Change of Perspective

Musings on Writing, Reading, and Life Narratives

Fiction writers and literary critics speak of point of view. Social scientists are more likely to discuss perspective. But both of these terms refer to essentially the same construct: the consciousness behind the perception and narration of experience. Each individual’s point of view is unique, and point of view shapes the stories people tell to themselves and to others about themselves and their relationships with their environment. The same event narrated from two different perspectives will produce two different stories.

A change of perspective can expand our perception and reframe our thinking about our experiences. We can all benefit from an occasional change of perspective.

[Return to MetaPerspective]

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Different Perspective on American History

Howard Zinn, Historian, Dies at 87 - Obituary (Obit) -

Professor Howard Zinn is probably best known for his revisionist history book A People's History of the United States, published in 1980. When my daughter was in high school about 15 years ago, I was quite impressed that her history class was reading this anti-establishment book, which offers a perspective on American history decidedly different from the standard fare.

In the late 1960s I was an undergraduate at Boston University, one of the most politically active campuses in the U.S. Prof. Zinn was a standard fixture at just about every protest march and rally, so I was not surprised to find the following in this obituary:

Professor Zinn retired [from Boston University] in 1988, spending his last day of class on the picket line with students in support of an on-campus nurses’ strike. Over the years, he continued to lecture at schools and to appear at rallies and on picket lines.

Yep, that's exactly how I remember Howard Zinn.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

01/02/2010: Backward and forward, this date is lining up as a rarity

Local News | 01/02/2010: Backward and forward, this date is lining up as a rarity | Seattle Times Newspaper:

The date 01/02/2010 is a palindrome: A rare confluence of month, date and year that reads the same backward as forward.

The last palindrome date was Oct. 2, 2001. But before that, more than six centuries passed since the numerals last aligned on Aug. 31, 1380.

'They are very rare,' said Aziz Inan, a numbers-obsessed professor of electrical engineering at the University of Portland.

Read more about this numbers-obsessed professor here.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

‘Conversations With God’ Author Accused of Plagiarism

‘Conversations With God’ Author Accused of Plagiarism - ArtsBeat Blog -

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the best-selling series ‘Conversations with God,’ recently posted a personal Christmas essay on the spiritual Web site that was nearly identical to a 10-year-old article originally published by a little-known writer in a spiritual magazine. He now says he made a mistake in believing the story was something that had actually happened to him.

Oh dear. People who do this are always sorry--when they get caught. I stand firmly with Candy Chand, the woman whose work was lifted:

“I have strong issue with anyone who would appear to plagiarize my work and pretend it is his own,” said Ms. Chand. “That takes away from the truth of the material, it takes away from the miracle that occurred, because people begin to question what they can believe anymore. As a professional writer, when someone appears to plagiarize, they damage the industry, they damage other writer’s credibility and they hurt the reader because they never know what to believe anymore.”

And the fact that the man who got caught doing this is supposedly a man of God--well, I stand with Candy Chand on that point, too:

She added that it was ironic that Mr. Walsch in particular had been the one to appropriate her writing. “Has the man who writes best selling books about his ‘Conversations with God’ also heard God’s commandments?” she asked. “’Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie, and thou shalt not covet another author’s property?’”

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Things I'm Thankful For

Instead of the Sunday Summary, here’s a list of some of the things I’m thankful for as this Thanksgiving weekend winds down:

  • family and friends, even though they’re scattered all over the country
  • the Internet, which, in addition to enabling us to learn anything we want to know, also allows us to keep in touch with family and friends, even though they’re scattered all over the country
  • thick, warm wool socks, which I wear all winter long
  • the election of Barack Obama
  • the abundance on my Thanksgiving table and in my refrigerator
  • glucosamine and chondroitin, which--at least so far--are keeping my 60-year-old joints working painlessly
  • libraries
  • the next generation, which is turning out very nicely, if I do say so myself
  • the approaching end of George W. Bush’s Presidency
  • music
  • human resilience, especially in children
  • flowers
  • audiobooks for listening to while exercising
  • the handiwork of my massage therapist and personal trainer (see above reference to glucosamine and chondroitin)
  • fuzzy warm pajamas and fleece-lined slippers
  • Excedrin
  • Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center
  • the fact that Sarah Palin is not going to be the next Vice-President of the United States
  • hot cocoa
  • the aroma of turkey soup simmering in the kitchen

© 2008 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words

Scientist at Work - James W. Pennebaker - Psychologist James Pennebaker Counts, and Analyzes, Words - Biography -

James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, is a pioneer in studying the relationship between language and health. In his early experiments he found that writing about traumatic experiences can strengthen people's immune systems. More recently, he has turned to analyzing every word someone says or writes to see what word choice may indicate about people.
He found, for example, that Osama bin Laden’s use of first-person pronouns (I, me, my, mine) remained fairly constant over several years. By contrast, his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, used such words more and more often.

