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Psychology: The Stuff You Can Really Use
By Bradley W. Rasch
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Bradley W. Rasch
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFreud Was Right (About Some Things At Least)
Sigmund was, in some ways, an odd man. He was obsessed with sex and discussed things like penis envy. He used cocaine quite a bit. His beard did not flatter him. He did stumble upon something important, however, and made a valuable contribution as a result.
Freud talked about the importance of love and work to achieving fulfillment and happiness. Indeed, in our culture, this is true for most of us (unless we are a member of the idle rich without a sense of noblesse oblige or work for the Department of Motor Vehicles). The vast majority of us seek to love and work as well as we can. We want to love and support others, and we want to contribute and excel at our work, no matter what it may be. To a great degree, we are hardwired to judge ourselves, and we derive a great degree of satisfaction if we do these things well or at least to the best of our ability given life's circumstances.
In our culture, one of the first things you ask someone is, "What do you do?" We derive so much of our identity from our occupation—so much so that retired people may be uncomfortable with this question, as the answer may be "Nothing." Half of their identity may be gone. For some, especially high achievers, retirement can be difficult. They may feel insignificant. As people grow older, there is a greater sense of urgency to have made your mark by contributing to your field of endeavor and being there for your loved ones in their times of need.
When someone is unhappy, there is a good chance that he feels unfulfilled in one of these key areas. Cut him some slack, and help him excel in those areas. That's a good way to love.
Christopher Cross Was Right Too
Christopher Cross once wrote a song called "Sailing." It wasn't really about boating, however. His point is that we all need hobbies. They allow us to relax, escape, reduce stress, and go to another place. Indeed, as he says in his song, "The canvas can do miracles." He was on to something there. Whether it is painting, sailing, collecting coins, or sewing, hobbies do provide a sense of fulfillment. They allow us to relax, reduce stress, and improve our mental health (unless you're a Cubs fan). They also allow us to find and relate to others with a similar passion. In many cases, a hobby provides a common link between generations. My father took me to see a young rookie named Pete Rose play for the Cincinnati Reds. I took my daughter to see Pete in his last year in the major leagues. Boy, did he have a long career. My love of baseball contributed to many passionate discussions with both my father and my daughter, both big baseball fans. Christopher, thanks for your contribution.
Sorry, Paula, You Were Wrong
Paula Abdul, you are a great singer, and you have made tremendous videos and some great contributions to pop culture. Though I enjoyed your songs about opposites being attracted to one another, in many cases that is not true. Most people, on some level, are attracted to people similar to themselves in terms of values, interests, background, and even in level of attractiveness. Having things in common helps build a relationship. I'm not saying that we should not involve ourselves with or befriend people who are dissimilar to us. We just need to work harder to have the attraction work and to find common interests. We are also attracted to people we have frequent contact with, people who are physically attractive, and folks we know like us. (We tend to think they are good judges of character.)
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Apparently not, Rodney. Most people are let go from jobs because they have trouble getting along with people in the workplace, not because of technical incompetence. Those who can answer Rodney's question in the affirmative will have more stable employment, a higher ceiling, and a lot less stress in their life.
Jamie Farr, the actor who played Klinger in M*A*S*H, wrote an excellent autobiography. An accomplished actor, the host of a great golf tournament, and arguably the world's most beloved cross-dresser, he made an important point in this book. He stated that it is important to wake up each day and realize that a good percentage of people take an a**hole pill every morning when they get up. One of the great accomplishments in life is realizing that they do this, you can't do anything about it, and the sooner you realize that the better.
Perl's once said, "If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you're pissing on the present." Judge Judy is often fond of saying, "Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining." My urologist says I have an enlarged prostate.
Let's deal with Perls's urination proclamation. Indeed, if we focus too much on the past, something we cannot change, and worry excessively about the future, we are missing most of the present. And we are certainly not enjoying it. Living, as they say, "in the moment" is something we should all strive to do. Consciously deciding to do this every day and working on it is a great way to live a happier life.
This is not to say we should not plan long term or prepare for important things. We should also enjoy reminiscing about good things, but we should not focus on the past or future to the detriment of now.
Next week, I have this prostrate exam, and ...
Your Pants and the Damn Dog
Dr. Sydney Freidman, the psychiatrist who saw through the aforementioned Corporal Klinger, once gave this advice to the stressed-out medical personnel of the 4077th. "Ladies and gentleman, take my advice, pull down your pants, and slide on the ice." This was great advice by a good, but fictional, psychiatrist. All too often, we do not do simple things that we regret not doing the rest of our lives. If those things won't hurt anyone, do as Nike suggests—Just do it.
