The Face In The Mirror

My buddy Tom, and I were sitting on the green padded stools and staring into the mirror behind the bar.

“Tom, do you like what you see?”

“What do you mean, Dave?”

“Do you like your face, the one in the mirror?”

“Well, I’m a little tired and stressful in my eyes. I see some anger in my expression. What do you see in your face, Dave?”

“I see a person who is worthy, a person who likes himself.”

“Are you saying I’m not worthy?”

“Keep your shirt on Tom. Looking into the mirror was just a little self-esteem test.”

Oh boy, the green padded stools were getting hot!

“What the test is supposed to convey is that self-esteem is central to good mental and physical health. In other words, life is like a mirror, frown at it and it frowns back, smile at it and it returns the greeting.”

“How would you define self-esteem, Dave?”

“To me it’s confidence in your own worth and abilities. It’s self-respect and feeling good about yourself.”

“I know I have some rough edges and faults but I guess I’m glad to be who I am.”

“Glad to hear that, Tom”

“Dave, I’m a little confused about what makes up self-esteem.”

“One part is identity. Who am I? What is my essential self?

Identity provides a sense of oneself and one’s individuality.

Self-acceptance is another part, believing in oneself and acknowledging weakness and trying to improve.

And then there’s self-confidence, belief in one’s abilities.”

“So Dave, what are the benefits of having a good opinion of yourself?”

The barkeep brought two more beers.

“It’s on the house, fellas.”

“Thank you, very much,” we said in unison.

“Back to the question, some of the positive consequences of having a good opinion of yourself are:

You would be less driven by fear.

You’d be happier.

You’d worry less.

You’d enjoy life more.

You’d be more comfortable with expressing your feelings.

And this one is very important,

You’d be able to manage the existential terror of death better, the knowledge of your mortality.”

“Hey Dave, here’s the big question: How do we build self-esteem?”

“What you need is to feel worthy right down to your core. You are unique and important. You must believe this deeply.”

“But Dave, what if you encounter a stressful event and it knocks you for six?”

“Well Tom, what you do is say to yourself when the event happened:

Getting through this will be a challenge but I’ll choose the course that seems best.

Then during the event say:

This is difficult but I’ll take it one step at a time. My quest is to transcend this but it is revealing my limitations.

Finally, after the event say:

I am hopeful.

I have the courage to see it through.

What are my options now?

This will pass.

I believe things will improve.”

“It all makes sense, Dave. So once you have strong self-esteem it can be your protection against life’s storms.”

“That’s right, Tom, the important thing to remember is:

Don’t let setbacks, traumas, criticisms and stressful events or any externals define you. Each person is too unique and complex to be so narrowly defined. What defines you is your “Inner Worthyness.”

“Drink up, Tom, here comes the conclusion:

A person told me the other day they had so many problems that if something terrible happened to them it would take at least two weeks before they could worry about it!”

Man’s biggest problem is NOT “outer space” but “inner space.”

With that we both jumped off the green padded stools, smiled at our faces in the mirror, and headed out into the wonderful world.

 

Differences, Conflicts and Inequalities

My buddy, Tom, and I were perched on the green padded stools wondering what topic they would inspire us to discuss today.

Then we both noticed the words above a picture of the American flag:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created EQUAL.”

“There you go, Dave, there’s our discussion for today,” said Tom, smiling.

“That’s it, Tom, we are all equal, BUT some of us are MORE EQUAL than others.”

Hey Dave, drink up, we are just getting started.”

Tom ordered another beer for both of us.

“Tom, give me a reason for inequality among people.”

“Well, there’s income and wealth. Money buys security and freedom to do things.

The rich/poor divide is a main factor in inequality.”

“Right Tom, also there’s occupation. Knowing what someone does for a living tells us a lot , your income , your education and what you’re interests are.”

“What makes an occupation prestigious?”

“The amount of income received and the education needed.”

***

“So, social inequality is a very important issue.”

“Absolutely Tom, because there are so many inequalities in life: income, social problems, education inequalities, rich and poor divide, poverty, etc. These inequalities have consequences for all.”

***

“Hey Dave, lets go over some of the views of social class.”

“Okay, lets take the Concensus View first. This view believes that social class inequalities are Necessary and Inevitable because some jobs are more important than others in maintaining society. Some jobs require specialized skills that everyone doesn’t have.”

“Tom spoke up and said: “Also these talented people must be motivated to train for these positions. Therefore there must be a system of unequal rewards.”

“Tom, one problem with this approach is that there are many poorly rewarded jobs which are also vital in maintaining society.

Ex- An owner of a business can only be successful through the work of his employees.”

***

“Then there’s the Marxist View: the inequalities lie in the private ownership of the Means of Production (land, property, factories and businesses).

Two social classes emerge, the ruling class who control the means of production, and the proletariat, who work for wages.”

“So Dave, Marx wanted to overthrow the capitalists and create an equal classless society called Communism.”

“Yes sir, Tom.”

***

Tom and I sipped our beer and stared at the words on the wall:

“All men are created EQUAL.”

