How Many Friends Do You Need?

I am always on the prowl for research, information, or discoveries that might help us better understand social capital and the potency of relationships.  In this quest, a number of years ago, I began to dig deeper into the work of Dr. Robin Dunbar.  He is an evolutionary psychologist who teaches and researches at Oxford in the UK.

Over the years Dunbar has written prolifically on friendships, social capital and social interactions and become famous for developing what is now known as the “Dunbar number.”  In his research, Dunbar has concluded that our friendships evolved to the number, 150.  Anthropologically, this is the core number that defined tribes, villages and such as human beings initiated and evolved. He contends that 150 is the total amount of people with which we can trust and establish obligations.

In fact, Dunbar has articulated that there is a progression in relationships that unfold:

5 is the number of intimate and deep trusted relationships

50 is the number of people with which we can establish good friendships

150 is the number related to social trust and obligation

1,500 is the number of people we recognize by name

In one of his books, "How Many Friends Does One Person Need," Dunbar explores these notions in much greater detail and cites his and other scholars work in making his case.  If you get a minute, google "Robin Dunbar" and check out his TED talk.  You will be fascinated by this perspective.

Lyrics and Life

Often when I do public talks, especially if I am doing a full day session, I like to use music to supplement and compliment the themes we are discussing.  This approach really helps because most training efforts are lecture oriented where the trainer is speaking or sharing concepts and the audience is listening to the themes.  It can be tedious as the audience is calling heavily upon the left side of their brains to synthesize and understand the information.

With music, however, we often call upon the right side of our brains to digest the music and use our creative side in this process.  Beyond this, the music breaks up the didactic influence and broadens the flow - it makes people feel better, more alive and engaged.

Of course, when I do this I make sure I have passed out "song books" that allow the audience to follow along with the lyrics and try to make connections between the theme at hand and how the lyrics relate.  This is especially helpful if I am using a song that is not widely known.

With most of my talks we are looking closely at social capital and the importance of relationships in our lives, so I found a wonderful song, written and performed by Kenny Rankin, titled "Like A Seed."  Now if you are not familiar with Kenny Rankin, he was an amazing singer/songwriter who left us far too soon.  His voice offers a unique 3-octave pitch and you would do well to spend some moments with his work.  In fact, when you finish this blog post, take a moment to google Kenny Rankin and "Like A Seed."

Before you do, however, I wanted to point out some of the beautiful lyrics, and how they relate to importance of home, hearth, and relationships.  I particularly like how the lyrics suggest that awakening to these basic elements of life, which many of us take for granted, are like a paradigm shift.  Here are the key lyrics to "Like A Seed."

"There's a feeling that's lying here sleeping, like a seed in the earth.  There's a new day, a new day and a new way.  We're all gonna rise together, we're all gonna fly forever.  Over all the shiny cities; and there'll be nothing left to hide - all will be known.  We're going home.

Sometimes when this feelin arises, and everything is too much in place.  There's no room to move; and nowhere to run.  We just got to keep our souls free; we just got to live and let it be. Love and trust your sisters and brothers, and there'll be nothing left to hide - all will be known - We're going home!"

The power of music and poetry is found in its simplicity.  The blending of melodies with the unique words chosen can create an amazing gestault, and, in a way, help connect the dots.

What Driving Says About Us

I just finished reading an article by David Brooks titled, "How Would Jesus Drive."  Brooks is often known for his political commentary, but over the years has written about social, cultural, and psychological dimensions.  I have enjoyed his books, "The Social Animal" (2011), "The Road to Character" (2015) and "Bobos in Paradise" (2000).