When I retired as a school psychologist after thirty-four long years, on my last day, I decided I should go down to the office and page myself. I also decided I should bolt a plaque above a room naming the room after me. I am glad I did these things. Had I not, I would have regretted it the rest of my life and would have missed an opportunity to feed into stereotypes about psychologists. Now generations of people will ask, "Who was that nut?"
When visiting the Hoover Dam, I had an opportunity to buy a footlong dam dog that came with a Hoover Dam hard hat. I did not, and I have regretted it ever since.
Pull down your pants, and bite the dog.
Gomer Pyle, Vampires, and the Flying Nun
Does it concern you that everyone seems obsessed with vampires? That television and the silver screen seem to be all about vampires 24/7? Does the national interest in reality TV suggest a dumbing down of our populace, especially when we are faced, quite possibly, with events every bit as serious as the Great Depression and the Cold War?
Before you become overly worried about our seemingly wrongheaded obsession with trash TV during these trying times, let me remind you of something. During the height of the Vietnam War, when civil unrest associated with that conflict was ripping apart the very fabric of our society, the Gomer Pyle TV show was extremely popular. It never once mentioned the Vietnam War. Was that a reflection of our collective stupidity? No, it was an escape. Just as the vampire craze is now. It was no more an indicator of a low collective IQ than our obsession with vampires is today. As a society, we need an escape, a little mental relaxation from the current stressful climate.
I do not know how to explain the flying nun.
Bob Dylan and David Bowie
Bob Dylan said, "The times they are a-changin." David Bowie sang, "Ch-ch-ch changes." We are only hardwired to stress about change if we choose to be. Certainly, from what we do for a living, to the events around us and technology, times are changing at light speed all around us, faster than they have ever before. The greatest skill, passion, or characteristic each of us can have in this time is embracing the fact that the world is changing quickly and choosing to enjoy it.
We need to accept that change happens, make it a priority to anticipate and adapt to inevitable change, and learn to love it. Perceive it as an adventure. There's no need to skydive or seek thrills in these times. If we view change as a hobby, a passion, we will enjoy our journey so much more.
Robert Burns once said, "The best laid schemes o' mice and men often go astray." This is truer than ever. If we accept this as the new normal and choose to embrace it, we are far better off. Yes, we should plan, but we should also enjoy the challenge of being flexible and look forward to having to reinvent ourselves periodically.
It's Always Something. If It Ain't One Thing, It's Another.
Misery loves company, but nobody loves a miserable person. When we are anxious or stressed out, research shows that we want to be with other people. If we are a veteran, we like to talk with other veterans about our mutual experiences. If we receive a cancer diagnosis, we look to spend time with others similarly afflicted. We lessen stress when we are with someone, preferably a person who has been through or is going through what we are dealing with.
That being said, a chronic complainer, someone who always seems to be a victim or perpetually has something to complain about, can dampen the mood of others. People do not want to be brought down and generally do not like to be around the chronically unhappy.
Memories Light the Corners of My Mind
Do you ever notice you infrequently remember someone's name after you have been introduced? Bad memory? In part. But you can fix it.
When we are introduced to someone, we are not really focusing on what is being said. We are busy planning our witty remark. That lack of focus, not really attending, is why we do not remember his name. If we make a conscious effort to focus when introduced, hear someone's name, and repeat it a few times in our "mind's ear," we will remember it. Both politicians and salespeople know this.
Dale Carnegie once said, "There is no sweeter word in the English language than one's own name." He was right. If we are in a circle of people and each person takes a turn introducing himself and shares a little bit about himself, we will remember less about the person who spoke just before us than we will about what anyone else said. Again, it is because we are focusing on what we are going to say, not on what they are saying. Knowing this and adjusting for it can improve our memory.
Now, if I could only find my car keys.
One Man's Fault Is Another Man's Lesson
Whenever we see someone do or say something, we always ask ourselves, "Why did he do or say that?" We must, whether we are aware of it or not, attribute his actions to some cause. Sometimes we decide someone did something because he is that way on the inside. At other times, we decide that somebody acted in the manner he did because the situation forced him to.
If you do something nice for someone, you hope he attributes your behavior to you being nice on the inside. If you do something rather mean, you would probably hope that he sees the situation you were in or the fact you were carrying out a superior's wishes as influencing your behavior.
When people make a judgment as to why you behaved as you did, more often than not, they will determine that you did or said something because of who you are on the inside. Not because the situation might have forced you to do it. Most of us make this mistake frequently. Keep this in mind when you have to do or say something that someone might perceive as negative. Remember, people usually make this common mistake of attribution. When trying to understand the actions of others, remember you will frequently make this error of judgment as well.