“Lastly, we have Max Weber’s view and he was a German sociologist.

He agreed with Marx with the exception that people’s MARKET situation also created inequalities. This means difference in skills and abilities lead to people selling themselves better in the market place.

Also, there are status differences between people such as gender, religion, age, and ethnicity (black or white).”

“Now, we come to the explosive part of social inequality.”

The barkeep spoke up: “I was called a racist the other day,” he said, laughing.

We ordered one more round of beer.

Tom and I, also, have been called racists when we voice an opinion that someone doesn’t agree with on ethnicity.

The barkeep came back with our beers and said: “Listen fellas, everyone is a bit racist whether they admit it or not.”

“Dave, what do you make of what the barkeep said?”

“Well Tom, there are theories that back up the barkeep’s remark.

One theory is that racism is based on primitive survival mechanisms such as fear of anything that appears different. People fear that a group of different people might take away a level of security, importance or control from them.”

“In other words, the prejudiced person doesn’t want their status quo disrupted.”

“You could say that Tom, but I think there is more than that involved.”

“Such as what, Dave?’

“Sizing up people that are different than us has always been a human priority.

We tend to put people in categories, are they one of us or not. We favor our in group, we see our values as more desirable or superior to those of others.”

“Are you saying it’s ingrained in us?”

“Yes, I am. It may be unintentional, but when you study these theories, we are all a little bit racist. We tend to classify people into our in group or into an out group. Race, religion, and culture our the criteria we use to put people in one group of another.”

“Do you think societies will ever change?’

“I hope attitudes will change. Maybe we can work through our differences and debate them rationally.”

I took a long sip of my beer, almost draining the glass.

“We will have to neutralize the “Us versus Them” mentality. We will have to resist the bias that is built into us by evolution and modern society.”

“Dave, I’m still a little confused about being called a racist.”

“Well Tom, think about it and write your thoughts on a reply to the blog.”

***

“So Dave, what’s next? What is going to shape society in the future?”

“Well Tom, globalization is the big thing now, the world is getting smaller.

Advances in transportation and communication are bringing people and places around the world closer to us. We now live in a “Global Village”. One certainty is that places around the world will become more similar to each other, language, culture, customs, food, all these things are coming together. Like it or not, we’re all in this together!”

“I think there are some down sides to globalization, such as the labor drain on poorer countries. These places would lose the workers to richer countries that pay higher wages.”

“That’s right, Tom, also cultural barriers would break down. Immigrants would try to impose their culture on others, who would resist it and conflict would arise.”

“A good thing would be more free trade all over the world thus improving struggling economies.”

Tom continued: “So buddy, what’s the answer to it all? What’s it all about, Dave?”

“Well, all I can say is:

If you want a stable existence, comfortable housing, good education, and freedom in all your pursuits, increase your quality of life and minimize your risk of premature death, the secret is: BE RICH!”

 

The Mass Media, The Giant That Controls Us

“ I was sitting on a green padded stool watching the news on the TV. When the news was over the barkeep turned off the TV, so then I stared at the sign over the bar: “The Green Padded Stools Make Philosophers Of Us All”.

I smiled.

Then my buddy, Tom, walked into the bar.

“Hey Tom, come over here and sit yourself on this blue padded stool.”

Tom was partially color blind, he saw green as blue.

“Hello Dave, what’s up?”

“Take a look down the bar, there are four people reading different forms of the Mass Media. One is staring at their smart phone, one on a laptop, one reading a newspaper and one engrossed in a book, and a minute ago I was watching the news on TV.”

“Is that so unusual, Dave?”

“The point I’m making is that what you see is the Giant at work. It’s the Giant that controls us—The Mass Media.”

“Controls us?’ said Tom, quizzically.

“Yes my friend, we are being saturated by the Media. The opinions we hold are formed by the Media. Our very identity is influenced by them, what we read, hear and see influences how we see ourselves and how others see us. They know the info they serve up to us forms our opinions. We wouldn’t have an opinion without their info.”

“Do you find this threatening?” said Tom, scrolling his smart phone.

“Yes, especially the “new” media, the digital screen electronic devices. They undermine human relationships which leads to social isolation, with people losing the ability to communicate in the REAL world because, like you a moment ago, they are wrapped up in a solitary electronic device.”

Tom, looking guilty, turned his smart phone off and put it in his pocket.

“Sorry Dave, I got lost surfing the net.”

“That’s alright, the news is sobering. Shall we have a non-alcoholic cocktail?”

The barkeep mixed us a couple of tasty cocktails.

“Any other threats by the Mass Media?”

“Yes, the transnational news corporations, like Murdock, control newspapers and TV satellite broadcasting. Microsoft and Google control internet technology. All this enhances the power of the powerful. In other words, it’s a threat to democracy.”

“Some other controls please,” said Tom, sipping his cocktail with the paper umbrella in it.

“Well like I said, it forms our opinions and also it exercises social control.”

“Social control?”