In this recent column he talks about how driving shows our character; he states: "Driving means making a thousand small moral decisions: whether to tailgate to push the slowpoke faster, or to give space; whether to honk only as a warning or constantly as your all-purpose show of contempt for humanity."  He states: "BMW drivers are much less likely to break for pedestrians at crosswalks. Prius drivers in San Francisco commit more traffic violations. People who think they are richer or better than others are ruder behind the wheel."  Finally he points out: "In short, driving puts you into social situations in which you have to co-construct a shared culture of civility, and go against your own primeval selfishness and it does so while you are encased in what is potentially a 4,000 pound metal weapon."

Brooks points out that driving is governed by laws, but it is also shaped by norms.  It creates an expectation, a communal disposition, so if you are exposed to aggressive driving, you become aggressive.

There is certainly something to be said about all of this.  We all know the headaches associated with rush-hour driving; and in some places, rush hour seems to be every hour.  So we find ourselves doing things that might be horrific in other circumstances, but we think it is ok, a sort of law of the jungle.

Further, as the public discourse becomes more aggressive and bully-oriented (just listen to our elected leaders) we can easily take this to the roads.  In fact we already have with continued incidents of "road rage" and the like.  So the next time you are behind the wheel, think about all of this.  How would Jesus handle driving in this day and age?

Community and Diversity

The concept of community is really a powerful element in our lives.  Quite literally the term community means "with togetherness" and it does more for us than we tend to give credit.  Some anthropologists suggest that community is the primary reason why human beings have not only survived, but thrived as a species.  Certainly as an animal, humans lack many of the acute skills and abilities of physicality to succeed on our own and so by sharing, collaborating and cooperating everyone does better.  This is the history of human success.

Think about it.  In spite of our individual skills or abilities, anyone of us who have experienced success have not realized this totally on our own.  Our success is a compilation of people and experiences with other people that have informed, or inspired, or challenged, or cajoled us into performance or activity that lead to the success we have enjoyed.  From our parents, to teachers, to coaches, to friends, to allies, life is riddled with relationships that have made us better people.

It is this reality that has driven social scientists to come to the conclusion that life success is promoted, not just by our individual skills, but more by the social capital we have developed around us.  Today researchers are convinced that all good things of life; health, happiness, advancement, achievement, and even life expectancy, are directly related to social capital.  Indeed, the term "social capital" is a deliberate effort to remind us that our relationships are tangibly valuable to us.

More, we also know through research and study that the more diverse our social capital is, the more we grow or broaden in our perspective of self and life.  Quite simply, when we build a relationship with someone who has some differences from us, we become more tolerant, and willing to accept or even respect their differences from us.  This is an important, maybe even critical phenomena because we also know that when people have or experience key elements of difference, they are at risk of societal segregation and devaluation.  The antidote for devaluation is to be included in the bigger mix, and so with an inclusive agenda for community, we have an interesting and powerful paradox.

In a simple way this means that people who are different or outside of the community "norm" are at risk of devaluation and segregation.  This happens in a variety of situations, some direct, others more subtle, where people who have some difference from the norm are formally offset.  Yet, when diverse people are welcomed into the greater mix of community, everyone is better off, and grows.

To this end, diversity in community becomes an important variable in promoting a better, more successful collection of people.  That is, when people who have some significant difference from each other (age, race, lifestyle, disability, poverty, etc.) come together around things they have in common, good things happen for everyone.  In this regard, inclusive community should become a goal for all of us.  Essentially diversity and connectedness makes us a better community.

So, where do we start?  How do we shape an inclusive community?  It would seem that the very first step in this process is to think about the elements to a more inclusive community and begin to reach out.  Every journey starts with the first step.  Take time now to reach out to people around you who are different.

What Makes A Good Life

I just finished reading my AARP magazine - it is one of the benefits of growing older - and found an interesting article titled, "What Makes a Good Life."  It summarized the work of Harvard researcher, Robert Waldinger, M.D., the director of Harvard Study of Adult Development.  His entity has been tracking the lives of men for 80 years to find the keys to a more successful life!

