Saving Ideas

cave painting

Sometime, over 40,000 years ago, someone decided to put images of human hands on the cave pictured above.  It turned out to be a good idea.  This painting has given scientists information on life in the Upper Paleolithic, raised questions about the capacity of Neandrathal man to create art, and sparked debate about which species in the homo genus created it.  Other later cave paintings depict other ideas: Bulls, horses, rhinoceros, people.

I wasn’t there in the Paleotlithic but I doubt that the images we are seeing in caves were the first ones ever drawn.  I imagine that drawing images in sand and other less permanent media happened.  I suspect that the only reason we have cave paintings is because at some point somebody decided they wanted to be able to save their idea, to keep it longer or perhaps forever.

Every day, 7 billion of us have untold numbers of ideas.  So what makes a person decide that an idea is worth saving?  What makes us pause and make a note in our Evernote App or Moleskine journal?  What inspires us to make a video of our idea on YouTube or write a book?  We can’t always be sure that an idea is a “good” one or even what the criteria for a good idea is.  It usually comes down to belief.

In the past several centuries, the ability to save ideas was relegated to the few who were deemed skillful or divinely inspired.  Books were written in monasteries, then disseminated by printing presses, and as ideas became easier to save, more people saved them.  But, and this is very important, saving an idea doesn’t make it a good idea, just a saved one.  Somewhere along the line we began to get the notion that only a few select people were capable of having a good idea, because only a few select people were capable of saving them.  Even in the 21st century, many mental health professionals and educators cling to the notion that peer-reviewed work published in journals is the apex of quality.  If it is written, if it was saved by a select few it must be a good idea.  If you have any doubt of what I’m talking about just Google “DSM V.”

With each leap in human technology comes the power to save more ideas and then spread them.  People who talk about things going viral often forget that an idea has to be saved first, and that in essence something going viral is really a form of society saving an idea.  If anything, technology has improved the democratization of education and ideas.

This makes many of us who grew up in an earlier era nervous and frustrated.  We call the younger generation self-absorbed rather than democratizing.  We grumble, “what makes you think you should blog about your day, take photos of your food, post links to cute kitten videos?”  We may even take smug self-satisfaction that we aren’t contributing to the static.  I think that’s a bad idea, although it clearly has been saved from earlier times.

40,000 years from now, our ideas may take on meanings we never anticipated, like cave drawings.  Why were kittens so important to them?  In the long view I think we remember that people have to believe they have an good idea before they take the leap of faith to save it.  The citizens of the future may debate who saved kitten videos and why, but it will be taken as given that they must have been important to many of us.

What if everyone had the confidence to believe that they had an idea worth saving?  What if everyone had the willingness to believe that it just might be possible that their idea was brilliant?  Each semester I ask the students in my class to raise their hand if they think they can get an A- or higher in the class, and most do.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they think they can come up with in an idea in this class that could change the world.  I’ve never had more than 3 hands go up.  That’s sad.

This is why I admire the millennials and older groups who take advantage of social media and put their ideas out there.  I doubt that they are all good ideas, but I celebrate the implicit faith it takes to save them.  Anyone, absolutely anyone at all, can have a good idea.  It may not get recognized or appreciated, but now more than ever it can get saved.  Saving an idea is an act of agency.  It is a political act.  Saving an idea is choosing to become just a bit more visible.  On the most basic level saving an idea is a celebration and affirmation of the self.  Think about that, and dare to jot down, draw, record or otherwise save one of your ideas today.  I just did and it feels great.  Then maybe you can even share it with someone else.

What makes a person decide an idea is worth saving?

You do.

 

Like this post? I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Bad Object Rising: How We Learn to Hate Our Educated Selves

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a great set of educators in a daylong seminar.  One of the things I do with teachers when I present is have them play Minecraft.  In this case I started off by giving a general presentation that ended with a story of auto-didactism in an Ethiopian village, where 20 children who had never seen the printed word were given tablets and taught themselves to read.  I did this in part to frame the pedagogy for what came next:  I had them turn on Minecraft and spend 30 minutes exploring the game without any instruction other than getting them networked.

The responses were as varied as the instructors, but one response fascinated me in particular.  Midway into the 30 minutes, one teacher stopped playing the game and started checking her email.  Later, when we returned to our group to have a discussion about the thoughts and feelings that came up around game play, this same teacher spoke up.  We were discussing the idea of playfulness in learning when she said , “you know, I hear a lot about games and learning, and making learning fun; but sometimes learning isn’t fun and you have to do it anyway.  Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the work.”

“I’m not saying that I disagree with you entirely,”  I said.  “But then how do we account for your giving up on Minecraft and starting to check your email?”

She looked a little surprised, and after a moment’s reflection said, “fair enough.”

I use this example because these are educators who are extremely dedicated to teaching their students, and very academically educated themselves.  Academia has this way, though, of seeping into your mind and convincing you that academics and education are one and the same.  They’re not.

I worked in the field of Special Education for more than a decade from the inside of it, and one of the things I came to believe is that there are no unteachable students.  That is the good news and the bad news.  Bad news because if a student was truly unteachable, they wouldn’t learn from us that they are dumb or bad if they don’t demonstrate the academic achievement we expect.  I remember the youth I worked with calling each other “SPED monkeys” as an insult; clearly they learned that from somewhere and someone.  They had learned to hate themselves as a bad object, in object relations terms, or to project that badness onto other students.  They learned this from the adults around them, from the microaggressions of hatred they experienced every day:  By hate I’ll go with Merriam as close enough, “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.”