“This dramatic increase suggests greater insecurity, feelings of threat, and perhaps a shift in his relationship with bin Laden,” Dr. Pennebaker wrote in his report , which was published in The Content Analysis Reader (Sage Publications, July 2008).

To count and analyze the kinds of words someone uses, Pennebaker has developed a software program.
To test-drive the program, Dr. Pennebaker, a pioneer in the field of therapeutic writing, asked a group of people recovering from serious illness or other trauma to engage in a series of writing exercises. The word tallies showed that those whose health was improving tended to decrease their use of first-person pronouns through the course of the study.

Health improvements were also seen among people whose use of causal words — because, cause, effect — increased. Simply ruminating about an experience without trying to understand the causes is less likely to lead to psychological growth, he explained; the subjects who used causal words “were changing the way they were thinking about things.”

Pennebaker has also found that men tend to use more articles (a, an, and the) than women and that women tend to use more pronouns (he, she, they) than men. "The difference, he says, may suggest that men are more prone to concrete thinking and women are more likely to see things from other perspectives."

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

America's top meditation retreats -

America's top meditation retreats -

Here's a different perspective on travel articles, from USA Today:
Meditation has been found to lower cholesterol, ease pain, speed healing, curb insomnia and boost the immune system. It can also help slay the demons of depression, anxiety and the kinds of compulsions that send you back three times to check the stove. By practicing meditation, you'll feel more energized, gain self-knowledge and achieve a healthier state of mind.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October: National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month increasing early breast cancer detection awareness:

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Check out this site for all kinds of information about breast cancer and how you can help in the fight against this disease.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicago scientist John Cacioppo suggests that loneliness is a threat to your health

Chicago scientist John Cacioppo suggests that loneliness is a threat to your health - The Boston Globe:

In an age when social contact is defined by how many thousands of "friends" an individual has on Facebook, Americans are lonely people and getting lonelier all the time, according to John Cacioppo. Cacioppo, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, is co-author, with William Patrick, of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

Loneliness isn't just a matter of being alone:
Indeed, the lonely don't spend any more time by themselves than the rest of us do. Real loneliness is a feeling that some essential connection is lacking, and while social circumstances matter, it's also partly genetic.

Loneliness can cause people to settle for relationships that other people would not settle for. It can also diminish people's self-control, including their ability to stick with a task, and cause them to substitute pets and computers for human contact. Loneliness can also have physical effects. For example, Cacioppo says, lonely middle-age and older adults are less likely to exercise than are their peers with more satisfying human relationships.

The interviewer asks Cacioppo if older people are especially lonely. While it may be true that older adults' number of close contacts declines as their peers begin to die, those who manage to maintain close relationships with at least a few friends and family members generally become happier.

Asked if loneliness is a peculiarly American problem, Cacioppo replies:
Americans have more friends than Europeans on average. But what defines a friend is different in America than in Europe. In Europe, first of all, there's less mobility. There's a level of stability that we just don't know in America. But that same stability is connection, and those are threads of connection that I think lead to a definition of friends that is more high-quality.

In friendship, as in many other aspects of life, it's quality rather than quantity that counts.


Birth of the Modern Op-Ed Page

Now here is an interesting fact that I did not know:
It was on this day in 1970 that the first modern op-ed page appeared in The New York Times. People sometimes think that "op-ed" stands for "opinion-editorial," but it actually stands for "opposite the editorial page." Op-eds began in the 1920s, but they were forums for newspapers' columnists, not for outside writers. The modern op-ed was created by New York Times journalist John Bertram Oakes. Oakes received a commentary letter that he thought was excellent, but it was too long to print as a letter to the editor, and it couldn't be published in the op-ed page since it wasn't by a columnist. So he got the idea for an op-ed page that would include outside opinions. Oakes spent 10 years trying to convince publishers that is was good idea. Finally the Times editors agreed, and published the first version, and it's become the model for op-ed pages worldwide.

(From The Writer's Almanac, a publication of American Public Media)

While I did know that "op-ed" means "opposite the editorial page," I had no idea that this was such a modern phenomenon. I don't seem to remember a time when the op-ed pages didn't exist.

How about you?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Celebrity Worship: Good for Your Health?