Their research is showing that what makes people healthy and happy is both surprising and simple.  They are discovering that the best predictor of your future health and happiness is found in the quality of your relationships at age 50.  They have also found that although alcohol and smoking are the top health threats, loneliness and social isolation ranks nearly as high.

This simple, yet elegant finding that our social capital as we age is key to a better life is, in a way, good news.  If we could focus attention on the ways and means to building stronger relationships we can have greater control over the quality of our lives.  Waldinger goes on to suggest:

* You don't have to have a ton of friends or be a social animal.  You just need to have some close relationships.  It is quality, not necessarily quantity.

* A key indicator to determine a quality relartionship would be to answer the following question: "Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared?"

* If you have a conversation about something you are worried about, your body literally calms down.  These relationships and conversations can lower you blood pressure and stress hormones.

* Negative childhood experiences can have an impact on the quality of relationships, but are not always fully damaging to building social capital.  People can and do adjust over time.

Overall, research has shown that over 2/3's of the maladies that can harm us are ones that we self-inflict by our lifestyle and choices that we make.  Still, the work being done at Harvard, and other think-tanks are promising in that if we work on building social capital and developing important, quality relationships, we can find that illusive path to happiness.

Us and Them

In our work in helping people build more social capital, we know that similarity creates important bridges between people and is the first factor in initiating a relationship.  So finding ways that people are similar becomes a primary strategy in community building.

In fact, this notion of similarity, or things that make us feel connected has some unconscious roots.  I am reading a new book on unconscious behavior titled, "Before You Know It," by John Barge, one of the leading authorities on this topic.  In his book, he states: "It turns out that even the very word "us" is unconsciously positive, and the word "them" is unconsciously negative....In the automatic evaluation experiments conducted in Illinois the word "us" has the same automatic (immediate and unintended) positive effect on people as do words such as "cake, birthday, and Friday," while "them" has the same automatic negative effect as "poison, tornado, and Monday."

When you are one of "us" the stage is set for building a deeper relationship.  All the positive, pro-social aspects associated with being similar are displayed.  For those of us then, advocating for more social capital for people who are socially isolated, we need to move people from being one of "them" to become one of "us."

Unconscious Behavior

I was stuck in a traffic jam on I-80 in Pennsylvania coming back from some training I did at Mansfield State University.  The highway was closed down and we just sat there for 2 hours.  Thank goodness for National Public Radio and their thoughtful programing that helped me keep my sanity that afternoon (yes, I am a regular contributor!).

The program I listened to that day was "Science Friday" with Ira Flato and in this episode he was interviewing John Barge, one of the leading authorities on unconscious behavior.  Barge just released a new book, "Before You Know It," and was recounting some of the studies that have been done recently on unconscious behavior.  It was a fascinating interview, and when I finally got home I ordered Barge's book.

The book is filled with really interesting studies and commentaries on the way we behave.  He looks at how hot beverages have been linked with greater trust; or how more attractive candidates for job openings are favored, even when it is just a photo on a resume.  He explores how "priming" (introducing a notion prior to an encounter) will tilt responses toward the priming topic.  Or how attitudes toward political issues such as immigration can be associated with germs and create a sense of fear in some people.  He reviews studies that show that "baby-faced" adults are more likely to b e found innocent and given lower sentences that are other defendants.  He shows studies that have clearly proven that racially prototypic faces cause the defendant to be treated differently; and cited studies that showed where black defendants who had darker skin received sentences that were on average three years longer than did black defendants with lighter skin who committed the same crime.

He states: "We are all guilty of treating attractive people more favorably and with greater friendliness than we treat less attractive people....In one study, viewing attractive faces alone, without judging them in terms of attractiveness, caused the activation of the participants medial orbitofrontal cortex (reward center of the brain).  We naturally and unconsciously like to see attractive faces; they are rewarding and pleasurable to us.

This is an interesting book.  The unconscious ways we behave can be tracked back to early imprinting and exposures.  We sometimes do things that don't make rational sense, but can be associated to some earlier notion of experience. 