We tend to mistakenly equate hatred with rage and physical violence, but I suggest that this is because we want to set hatred itself up as hated by and other from ourselves; surely we never behave that way.  But hatred is not always garbed in extremis.  Hatred appears every day to students who don’t fit the academic mold.  Hatred yells “speak English!” to the 6 year olds getting off the bus chatting in Spanish.  Hatred shakes its head barely (but nevertheless) perceptibly before moving on to the next student when the first has fallen silent in their struggle.  Hatred identifies the problem student in the class and bears down on her, saying proudly, “I don’t coddle my students.”  And Hatred shrugs his shoulders when the student has been absent for 3 weeks, and waits for them to be dropped from the rolls.

I’m not sure how I came to see this, because I was one of the privileged academically.  I got straight A’s, achieved academic awards and scholarships that lifted me into an upperclass world and peer group.  I wrote papers seemingly without effort, read for pleasure, and was excited to get 3 more years of graduate school.  And I have had the opportunity to become an educator and an academic myself, having taught college and graduate students.  I could have stayed quiet and siloed in my area of expertise, but work with differently-abled learners taught me something different.  It taught me that people learn to dislike education, shortly after academia learns to dislike them.

Perhaps one of the best literary portrayals of  adult hatred of divergent thinkers comes from the movie Matilda:

“Listen, you little wise acre. I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Nowadays I teach in a much different way than I did early on, before I flipped my classrooms and facilitated guided learning experiences rather than encourage people to memorize me and ideas that I had memorized from others.  And I struggle with this new approach, because I enjoy it so much I feel guilty.  You see, I have internalized the bad object too.  Even with my good grades I internalized it.  And any time I start to depart from the traditional mold of the educated self, I experience a moment of blindness, then a stony silence that seems to say, “you’re being lazy, you should make them a powerpoint and prepare a lecture.”  Yet, if my evaluations on the whole and student and colleague testimonies have truth to them, I am a “good” educator.  So let’s say I am a “good” educator, and if I as a good educator struggle with this, we shouldn’t assume that people that struggle with these issues are “bad” educators.

In fact, when it comes to emerging technologies like social media and video games, educators often try to avoid them, if not because they are fun and suspect, then because educators risk experiencing themselves as the bad object: Who wants to experience themselves as hopelessly dumb, clumsy or lazy when they can experience themselves as the bountiful and perfectly cited fount of all wisdom?  Truth is, both are distorted images of the educated self.

Don’t forget that educators themselves experience tons of societal hatred.  For them it often comes in the guise of curriculum requirements or linking their performance to outcomes on standardized testing.  Hatred comes in the low salaries and the perception that people doing intellectual or emotional labor aren’t really working.  All of this helps educators to internalize a bad object which feels shaming and awful; is it any wonder that we sometimes unconsciously try to get that bad object away from ourselves and locate it in the student?

The good news as I said before is that we are all teachable.  We can learn to make conscious and make sense of the internalized bad object representations.  We can see that thinking of people in terms of smart or dumb is a form of splitting.

And yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.

Like this post? I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

 

10 Nonviolent Video Games

space-invaders-peace-wallpaper-arcade

Sometimes mental health providers, parents and educators get so caught up in the debate about video games and violence that we imagine all video games have violent content.  They don’t.

So when I am feeling proactive (like now) I point out that there are dozens of nonviolent video games.  In this case, I’ll give you a rundown of some of my favorites available on smartphones and/or tablets.  You may ask, “Mike, how do you find all of these games?”  I find them for free in several places, and you can too!  One place in the real world is a certain coffee chain we all know and love which often has App of the Day cards to try for free.  Another good source of freebies is App Gratis.  App Gratis has 1-2 daily deals on free apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android.  The app itself is free, so download it as soon as you are ready to go bargain hunting.

Without further ado, here are some games I’m enjoying lately:

 

1. Puzzlejuice

 puzzlejuice

Ok, so the tag line is violent:  Puzzlejuice is billed as a game “that will punch your brain in the face.”  But there’s no punching or violence beyond that blurb.  Puzzlejuice combines the spatial skills of Tetris with the wordplay of Scrabble.  You rotate blocks to line up 3 or more blocks of one color, which turns them into letters.  Spell words with the letters by dragging your finger across them and the blocks disappear.  Sound simple?  Please come back and comment on this post once you’ve tried it, heh.

 

2. Circadia

circadia2

Circadia is all about timing and pace.  The graphics are simple enough, where you try to tap expanding rings in order to time their intersection with a dot and other rings.  But this game is all about impulse control, patience and learning from your mistakes.  Different colors and musical tones indicate different speeds of ring expansion, and once you are through the tutorial you find yourself timing 3 or more rings, dots that move, and increasingly complicated sequences.

 

3. Denki Blocks!

 denki

This is a perennial favorite of mine.  Move blocks with the swipe of your finger to connect all of the same color, avoiding obstacles that will get you stuck.  Add to that timer challenges, special shapes and bonus mystery rounds and you have a simple, playful puzzle game that will challenge you for hours.