Celebrity Worship: Good for Your Health? - TIME:

Using Palinmania as a hook, this article in Time reports on studies by Shira Gabriel, a psychologist at the University of Buffalo, that examine how celebrity worship may affect an admirer's self-esteem. Gabriel found that writing a five-minute essay about their favorite celebrity greatly increased the self-esteem of students who had initially scored low on a standard self-esteem test.

"Because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity's characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves when they think about that celebrity," says Gabriel. "And that is something these individuals can't do in real relationships because of their fear of rejection keeps them from getting close to people."

But, Gabriel warns, although a little celebrity worship can be beneficial, a lot can become harmful, as cases of obsessed fans and stalkers prove. Admiration of celebrities can become addictive and can prevent people from forming satisfying relationships with real people. And extreme celebrity worship can result in drastically lowered self-esteen in admirers who realize that they can never actually enter the world of the one they admire. This realization often reinforces the admirer's own feelings of inadequacy and isolation.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Woman in Iron Lung Dies during Power Outage

Woman in iron lung dies during power outage - Los Angeles Times

From the Los Angeles Times comes this story of a woman who lived in an iron lung from the age of 3 until her recent death at age 61. For those not old enough to know what an iron lung was, the photo above (from the Times story) will probably surprise you.

The woman, Dianne Odell, lived a remarkable life despite being confined to the machine. She graduated from high school, took college courses, wrote a children's book, and even participated in local politics by telephone.

Iron lungs are no longer made because they were replaced by smaller ventilators that allowed patients to be more mobile. However, according to this article, Dianne Odell could not use the newer equipment because of her spinal deformity. She survived in her iron lung for nearly 60 years because of the love and dedication of family and friends.

A story like this can certainly change one's perspective on life.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

"Houston, we have a problem"

On April 13, 1970, Apollo 13, four-fifths of the way to the moon, was crippled when a tank containing liquid oxygen burst.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Announcement for Grad Students

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

The Onion

Mead Releases New Grad-School-Ruled Notebook

RICHMOND, VA—Company officials say the new notebooks feature lines 3.55 millimeters apart, making them "infinitely more practical" for postgraduate work than the 7.1 millimeter college-ruled notebooks.

Good news for my fellow graduate students!

(N.B., folks, this is from the Onion.)


Friday, February 15, 2008

What Color Is Your Mind?

Here's mine right now:

Your Mind is Green
Of all the mind types, yours has the most balance.
You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.
You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

What Color Is Your Mind?

I'm in the midst of writing LOTS of papers for my graduate courses right now, so what my mind really feels like is mush. I hope to be back up to speed here in a couple of weeks.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Video: Frozen in Time

Check this out

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Changing Your Mind

The World Question Center 2008

Over at Edge, publisher John Brockman posed this big question to some of the world's biggest scholars, scientists, movers, and shakers:

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that's faith.
When facts change your mind, that's science.


Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?"

You might want to bookmark this site, because there are pages and pages of answers here, way more than anyone could possibly read through in one sitting. And each of the ones I read made me stop and think about its implications.

I especially liked what Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner says about how his ideas about his "paragon," Jean Piaget, have changed:
Any serious scientist or scholar will change his or her mind; put differently, we will come to agree with those with whom we used to disagree, and vice versa. We differ in whether we are open or secretive about such "changes of mind": and in whether we choose to attack, ignore, or continue to celebrate those with whose views we are no longer in agreement.
There's a lot here about changing one's perspective. And that's a good thing.

What have you changed your mind about, and why?

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all, and thanks for reading!


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Daydream Believer

In the earlier post Driving on Autopilot, I talked about driving somewhere and then not remembering the trip. What were you actually doing while driving that you don't remember?

If you're like most people, you were probably daydreaming. Here's how Wikipedia describes this mental state:
Daydreaming may take the form of... a train of thought, leading the daydreamer away from being aware of his immediate surroundings, and concentrating more and more on these new directions of thought.
In his writings on creativity and the unconscious, Freud likened daydreaming to the imaginative fantasy constructions of children and to the creative state of the poet. Freud believed that people are capable of such flights of daydreaming fantasy throughout their lives. He called unsatisfied wishes the driving force behind these fantasies.

Over the years daydreaming has gotten a bad name. Freud said that daydreams fall into one of two categories: (1) ambitious wishes, serving to exalt the person creating them, or (2) erotic fantasies (a category to which, he said, women are particularly prone). Many people think of daydreaming as a waste of time and a sign of laziness.