Additionally, we tend to assume that people do things for the same reasons we do. This also tends to make us err in our assessment of others.
When a Man Gives His Opinion, He's a Man. When a Woman Gives Her Opinion, She's a Bitch
We like things simple. We do not like to think too much. That characteristic is hardwired into our DNA. This desire to keep it simple explains why stereotypes are so prevalent. It is easier to maintain a stereotype, even if it is inaccurate, than to judge people individually.
We do tend to evaluate people of an entire group based on our experiences with (or even what we have heard about) just one person from that group. The resulting stereotypes are remarkably resistant to change. Even after a lifetime of experience, that should dispel them.
When a large group of people has an inaccurate stereotype about a group, they can actually make that stereotype come true. When I was in high school, many held the stereotype that football players were dumb, arrogant, rude jocks, based on the behavior of one young man on the team. As a result, the student body treated the football players rather rudely and in a condescending manner. The treatment the football players received from the student body changed the behavior of the people on the team. They had no choice but to stick to themselves and avoid nonathletes. Such is the insidious power of stereotypes.
By the way, students engaged in extracurricular activities obtain better grades and have higher graduation rates.
Most People Shoot the Mule
When I was a young high school student, the plan toward most books that were required reading was the following:
1. See the movie.
2. If there were no movie, buy the Cliffs Notes.
3. If Cliffs had no notes, read the book.
Fortunately, one of the books we were required to read was not made into a movie, and Cliffs did not get around to writing notes about it. In this post-Civil War book, a white Southern family worked a subsistence farm next to the family of a newly freed slave. The former slave's farm was much more successful, and he and his family were more prosperous. They could even afford a mule, which the white family could not.
The white man suffered mentally from this disparity and felt like a failure. The black family's mule ownership particularly hurt him. The community had a great deal of disrespect for this white farmer, but not nearly as much disrespect as he had for himself. After seasons of anguish, he finally dealt with the problem and felt better as a result. He shot the black family's mule.
This story resonated with me. As I trained to be a psychologist, I learned that most people gauge their happiness and develop their self- esteem by comparing themselves to others. Many people feel better if someone is below them. A few of us have evolved as people to the point where we gauge our self-worth and happiness in relation to where we are vis-à-vis our own potential.
Sadly, most of us shoot the mule.
Confession Is Good for the Soul
Generally, we feel a lot better when we unburden ourselves and try to set things right. Allow me the opportunity to do so. The bottom line here is this: I would not be here today, literally, if not saved from one of my mistakes. It happened just when my career was beginning.
When I started out as a school psychologist back in the early 1970s, I worked in a very rural area. Indeed, the town I lived in was so small that even the yogurt did not have culture. Coming from Chicago, it was surprising to me that the town had but one stoplight. I started here because this largely rural state had a well-deserved impeccable reputation for valuing and supporting education. It was then—and is now—a state of great innovation in the field of education.
My position started in late August, but it was suggested that I (along with all the other new employees) volunteer to be counselors for a two-week summer camp for mentally handicapped children at a beautiful lake resort in the northern part of the state. My new boss ran this camp, so it seemed prudent to volunteer. (Actually, I would have done so anyway, even if it had not been mandatorily voluntary.)
My presence at this camp was especially important because the preponderance of handicapped children tend to be male, and most school employees tend to be female. A male counselor was definitely needed. My cabin had twelve mentally handicapped young men of high school age. All were well behaved, fun loving, and in need of a great deal of attention and assistance. One of them, John, was an exceptional athlete. This kid did every sport well. You name the sport, and he excelled at it. I did not know of his great athletic talent until after the first day in camp. To be precise, I learned of his gift the first evening.
After our first busy day of camp, all the kids and staff went down to the lakeshore just before sunset. We sat around a bonfire, sang camp songs, and watched the sun beginning to set across the lake. As we were singing, a speedboat skimmed the surface at a great rate of speed about a half-mile out on the lake. John, one of my charges, stood up, pointed at the boat, and yelled "Motorboat!" He ran to the end of the pier, dived in, and started swimming after the boat. John was my responsibility. I screamed at him to return, but he would not. I had no choice but to run to the end of the pier myself and swim after John. John and I were very different, mostly in our swimming ability. He was a great swimmer. I, on my best days, am a mediocre swimmer in a pool. I had never before swum in a lake. (For full disclosure, in a pool, I am a mediocre swimmer only in the shallow end.)
Excerpted from Psychology: The Stuff You Can Really Use by Bradley W. Rasch Copyright © 2012 by Bradley W. Rasch. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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