 

4. Ticket To Ride

Ticket_to_ride

Based on the German-style board/card game, you can now play TTR on your smartphone or tablet.   TTR combines strategy, planning and blocking other players as they race to build train routes connecting different cities in the US, Europe or “Legendary Asia.”  Play against the computer or online with other players, and if you’re feeling social, the built in chat feature allows you to chat with other players between turns.

 

5. Hundreds

hundreds

Who would have thought a black and white (ok, and gray and red) game could be so beautiful and elegant?  The website explains the basic premise of the game, but just dive right into the tutorial like I did and see what it’s like to learn a game from within it.  Did I mention how beautiful it is?  🙂  Minimalists take note..

 

6. Tilt World

tilt world

Playful, but with a strong ecological message, this offering from game designer and thought leader Nicole Lazzaro makes use of the smartphone or tablet’s accelerometer to make Flip the tadpole help fight the Blight that has affected Shady Glen by eating carbon and planting seeds.  The game is tied to a real world impact:  For each milestone of player points in the world, more trees get planted in Madagascar.  More than 10,000 trees have been planted to date, and players can see a real-world impact calculator here.

 

7. Carcassonne

carcasonne3

Based on the classic tile game, Carcassonne is a game of building medieval towns, castles and monasteries.  Build your cities, place your Meeples, and try to get the most points by the end of the game.  Best part, you can share points with other players, so the game is about strategic alliances as well as blocking another player’s move.  Play by yourself or on networked multiplayer.  Note to therapists:  The basic game can usually be played in the 10 minutes between sessions, just sayin’..

 

8. Osmos

osmos

If you like your games with ambience and an organic dreamlike quality, try this one out.  In Osmos you play a single cell Mote who jets around and absorbs smaller motes to become the biggest cell on the block.  But be careful, because the jet propelling you is made by expelling your own matter, so the farther you go the smaller you get!  This game emphasizes patience and planning over speedy acquisition.  Accompanied by some great electronic music.

 

9. Flower Chain

flower chain

I disagree with the developer Joybean describing this as  “a beautiful game for girls,” and exhort you to play this game regardless of gender!  Tap on one of the small floating buds to cause a flower to burst open, touch a nearby bud and start a chain reaction.  Easy when the early levels only require you to hit 2-3 flowers, but when you have to get a chain reaction of 50, choose where and when you tap carefully!

 

10. Nintai 2

nintaii2

The Japanese term “nintaii” means “patience, perseverance, or endurance,” and you’ll need it to get through all 100 levels of this puzzle.  Flip a rectangular block through a 3-D platform landscape to get to the end of the maze.  Each level is accompanied by trippy music and seemingly random titles like “Joy,” “Bravery,” and “Wealth.”  This game has a high “Huh?” factor, but is a compelling experience and best of all, non-violent.

Versions of these games range from free to $9.99 for most smartphones and tablets, and nothing is shot or slashed, not even watermelon (sorry, Fruit Ninja.)  Many of these games emphasize one or more social and cognitive skills, from cooperation to word-building to problem solving and impulse control.  But don’t let that discourage you–have fun!

Have a favorite non-violent game?  Let us know below!

Like this post? I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Empathy (Re)Training

 

2013.06.08.01.16.34

Last night I was mining Gold Omber in the asteroid belt near Erindur VI, and I can’t begin to tell you what an accomplishment that was. (This post is not just about spaceships, but about pacifists, Ethiopia and education, so non-gaming educators and therapists keep reading.)  OK, let me tell you why it was an accomplishment.  I am talking about playing the MMO EVE Online, which involves piloting spaceships across vast amounts of space in order to mine, trade, build or pirate among other things.  In essence, your spaceship is your character, with the ship’s parts being the equivalent of your armor and weapons in games like World of Warcraft.  But you can only build or use these parts as your pilot acquires skills, ranging from engineering to planetology to cybernetics, so in that way the player’s pilot is the character in the game.  But at the start of the game you’re told that the pilot is actually a clone (this becomes important later on) and as someone was explaining to me last night the whole cloning thing has its own complications once you start using implants to modify individual clones, which you can only do after you’ve trained the skill of Cybernetics.  And why all that is important is because once you use implants you can learn skills more quickly.

If you think that is confusing, try learning how to use the sprawling user interface or UI, which one of my friends says “was made by demons who hate people, hate their hopes and dreams. Know that you are playing with toys made by demons for their amusement and tread lightly.”  Another way of putting it is that you have keep trying to remember what window you opened in the game to do what, and often have multiple windows open simultaneously in order to figure out what you’re doing or buying or training.  There is a robot tutorial program in the game that helps somewhat, but the whole thing is very frustrating and intriguing for the first several hours of game play.  During this time I was ganked repeatedly, lost lots of loot and ore I had mined, as well as a nice spaceship or two.  So to get to the point where I had learned enough skills to be able to warp halfway across the galaxy, lock onto an asteroid, orbit and mine it while defending myself from marauders was extremely exciting.  I was only able to do this because my above-mentioned friend had given me a much bigger and safer ship than I had started out with, as well as lots of instructions on how to do things; and because I was chatting with people in the game who offered great tips.  Of course one of those people then clicked on my profile in chat to then locate me and gank me again (bye-bye nice ship,) but the knowledge is mine to keep.