“Yes Tom, the Mass Media is the ordinary persons only source of evidence and they color, shape and construct our views of the world. They tell us what is right and wrong according to their agendas. They influence and control our lives to a great extent. They also tend to report and stress certain things in a more favorable way than others.”

“Can you put some detail on this social control?”

“The media does “agenda setting”, they tell us what to think about.

Then there is “gate-keeping”, where the media refuses to cover some issues, they tell us what they want to tell us.

Also there is, “norm-setting”, where it emphasizes conforming to social norms and discourages non-conformist behaviors.

“All this is very interesting BUT what effect does Mass Media have on the audience? Do they treat us like thinking humans or mindless robots?” said Tom, soberly.

“Well, the mindless robot approach is called the hypodermic syringe theory. They inject messages into the audience hoping for immediate effects. They take us as unthinking easily manipulated robots, who are unable to resist the injected content. This approach is not supported by many.”

“We tend, at least I do, to listen to opinion leaders such as teachers and people in the know. They pass on their views that they have picked up through the media.

This means we are passive and easily led,” said Tom, with a questioning look on his face.

“You hit the nail on the head, Tom, this is called the two-step flow theory. There are other approaches which see the audience as thinking and critical humans. They use the media to inform them about their interests.”

“I’m very selective in my approach to the media,” said Tom, seriously.

“Most people are selective, some people only read or watch media output that they agree with, input which fits in with their views and interests.”

“What’s the future, Dave?”

“Well, the world is becoming a global village. There is a lot of instant info and entertainment coming into us. The whole world is now exposed to the same info through mass media which cuts across national boundaries.

The Giant is becoming even bigger!”

We finished our cocktails.

“Tom, I will leave you with this tidbit:

We are bombarded with so much news and much of it is GRIM. So we can’t decide whether to watch the six o’clock news and not be able to eat, OR the ten o’clock news and not be able to sleep.”

With that, Tom and I got off of our green/blue stools and walked out into the fresh air.

What Are We Here For?

Purpose and meaning are NOT built in to human life. It’s NOT that life is meaningless, it’s that life has NO predetermined meaning,” said the man on the green padded stool.

Oh my, the wisdom that comes out from sitting on a green padded stool! It just so

happens that my favorite watering hole has twenty of them all in a line at the bar.

That man on the stool is my buddy, Tom, and I am Dave, sitting next to him. This afternoon we decided to see how much wisdom we could glean from sitting on green padded stools.

***

“Well Tom, your opening remark was pithy, I have to say. It could be very empowering and liberating if we could create our own meaning in our lives.”

“Oh boy Dave, I like those words: empowering and liberating. But the sad story is that many people believe the world would not notice if they never existed!”

“Hopefully, we can get some meaning and purpose from our struggles. It’s sort of a journey of becoming,” I said, after taking a sip of my beer, “Tell me Tom, what is one way to get meaning in your life?”

Tom pondered that for a moment, then said:

“How about helping others, what’s the word, ALTRUISM, that’s it.”

“Yes Tom, that’s a good way to get meaning in your life but some would say that you’re helping others to feel good yourself!”

“I believe it’s a two way street, your help benefits others and in doing so gives you a good feeling of purpose.”

“Another way to get meaning is serving society for the greater good. This is similar to altruism in that you’re relegating one’s own interests to second place for humanity’s betterment. Some politicians try to make life better for society by making government their life’s work.”

Tom’s face lit up as he said:

“Being happy in life and sustaining it would be meaningful.”

“Yes, I can see that happiness is an enduring state of pleasure and the happy person can probably endure the misfortunes that life throws at us better than those who aren’t happy.

But instead of the word happiness, I would use the word, contentment. We all have ups and downs and then happiness is interrupted. But if we are thankful for what we have we should be content.”

“How about SUCCESS in your endeavors being meaningful. Some people want a lot of recognition for their success, but just living your life pursuing your passions, no matter what recognition you get, should be seen as success and therefore meaningful.”

Boy, oh boy, the green padded stools were heating up now!

Tom started singing:

“What’s it all about, Dave.

Is it just for the moment we live?…”

“Hey Tom, that’s another meaningful purpose: “Carpe Diem”, seize the day. We are all trapped in the present, it’s the only life we have, so we should make the most of our present.”

“But Dave, does seize the day mean only to have as much pleasure as possible?”

“No Tom, seize the day means whatever we value in life, whether it be relationships, creativity, learning, food, sex, or travel, carpe diem is a call to appreciate these things while we can and not to put them off. In other words, to make every day COUNT.”

“Oh, I see Dave, the wisdom of carpe diem is that time is short, and this is the only life we have, so don’t squander it.”

***

“Eastern Philosophy, such as Buddhism, which calls for a “freeing of the mind”, is another way to find meaning. The purpose is to open your mind and let go of your ego. Attune yourself to the rhythms of nature. By freeing your mind the “I” becomes unimportant, and letting go is a meaningful exercise.”

“So Dave, this meditation might give us a feeling of freedom that almost can’t be expressed in words.”

“That’s right, my friend, it seems the older we get the more philosophizing we do, which is good, it makes us think.”

