  4. The Ageing Flag: This is described as a ‘clockwork’ feature – it moves steadily in one direction. The proportion of aged in the populations can be monitored and is becoming greater, and this creates a burden on the younger generations
  5. Anti-Establishment Flag: We are going through a stage of Populism, where the elite are being maligned. The role of President Trump in the USA  and Boris Johnson in Britain are taking the Western World into this somewhat regressive posture.
  6. The National Debt: Today this figure is increasing, and many of the world’s leading countries carry a foreign debt of over 60%

What about Africa

Chantell informed us of the aspirations of the African continent. I learned about the African Union Agenda for 2063, which envisions an integrated and prosperous merger of member states during the next couple of decades. This bold aspiration is planned to commence with an economic merger. It is hoped that the warring factions will be silenced and the 54 countries of Africa will have initiated a range of co-operative ventures across the board.

In fact the front page of today’s daily newspaper Cape Times carries news of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) which opens for a three day conference in Cape Town today.   Over 1000 delegates, global leaders in government, business and civil society, have gathered to explore the creation of inclusive sustainable growth for the countries of Africa.

Education

Chantell Ilbury, together with Clem Sunter are in the process of visualising an educational strategy for high school students. They feel that too much attention is given to learning factual material, and not enough to encourage the thinking strategies of today’s young people.

Isiah Berlin was a prominent philosopher at Oxford University when Clem studied there in the 1960s. He wrote a book which he called The Hedgehog and the Fox. This title was based on a quotation of the Greek poet Archilocus nearly 2700 years ago who realised, “The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing”. Scenario planners fall into the category of foxes. They are able to adapt their preferences according to prevailing conditions. Surely this demands a fresh educational perspective! This is what this talented duo are fostering in this rapidly changing world.

Charles Darwin spoke about the “Survival of the Fittest” This does not refer to the strongest members of society, but to those individuals who are able to adapt to changing circumstances. The species who were able to make rapid changes in a competitive environment are those who will stay ahead of the game. Our world is changing faster and faster as each year passes. I remember being fascinated by a course I studied in the 1950s about Social Change. We were told even then that technology changes faster than our ability to absorb the changes. How much more significant is that concept today. Social media influences need to be monitored by citizens with flexible minds who can adapt to the ever-evolving technological innovations.

Karl Popper divided the world’s phenomena into ‘clocks’ which could be analysed according to the parts which move and are relatively predictable, and the ‘clouds’. The latter category tends to be random events which follow no rules. Children need to understand the relative effect of both these types of events

David Hume is remembered for his 18th century postulation, “Reason is the slave of passion”. The earlier that children understand the difference between our conscious and our unconscious motivation, the better their chances of thriving in today’s world.

The partners in scenario planning have already introduced this program called “Growing Foxes” in a private school in London.  They are now negotiating for their program to be introduced into South African Schools.

It was indeed encouraging to learn about this relevant and creative approach to emphasising contemporary, relevant criteria within the field of pedagogics. It promises to assist our youngest generation to make better decisions about their own lives. In addition, they are helped to make well reasoned decisions regarding the ecological impacts of today’s lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It was most reassuring to learn these two progressive thinkers are prioritising a sustainable educational policy for today’s youth. May there be more practical and academic participants performing this crucial role of educating the youth, and advising on future scenario planning.

I had planned to concentrate on doing my weekly blog post first thing this morning. Not to become diverted by any other chores. However, it is now two hours later, and I have not yet started on my noble intention.

Some Diversions

Checking up on Croquet Result

Against my better judgement, I took a sneak preview of my inbox. No, I would not open any emails, but I would just check in case there is something personal requiring an urgent response. My goodness me – here are the results from the Croquet Tournament I participated in on Sunday morning. I must just check in here quickly.

This competition takes place over four months – one session happening on the last Sunday morning of the month from June to September. It is crucial for me to take a sneak preview of how the 16 competitors fared in the 90 matches which have been played thus far. Results have come in for the three sessions that have now taken place.