By now you may be asking “what has any of this got to do with psychotherapy, social work or education?” so I’ll explain.  I had tried EVE months ago, and given up after about a week of on and off attempts, but this past month I have begun teaching an online course for college educators and MSWs about integrating technology into psychotherapy and education.  One of the required exercises in the course is for the students to get a trial account of World of Warcraft and level a character to 20.  There has been a lot of good-natured reluctance and resistance to doing this, in this class and others:  I have been asked to justify this course material in a way I have never had to justify other learning materials to students.   This included several objecting to playing the game because of violent content prior to playing it much or at all.  It’s as if people were not initially able to perceive the course material of World of Warcraft as being in the same oeuvre as required readings or videos.  It is one thing to bring up in your English literature class that you found the violence in “Ivanhoe” or the sex in “The Monk” objectionable after reading it, but I’ve not heard of cases where students have refused to read these books for class based on those objections.  So I was curious, what made video games so different in people’s minds?

Things became easier for several folks after I set up times to meet them in the game world, and help them learn and play through the first few quests.  As I chatted with them and tried to explain the basic game mechanics I realized that I had learned to take for granted certain knowledge and skills, such as running, jumping, and clicking on characters to speak with them.  I started to suspect that the resistance to playing these games was perhaps connected to the tremendous amount of learning that was having to go on in order to even begin to play the game.  In literacy education circles we would call this  learning pre-readiness skills.  Being thrown into a learning environment in front of peers and your instructor was unsettling, immediate, and potentially embarrassing.  And I think being educators may have actually made this even harder.  Education in the dominant paradigm of the 20th and 21st century seeks to create literary critics and professors as the ultimate outcome of education, according to Ken Robinson.  So here are a group of people who have excelled at reading and writing suddenly being asked to learn and develop an entirely new and different skill set within the framework of a college course:  Of course they were frustrated.

So I started playing EVE again not just to have fun, but to have a little refresher course in empathy.  I have leveled to 90 in WoW, so I know how to do things there, and had begun to forget how frustrating and bewildering learning new games can be.  In EVE I have been clueless and failing repeatedly, and getting in touch with how frustrating that learning curve can be.  I have also been re-experiencing how thrilling it is the first time I make a connection between too concepts or actions in the game:  When I realized that there was a difference between my “Assets” and my “Inventory” I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.  I have begun to see and help my students reflect on similar “learning rushes” when they get them as well.  They are now , in short, rocking the house in Azeroth.

We forget how thrilling and confusing it can be to learn sometimes, especially to the large population on the planet that doesn’t necessarily want to be a college professor or psychotherapist.  We forget that our patients and students are asked to master these frustrations and resistances every day with little notice or credit.

There is a village in Ethiopia, where 20 children were given Xoom tablet computers last year.  The researchers/founders of One Laptop Per Child dropped them off in boxes to these children, who had never learned to read or write.  They were offered no instruction and the only restriction placed on the tablet was to disable the camera.  Within minutes the children had opened the box and learned how to turn the computers on; within weeks they were learning their ABCs and writing; and within months they had learned how to hack into the tablet and turn the camera back on, all without teachers.  This story inspires and terrifies many.  It is inspiring in that it tells the story of what children can learn if they are allowed to be experimental and playful.  It is terrifying because if all this was done without a teacher to lecture or a therapist to raise self-esteem, it raises the question “do we still need them?”

Having played EVE, and taught academics in World of Warcraft, let me assure you that the world still needs teachers and therapists.  But the world needs us to begin to learn how to teach and help in a different way.  If EVE had nothing but online tutorials I would have probably struggled more and given up.  I needed to remain social and related to ask for help, listen to tips, and get the occasional leg up.  We need to retrain ourselves in empathic attunement by going to the places that scare or frustrate us, even if those places are video games.  The relationship is still important; to inspire, encourage and enjoy when learning happens in its myriad forms.  But we need to remember that there are many literacies and that not all human beings aspire to teach an infinitely recurring scholasticism to others.  We need to remember how embarrassing it can be to “not get it,” and how the people we work with every day are heroic that they can continue to show up to live and be educated in a system that humiliates them.

What’s exciting and promising, though, is this simple fact:  Learning is happening everywhere, all the time!  Whether it’s a village in Ethiopia, Elwynn Forest in Azeroth, or in orbit around Erindur VI; learning is happening.  Across worlds real and imagined, rich and poor, learning IS happening.

And we get to keep all the knowledge we find.

 

Like this post? I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info. And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book. You can also Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Want To Help Stop Youth Cyberbullying? Let Your Kids Raid More.

OnyxiaBreath.12.8.06

The above title is misleading.  In fact it is as misleading as the term cyberbullying, which is an umbrella term used from experiences which range drastically.  “Cyberbullying” has been used to describe the humiliation of LGBT youth via video; the racial hatred of Sikhs on Reddit, the systematic harassment and suicide of a teenage girl by a neighboring peer’s mother; a hoax wherein a Facebooker pretended to be a woman’s missing (for 31 years); and the bad Yelp reviews of a restauranteur in AZ.