But recent research has led to more enlightened views about daydreams. When children daydream about conquering the world or otherwise triumphing over adversity, they are imaginatively trying out various ways of existing and getting along in the world. We adults continue to do the same thing. Haven't we all daydreamed about "This is what I SHOULD have said (or done) when So-and-So insulted me. . . ."? In those instances we're imaginatively rehearsing the alternative behavior so that the next time a similar situation arises, we'll be ready. Daydreams like this also help to dissipate some of the negative emotions (anger, hurt, humiliation) we may be feeling from the incident.

So the automatic thinking that occasionally allows us to drive on autopilot isn't always bad. Sometimes it can even serve a positive, healthy function.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Quotation of the Day

book coverAbout interpersonal relationships:

"the paradoxical aspect of my experience is that the more I am simply willing to be myself, in all this complexity of life and the more I am willing to understand and accept the realities in myself and in the other person, the more change seems to be stirred up. It is a very paradoxical thing--that to the degree that each one of us is willing to be himself, then he finds not only himself changing; but he finds that other people to whom he relates are also changing. At least this is a very vivid part of my experience, and one of the deepest things I think I have learned in my personal and professional life."

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (p. 22)

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Quotation of the Day

"I always felt as if I got through school by tilting my head slightly to the right, believing one thing and saying another and accepting one story when I knew there were many versions" (p. 41).

Tilly Warnock, "Language and Literature as 'Equipment for Living': Revision as a Life Skill." Writing and Healing: Toward an Informed Practice. Ed. Charles M. Anderson and Marian M. MacCurdy. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2000. 34-57.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Quotation of the Day

book cover
In a list of significant things he learned from his therapy clients, Carl Rogers includes the following:

"I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person. . . . Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of his statement is to him. I believe this is because understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change. So as I say, it is not an easy thing to permit oneself to understand an individual, to enter thoroughly and completely and empathically into his frame of reference. It is also a rare thing."

Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person (p. 18)

In other words, a change of perspective can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to personal growth. Yet understanding can be risky: If I come to understand people whose beliefs are different from mine, I might have to change the way I think about those people. And that knowledge might change the way I think about myself.

So I have to decide: Am I willing to take that risk?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Perspectives on Children

Bad Behavior Does Not Doom Pupils, Studies Say - New York Times:
Educators and psychologists have long feared that children entering school with behavior problems were doomed to fall behind in the upper grades. But two new studies suggest that those fears are exaggerated.

This article in the New York Times reports on developmental studies of children being published in two respected scientific journals. One study found that children with antisocial or disruptive behavior in kindergarten were not necessarily behind other children academically by the end of elementary school. The other study found that the brains of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) developed in the same way but at a slower rate than the brains of children without the disorder.

The studies "could change the way scientists, teachers and parents understand and manage children who are disruptive or emotionally withdrawn in the early years of school."

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Perspective on Obedience and Action

Obedience and Action [Speaking of Faith� from American Public Media]
On this week's radio show "Speaking of Faith," Krista Tippitt talks with Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister.

Here's what Krista says about Sr. Jean in her newsletter:

In over 50 years as a Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister has emerged as a powerful and at times uncomfortable voice in Roman Catholicism and in global politics. If women were ordained in the Catholic Church in our lifetime, some say, she should be the first woman bishop.

A Whirlwind in Purple

I first met Joan Chittister a decade ago. I'd heard many entertaining and admiring stories about Sr. Joan's passion and intelligence and wit. She would scribble notes for her next book or column during board meetings, people told me, and occasionally look up to deliver a line that recapped and energized the entire conversation.

Always on the go, she had squeezed me into her schedule during a three-hour layover at Chicago Midway airport. She was, I wrote in my notes, "a whirlwind in purple." Several times she whisked out a miniature dictaphone and recorded questions and reminders for herself and her assistant. She'd published four books already that year alone. And she was as fun as she was formidable. "I've never missed a party," she told me, "and I don't like to be left out of one." If I possessed any lingering stereotypes about nuns, I left them forever behind in that airport lounge.

For some, the words that describe Joan Chittister might seem to be a contradiction in terms: Roman Catholic monastic, interfaith social activist, feminist. But I understand Joan Chittister to be at one and the same time engaged with worldly reality and with the sense of paradox often found at the heart of religion. She is a modern woman who draws her sustenance and vision from immersion in a 1500-year-old monastic tradition.

She is a committed member of a small Benedictine community in Erie, Pennsylvania and a global activist. She is an influential, sometimes uncomfortable voice in her beloved Roman Catholic Church — a hero to some, a heretic to others. She is guided in all of this, she says, by her vow of obedience.