How am I doing? Unfortunately, not too well! There seems to be an error here, so just a quick email to Judy to check she has added all the results correctly! And, a double check I have not misinterpreted her score table. I had better make a print out of this complicated score sheet.  It will make it easier for me to study these multiple recorded scores.

What does Ellen Want

Then I must just find out what this woman Ellen is all about. Her name caught my attention when I snatched a quick review of incoming emails. Yes, she had sent me 3 free PDF’s – instructions about how to become a better blogger. She is now telling me that if I read them, let her know which is the most useful to me, I will then get a free consultation worth $97! I am so tempted to go and skim them. But no, I will restrain myself.

The Phone now Interrupts

Now there is a phone call. “Can I come and fill in at a bridge game this afternoon,” queries the caller. “Sorry,” I respond, “I have a commitment with my granddaughter this afternoon.” “Oh,” says my inviter, “I was just phoning anybody because someone dropped out of the bridge game this morning.”

Now I am really distressed. What does she mean by ‘anybody?’ I always thought I was ‘somebody’ and now I am being told I am ‘anybody’. Do I need to respond to this unconscious derogatory judgement from my caller?   Maybe I will let it pass.

Back to Blogging

I have been exploring the blogging scene for the past six months. No great results. Nothing too bad, either. I am trying to master Facebook in order to grow my following and have roped in my daughter’s young administrative assistant, to teach me how to integrate the Social Media into my repertoire of skills. Whew! It is quite a journey.

Facebook Challenges

How do people just pick up these skills and this knowledge?   Is it by trial and error? For me, it is far from intuitive. If truth were told, it is quite a slog. But then, this is all part of my aspirational lifestyle. I cannot preach the story about taking on new challenges if I personally shirk those opportunities. As a result of this blogging venture, I now have not only a personal Facebook page but A Mind of Grace page on Facebook, as well.  According to my teacher, I need to update these pages every day with enticing material. I need to like a whole bunch of new people. I have to respond to comments. I must comment on the blogs of other contributors. I need to update my profile. I must check up what people in my niche are doing. And, I thought this was going to be fun!

And Instagram as Well!

Now, my teacher wants me to become Instagram enabled, as well. Is it not enough that I use WhatsApp, and Facebook, and Blog? “No,” she says, “You need to use Instagram. That is where you need to be.” To use Instagram, you need to upload pictures from your cellphone. Now, that is a new activity for me. I can upload pictures from my computer, but for this social medium, I need to send them from my cellphone to the computer.

Skills New and Old

While I learned to touch-type 60 years ago, and can probably do about 40 words a minute on the keyboard, on the tiny cellphone, I can only input about 10 words a minute. This is excruciatingly painful. It is one thing to practice my croquet shots in order to improve my game, but do I now have to practice inputting data on my cellphone with my two thumbs? I suppose that is something for me to practice when I am in the bank waiting for my number to be called!

This is what Keeps me Going

Looking on the bright side, something exciting happened at 9pm last night. When checking my emails, I learned that the experimental blog I sent to Thrive Global has been accepted. So there I saw my piece on the prestigious site which is run by Adrianna Huffington.

My mamma may not be impressed, and my dadda may not be impressed, but I was pretty excited with this news. This exhilaration was because having been featured on Thrive Global I was being offered the facility to link my post on WhatsApp to my multiple contacts. Now, that was going to be fun. While it is not so great transferring data from WhatsApp to the computer, the reverse procedure was sure worthwhile. And, all I had to do was to follow the instructions sent by Thrive Global which were detailed on my screen.

Sometimes I become Over-excited!

I think I may have overdone it as the link was sent to all and sundry. Yes, the life of a blogger is not lacking in incident. The disappointment of not growing my list as fast as I would like to. The knowledge that I have so much to learn and master to be a ‘successful’ blogger. I need to create sales funnels, free offers, and lessons, and do surveys. The list does not end.