Wait, huh?

My point, exactly:  All of the things described above are different in scope, intentionality, form of media used, duration, and impact.  We need to keep this complicated.  This is not to take away from the horrific acts that people  have perpetuated with social media, or excuse them.  Rather I think we need to help kids and their parents find more nuanced ways to make sense of the way newer technologies are impacting us.

Social media amplifies ideas, feelings, and conflicts.  It often dysregulates family systems.   Growing up, many family members didn’t need to learn the level of digital literacy that today’s world requires.  Parents may be tempted to put their children in a lengthy or permanent internet lockdown.  I hear the threats, or read them, all the time:  No screens.  You’re unplugged.  She’s grounded from Facebook.

Please don’t do that.

I’ve worked with a number of young adults who have had the experiences of being on the receiving end of hatred, stalking, harassment and intrusion delivered via the internet.  And thank goodness that their parents didn’t unplug them as kids.  Because they stayed online they got to:

  • learn how to ignore haters
  • see/hear others stand up for them in a social media setting
  • come to the defense of a peer themselves
  • increase their ability to meet verbal aggression with cognition
  • make the hundreds of microdecisions about whether to “fight this battle”
  • seek out support from other peers
  • form strong online communities and followings that helped them cope with and marginalize the aggressors

More and more, online technologies are becoming a prevalent form of communication, and to take away access is to remove the hearing and voice of youth.  To do this is disempowerment, not protection.

I’ve said before that parents need to take an engaged approach with kids in order to be there to help kids understand and process the conflicts that are communicated through and amplified by social media.  But this time I want to go further, and suggest that one way to help kids achieve digital literacy in terms of social skills is to let them play more multiplayer video games.

Many of you probably saw that coming, but for those of you who didn’t, let me explain.  21st century video games are themselves a powerful form of social media.  Multiplayer games allow individuals to band together as guilds, raids, platoons and other groups to achieve higher endgame goals.  Collaboration is built into them as part of the fun and as necessary to meet the challenges.

There are exceptions to this, but it has been my experience that people don’t begin systematic personal attacks on each other when they are in the middle of downing Onyxia.  They are too busy joining forces to win.  I am convinced that much hatred we see in the developed world is there in large part because of boredom and apathy.  Games provide an alternative form of engagement to hatin’

Look, I’m not saying that people playing games never say sexist things, swear, or utter homophobic comments.  But I can say that I have heard more people, adults and children, stand up to hatred in World of Warcraft than I ever have in the 2 decades I worked in public school settings.  I’ve seen racism confronted numerous times in guild chat, seen rules for civility created and enforced over and over, always citing a variation of  the same reason:  “We’re all here to have fun, so please keep the climate conducive to that.”

Video games provide powerful interactive arenas for diverse groups of people to collaborate or compete strategically.  They capture our interest with a different sort of drama than the sort that we see our youth struggle with in other settings.  In fact, for many individuals video games provide a welcome respite from the drama that occurs in those other settings.

Social media does indeed amplify nastiness, harassment and hatred.  It also amplifies kindness, hope, generosity and cooperation.  If we don’t lean into social media with our kids, they’ll never know how to use it to amplify goodness in the world.  Worse yet, if we cut them off from connecting with the world online we’ll deprive them of the necessary opportunities to recognize and choose between good and evil.

Like this post?  I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

One Bostonian’s Thoughts On Social Media

 MA Cambridge Charles River view of Boston

 

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  This week I have had numerous conversations with colleagues about the myriad and often conflicting ideas and feelings we have been asked to hold alongside each other.  Initially I had been asked by one supervisee if I was going to write about the bombings in Boston, and my immediate response to him was, “No.”  I have seen too many colleagues either consciously or unconsciously use their social media to self-promote during times of tragedy.  Although I am a believer in the importance of self-promotion in building one’s business, this is not the time.

Hundreds of people in my Twitter feed and online seem to agree.  From therapist to marketing types, people noticed when your automatic Tweets continued unabated as the events of this week were unfolding.  And whether they were individual or enterprise level businesses, the response was pretty much the same, “turn it off.”

And I agree, now is not the time to self-promote one’s business or market, which ironically leaves those of us with social media back at where Web 2.0 all began.  Not for marketing, but for community.

So what I did want to discuss today I sincerely hope will be heard as sharing thoughts and feelings across the range of you all, who reading this are to some extent part of my community.  And why I want to discuss the topic of social media today is to offer some ideas to keep in mind as we go through the next piece of our history together.

Social media collapses time and space.  As I listened from my locked down house simultaneously to Twitter, the police scanner via Broadcastify, Facebook and other platforms, I heard firsthand how information and misinformation could spread far more quickly than it could have on 9/11.  Social media use and technology in general played a huge part in the ability to share, identify and ultimately capture one suspect.  It also hindered investigation at times by creating chatter that looped back to law enforcement in ways that were more confusing than helpful.

As someone who lives 2 miles from the explosions, a mile from where Patrol Officer Collier was killed, and far too close to the 7-11 and site of the carjacking, the week and especially last 48 hours were horrifying, confusing and anxiety-provoking for me.  But social media allowed me to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues, collapsing space in a way that brought a lot of comfort and support.  I can’t say enough about the gratitude I felt that the ping of Facebook and Twitter were heard consistently amidst the constant sirens and other sudden noises that hypervigilance brings.