As I listened to the interview with John Barge some of the anger I felt at being stranded on the highway started to make some sense.  I wondered if my anger was tied to an earlier experience of not being tended to as quickly as wanted as an infant.  Or maybe the frustration of feeling trapped on that highway triggered some long lost experience of being trapped in my room as a kid. 

Be that as it may, perhaps the deep frustration I felt in that traffic jam on I-80 bore some fruit after all, as I have really been enjoying Barge's book ever since!

Kids and Brain Injury

I was invited to speak at an International Pediatric Brain Injury Conference that was held recently in Rome Italy.  There were 500 delegates from 43 different nations, gathered together in the "Eternal City," to share the latest research and trends in this penetrating topic.

My keynote focused on the power and potency of social capital, especially for kids.  We know clearly that when disability occurs, people lose much of their social capital.  As friends depart, the social challenges can become more intense.  Add this to the physical and cognitive issues and families can be seriously compromised.  My talk and the importance of social capital went over well.

After my keynote, I had the opportunity to participate in the gathering by attending workshops and panel discussions on childhood brain injury.  There were some illuminating talks.  One thing I learned is the childhood injuries are on the rise, and that sports related brain injuries are one of the major culprits.  I was amazed to learn that at the core of this increase is linked to kids starting contact sports at earlier ages.  Football, hockey, and soccer,  sports where kids can easily injure their brains, all have peewee divisions.  As these kids start sooner, and practice longer, they continue to be exposed to continued aggravation to the brain.

One talk suggested that the worst blows for children to experience are ones to the side of the head.  A blind side tackle, a check into the boards, or a side propelled header all can do much more intense damage to a young brain.  (Actually, to any aged brain!).  And researchers are clear that helmets, even more intense padding in the helmet, do not really help.  Even with a helmet, the brain still floats in the cranium and the impact alone causes damage.

Now we all know that sports reign supreme, and nothing in the US is more popular than football.  Young children (and their families) dream about sports success and the celebrity that this can bring.  Still, we are seeing younger and younger athletes showing signs of brain injuries and one has to wonder where will it all end.

One encouraging fact is that more and more parents, given this information, are directing their children to the non-impact sports.  If more and more families go in this direction, perhaps the contact sports will begin to lose favor, much like boxing has, and we will see a decline in childhood brain injury.



Holidays and Social Capital

A lot of the work we do at CLASS is to help people begin to build more social capital in their lives.  We especially focus on how folks who have significant disabilities, and tend to be more socially isolated, can find connections.  But as the holidays are right around the corner, it is perfect time to think about how we can nurture the relationships we already have in our lives.

To maintain and sustain relationships require work.  We can not take our friends for granite and need to take advantage of any window that might help in this process.  Enter the holidays!  They offer the perfect reason to reach out look for ways you can refresh, or renew a connection.

Certainly holidays can be hectic; but this hectic reality is mitigated by the positive mood most people display at holiday time.  So keep this in mind; think about those important people in your life and find time to reach out.  Get a drink, or sit down to a meal.  Nurture these relationship and surely good things will come back to you.

Guns and Violence

Most of the time I focus this blog on issues related to social capital, community engagement, and inclusion of all people into the community mix.  But sitting in a hotel room tonight, where I am scheduled to speak at a conference tomorrow, and watching the news report on the senseless killings of over 58 people attending a Las Vegas concert has deeply touched me.

It seems that at regular intervals we have these killing sprees in the United States - Columbine, Virginia Tech, Orlando, and Sandy Hook, just to name a few, have cut deep into our psyche.  And when these atrocities unfold, our leaders quickly blame the shooter as being mentally unstable, and stop at that.  Oh, we sometimes give lip service to the role that guns play in violence and to gun control, yet these discussions never really see the light of day.  Perhaps it is because the NRA has a grip on Congress, or because people are quick to bring up the Second Amendment as if any element of gun control will threaten the right to bear arms.