Completion

But, I have now written my morning blog! I have my first piece up on a prestigious website. So I am off to see the physiotherapist for treatment of my upper arm. This is an injury that has kept me off the tennis court for the past month. But, I will be back playing tennis soon as long as I am up-to-date with my blogging time-table!

I studied psychology in the 1950’s.  It was one of my majors for my BA degree. Today I was reminded on two discrete occasions about concepts I had studied six decades ago, which had not been part of my consciousness for many years.

Two Different Reminders

The first idea was mentioned in conversation by my croquet colleague who brought up the topic of lobotomy as a cure for depression.  Later, I received in my email an article from Big Think Edge on self-actualization.

My Gut Reaction

I was aware of my gut reaction when I became cognisant of these two diverse topics.   I remembered that lobotomy had become grossly discredited, while self-actualization evoked feelings of positivity.  I needed to follow up to verify my unconscious reaction to being reminded of these two concepts.

Lobotomy

It is for good reason that the brain operation known as lobotomy would evoke a feeling of disgust.   This intrusive brain surgery, performed under local anaesthetic, involved making two incisions into the skull, just behind the eyes, so that nerves of the frontal lobes could be severed.

The aim of this procedure was to relieve symptoms of distress displayed by mental illness.  It became thoroughly discredited only after many thousands of operations in both the UK and America during the 1940’s and the 1950’s.

How Effective was this Operation?

There was no cure in those days for people who were consigned to a mental asylum.  Once a patient entered the ward of such an institution, it became a virtual life sentence.  Following this procedure, it was found that 1/3 patients improved, 1/3 became worse, and 1/3 remained the same.   No research was ever conducted, and there was no follow up to this radical and irreversible surgical procedure.

Looking back, it is incredible that the medical profession sanctioned this irreversible operation.  The neurosurgeon would cut into a healthy brain to perform this procedure which today is considered an aberration.

What will our Grandchildren think about Today’s Medicine?

It makes one stop to ask, “I wonder if we are today performing medical procedure which may be considered horrific by our grandchildren!” Maybe we are.  It could be that chemotherapy will, in the future, be regarded as unnecessarily invasive. While this cancer treatment targets the fast growing cells of the tumour, it also destructs some healthy cells such as the hair follicles.   Maybe in 50 years’ time, this cure may be judged in the same way as we judge lobotomy today!

Self-Actualisation

How well I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which culminated in the need for self-actualization.  I was excited when I first heard of this concept, and this feeling was re-evoked today.

As this diagram illustrates, it is postulated that man needs to satisfy his basic needs for food, water, and sleep at the most basic level.  When these life maintaining needs have been adequately gratified, then the next levels for safety, health and employment require sustenance. Subsequently, we have to cater to our social needs for friends and family. Having this level dealt with successfully, we proceed to achieve friendships and acquire the respect of our peer group.  Finally, we have this ultimate need for self-actualization; to achieve contentment and a feeling of fulfilment.

Latest Research on Self-Actualisation

When I received today’s email from Big Think, I was amazed to discover a report of new research performed in the past few years updating and reinforcing the merit of Maslow’s top postulated human need.

Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, has published a study that updates Maslow’s work.  Modern statistical methods have identified ten specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.

Kaufman utilized surveys of over 500 subjects and identified ten characteristics that each make a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.  They are:

  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation
  • Acceptance
  • Authenticity
  • Equanimity
  • Purpose
  • Efficient Perception of Reality
  • Humanitarianism
  • Peak Experiences
  • Good Moral Intuition
  • Creative Spirit

What is particularly interesting about these qualities is that they tie in so well with the newest research into today’s favoured field of Humanistic Psychology.  In addition, these are the qualities cherished by those of us who practice Mindfulness! Those who search for Happiness!

In Kaufmann’s words

“A good way to start is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. ”

You can take his Test

To take the test of self-actualization yourself, go to Barry Scott Kaufman’s website.

Valuing Self-Actualisation

It is very satisfying to have the opportunity to review the manner in which the concept of self-actualization has re-emerged so many decades later.  Unlike lobotomy this concept has stood the test of time.