***

We both ordered another beer to celebrate the wonder of the green padded stools.

“Well Tom, we have uncovered ways to construct a purposeful and meaningful life. We’ve confronted the fragility and unpredictability of life and we’ve come up with ideas to do the best we can with it.”

Tom and I took long gulps of our beer and drained our glasses.

I took a deep breath and said:

“Someone once said: “My life has no purpose, no direction, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. What am I doing right?”

And then some philosopher said: “We should confront the absurdity of life with courage.”

With that, Tom and I walked out into the sunshine and went our separate ways.

Keep Breathing and Laughing

The title of this blog is the formula to cope with Old Age.

 

The other day while sipping my pint of beer, on my green padded stool, and old chap climbed up on the stool next to me and said:

“Isn’t it great to get old? I can give my opinion on things and nobody will pay attention or I can give advice that nobody will follow. Invisibility, that’s Old Age.”

“You’re growing old in a good mood,” I said, smiling, “My name is Dave.”

“Mine,” answered the old fella, “ is NOT.”

I was taken aback for a few seconds.

“Well, my friend, if you can’t grow old gracefully, do it anyway you can. Cantankerous is good.”

The old man laughed.

“My name is Noah.”

We shook hands.

“I take it you’re not enjoying old age.”

“Oh, it’s great, each day that passes makes me feel two days older!”

“Hey Noah, you’re a comic and a poet, your feet show it, they’re Longfellows.”

We both laughed.

“Talking about feet, mine hurt even before I get out of bed.”

“That reminds me of an old adage: You know you’re getting old when almost everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work!”

After a few more minutes of banter, we exchanged ages.

It turned out we were both 80!

***

“Noah, do you find joking about old age helps you cope?”

“Yes, Dave, it does. A couple of years ago I went through an Aging Existential Crisis and seeing the comedy in life helped me out of it.”

“What do you mean by an aging existential crisis?” I said, very seriously.

“Well Dave, it is the moment when I started questioning the foundations of my life; whether my life had any meaning, purpose, or value. I started a program of introspection.”

“So, Noah, what did you start thinking about?”

Noah started laughing.

“When I started my introspection, someone asked me if I’m having as much fun as I used to. I replied, “Look, I’m 80 years old, nothing is as much fun as it used to be.”

“True,” I said, smiling.

“But seriously, I thought about the positives of old age: having spare time, wisdom, tranquility, maturing, and immersing myself in hobbies. Also, I thought about the negatives: loneliness, worries, illness, and death. I started to reminisce about the past and I would wonder how I will cope with the advancing years.”

We both ordered another beer.

“I enjoy living in the past. It’s cheaper!” I said, hoping to put a smile on Noah’s face.

Noah laughed and then abruptly stopped. He had a far away look in his eyes.

“Dave, I’m at the point in my life that I wonder: What it was all about? The idea of having meaning comes to mind. I’ve struggled all of my life to achieve goals and make something of myself, but that only makes sense if those achievements will be permanent in some way. What do you think?”

“I’m afraid your achievements won’t be permanent. Even if you wrote a best selling piece of literature that was read years after your death, it would eventually vanish. If there is to be any meaning to what we do, we have to find it WITHIN our own lives.”

“I’ve worked to earn money to support myself and my family. I eat because I’m hungry. I sleep because I’m tired. I read for info and pleasure. I go for walks because it makes me feel good. I help people when I can. But these things don’t seem enough somehow…”

“My friend, all those things we do WITHIN life, none of those things explain the point of your life as a WHOLE.”

“So, you’re implying that from the outside, it wouldn’t matter if I had never existed!”

“Keep your shirt on. One way your life could have a larger meaning is if you somehow changed the world for the better, but most of us don’t accomplish that.”

We both sipped our beer and pondered.

“I just thought of something, Noah. Why isn’t it all right for our lives to be POINTLESS? Why worry whether or not the WHOLE is meaningless?”
“But Dave, I do care about what my WHOLE stood for!” said Noah, very seriously.

“I think that’s the problem, we take ourselves too seriously. We want to matter to ourselves so badly, and if we see pointlessness in our lives, we are dissatisfied and the wind is taken out of our sails.”

Noah smiled and said: “Perhaps we just have to put up with life being ridiculous, meaningless and absurd.”

“We should both go back to the beginning of our conversation when we were laughing because that reduces stress, combats depression and increases resilience.”

“That’s right Dave, we must remember that a lot of life is funny and then laugh at ourselves.”

“A good laugh heals a lot of meaninglessness,” I said, smiling.

“When you’re laughing, not even absurdity can stand,” said Noah, laughing so hard he had to take a deep breath.

“In conclusion, I will leave you with this, Noah:

AT OUR AGE, TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES AND WALK IN FRONT OF A MIRROR. I GUARANTEE YOU WILL LAUGH YOUR HEAD OFF!”

The Listener

I was fresh from completing my six month Listening and Communication course, when I dropped into my favorite watering hole and Tom, the barkeep, greeted me:

“Hi Dave, what will you have today?”