Social media helped me express more pride as a Bostonian and New Englander could have ever imagined, as memes like this one popped up on and were shared by me on Facebook:

keep-wicked-calm-and-carry-the-hell-on

 

For those of you who aren’t locals, this pretty much summarizes how we people in the Hub of the Universe are, and how we dealt with things this week.

Unfortunately, social media also collapsed the space between MA and Arkansas, when we were subjected to this Tweet:

nate-bell-tweet

As enraging as this post was, social media allowed many of us in Boston to respond to this, including yours truly, with our Bostonian blunt arguments and a dash of humor thrown in:

nate comment

Social Media allowed thousands of people to respond alongside me, causing Bell to say to the Associated Press, “I really didn’t think about it going to Boston and was generally expressing my personal view of how I would have felt in that situation myself.”

This is one thing I hope we all can keep in mind over the next days and weeks, that we can remember the power of social media to collapse space and time and reach and impact a global and thus diverse audience.  Such a collapse can help bring comfort or quicken the pace of misinformation; bring a city together or divide a nation.

Social media amplifies feelings and emotions.  I hope colleagues can keep this in mind as we continue forward through the next days and weeks.  Social media can amplify love and community, and it can amplify hatred and racism.  It can amplify hysteria or reasonable thinking.  Social media can amplify comfort and applause, and it can amplify grief and vicarious trauma.

Please think before you tweet, post or share.  Ask yourself what you are shouting into the village square, what you are bringing to the conversation.  If you think you have something important to say, say it.  When in doubt, refrain.  Turn off your autobots advertising your wares or workshops for a bit.  And above all please remember that you are speaking to people you may not even imagine, whose experience of what has been happening ranges from the loss of an intellectual argument to the loss of a limb to the loss of a loved one.

How does one begin to carry on with one’s life and work when the tide of history overwhelms a society?  I’d like to suggest the answer is, carefully, thoughtfully, humbly and compassionately.

Skyrim Family Values

hearthfire-adoption

In psychotherapy we have grown to have a narrow definition of what it means to prescribe something.  Most of us think of prescription in terms of medication, however if we take this definition, you’ll see why I often prescribe video games:

pre·scribe

/priˈskrīb/
Verb
  1. (of a medical practitioner) Advise and authorize the use of (a medicine or treatment) for someone, esp. in writing.
  2. Recommend (a substance or action) as something beneficial.

(Google, Transmitted from http://bit.ly/XyztcE, 2013)

I have mentioned before my assertion that video games are among other things models of the world, that must both resemble and be distinct from the world to be effective.  Sometimes they are models that present dystopian worlds, and other times they model how things could be if we set aside some of our differences.

The game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is such a game, and one I recommend that therapists who work with a diverse range of families familiarize themselves with.  Like other prescriptions it does have some effects that need to be considered carefully before recommending it to patients.  It is rated M by the ERSB, which is characterized as  “MATURE: Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”  For parents who are very concerned with violence in video games, this one has a range of it:  Set in a quasi-Nordic society, it contains the brutality one would expect there, including a decapitation in the first 10 minutes of the game’s opening.

So what on earth am I thinking in recommending it?

Last week the U.S. and the Supreme Court engaged in public deliberation on Proposition 8 in CA, the repeal of DOMA, and the question of what makes a marriage, and by extension, a family.  As the debate unfolded, the statistics reported indicated that the court of public opinion had already reached a majority about the subject.  The Washington Post reported that 58% of Americans favored gay marriage, the highest percentage of our citizens yet.  And in the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy raised this:

He was alluding to children of parents in same-sex relationships, some of whom are biological offspring, but a substantial number of others who are adopted.  Adopted children often experience marginalization by virtue of their adoptive status, which can in itself be stigmatizing in a world which often give genetics primacy over nurturance.  But the child who is adopted by same-sex parents often faces a double whammy in a world where their family system goes unrecognized if not persecuted.

I’d like to think that at least part of the change in public opinion on gay marriage and families is due to Skyrim.  The video game from its inception has allowed for quest lines that culminate in your proposal, wedding, and marriage to a partner who can either be the same or different sex.  If your character is female and you ask another female character to get married, your experience is one of acceptance.  Later you get married in a ceremony celebrated and witnessed by several people in your community.  Still later you set up house together, and have the experience so many of us have craved, coming home to someone who loves you after a hard days work (or dragon-slaying as the case may be.)  As of last July, 10 million copies of the game had been sold worldwide, so it is not unreasonable to imagine that a large number of these found their way into the homes and minds of U.S. gamers.  So let’s not give Will and Grace all the credit.

When working with patients from adoptive and/or same-sex families, Skyrim can be a valuable resource in providing a model of a world where adoption and gay marriage are accepted and treated with little fanfare as part of life.  Families can use the game as a launch pad for discussion about what makes a family.  Perhaps more importantly, kids, adolescents and adults can enjoy hours of gameplay in a world that celebrates marriage diversity and the family of adoption.  It’s by no means a perfect world, but the benefits of such a video game may outweigh the concerns about gore.  I can tell you that what I hear discussed eagerly by players is not how cool the gore is, but rather how neat it is to be able to be adopted or marry who you want.