Enriching my Understanding

In fact, it has given me an insight into my understanding of myself.  Those of you who have been reading my blogs for the past few months may recall my ponderings regarding my competitiveness. I have often wondered why it is that at my advanced stage of life, I still need to enter competitions to demonstrate my prowess at the game of croquet.  Now I have some insight.  Of course, it is all about self-actualization!

 

The term antifragility was introduced into the English language by Nassim Taleb when writing his book of the same name which appeared in 2013.   I was somewhat chuffed to learn about this concept as it verified an observation I had made some 50 years ago.

My Observation

It was in the early days of my marriage.  Divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. Despite this fact, I did have within my social circle, sufficient acquaintances who had decided to terminate their marriage. I remember giving some thought to the fate of children whose parents divorced when they were still young.   I had noticed that the children of my friends who emerged from a family of divorce were either better adjusted psychologically than the average child, or had a greater number of psychological difficulties than the most of their peers.

An example of Antifragility

How does this relate to antifragility, you may ask?  To understand this term, we need first to understand that things such as glass objects are fragile, while articles made of steel are strong and robust.  But, what do we call something which grows in strength when offered a series of moderate setbacks?   This is what antifragility is all about.   Interestingly enough Taleb recognised this condition in the banking system when he was a successful investor and studied the ups and downs of the stock market.

Psychological and Physiological Antifragility

I am, however, more interested in how the term anti-fragility helps us to understand both psychological behaviour and the physiology of the body.  Small struggles of the mind and body tend to make us stronger.   If your muscles are not used they become weaker.  If our muscles are overused they are damaged.  But if our muscles are used a little bit more each day, or each week , they then grow stronger.  The same can be said of the immune system.  A few germs in the environment are necessary for the development of immunity.

Returning to my Early Experience

To return to my observation of many years ago, I now have an interpretation for this early hypothesis.  If the amount of stress of their parent’s divorce is handled optimally, the children can emerge with greater resilience; they become antifragile.  However, if the stress of the divorce procedure is beyond the capacity of the child to process, then that child will suffer emotional damage.

Resilience and Antifragility

Linda Graham is an American psychologist who has written a brilliant book on resilience. She describes resilience as the learned capacity to cope with adversity. Developing resilience over one’s lifespan illustrates the concept of anti-fragility. Graham in her latest weekly blog was referenced a book written by Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called the Coddling of the American Mind In this book, the authors document how child-rearing practices in America are overprotecting growing children. Parents are not allowing them to experience the challenges which have been a traditional part of growing up.

Over-protection

Today parents are so concerned about the physical safety of their children that there is a tendency to overprotect them. As a result, today children in cities have to be under parental protection 24 hours a day.  Children are no longer allowed to be on the streets without adult supervision.  Parents can be punished for allowing their children to participate in activities that the current law considers to be dangerous.  Thus a child cannot be allowed to go to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.  The growing child does not participate in the tasks which allow them to develop their independence. Several decades ago, a child reared in the city could go to visit friends in the local neighbourhood, play in the streets, or make their way to the park without adult supervision.   Today these growth experiences are denied because of what many people perceive as over-protective regulations.

A Commencement Speech

The benefits of encouraging an antifragile lifestyle are beautifully illustrated in the words of John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in his commencement speech to his son’s middle school:

He said, “From time to time in the years to come:

  • I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
  • I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
  • Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. ·
  • I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  ·
  • I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
  • Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Reader’s Contribution

Would you like to share your experience of the role of antifragility in your own life?  Let the other readers know how you have benefitted from the challenges you have overcome. How you have emerged with greater strength?