“Give me a tonic water with ice and a slice of lemon. I’m trying to lay off of the alcohol.”

Tom came back with my drink and said:

“Are you waiting to listen to someone with a problem, like you used to do?”

“Tom, I’m open to anyone who wants to talk about a difficulty. I’m a good listener. Humans are social beings and they find release in sharing their thoughts with others.”

“There’s a chap at the end of the bar who told me he has problems. I’ll bring him over,” said Tom, pointing to the darkened corner of the tavern.

“Sure, bring him over Tom.”

A couple of minutes later a tall, dark haired chap hopped up on the stool next to me.

“Hi, I’m Jim, I was told you’re a good listener.”

“I’m Dave, and yes, I know listening helps people unload burdens.”

Jim looked at me with questioning eyes.

“What is good listening?”

“Listening is a form of helping conversation. When I’m listening to someone’s problem, I try to put aside my own judgements so they don’t interfere.”

“Does a listener ask questions?”

“Oh yes, a listener asks questions to clarify issues and to broaden the horizons of the talker and to challenge their thinking.”

“I tend to get upset and angry when I talk about my problems,” said Jim, waiting for my reaction.

“A burst of feelings from the talker can be scary for the listener but, hopefully I can manage because I know expressing emotion can be helpful and it might make the help-seeker initiate change.”

“Well Dave, I feel comfortable in your company. What are the reoccurring problems you’ve encountered?”

‘Well Jim, most problems in counseling practice involve change and some kind of loss. All changes and transitions in life bring stress and have a great impact on the help-seeker.”

“Well, I’ve got a problem with finding meaning in my life.”

I took a long sip of my tonic and lemon.

“I’ve found there are three avenues that lead to meaning fulfillment.

First, doing a deed or some creative work, like listening to people’s problems.

Second, experiencing something or encountering someone. Meaning can be found in Work and Love.

And third, facing a fate we cannot change so we have to make the best of what we have by rising above ourselves and changing.”

“Are you telling me that meaning can come out of suffering?”

“That’s right, Jim.”

“Well, I better tell you my problem then…

My wife has been depressed for a year now since her parents got killed in a car accident. She doesn’t feel like doing anything, housework, cooking, or socializing. The doc has her on antidepressants. She has even threatened to become a recluse. She has lost her energy and inclination to do anything. She has lots of moods. The situation is getting me down now. I’ve lost hope in the future because my wife and I used to do everything together and now that is gone.

So it has ended up with two depressed people under the same roof. I now tend to get angry with my wife because she can’t get better. I feel guilty about that. I can see myself becoming her carer and I don’t know if I’m fit for that role.”

Jim ordered another pint of beer and waited for my reaction.

I was so intent on listening to Jim that I found it hard to get my mouth moving with an answer!

“Well Jim, you’re seeing the event of your wife’s sickness in an unfavorable light, and it is regrettable, and it’s affecting your stability. Your thoughts are distorted and your belief of no hope for the future is unhealthy, consequently you have destructive actions such as your anger, guilt and fear. You are responding very negatively to the event.”

“What am I supposed to do to stop these anxiety feelings?” Jim’s voice was getting louder.

“Your wife’s G.P. and therapist are in charge of her depression but sadly you have been left out of the equation to fend for yourself. There is a tendency to forget about the carer in many cases. We have to find a way to get rid of your toxic negative thoughts.”

“I have these thoughts all the time,” said Jim, dejectedly.

“That’s why they are called, “Negative Automatic Thoughts”. You see Jim, these thoughts are distorted and unhelpful ways of interpreting a situation.”

“So how do I get rid of these distorted thoughts?”

“You need to ask yourself: “How can I change my thoughts in order to feel better and act more constructively?”

“So, should I try to find an alternative thought?”

“That’s right, instead of thinking there’s no hope for the future and being consumed by anxiety, instead think, “If I MUST go through this bad patch, I might as well try to make the best of it and live as enjoyably as I can. I will ACCEPT the situation and live my life.”

“Okay, I’ll try it, but my concentration is all over the place now days and I get very emotional.”

“Remember Jim, and this is important, the best way to really consolidate your new thought is to ACT on it. Don’t get angry at your wife, be more compassionate.”

“I have to go now Dave, thanks for listening and giving me some pointers. I probably will need some more help, can we meet up again sometime?”

“Sure thing Jim, lets make it on Fridays at 6PM after your work week is over. I’ll be here on my green padded stool waiting. We will talk about concentration and emotion next.”

Jim and I shook hands and off he went and there was a faint smile on his face.

 

Bust Times, The 1930’s

In early and mid 1929 the stock market soared from high to high. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the USA, entered the White House in March of 1929 and he foresaw the final triumph over poverty in the states. But the winds of downturn were gathering. Auto sales were down and also housing starts plus manufacturing output was falling.

***

“Dave, why did the 1929 stock market crash happen?” said Tom, soberly.

“Well, millions of Americans were in debt, buying on installment plans and “Buying on Margin” in speculative purchasing of stocks. The economy wasn’t on a sound footing.”