Now I am not a gun control fanatic, but I do feel that we need to have a viable conversation about the totally open, and ubiquitous proliferation of guns in our country.  It is important for us to understand that the violence we witnessed in Las Vegas is but a high point.  We need to recognize that daily, hundreds of violent acts unfold in the United States on the streets and in homes that can only be traced back to the easy access to guns.  Certainly the notion of assault weapons, like the ones used in Las Vegas, have no place in our society.  These weapons are of no use for hunters and sportsman, and are only designed for mass killings found in war.

When will we wake up as a society and begin to act like adults on this serious problem we have in our country.  With sensible discussions and action on this issue we can begin to move forward, as civilized nations should, and we just might save some lives down the road.

What is the Paradigm that Influences You?

As I write this blog, I am attending a conference in Rome Italy, that is focusing in on Pediatric Brain Injury.  I was invited to deliver a keynote on the "Importance of Social Capital as an Antidote to Social Isolation."

Needless to say, the majority of delegates at this international, some 500 folks from 43 nations, are primarily from medically allied disciplines - medicine, psychology, rehabilitation, social work and the like.  So I framed my talk in a fairly broad way, discussing micro and macro implications, and exploring what we know about the impact of social capital on our lives.  It was a fairly generic look at critical topic for us all.

The talk was well received and I was pleased that the audience generally accepted and seemingly agreed with the points I was making.  As the conference proceeded, and especially during the breaks and social time we spent, it was intriguing to me how various people responded to me on what they made out of the talk.  Given that there were 43 countries represented of course there were cultural interpretations.  There were also generational and gender differences that influenced how people thought about relationships.

Most interesting to me, however, where how various disciplines/life experiences reacted to the talk.  The MD's from a framework of health; the psychologist's thinking about behaviors; and on and on.  This notion of how we hear and interpret things, and especially those things that are broad and sweeping, primarily from our paradigm of influence.

This, of course, makes sense and seems quite natural in the course of things, but may also be the reason why change takes so long to unfold.  If you hear something that goes against the grain of your paradigm, it could be the reason why new things often don's see the light of day. 

Family Engagement Patterns - What We Need To Learn

We know that developing more social capital in our lives is tied to many good things like better health, deeper happiness, and even life expectancy.  We also know that developing social capital is tied to our engagement patterns in the community.  As we get involved in things, and meet new people, these relationships begin to impact our lives.  Some of these new relationships deepen, others end rather quickly, and still others linger but don't get much deeper than superficiality.

Given the importance of engagement in the social capital process, we have gotten interested in how people actually learn how to "engage."  As there are no formal classes or tutoring in this topic, it seems evident that we learn engagement by observing our families and friends as they connect with others.  We watch our parents and other family members first in social situations, and then in more formal activities such as church, school, and other such settings.

In thinking about this our organization CLASS ( has partnered with Chatham University in Pittsburgh to explore the engagement patterns of families who have children with disabilities compared to families whose children do not have disability labels.  We are curious to see if there is any fundamental difference in these 2 cohorts.  To explore this topic we are using the Social Capital Benchmarking Survey established at Harvard University and used to explore individual engagement patterns.  Given our anecdotal experiences with families who have children with disabilities, we think that there will be a significant disparity in engagement patterns, but won't know for sure until we analyze all the data.

Given that we do know that adults with disabilities engage less, we think that the root of this disparity might be due to the fact that their families engaged less, and they had limited exposure to the engagement process.  We are now doing the data analysis in our study and will soon be able to report our findings.  Keep an eye on this blog and when we have the data ready we will report it to you.