Think about how often parents wish their children could understand them better.  Now  your child has the opportunity to imagine themselves choosing a child as they were chosen.  Imagine a LGBTQ adolescent being able to experience choosing to marry who they want regardless of sex.  And imagine a straight person seeing that they aren’t always what “normal” has to look like.  Not medication, but a powerful prescription for what often ails our patients, and our nation.

And then, as I was preparing to write this post, I was bitten by a vampire.

Another common occurrence in the world of Skyrim is encountering a vampire.  In my case, without choosing to, I had been bitten, and within a few days of game play, people in Skyrim began to notice.  At first the shopkeepers would tell me I looked pale.  A day or so later I was told by the guards that I had a hungry look in my eye.  Finally, when my vampirism was no longer concealable everyone turned hostile.  I couldn’t enter any city, including my hometown without being attacked, both verbally and physically.  No matter that I hadn’t hurt anyone yet, I was forced to sneak around everywhere.  I felt frustrated and victimized.  It was a powerful lesson in ostracism.

I wish I could assign Skyrim to every one of my social work students studying diversity and racism.  The game provides a model of a world which provides you with the experience of tremendous acceptance and empowerment, as well as hatred and stigma.  It also shows us models of love and families which we have yet to embrace sufficiently in the United States of America.

There are  38 children in Skyrim who could be parented by a same-sex couple, in CA there are some 40,000 who have been.  In our nation as a whole an estimated 65,000 adopted children are being raised by same-sex parents.  We risk raising a portion of these, our future population, to feel ashamed, marginalized and flawed.

We can do better.

 

Like this post?  I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Epic Supervision Fail

arts-graphics-2008_1186344a

This past week social work colleagues Ericka Kimball and JaeRan Kim had an article published in Social Work entitled: “Virtual Boundaries:  Ethical Considerations for Use of Social Media in Social Work.”  It’s a good article, and more importantly it’s a nice start.  The article discusses if, when and how to use social media ethically.  The authors don’t purport to have a solution to every potential problem that social media poses clinicians, but they have some good suggestions.

I have mixed feelings about the constant yoking of “technology” to “ethics” in our profession.  (In general, not specifically the article above.) It always seems to imply that social media and ethical problems go hand-in-hand.  No other ethics issue, even patient abuse by psychotherapists, gets as much play in our current professional development course offerings, and the irony is that there is evidence to support the much higher prevalence of the latter than the former.  It seems the only way the majority of psychotherapists can get curious about social media is if somebody scares them with the idea of ethical or legal violations.

Is there an ethical dimension to integrating technology into psychotherapy?  Absolutely.  It’s just not the only dimension.  And the problem with always focusing on ethics is it often encourages fear-mongering and contempt prior to investigation.  Part of the problem is that most of the people talking about ethics and technology in clinical practice have little to no experience with the technology side of things.  And as a result, they can’t engage us with ideas and brainstorming, but instead often adopt the fall-back of “you need to be careful.”

The result is that many clinicians get understandably scared:  You told me something is dangerous, and that the only solution is to be careful.  So seasoned clinicians often adopt what I call the “just say no” attitude.  Firewalls go up.  Patients can’t be emailed.  Agencies adopt no-Facebook policies, and in general evoke an air of monasticism.  I have even heard cases where clinicians are told they need to renounce having personal social media.  Though Shalt Not Tweet.

Into this  “just say no” milieu come our trainees.  Many of them are digital natives, and have been wired for technology in a way we digital immigrants may never be.  In many cases they are more digitally literate than we are.  They come into their supervision sessions with questions about cell phones in the office, suicide posts on Facebook, and being followed by patients on Twitter.

And they get “just say no.”

So let’s get real a sec here.

The Pew Internet Research Group states that roughly two-thirds of North Americans are on Facebook.  It, along with other social media, has become a primary source of communication and shaper of culture for our society.  This means that a majority of our trainees and their patients are probably using it.  We can’t just say no.  We can’t just say, “be careful out there.”  Our trainees look to us for supervision, and understanding social media and technology is part of 21st century clinical work.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard horror stories in my classes about how supervisors fail their students this way.  And I get emails detailing, for example,  how a young clinician tried to bring up the positive impact of social media to a supervisor: “I thought her head was going to implode.”

Psychotherapy has a past history of using innovations in technologies to enhance our work, and our theoretical models.  Freud used the newer technologies of hydraulics to explain drive theory.  Similarly, advances in thermodynamic technology helped pave the way for family systems theory.  By now, many of the principles and parallels of those technologies have become so commonplace in our lives and understanding that we don’t even connect them with being familiar with technology.

Historically technology creates a period of suspicion and confusion before integration into culture.  A favorite example of mine is this:

indexAC

Prior to the Gutenberg printing press, books were a much rarer technology.  In the 8th Century, approximately 12,000 books were published in all of Western Europe; by the 18th century that number had risen to 1 billion.  As this technology became cheaper and more easily accessible, literacy rose.  But this was also a time when things got overwhelming.  When you had a handful of books read by a handful of people, the knowledge in them was much easier to locate.  But when the number of books and readers increased, there was an overwhelming amount of information to remember and locate.  The book index was the technology we came up with to solve that problem, but we needed to experience the technology as problematic before a solution was necessary.