“What’s “buying on margin”?”

“I remember my Dad explaining it to me this way: A speculator would put down 10% of the stock price in cash and borrow the rest. They would pay back the borrowed money with the profits when the paper was sold. This concept worked as long as the stock prices kept growing. This became so popular that 90% of the stock was being bought with borrowed money!”

“But Dave, not everyone played the stock market,” said Tom, quizzically.

“That’s right Tom, my Dad never owned stock. In fact, less than 20% of Americans invested in the stock market leading up to the crash.

But it was the psychological effects that pushed the downward economic slide. Business couldn’t get capital for new projects and expansions. The consumer stopped buying. Companies got rid of workers so consequently it led to mass unemployment. And then, the banks failed!”

***

“So Dave, the booming, roaring twenties was a time of wealth and excess that led to the crash and depression.”

“That’s right Tom, nothing was the same again after the Crash, billions of dollars of wealth were wiped out in one day and that depressed consumer buying.”

“The depression was like the apocalypse of the economy.”

“Right Tom, in fact you could liken the times to the biblical four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first horseman was the dodgy distribution of income. The farmers never had prosperity in the 20’s. The urban masses faired better, but the rich got the gravy, dividends, interest and profits. Industrial profits rose 40% and corporate profits rose 80%! But wages rose only 8%. When the rich started to slow their investments, consumer spending could NOT plug the gap.

The second horseman was the bank failures, the banks had no deposit insurance so there was a run of people trying to withdraw their money. The banking system collapsed.

The third horseman was that America had become a creditor nation.

The fourth horseman was poor economic intelligence. The thinking was that there was an automatic functioning of the markets, that left alone the markets would restore normal business.

And the fifth horseman, one more added, was the Crash itself.”

***

“Lots of people were on the breadline, going to the soup kitchens, because they couldn’t find a job.”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me he jumped on a boxcar on a long freight train going from Chicago to New York, to find a job. He got a part time job in N.Y. and he existed on sinkers(stale doughnuts) and coffee. But eventually he came back to Chicago because the job situation was no better in New York.”

“What else happened in the 30’s?”

“Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1933. Also, Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5th, 1933. This noble experiment spawned modern organized crime. Now, bootlegging was over but the criminals had grown rich and bold. Everyone could drink freely again so they could enjoy their pickled relatives!”

“Didn’t Roosevelt state in his inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” and everyone sang, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

“Right you are, Tom. Roosevelt got to work on his “New Deal” program. He started deposit insurance in the banks, regulated the stock exchanges and got people back to work on infrastructure projects.”

“Boy, he was busy!”

“I almost forgot, Al Capone went to Alcatraz prison for tax evasion in 1931, he was released in 1939 with a brain disease brought on by syphilis. He died in 1947 at the age of 48.”

***

“You and I, Tom, were Depression Babies”, but by 1938 the USA was climbing out of the Depression.”

Happy Days Are Here Again

The Skies Above Are Clear Again

So Let’s Sing A Song Of Cheer Again

Happy Days Are Here Again!

 

Boom Times, The 1920’s

In a fit of nostalgia, I remembered how my Dad talked about his youth in 1920’s. So I decided to review some American history from 1920 up to 1986, which includes my youth, and also it was the year I emigrated to England. I will do this in a series of blogs.

I mentioned this to my boyhood friend and adult buddy, Tom, and he decided to take the journey with me.

***

The 1920’s were known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age.

I will start the 20’s journey with a few things that happened in Chicago, since Tom and I were born and bred there.

In 1921 the magnificent, 4300 seat, palace called The Chicago Theatre opened on State Street.

Al Capone rose to power in 1924 (more later).

US Route 66 opened in 1926 linking Chicago to Los Angeles.

In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters were founded by Abe Saperstein. They were a comic basketball team staring Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain.

Also in 1927 Maxwell Street and Halsted was the home to thousands of Jewish immigrants. The Maxwell Street Market was a place where “most everything” was on sale, the motto was, “We Cheat You Fair”.

In 1929, the gangland St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened at a garage on Clark Street by Capone’s hit team. They killed some of Bugs Moran’s men, who were Capone’s enemies.

***

My Dad told me how many people were caught up in the art of Autosuggestion in the 20’s. This was due to a Frenchman named Emile Coue who advocated self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion. People used to recite a mantra daily to themselves. It went something like this: Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better.

“Sounds good to me,” said Tom, “I can just see a 1920’s flag-pole sitter mumbling that to himself as the pole sways in the breeze.”

“How about this, Tom, imagine a flapper repeating the mantra over and over while sitting in a bathtub filled with gin!”

We both laughed.

***

“The economy was booming those days, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me the US economy was growing over 6% per year and 50% of the world’s goods were made in America!”

“Hey Dave, wasn’t there a phrase going around: A Chicken In Every Pot.”

“Yes Tom, my Dad did mention that. He also said, by the mid-20’s almost every home had a radio. But there were some down sides. The American factory worker was slaving away 10-12 hours a day, without any job or health security.”