Quotes from Cultural Shifting

I reported earlier that 2017 is the 15th anniversary of my third book, "Cultural Shifting" (TRN Press, 2002).  To celebrate this benchmark, I have been re-reading the book, and assessing how well the construct of the book holds up today.  It is my impression that the book still holds water, though I must admit my bias.  Still, as I read it over I was drawn to the quotes that I use in all of my books to underscore concepts or points I am trying to make.  I thought I would share some of these quotes with you in this blog.

"The great people of culture are those who had a passion for diffusing, making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best ideas of their time."  Matthew Arnold.

"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."   Margret Mead.

"The great law of culture is, let each become all that he was created capable of being."      Thomas Carlyle.

"Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.  "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "So I can't take more."  "You mean you can't take less" said the Hatter, "It's very easy to take more than nothing."   Lewis Carroll.

"The behavior of an individual is determined not by their background, but by the character of their ancestry and cultural environment."   Franz Boas

"You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough."  William Blake.

"Turn and face the strange changes."  David Bowie.

"Much of life's circumstances are created by three basic choices: The disciplines you keep; The people you choose to be with; and The laws you choose to obey."  C. Millhoff.

"No great improvement in the lot of mankind is possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought."  J.S. Mills.

"The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings."    Albert Schweitzer.

If you are interested in seeing the context of these quotes with concepts of culture or community, track down a copy of "Cultural Shifting."  You can find some used copies at for only a few dollars.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Relationships and Drugs

I received an interesting article from one of my friends in Brisbane Australia, Ryan.  I met Ryan while working with the good folks from Mamre, an amazing organization serving folks with disabilities and their families in Queensland.  When I was last there in Feb., I did a presentation for Mamre staff on some of the newer developments in the field of social capital.

The article Ryan sent me by Johann Hari, author of the acclaimed book, "Chasing the Scream," summarized efforts to look at the root causes of drug addiction.  Hari highlighted an interesting study that was actually done in the 70's by a professor of psychology in Vancouver BC by the name of Bruce Alexander.  He was intrigued by previous studies that exposed rats, alone in cages, to 2 types of water for consumption.  One of the water sources was plain, but the other was laced with cocaine.  These studies found that the isolated rats turned to the drugged water as their primary source and most of them drank it until they died.

Alexander decided he would try a twist on this effort, so he build a "rat park" which was a lush cage where the rats had good food, tunnels to run through, colored balls, and plenty of other rats to play with and relate.  He also put 2 types of water, the same that was done with the initial experiments, plain, and cocaine laced.

Of course the rats tried both waters as they had easy exposure, but what happened next amazed Alexander.  The rats who had a good life in the "rat park" didn't like the drugged water - and most of them began to ignore it.  But Professor Alexander went further with the study.  He took rats that were in the solo environment, and had become hooked on the drug-laced water, up to 57 days of addiction, and then put them into the "rat park" with the happy rats.  This move from isolation/addiction back to the "rat community" began to change the addicted rats.  Although they had some withdrawal symptoms, soon they began to shun the drug-laced water and went back to having a normal life.

In digesting this study there are some messages.  Certainly rats are different than humans, but there is a powerful similarity.  That is, neither of us do well in isolated situations.  Efforts over the years that have looked at social isolation for humans conclude that it (social isolation) is as lethal as smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day!

People (and apparently rats) need each other and when they build social capital their lives are better.  This should be instructive for all of us - so, work to build a good "human park" with good food, and things to play with, and plenty of other people to relate to and your life will certainly improve!


Another Story from Dever

Folks who have some familiarity with my blog, know that from time to time I share some stories from my friend, Larry Tummino.  As a long time advocate for the liberation of people with disabilities who have been institutionalized, Larry and his colleagues have chronicled stories from folks who lived for many years at the Paul A. Dever State School, a large setting for folks with intellectual disabilities in Taunton, MA.  Dever, like most of these institutions set up all over the United States to "care" for people with disabilities, was closed in 2002.  In spite of their intentions, most of these institutions became brutal and unbearable settings, where the residents were treated worse than most anyone might imagine.  The monograph, "We Bear Witness" was compiled by Larry and his colleagues so that we would not forget the horrors of institutionalization.