Online Learning

What is Zoom?
I had a new experience today. Sandra Mackay of the Neuroscience Academy invited her past students to a zoom meeting.
In these an online courses Sarah teaches coaches the basic neurological principles behind behaviour change. Once they have acquired this knowledge, the coaches are empowered to motivate their clients by sharing with them with the underlying psychological and neurological principles of behaviour change. You can read about the course here; http://yourbrainhealth.com.au/work-with-me/neuroscience-academy/

What is a Zoom Meeting
I am not going to presume that all my readers are familiar with what a zoom meeting is all about. Those of you who are familiar with the concept and the experience can skip the next paragraph!
A Zoom meeting https://zoom.us/ is held on the internet. The initiator invites participants to join the meeting by sending an online email link together with the date and time of the proposed gathering. If recipients wish to join the meeting, they do not need to reply, they merely note the time and date and log in at the appropriate instant. Meetings can be held with just two people, or with scores of participants.
Today’s meeting
It was 8 o’clock in the morning for me in South Africa. For Sarah in Australia, it was just getting dark. Online were two women from Belgium, which is more or less my time zone! One of the ladies from Belgium was a teacher trying to revolutionise the conservative schooling system in Brussels. When I heard what she was up again with her progressive ideas, I was able to suggest that she has a look at some of Ken Robinson’s TED talks. Here is a brilliant presentation by Ken on bringing creativity into the school curriculum. It has had over 3 million times views: https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity
Ingrid also lives in Belgium. She spoke about the work she does with Ear Acupuncture and the healing of emotional trauma. She told us how she applied needles in the ear, which enables her to help her patients reduce anger, anxiety and trauma.
Amrith from India was the next person to introduce himself when he came online during his lunch break. He had completed Sarah’s course many years ago but still remained in touch with the teacher who had enriched his practice of alternative therapy. He was impressive in describing the relief he had given to his clients who suffered from both physical and emotional challenges.
Of course, I was also given the oppertunity to share my shenanigans with the assembled participants in the Zoom Room. I recounted my experiences with facilitating Couscous Ageing for Seniors. In these 2 hour discussion groups, participants are made aware of the neurological background of the ageing process. This knowledge and understanding help them devise a methodology of maintaining cognitive reserve, physical fitness and emotional resilience in their senior years.
The Expert’s Contribution
Sarah shared with us some of her accumulated wisdom. She had been participating in an Australian TV program in which Octogenarians and Nonagenarians were being interviewed. This series aimed to glean information about successful ageing. Emerging from her experience with this group, Sarah suggested that a mind of curiosity may be the critical quality that helps those in the latter decades of their life remain involved and committed in the ever changing contemporary environment.
Striking a receptive chord.
I agreed with her hypothesis. I have always taken pride in my belief that curiosity is one of my most positive characteristics. Sarah jogged my memory when she made this comment. I recalled the era when photocopying machines first arrived. I had taken my notes to a photocopy shop to have the minutes of the school committee meeting printed for the attendees, and I wondered, “Why does the assistant not ask me what my material is all about. Is he not interested in what I am copying?” My curious mind would continue, “If I were an assistant doing his job, I would want to know what is written on the page as well as the reason the customer needing this material.”
Another early memory popped into my mind. I recalled going to reserve a long distance bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It was at the time when businesses were just starting to use computers to enhance their services. My curiosity was aroused. I wanted to view the screen. However, all I could see was the back of the monitor. I had never even had sight of a computer screen and could only imagine what the assistant was viewing. I can still sense my frustration, my curiosity was not satisfied. I could not have sight of the screen.

Where is my curiosity taking me?

Perhaps trivial examples. But I am curious, and that is why I am starting to explore the methodology of sharing my accumulated knowledge and life experiences with online learners. I am planning to complement the face to face monthly meetings I have been running for the past 12 years, with some opportunities offered by current technology in the form of online tuition and zoom meetings!

Anyone who is reading this blog and has an idea what they might like to learn within my area of expertise is welcome to place suggestions in the Comment Box. I would love to hear from you!

I have something in common with both Winston Churchill and Oliver Sacks.   Yes I know I am neither a great politician nor an esteemed neurologist known for my brilliant essays written for the lay public.   However, all three of us suffer from a condition known as prosopagnosia, or “brain blindness”.   People suffering from this diagnosis have a malfunction of the fusiform gyrus, the specialised area of the brain which determines facial recognition.   This disorder puts us at a serious disadvantage in social situations and I have often been accused of being a snob, by the person I do not recognise.   I bit more understanding would be appreciated!