***

“Didn’t women get the vote in 1920, Dave?”

“Yes, but the liquor companies were in opposition because they feared that women would vote for prohibition, which they did. It was called the noble experiment.”

“Women started smoking in public in the 20’s, didn’t they, Dave?”

“Yes, the flappers did. Cigarette production doubled during the 20’s.”

***

My Dad also told me about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.”

“Was that about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?”

“That’s right Tom. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of violating the Butler Act in Tennessee, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools. Most people in Tennessee didn’t like the notion that everyone’s ancestors were monkeys!”

Tom laughed and said:

“People didn’t like the findings of science to conflict with the teachings of the Church.”

“Does it bother you, Tom, that you came from a chimp?”

“No,” said Tom, swinging his arms wildly.

***

Now, we come to the gangster era in Chicago. Al Capone came to Chicago in 1924, when he was 25 years old. He was a henchman for John Torrio, the father of gangsterism. When a rival gang shot Torrio, he went back to Italy and handed over his empire of breweries, speakeasies and brothels to Capone. He just about owned the mayor, Big Bill Thompson, by payoffs and helping him get rid of his political opponents.”

“Whenever people speak about Chicago, right away they think of Capone,” said Tom.

“That’s right Tom.”

***

“Dave, what exactly was a flapper?”

“Well, according to my Dad, they were young women who wore short dresses and cut their hair short to conflict with the way people thought women should behave. They were the fun loving women of the times.”

“I would of liked to have met one,” said Tom, smiling.

“Me too, Tom!”

***

“Talking about gangsters in the 20’s, Prohibition let them make lots of money by bootlegging alcohol and they became rich.”

“That’s right. The temperance women wanted their husbands to stay out of the taverns and the companies wanted their workers sober. So the people thought prohibition would be a good idea. But with the chaos created by the gangsters it meant that the amendment had to be repealed, and it was in 1933.”

***

“Dave, you mentioned the 20’s were called “The Jazz Age”, what was that all about?”

“My Dad told me the national culture was changing in the 20’s. Music was one thing that changed. Jazz was a type of music that combined African American music with European harmonies. It inspired Americans to dance fast with crazy actions, such as the Charleston. Talking movies came in and everyone listened to the radio. Change was all around and the Americans loved it!”

“I remember once I tried to dance the Charleston and fell over,” said Tom, laughing.

***

“Well, that’s it for the 20’s. Next blog will be about the 30’s and the Great Depression.”

“That should be interesting,” said Tom, jitter bugging down the street, or was it the Charleston?

Past, Present, Future and Hope

I was in my favorite watering hole, sipping my pint of beer, sitting on my green padded stool and thinking of how many good discussions I’ve had with people on these stools.

There’s something about these stools that brings out the best reflective thinking in people. I was wondering who I would talk to today and about what topic, when a chap jumped up on the stool next to me.

He was a tall, broad shouldered fellow with sharp facial features and a dark pencil line moustache. He was about mid 50 ish in age. He ordered a G and T.

“Nice day today,” I said, in my best congenial voice.

He squinted at me and said in a gruff voice:

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“You sound like you have a problem.”

“Hey mister, what are you, the local psychiatrist?”

“No, just trying to pass the time of day,” I whispered. I was hoping he would simmer down.

“If you must know, one of my friends told me I’m so immersed in the past and future that I can’t be content and live in the present where I should be. He said the present was the most important place to live and I should forget about the past and future. What do you think about that?”

I sipped my beer and thought for a minute.

“Nothing to say, mister psychiatrist?”

“I’ve got plenty to say, but will you listen?”

He looked at me long and hard, then he made a gesture like he was zipping up his mouth.

“We all spend time in all three of those time zones. Granted, our consciousness and Now reality are in the present. By the way, how is your present?”

“Not good! I’m in a dead end job, my partner is threatening to leave me, and my health is starting to fail.”

“What is your name , my friend, mine is Dave.”

“I’m Tom.”

“Okay Tom, lets lay down some facts to disperse the illusion that only the present is important.”

“Do you really think you can help me?”

“Well, I can give you some info to mull over that might help.”

“Okay Dave, lets get started. I’m all ears.”

I took a deep breath and began:

“It’s an illusion that you must be in the present constantly. The past has a great influence on your present behavior. Having a future is a need that is essential for your morale in the present. If you have no hopes for the future your present collapses.”

“So, when I was told to stop thinking about the past and future, that was wrong?” Tom looked confused.

“That’s right, Tom, you must NOT suppress those two times, if you do, you will get depressed.”

“Oh boy, carry on, Dave.”

“The current thinking is that action and accomplishment make the present enjoyable as possible. And the future will become the present, so you have to make the present good to enjoy the future. So, with this thinking the present is the most important time because it is your reality and a time to prepare for a future reality. As far as thinking about the past, it is useless.”

“But Dave, I’ve always enjoyed thinking about the good times in the past,” said Tom, quizzically.

“Nothing wrong with that, Tom, if your past was good it provides an enjoyable experience to reminisce about.”