Here is a piece by Jim Ross, dedicated to his friend Peter, who lived at Dever, at perhaps its lowest point:

From horror to horror.  Peter was brutalized at home as a child, chained in a room and forced to eat and sleep on the floor.  When authorities discovered him, his salvation was to enter a system that included Dever in its most awful days.  When asked about those days, Peter just shakes his head and repeats, like a mantra to keep away evil spirits, "You have no idea; you just have no idea!"

You'd think that Peter's life would have destroyed him, that he would have retreated inward or attacked everything and everyone around him.  There are, I know, many scars on and in Peter, but he has become a gentle and accomplished man.  He is a longtime and valued employee at a local company, making more money than the people hired to provide him modest supports.  His co-workers are involved deeply in Peter's life.  He owns his own condo, living - by choice - by himself.  Peter's will has an inspirational provision:  when he dies, a scholarship fund in his name will be established at the local High School.  It will be used to help college-bound students with disabilities.  Peter is one of my heroes.

The Targets of Hate

Like most of you, I have been deeply troubled by the rise of "hate" in our culture.  More, I have been saddened (and appalled) by the lack of moral leadership and skewed perspective of President Trump in all of this.

We know that hate, and those who promote it, have always been at the fringes of society....and as a society that values free speech, we have from time to time had to listen to this venom.  Still, we all know that there is a clear line that separates the vast majority of us from those that espouse hateful rhetoric; and that these folks should remain in the shadows of society.

But now, given the lack of moral clarity of our President, these ugly messages have drifted into our mainstream and are hurtful, harmful, and incredibly embarrassing for us as a country on the world stage.  Rather than a beacon for freedom and liberty, we have become a divided and confounded nation.

What is particularly concerning for me, as a disability advocate, is that hate spreads.  That is, if we hear these messages of hatred towards different races, religions, or places of origin, then those with disabilities are at risk of being the next target.  Hate is a polarizing phenomena, and if one group can be hated, it becomes easier to hate others.

Enough of this madness.  There must be a clear line in our society that we will not tolerate those that hate!  Take a stand, sound off.  We must hold our President's feet to the fire.  If he tolerates, and in a tacit way endorses these hateful views, he should be removed from office.

Cultural Shifting - 15 Years Later

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of my book, "Cultural Shifting," which was the last of a trilogy I had designed earlier in my career.  I was convinced then, as I am now, that the key to success in the community for people with disabilities is found in the "macro" side of the equation.  That is, in rehabilitation you canfocus on the "micro" which looks at the individual and ways they can function better (think therapy); or you can put attention on the "macro" which looks at the world around the individual and how changes can happen there.

My first book, "Interdependence: The Route to Community," (1991 - 1995) compared and contrasted the micro and macro aspects.  I followed this book up with "Beyond Difference," (1996) which explored the key aspects of community change.  These 2 books, then set the stage for the last of the trilogy, "Cultural Shifting," (2002) that focused attention on culture, community, and leadership to promote change.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, I recently re-read "Cultural Shifting," and felt good about how well the book holds up, all these years later.  Publishers call this "shelf life," and it seems that this fits for "Cultural Shifting."  The book examines the macro aspects of culture, community, and how change applies to these concepts.

Cultural Shifting was originally published through TRN Press and can be tracked at if any of you are interested in taking a look.  Although I have since written 4 more books, I still feel such an important kinship to my first 3 books, and especially with "Cultural Shifting."

Social Intelligence

Social scientists are quite convinced that of all the types of intelligence we possess, the one most associated with life success is Emotional Intelligence (EQ) or social intelligence.  This is the ability to recognize that our behavior affects others around us and can account for how we are received in social situations.  It seems that we all know people who are highly intelligent, yet can't quite get along with other people.  In a simple analysis, these folks lack social intelligence.