We talk about that vow in this program and how her understanding of religious virtue has evolved in response to changes in the church and the world. In the pre-Vatican II church by the mid-1960s, she says, "obedience" had come to be synonymous with conformity. But at some point for her and others, she says, this gave way to "a sensitivity to the impulses of grace in our lives." For Joan Chittister, this has included responsiveness to other faiths.

She is known for the Sufi Muslim parables by which she often drives home a Christian point in her speeches and writings. She co-chairs a global consortium of religious women and spiritual leaders — Protestant, Hindu, Catholic, and Buddhist. For Joan Chittister, such partnership represents a deepening, not a refutation, of Catholic theology. If God is one as Christianity asserts, she asks, why are we surprised that different religious people can think and work as one on matters of justice and poverty and the human spirit?

We are living in a crossover time, Sr. Joan declares. We are at a moment in history when every structure and institution is in flux and up for grabs — religious, political, marital. The old answers don't work as they once did, and the new answers have yet to be discerned. People are searching within and beyond spiritual traditions — reading books, seeking new community, and perhaps even listening to public radio with a new ear — as they pursue answers that make sense in the context of their lives.

Joan Chittister, I think, is a public figure for this crossover time — articulating the questions and holding them up boldly. We will not all agree with all of her ideas. But in consonance and dissonance with other bold voices and ideas, she is helping to energize our most important discussions and move them forward.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Feminist Perspective on History

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich - New York Times:
The title of this newly released book is from an observation Ulrich made in a 1976 article for American Quarterly in which she noted all that is known about colonial women comes from the funeral eulogies written about them. Ulrich's comment became a famous quotation often printed on T-shirts and bumper stickers. This slogan presents a critical truth:
Much of what is characterized as female “misbehavior” is a matter of voice — of a woman insisting she be heard, paid not only attention, but also the respect due a being as fully human and necessary as a man.

In this review of Ulrich's book Kathryn Harrison says that Ulrich uses three classic feminist works to examine the theme of "bad" behavior:

  1. "Book of the City of Ladies" written by Christsine de Pizan in 1405
  2. "Eighty Years and More" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, published in 1898
  3. "A Room of One's Own," based on two lectures delivered by Virginia Woolf in 1928

In her examination, Harrison says, Ulrich "brings a female sensibility to what is more typically the linear, cause-and-effect formula of history, a majority of which, Ulrich points out, is written by men."

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Gaining Perspective on Autism

Being Autistic, Being Human [Speaking of Faith from American Public Media]:
One child in every 150 in the U.S. is now diagnosed to be somewhere on the spectrum of autism. We step back from public controversies over causes and cures and explore the mystery and meaning of autism in one family's life, and in history and society. Our guests say that life with their child with autism has deepened their understanding of human nature — of disability, and of creativity, intelligence, and accomplishment.

This week on her radio program Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett talks with Paul Collins, a literary historian, and Jennifer Elder, an artist, who are the parents of a young son with autism. The Web site contains a wealth of information to supplement the broadcast. You can also download a podcast of the broadcast and an audio version of Krista's uncut, almost two-hour interview with Paul and Jennifer.

This is a program that could offer us a new perspective on autism and those who live with it.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

A New Perspective on Play

Today on her American Public Media radio show “Speaking of Faith,” Krista Tippett discusses the importance of play:

Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play, says that pleasurable, purposeless activity prevents violence and promotes trust, empathy, and adaptability to life's complication. He promotes cutting-edge science on human play, and draws on a rich universe of study of intelligent social animals.

Playful activity, although it looks “apparently purposeless,” can contribute to the growth of human character, talent, problem-solving ability, social skills, and psychological health across the entire life span. Brown says, “the human being really is designed biologically to play throughout the life cycle.” In humans, play begins with the earliest interactions between infants and caregivers, when the child and adult make eye contact, coo, and later smile and giggle at each other. Brown found that homicidal young men had characteristically been deprived of opportunities to engage in free play.

Be sure to check out Krista’s Journal on the Speaking of Faith Web site. And don’t miss the pictures of the huge polar bear and the much smaller husky playing together.

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Buddhist Wishing Tree

photo of Buddhist Wishing Tree
This Buddhist Wishing Tree was photographed at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

The sign reads as follows:

“The Wishing Tree is a Buddhist tradition found in Asian countries. It is believed that if you put your wish on a piece of paper and tie it to the tree, the wind will blow the words into the air and your wish will come true.”

© 2007 by Mary Daniels Brown

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