“But now, Dave, my present and future is bleak so I live in the past. I don’t have much hope that will change.”

“That’s too bad, hope is a NEED in itself. You need to have some hope in order to have some present morale. Cut away the future and the present collapses.”

“I wish I could regain some hope,” said Tom, sadly.

“I wish you could, too. Let me tell you what hope does for you. Hope motivates you to carry on with life. Hope maintains morale, that’s the level of a person’s confidence and enthusiasm at a particular time. A person without hope is a person without a future. Hope is an energizer. It maintains your immune system.

But hope is also a mixed blessing, it can be a big letdown especially if it is false hope. You look forward to something and it nevercopes.”

“But Dave, I’m depressed, I don’t see any improvement in my present. I feel time is running out for any dreams that I had. I walk around in an aura of hopelessness! My health is fading, my legs are weak.”

“Wow Tom, that’s quite a list of dejection.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know. You say hopelessness leads into depression, what next?’

“Your saviour might be resignation, it’s less toxic.”

“You mean shut down and accept my predicament?’

“It’s better than wasting away pining over lost hope.”

Tom was staring into space with a grim look on his face.

“What you’re suffering from is Need Frustration due to life losses.”

“Come again,” said Tom, dejectedly.

“Need Frustration is losing health, being in a job you don’t like, being lonely, aging, etc.

You’re depressed because you are on the cusp of aging, diminished attractiveness, diminished mobility, diminished abilities, all these are close to arriving and this brings on frustration.”

“What can I do, Dave?”

“Appreciate what life you have left. Be glad you’re alive. Accept that time moves on and live as enjoyably as you can knowing that life is short. I’ll leave you with something I read on a tombstone:

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are NOW, so once was I,

As I am NOW, so you must be,

But first,enjoy what life you have left!

***

Tom left the building with a glint in his eye!

Howling Through The Human Condition

My nephew, Tom, who is 15 years old, told me the other day:

“Uncle Dave, would you believe our teacher said we wouldn’t be discussing Shakespeare’s tragedies because they might be too upsetting for us?”

“Well Tom, I know the new child psychology is to wrap children in cotton wool so reality doesn’t frighten them too much. I think it’s called “the snowflake generation”. This is when the adolescents are so sensitive they find it hard to face the world.”

“Why are we so sensitive, Uncle Dave?”

“Well, one thing is “Health and Safety” rules now days. The kids are pushed into safe spaces and are not allowed outside by themselves. Their games are closely supervised.

Years ago 80-90% of seven year olds walked to school alone, now only 10% do. So they don’t feel any sense of independence and they don’t have a chance to learn things by themselves. Some risk taking is good for kids, they learn to face their fears. Consequently, having been protected from everything, children are hypersensitive to any discomfort right up to early adulthood. there is more mental illness among children now because there is a terror of encountering opinions which differ from theirs.”

Well, Uncle Dave, wouldn’t it be better to study the tragedies to learn about fear and conflict? By the way, someone in class mentioned the Human Condition,  what’s that?”

“Tragedy teaches you about adversity and you learn a lot from adversity. The Human Condition is composed of the things essential to our existence, such as, birth, growth, adversity, conflict and mortality. Shakespeare is full of the Human Condition.”

“So, studying Shakespeare helps us examine the Human Condition?”

“Yes Tom, you’ve got it in one!”

“Give me some examples, Uncle Dave, and I hope I don’t get too upset,” Tom smiled.

“In life we have to endure many things we howl about, we come into the world howling, we howl through life and we probably will leave the world howling!”

“Oh, Uncle Dave, you have such a way with words, just like Shakespeare,” said Tom, laughing.

“Hamlet is a good example, he asks all the questions we ask ourselves: Who am I? To be or not to be? Why do we exist?

Hamlet wanted to know should we accept our troubles in silence, or should we act to overcome them? Or, if we can’t overcome them, just accept our predicament and live one day at a time and enjoy what life we have.”

So, Uncle Dave, not to study Shakespeare is to miss out on essential life knowledge?”

“That’s right, Grasshopper, sorry, I mean Tom.”

“That’s okay, I am your Grasshopper.”

“Now Tom, when you go to see a Shakespeare tragedy, you will experience fear of what’s going to happen, and then you will feel pity for the main character.”

“What then, Uncle Dave?” Tom interrupted.

“Catharsis is next, you get purged of those emotions and you leave the theatre uplifted with an understanding of what it means to be human.”

“So, Uncle Dave, my teacher should be teaching us Shakespeare, otherwise he is hindering our education.”

“Yes Tom, he thinks he is protecting you from life’s rocky road, but you need to be taught about the tools to face your future.”

“Well, I’m going to read Shakespeare on my own time,” said Tom, determined.

“Well Tom, if we don’t study such works of literature, how will we endure the real tragedies which affect our world?”

“Thanks Uncle Dave, for setting me straight. I’ll be going now.”

“A couple of thoughts to take with you Tom:

All the world is a stage and most of us are UNDER REHEARSED!

All the world lives in one of two tents: Content or Discontent.”