My niece, living in Canada, drew my attention to a mind engaging article by Robert Sapolsky entitled “The biology of Us and Them,” which highlights a further important function of the fusiform gyrus.  Because of the role that his small area of the brain plays in facial recognition, it, in turn, plays a role in the formation of social prejudice. We feel more positive towards people who look like us, as have a natural tendency to be more favourably disposed to those who have similar behaviour patterns as ourselves, as well as those who have a comparable appearance

As Sapolsky points out in his analysis, both humans and animals favour those of our species who are most like ourselves in their physical appearance.   Despite the fact that today many of us who live in big cities live in culturally diverse environments, most people will have more friends who bear a physical likeness to themselves, than those who differ in appearance.   No doubt education and familiarity helps us to minimise these barriers of physical appearance, but the gut reaction of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our unconscious reactions, will demonstrate during an experiment in an MRI machine, a definite preferential reaction to photographs of similar faces to the subject and those which differ in physical qualities.   There will be an instantaneous negative reaction to a physiognomy which differs from our own.   This reaction may be adapted when the subject allows cultural influences to overcome his initial prejudice.

From this theoretical understanding of an inherent bias which we possess for a preference to people who are both physically and culturally similar to us, I am going to introduce a contemporary controversy which has elicited heated debate.   Being a secular Jew the current events of the nation of Israel are of particular interest to me.   One of the most prominent political divides in politics in that country is around the treatment of the Arab citizens within the state of Israel. Such a controversy has erupted over the past few days.

With the elections coming up in next month, Netanyahu who has been the right wing president of the state for the past 14 years is being seriously challenged by a centrist party which is forming a coalition with some of the Arab political parties.   This has resulted in the prime minister supporting his colleague who has made some statements around the danger of the Israeli Arab Parties, with which his opponent intends to form a coalition.  Netanyahu feeling insecure about his political future has pointed out the danger of having Arab political parties as members of the ruling party.

Netanyahu was responding to comments on social media by Israeli TV presenter Rotem Sela who wrote on Instagram on Saturday, “When the hell will someone in this government broadcast to the public that Israel is a country of all its citizens? And the Arabs, God have mercy, are also human beings. So are the Druze, so are homosexuals and by the way so are lesbians….and, shockingly, the left.”   Both Gal Gadot, international star of the film Wonder Woman, and the President of Israel have support Sela

Netanyahu supports his comments by quoting the contents of the new Nation-State Law which was passed in Israel a few months ago and similar sensitivities were aroused.  This controversial law states that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is our state, the state of the Jews. In recent years there have been some who have attempted to cast doubt on this, and so to undercut the foundations of our existence and our rights. Today we etched in the stone of law: This is our state, this is our language, this is our anthem, and this is our flag.”

An unfairly brief background excursion into the historical background may help the reader understand this gut reaction of the Prime Minister.     The Jews have a 2000 year history of being discriminated against and have suffered, and fought long and hard for the Jewish state.   A sad reflection is that there needed to be a Holocaust and the murder of 6 million Jews to give the motivation for the UN to create the conditions for the creation of this Jewish Nation State.

I think that the amygdala of Jews has become super activated because of this difficult history.  There is an unconscious reaction when a Jewish person’s insecurity is threatened.   It is all due to so many years of being a nation of outsiders.     So whilst I can agree with Galot, Siler and the President for their support of universal human rights, the rights of Arab citizens within the state of Israel, I can also understand the biological basis of the gut reaction of Israelis who feel that their culture and lifestyle is being threatened by giving political power to the Arab parties.