Today we take indices, books and literacy largely for granted.  We know how they work, we aren’t afraid of them.  If anyone wanted to hold a workshop on the “Ethical Considerations of Printing” they’d be hard-pressed (heh) to get anyone to attend.

So now we find ourselves faced with a new technology, one as revolutionary in many ways as the printing press.  Only this time we are the generations that need to get used to it and confused by it.  And it’s risky and scary, because we don’t fully understand its implications yet.  But just as we wouldn’t have wanted our ancestors to forbid us to read and write, we need to let our trainees learn how to use the newer technology of social media in our lives and work.  And to do that, we need to learn it too.

This takes time, and it takes someone with expertise to teach you.  So before you hire a consultant, keynote speaker, or workshop presenter to talk about social media or technology in general, ask yourself, and them, these questions:

1. What do you plan to teach me beyond ethics about technology?

2.What strategies can you help me and my agency deploy besides be careful or “Just say no.”

3.What if any experience do you have with technology? Do you use social media? Professionally? Personally?

Just asking potential consultants those 3 questions could save you or your professional organization a lot of money down the line, as well as make the difference between helping you embrace innovation or stagnation.

Like this post?  I can speak in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  And, for only $4.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Nice Everything You Have There: Mindful Minecraft

2013-03-08_22.06.42

Did you know that Minecraft has a lot to teach us about how we pay attention to, get distracted from, and cope with things? Embedded in the design and the lore of the game are nuggets of philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology. From work/life balance to physical and mental health to the meaning of life Minecraft has something to teach us.

That’s why I decided to present on mindfulness and Minecraft this year at SXSW.  If you were there, thanks for coming, but if you weren’t fret not, for David Smith of Austin, TX was kind enough to videotape the event on his iPhone.  David, thanks for your stamina!  The video is broken into 5 parts, and I’ll include the prezi for you to play with as well:

 

 

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

4 Tips For Dealing With Video Game Violence For Parents

See-no-evil-Hear-no-evil-Speak-no-evil-Star-Wars-Stormtroopers3

 

Whenever there is an upsurge in moral panic around violence in the media, the focus becomes more polarizing than pragmatic.  Despite the overwhelming research (such as these articles) that shows weak if any links between video games and violence, media pundits whip up mental health providers and the parents they work with into a frenzy.  Feelings such as a passionate urge to protect children and adolescents are often to intense to be suspended to look at data.  In the midst of all this, moderate and practical ways to address the graphic content of some video games are overlooked in favor of heated philosophical debates.  So for those of you who are parents and/or work with them, here are a few tips and links on how to handle violence in video games:

1. Set console parental controls.  You can set your game consoles to only play games of a certain rating.  If you haven’t done so and are complaining about violence in video games, take some action here.  Here are the how-tos:

XBox Parental Controls

Playstation Parental Controls (Video from CNET

Wii Parental Controls

These are password-protected, and will allow you to set the ratings limits, which brings us to:

2. Know your ratings.  Although I have mixed feelings about the Entertainment Software Rating Board, it’s what we’ve got.  But the ESRB is only as useful if you familiarize yourself with it.  This means not only looking at what each rating means, but using the other resources they have, including mobile tools, setting controls, family discussion guides and other tips for safety.  The message here is that there is more to understanding and moderating access to your child’s gameplay than a rating system, including discussion of in-game content.

3. Make use of graphical content filters.  Many parents, educators and therapists don’t know that a growing number of games have options that can be set to filter out violent graphics, profanity, and alter the experience of game content to a more family-friendly level.  If your child wants a video game, have searching online to see if the game has a GCF be part of the process.  Not only will you be teaching them about consumer choice, but digital literacy as well.  Here are some popular games that have GCFs:

Call of Duty Black Ops 2

Gears of War 3

World of Warcraft

4. MOST IMPORTANT TIP: Parenting has no “settings.”  Parents and educators often want some expert to rely on–don’t try to “park it” that way.  Most games can be rented before you buy them from services like GameFly so you can test drive them.  That’s right, I’m suggesting you play the games yourself so you can make a personally informed decision.  At the very least you should be watching your child play them some of the time, not to be nosy, but because part of your role as a parent is to take an interest in their world.  If you can spend 2 hours going to their Little League game, you can spend an hour watching (if not playing) Borderlands 2.

If you’re an educator or therapist, you’re not off the hook either.  🙂 If you are going to offer opinions on video games and their content, make sure you are playing them.  Chances are you don’t say things like “reading Dickens is dangerous for young minds” if you have never read any of his work.  If you did, you’d probably be out at a book burning rather than reading this blog.  By the same token, don’t presume to opine about video games if you have done nothing to educate yourselves about them.  And please note that asking children about them is a place to start, but by no means sufficient for educating yourself.  If you are a play therapist, please start including 21st century play materials like video games in your repertoire.  And be sure to provide parents with the resources they need to help them make sense of this stuff, such as the resources this post gives you.

Look anyone can have an opinion on video games and violence, but we need practical processes to help people be informed consumers.  This is one parenting issue that has practical, doable options, and is rated “O” for “Ongoing…”

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!