This topic of social intelligence has been on my mind as I prepare for a training session I will be doing soon designed to look a bit deeper at the notion of social capital.  How do we learn "social intelligence?"  Most of us never take classes on this topic, yet, in preparing for life success, as measured through relationship success, social intelligence seems to be the key ingredient.

So I have begun to identify aspects related to social intelligence - or the behaviors that make us socially attractive to other people.  My lens for this task has been my own perspective in social discourse - what kind of person do I find to be socially attractive.  Here are a couple of the items I have chronicled.  As you review this list, let me know what items I might have missed.

*  Be nice to everyone you meet                *  Be positive, even in hard situations

*  Don't talk only about yourself                 *  Don't correct people in public

*  Never put others down                            *  Be the first to smile, say hello, shake hands

*  Always take the high road                       *  Never talk down to anyone

*  Never laugh at another's misfortune       *  Look as nice as possible, even in casual situations

These are but a few of a long list I have been assembling, but I wonder what you think about this topic.  What are the things that make people socially attractive to you?


Reading: The Road to Literacy

I just got back from a week at the beach.  We went to Sandbridge Beach, just south of Virginia Beach and it has been a respite for my family and our friends since our first visit there in 1974 - and this year, as in the past, it did not disappoint.

We had a wonderful week with our friends around food, sun, surf, and some cold beverages!  I had a chance to golf a couple 3 rounds, and caught up on some long overdue reading, finishing 3 excellent books.  There is nothing that baits the intellect like sitting by the sea with a good book.

This vacation got me thinking about the importance of reading.  It has been said that the literate person should be reading 25 to 50 books a year - and - that the majority of this reading should be outside of your field of specialty.  The diversity of reading is thought to push the intellect and to stimulate a broader perspective on life.

I try to read as much as I can, but I must admit, I am not averaging 25 books per year.  In fact, I saw a statistic that suggests that most Americans (and I suspect this might be true in other countries as well) don't read ANY books at all after they get out of school.  

Now I am sure that if this statistic is accurate it might be influenced by a number of factors.  Certainly we know that newspaper reading is down significantly, with many people choosing to get their news online, or via television.  Perhaps it may also be due to the declining discipline that seems to be present.  Reading a book does take discipline and time - time that many people say they do not have.

Whatever the reason, it is a sad state of affairs.  This decline in literacy has an impact on a society and a culture.  When people do not exercise their intellect, or chose lower discipline ways to think about things around us, I think we decline as a civilization.

So, how many books have you read this past year?

Another Story from Larry

A couple blogs back, I posted a blog of a story sent to me by my friend Larry Tummino, who is a long time disability advocate with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in Massachusetts.  In his years advocating for people with disabilities he has chronicled these experiences in a book and I wanted to post another of his stories, with his permission, of course.

The Book Club

At a recent conference on Shared Living there was a panel consisting of caregivers, agency staff and individuals being supported who shared their stories about how people came to live together and what life has been like for all involved.  A women named Joan raised her had and shared the following:

I am involved in a book club that meets regularly at the library.  My daughter who also lives with me will stay home with Mary so I can attend.  Mary is in her seventies and is deaf and blind.  One day my daughter wasn't able to do that for me.  I asked Mary (using hand signing) if she would like to come to the book club with me.  Mary quickly asked, "do they have anything to eat?"  I said, "we always have cookies and coffee" to which she quickly replied, "I want to go."  So off we went.  Mary sat next to me and munched away but also occasionally signing with me to find out what people were saying about the book.

When we got home my daughter was back and Mary could not wait to tell her about the book club.  She said (hand signing) "there was a story about a woman who had left home at a young age and did not return until her father was dying."  She went on to say it was just like her - she left home and went to a school (Ferndale Institution) and did not see her father until he was almost dead.

Now Mary goes to book club with Joan all of the time.  And other people in the group are asking how hand signing works........