 

I was initiated into Mindfulness and Meditation through an academic route by undertaking a two year diploma course at our local university.   However, I have become aware of the debt that is owed to Buddhism for its unique and valuable contribution to our present understanding of the human condition, so have frequently attended meditation sessions at a local Buddhist Centre.  When I learned that this centre has a Bardo group which meets monthly, my curiosity was piqued and I had my initiation into a Death Café this afternoon.

Death and dying form an integral part of the Buddhist tradition, a subject which is openly discussed in the East, but a topic that is surrounded by taboos in the West and only vocalised under very explicit circumstances.   I have attended numerous meetings at this particular Buddhist Centre and meditate there regularly, but was feeling a little out of my comfort zone attending this gathering which was so boldly and openly being called a Death Café.   Curiosity and my need to experience novel events allowed me to overcome my trepidation.

Between death and our next rebirth the Tibetans believe we experience an intermediate gap; this gap is called the Bardo.    Whilst I do not have a belief in rebirth, I was interested to learn the Buddhist way of supporting people in the last stages of their earthly existence.   The term bardo can additionally be more loosely used for describing any space that occurs between two states.   The transition from sleep to wakefulness, or the interval between meditating and coming back to interacting with the present moment, are also considered to be states of Bardo.

A group of about fifteen people were gathered for the meeting which the facilitator opened with some guidelines for the participants. She informed us that there were other Death Cafés operating in and around Cape Town.   Each gathering followed its own procedures and there did not exist any ideal protocol or favoured procedure.   Without being prescriptive a Death Café is a space for the participants to share their ideas and emotions around their personal experiences of the death of loved ones, with participants acting as support for each other.   It is a space in which people are encouraged to talk about their own experiences, rather than to engage in deep psychological theory.   People from all religious denominations are welcome to the group which includes non-believers and sceptics, as well.  The usual rules around confidentiality were mentioned as well as the need for everyone to be given a chance to express themselves.

The rationale for people attending this Saturday afternoon meeting were many and varied, as were the ages of those present which ranged from a young woman in her 20’s, to others of middle age and a few seniors, as well.

Many of the more senior participants spoke about their difficulty in disposing of their physical possessions.   One lady spoke about how she had sold many hundreds of books, but still had many beautiful books, illustrated with beautiful Tibetan objets d’art which she never looks at, but she nonetheless could not bear to part with them.   A middle aged gentleman spoke about how his memorabilia were packed away in a large bin in his garage.   He knew he would never look at the contents but was unable to part with material of such a personal nature.   Someone else spoke about her elderly mother spending time sitting in her wheel chair in the garage.   Her redundant possessions were stored in this external area and she spent time sharing the space with her beloved possessions.

It made me wonder whether this attachment to objects was a characteristic of this particular generation.   With today’s move toward minimalism, maybe the present generation of young people will not have the same feelings about their possessions when they reached the end of their life!

I became aware of the value of placing my reminiscences into a digital format with my personal blog posts living in an electronic format which does not pollute any land space.    Whilst listening to these reports about hanging on to belongings, I felt pleased I had instructed friends and family some years ago to forgo giving me presents on the occasion of my birthday.   I had reached the stage where physical things had started to lose their importance.   I have everything I need.

Varied experiences of difficulty around the acceptance of death were articulated.   In one instance the daughter did not want to discuss the funeral arrangements with her elderly mother.  This lady had definite ideas around how this last rite should be commemorated and because of her daughter’s reluctance to speak about it she had written detailed instructions to be followed on her death.   In other instances participants mentioned the problems they had when elderly family members were not prepared to accept they were at the last stage of their life.   They refused to talk about arrangements around their death.

There were differing opinions on the terminology to use in describing the state of death.   Someone took strong exception to bereaved people talking about their next of kin as having “passed on.”   She felt the use of the direct terminology was important.   “People do not pass on,” she proclaimed, “people die.”   No euphemisms were permissible for this lady.

The constructive meeting ended with the facilitator giving us the chance to quietly attend to any strong feelings we may be experiencing and to consciously and mindfully accept their presence as an integral part of the human condition.   I may well attend a similar meeting in the future.   The discussion was valuable.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching