Thursday, July 30, 2009


Maslow defines his fourth level of needs as 'Esteem' needs. Manfred Max-Neef's labels his 'fourth' level as 'Understanding' needs. Different, but I see them as related in that understanding often leads to esteem. But there are different meanings of understanding--besides understanding each other, there are ways of understanding the world. In this segment, I am going to look at education as a need and a way of understanding the world.

In some senses, in order to survive in the world, we need at least some type of education. Our parents, other adults, and even older children often teach us things we need to know. Hopefully we keep learning as an adult. I thought I mentioned spending time alone in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in an earlier post (but I can't find it). This was when I realized that I would never really be alone because everything I did out there, I learned from someone else. This is what education is really about. The idea of lifelong learning is really true--we can and should be learning as long as we are alive.

There are many ways of learning, both for children and adults. I am not going to take sides in the home schooling vs public school debate--there are things to be said for both. The big issue is what and how is each child learning. In a sense, even a child who goes off to school, is also (hopefully) home schooled--in the sense that they won't stop learning when they are not in school.

At some point I want to write a whole segment on education--how to change public consciousness and behavior in order to achieve real social change. (I began this blog with a post that talked about the slogan 'Agitate, educate, organize'. I've critiqued the left's overemphasis on agitating, and talked quite a bit on organizing--in fact, this whole section on needs can be seen as what we need in order to do some effective reorganizing--but I haven't gotten it together to do a massive exploration of education. I think it's going to be quite a while yet before I take that on.)

I've tried to include some useful material on education in the resource section, but a book I won't include (unfortunately) is Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I love the ideas in it and hate how it's written. The book is too academic to recommend to a general audience. But Freire's concepts are great: the view of much schooling as a 'banking' view of education (putting in a deposit of facts that can be withdrawn later) and the need for teaching critical thinking. He pointed out that true radical education doesn't mean replacing the slogans of the right with the slogans of the left--it means teaching people to think for themselves.

Education is a real need--for our children (and their children) as well as for each of us. If this society, as we know it, collapses, we will still need education. Of course, what we will be learning may be quite different, but it will be education nevertheless. It makes sense for each of us to learn what we can and pass it on.

Education for Liberation Network--A 'coalition of teachers, community activists, youth, researchers and parents' interested in education for social justice
Free Skool--Information on the anarchist based 'Free Skool' movement
Jan and Jason Hunt, The Unschooling Unmanual--A book of stories and essays on 'unschooling', a curriculum-free method of home schooling, that is 'child directed'; the book is available through The Natural Child Project
The International Association for Learning Alternatives--An organization dedicated to promoting choices and alternatives in education
The National Home Education Research Institute--An organization devoted to studying homeschooling and making research information available
SkillShare Austin and Boston Skillshare--Local attempts to have people educate each other; a great way to learn new things; I went to the last Boston Skillshare, had a blast, and learned a lot; I highly recommend it

Quote of the Day: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

Monday, July 27, 2009

To Be of Use

Part of having self-respect and getting respect from others is about, not only respecting others, but helping others and doing work that is useful and meaningful. I believe that each of us wants to do things that make a difference--and as we do them, we feel better about ourselves.

Of course, doing meaningful income producing work in today's economy is a near impossibility. A friend of mine recently quoted me lyrics from a song we both knew: "Your life is more than your work and your work is more than your job..." (I can't find the song on the internet but I'm pretty sure the folk group Bright Morning Star recorded it and maybe someone in the group wrote it.) Our real work seldom gets paid but it may be the most useful things that we do.

Of course this is all related to my post last month on 'People Who Need People' (6/6/09). I think that helping others is some of the more useful work that can be done; other than trying to make the world a better place (aka Social Change) which, of course, really does help others, if not directly then in the long run. What I'm saying here is that being useful not only feels good, but I believe it's a basic human need.

Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, How Can I Help?--I mentioned this book in my resources to my 'People Who Need People' post; it's full of challenging and sometimes helpful guidance; a very condensed, 'digested' version is available online and though I think it may be out of print, the book is available from used book stores as well as Ram Dass Tapes
Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin, Your Money Or Your Life--A program for achieving financial independence that deals with the way that consumerism ruins our lives and the earth and advocates nine steps to increase financial security--I mentioned this in my resources to my post on 'Protection from Poverty' (6/18/09)
William Morris, "Useful Work versus Useless Toil"--An 1896 analysis of what work is actually useful, as opposed to what benefits the capitalist system instead of people (also on the internet here)
Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow--A guide to developing 'Right Livelihood'
Barbara Sher, I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was--A motivational guide to figuring out what you really want to do

Quote of the Day: "The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies... The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real." - Marge Piercy

Friday, July 24, 2009

Respect from Others

As this finishes up my trilogy of respect I am realizing it makes a triangle (or a circle) when you connect respect from others to self-respect. When you respect yourself, you can respect others; as you respect others, they will respect you; as you get respect from others, it increases your self-respect. This is what I call a positive feedback loop.

I mentioned in the last post that respect is one of the intangibles that we are not going to run out of--the more you give the more you get, making it an abundant resource. (For those who have started reading this recently, or who have gotten lost in all the details I am providing and have forgotten what this whole segment is about: because we are approaching a time when many things won't be abundant, I am trying to list all the things that I think we really need, and at this point I am a little over halfway through.)

Each of us does better as we get respect from others. But respect, as many people have pointed out, is something you earn. As we respect others and do good things, others will respect us. This won't be true for everyone, however, and hopefully we will have enough self-respect that if we know we are being helpful and treating others well, if they return our kindness with spite, this is about them and not about us. While respect from others in necessary, when this has grown into healthy self-respect, it isn't easily shaken.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People--Again, the fifth habit, "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood", mirrors the way I think this works--you should also seek first to respect others before you expect respect
Steve Hein, 'Respect'--A page full of lots and lots of resources on respect; the link to info about Jane Bluestein is especially worth a look (she is full of ideas about teaching respect in schools)
Please Respect Me--A page with ideas on earning respect, the differences between respect and fear, and respect and politeness, as well as quotes about respect

Quote of the Day: "When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us." - Arapaho Proverb

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Respect for Others

As I pointed out in my last post, I think that self-respect is related to respect for others. Because of this, I just changed the order of this post and the next. Including the last post it makes a triology of respect, and now in this order: self-respect, respect for others, and respect from others. Which makes sense to me, because I think you need to respect yourself before you can really respect others, and you need to respect others before others will really respect you.

As I said in my last post, I'm an egalitarian which, in this case, means I believe in giving a basic measure of respect to all people equally. I've been studying Buddhist notions of compassion which involve treating all people equally, even those who harm others or want to do you harm. It doesn't mean not stopping them from harming others (Chögyam Trungpa calls this 'idiot compassion'), but it does mean to respect them as another human being. (Sharon Salzberg tells the story of being accosted during a wet weather period in India by a man out to do her harm. When she later told this to a monk who had been teaching her, he suggested that she should have grabbed her umbrella and "with all the loving-kindness in your heart" hit him over the head with it.) On the other hand, there are certainly people who earn a great deal of respect from me for what they do and how they treat others.

In some societies, not being shown respect is an insult that deserves retaliation. As mentioned in the last post, studies have shown that when gang members don't feel respected they often resort to violence. There is talk about being 'dissed' (disrespected). But when people feel respected, there is the possibility of dialogue and connection.

Respecting others, as I said in the beginning, leads to being respected. As we spread respect through the world, we improve it. I was at a meeting last night where we were talking about the phenomenon of 'Peak Everything' (see my post of 7/20/09) and I pointed out that Richard Heinberg (who wrote a book on the subject) says there are quite a few things that aren't peaking and are not going to peak. Most are intangibles like community and ingenuity. It occurs to me that respect is one of those things as well. The more of it you give out, the more of it there will be. Truly we can create an abundance of respect.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People--The fifth habit is to "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood", which I think is the way respect should work; people who feel understood often feel respected
Sana Farid, "Respect"--An essay on the importance of respect in negotiations and peace making
Rick Garlikov, "Disrespect and Disproportionate Retaliation"--A look at the consequences of not giving others respect
RespectResearchGroup--A European group of scientists and researchers studying the topics of respect and disrespect

Quote of the Day: "Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect." - U Thant

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

This begins a section on what Abraham Maslow called 'Esteem Needs'. I'm going to look at three different needs around respect, beginning with self-respect.

Self-respect, self-esteem, self-worth, self-regard, self-confidence, and self-integrity are all used to describe this process. (I am indebted to Wikipedia's article on Self-esteem for many of the ideas I talk about in this post.)

The concept of self-esteem has become controversial over the last few years. Teaching kids self-esteem, by itself, won't lead to better grades. And at least one researcher has found that bullies and violent criminals often have high opinions of themselves. I think it's telling that one of the findings was that violence often occurs when those opinions are challenged. How solid of a sense of self-worth is it when you need to act out when someone threatens your self-esteem?

Self-esteem, in my view, is quite different from hubris and arrogance. The criminals and bullies in the study were convinced of their superiority to others. I don't view this as self-esteem.

I'm an egalitarian; I don't think anyone is superior or inferior to anyone else. For me, self-esteem is all about realizing our basic self-worth and that each of us has worth. What increases self-respect is when we do things that benefit others and make the world better. When we act out of integrity and take responsibility for our actions.

I'm convinced that self-respect is totally intertwined with the next two versions of respect: respect for others and respect from others.

Nathaniel Branden, "Our Urgent Need For Self-Esteem"--A bit of a business model view of self-esteem from one of the 'gurus' of the movement but it contains his formulation of the 'Six Pillars of Self-Esteem' and what I like about it is his inclusion of words like 'integrity' and 'responsibility'; it's not just about feeling good about yourself (and, yes, I know, he's an unabashed libertarian)
Richard Carson, Taming Your Gremlin--This "Guide to Enjoying Yourself" certainly can help build self-esteem (and help deal with the 'gremlins' out to destroy it); great cartoons and a very useful piece of advice repeated throughout the book: Simply Notice, Choose and Play with Options, and Be in Process; if you can master that it will surely increase your confidence
Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People--Being effective is certainly an esteem builder and this book lays it on the line; looks at the difference between simply having a 'positive mental attitude' and really working on character development
Lack of Self-Confidence--A Buddhist view on self-esteem
Virginia Satir, Making Contact--Contains a section on self-esteem, which includes her five freedoms: 'To see and hear what is here, To say what one feels and thinks, To feel what one feels, To ask for what one wants, and To take risks on one's own behalf'; Virginia Satir also wrote a book called Self-Esteem

Quote of the Day: "Self-esteem is the center of all our being and it is essential to living a free life." - Virginia Satir

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Social Gatherings

This is a rough one for me because I am an introvert and avoid parties and such whenever possible. Yet, I know the value of social gatherings as a way to build connection. I've often gone to political demonstrations as much to see people I know (that I know will be there) as to support the cause. And I have been going to many meetings and gatherings over the last couple of years as a way to meet people who have my values. (As I have put it in the past, I don't always enjoy doing it, but I keep going.)

One of the main types of social gatherings is various forms of celebration. I think there is a human need to celebrate with others--sometimes with those you know and sometimes with those you don't know. When a political milestone is reached (an election, the end of a war, when the Berlin wall came down), when a sports team wins, or when some unexpected, joyful thing happens (captives are freed, a person in difficulty is rescued, etc) there is often spontaneous celebrations in the streets. Here it is reinforcing that lots of people you don't know are also celebrating this event.

Social gatherings also include sports events, concerts and music festivals (from Woodstock to Lollapalooza), and the theatre, and often includes things like protests and marches (as I mentioned above), meetings of all kinds, and church services. In the latter examples, the focus is on something different, but in addition to their primary purpose, these are all social gatherings--ways to connect people and make them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Some big events that I've been to in the last few years include WitchCamp and Starwood. Both of them were growth experiences for me--and, I think, for many of the participants.

We need social gatherings in order to grow and connect with others. They are reaffirmations of our interconnections and a taste of community. In fact, for many people, they are community.

Burning Man--The organizers call it "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and self-reliance"; it happens each year for a week in the Nevada desert and has become famous (perhaps infamous) for its art and culture; the organizers also claim that when it's over they leave "no trace whatsoever"
How to Socialize Smoothly--Mostly useful advice for the shy and introverted about how to socialize at gatherings; I don't endorse all the advice, particularly the idea you should get your clothing at "K-Mart, Target, and Walmart" (!!!)--please don't!
List of largest peaceful gatherings in history--Wikipedia entry enumerating some huge social gatherings
Carolyn Pogue, Treasury Of Celebrations--An anthology of ideas on how to create celebrations "that truly nourish the human spirit, express our solidarity with all the earth's people, and respect the environment"
Rainbow Gathering--An annual event organized by a leaderless group known as
Rainbow Family of Living Light; it is held at the beginning of July each year on public land, usually a National Forest; while this group has no official positions, they emphasize love, peace, non-violence, non-consumerism, non-commercialism, consensus decision making, and diversity; the US Forest Service is not always delighted about the event
Nancy Twigg, Celebrate Simply--A sourcebook on making holidays and other celebrations less expensive and exhausting; "a journey to simpler celebrations expressive of your values and unique personality"

Quote of the Day: "At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha, a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. ...
"I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal... should demand the denial of life and joy." - Emma Goldman (Apparently this passage is the source of the quote she never actually said about if she couldn't dance...)

Sunday, July 12, 2009


This is a subject I've posted on early and often. I've done posts on Communities and Cooperatives (10/6/08), Intentional Communities (10/8/08), Communes and Communism (10/10/08), Egalitarian Communities (10/22/08), Community and Individuality (11/27/08), and Utopian Communities and New Religious Groups (in the nineteenth century--on 1/25/09). And when I'm not focusing on communities in a post, I will often end by suggesting that community is part of the answer to whatever the problem is (see, for example, my posts of 5/28/09 and 6/6/09). I think part of my reason is that this society is so focused on individualism and making it on our own that we need community to balance this out.

I think that community is a real need in any society but in this society, where an emphasis on 'have it your way' and 'do your own thing' just creates isolation, people are sometimes desperate for it. And creating community isn't easy to do. (Often I look at advertisements for very idiosyncratic, precisely described communities and I am not surprised to find out at the end of the description that the current population of the community is one person--or sometimes two, including a persuaded partner.) One of my common comments is that you need people to build community.

I know. I am currently searching for people to build community here in New England--and navigating that balance between defining it so broadly that it won't really meet my needs and defining it so tightly that no one else would want to live in it. The last intentional community I lived in fell apart when a few members moved out and we couldn't find people who wanted to join us.

The other balance in my life is between looking for a more intentional community and trying to create community with the people I am currently living with. There are degrees of community, and certainly we could all live at least a little more communally--even if you live alone, you can get to know your neighbors and find people that you can share resources with.

Between our own ingrained individualism and the constant reinforcing of the rugged individualism of this society, it's not surprising that it's hard to create community. But the need is there, and if we can listen to each other and commit to working through the inevitable conflicts, community truly is possible.

Diana Leafe Christian, Creating a Life Together--A source book on creating community (the subtitle is "Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities") by a long-time editor of Communities magazine
Diana Leafe Christian, Finding Community--A handbook for the community seeker; how to research, visit and evaluate intentional communities
Debora Hogeland, Widening the Circle--Stories of community living by someone who has lived that way for over seventeen years
Eric Raimy, Shared Houses, Shared Lives--More than a bit outdated, this book looks at co-op houses as a kind of "middle-class commune"; does have information on conflict, chores, and house meetings (the nitty-gritty of living together)
Carolyn R. Shaffer and Kristin Anundsen, Creating Community Anywhere--Looks at all kinds of community, including intentional community

For additional resources, see my posts on Communal and Cooperative Resources (10/12/08) and Intentional Communities (10/8/08)

Quote of the Day: "We have all known the long loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community." - Dorothy Day (Thank you, Robyn, for this quote!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009


People have all sorts of experiences with families. What kind of experience often depends on the kind of family they grew up with. There is also the kind of family that they want to create or are creating--which is influenced by the kind of family they grew up in. As a result, families can be havens of safety or hotbeds of disfunction and abuse.

There are many kinds of families. I want to look at three in particular: the nuclear family, the extended family, and the chosen family.

Nuclear families is what western society currently encourages--two adults, married, in a monogamous relationship, living together and often raising kids. In this isolated, individualistic society, they are often totally dependent on each other, stuck together and sometimes feeling trapped. The joke is that it's called the nuclear family because it's so explosive.

Extended families are the more traditional families, where several generations live together, often with aunts, uncles, cousins--nearby, if not in the same house. There is more kin to mingle with, which can be good or bad. Sometimes it may feel like they're all there watching out for each other, and sometimes it may feel like you can't get away from them.

Chosen family is what it says, family that you choose. This isn't always wonderful; Karen Lindsay points out: "Sometimes the chosen family mirrors the worst of biological families: The patriarchal power, the crippling dependency, the negation of the individual selves that can exist in a secure framework. Charles Manson was the leader of a chosen family; so was Jim Jones."

In truth, any of these three kinds of families can be healthy, good for people, or can be a horror show. What makes the difference? Little things like love, caring, and listening to each other. Even if everything in this society falls apart and we need to create something new from scratch, I think families will be part of the mix--and the families we create will still depend on what we bring to them.

Family Equality Council--An online resource for GLBT families
Karen Lindsey, Friends as Family--A book about chosen family which explores a variety of ways family can be created; includes a chapter on 'Negative Chosen Familes'
Marriage & Family Processes--A sociological view on what the family is; it notes the controversies regarding types of families and contains a massive amount of links and references for those who want to explore more
Mike Martelli, "Network Therapy"--An article on a tool that emerged from Family Therapy that involves looking at extended family and social networks; much more information can be found in the books Family Networks (by Ross Speck and Carolyn Attneave) and Networking Families in Crisis (by Uri Rueveni); the original authors talk about 'Retribalization' (recreating 'tribes' or family networks) and its potential beyond family therapy is indicated by a postscript to this technical article: "In the broader context, as considered by Speck, political & social issues and problems may be appropriate for a retribalizing of persons sharing similar concerns. In this sense, the anti-war movement of the late 60's & early 70's, the anti-'nuke' movement of the 80's, and other issues capable of enlisting social concern & activism are serving to fortify supportive bonds between people. Ultimately, one may wish to extend this network conceptualization to it's fullest macrosocial application & envision a retribalization of the whole planet..."
Eric Raimy, Shared Houses, Shared Lives--Another book on chosen families (the subtitle is "The New Extended Families and How They Work"), this one shading into looking at communities, the subject of the next post
United Nations Programme on the Family--An agency within the UN devoted to exploring 'family issues'; they appreciate the diversity of families and promote the equality of women and men within families

Quote of the Day: "In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." - Alex Haley

Monday, July 6, 2009


I realize now that my posts should have been in a different order. This post should have come first, then the post on intimacy (and possibly followed by the post on touching and sex).

Most people have more friends than intimates. That's because we share with friends but we share more deeply with those we are intimate with. On the other hand (and this is one of the reasons this post should have been first) friendship usually blossoms before intimacy. I think that intimate relationships often develop out of friendships and that friendships come first. (My partners have first and foremost been friends, and sometimes, when a relationship isn't sustainable, return to being friends. There is nothing wrong with being 'just friends'.)

Of course, friendship and intimacy are on a spectrum. People often talk about having close friends and then other friends, and with close friends there is a greater degree of trust and intimacy (although not as much as with our 'intimates'.) I think that there is a need for friends and friendship, to let us know that we are connected with others and important to others.

The Wikipedia article on Friendship notes that friendship has declined in the US over the last twenty years and probably longer. This is particularly true among men.

One of the reasons cited is homophobia--in this case men's fear of being close to other men. While I think that's true, I also think it has to do with male behavioral patterns in general--both emotional limitations and fear of male violence. I know gay men who have sexual relationships with other men but not emotional relationships, often being more intimate with women than men, so it isn't simply homophobia keeping men apart. (This, of course, is a generality; there are lots of gay men and even some heterosexual men who can get close to other men.)

On the other hand, friendships between heterosexual men and women can also be problematic in this society. I've heard people actually claim that it's not possible for close, nonsexual relationships to exist between heterosexual women and men--something I don't believe is true. (As a bisexual man, I have close, nonsexual relationships with a variety of men and women.)

Let's be honest, close friendships of any type are not supported by this society. In this society consumerism replaces relationships--the marketplace is where you are supposed to get your 'needs' met. And I think if we had more close friendships, we wouldn't need as much stuff. (I know I've said this before, but I don't think I can say it enough.)

The Friendship Page--A website devoted to friendship with lots of information on it
How to Make Friends--An online manual giving step by step instructions; for some people this is necessary
Karen Lindsey, Friends as Family--This book connects with what I will be writing on my next post, on Family, where I will mention that just as the lines between intimacy and friendship blur, so do the lines between friendship and family; here Karen Lindsey explores the connections
Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty--The biography of a friendship
Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone--A book that pointed out the rise of individuality and the collapse of social networks; it also made people aware of the term 'Social Capital' & only in a capitalist society could friendship be turned into social capital

Quote of the Day: "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." - Anais Nin

Friday, July 3, 2009


Here I'm talking about moving beyond physical affection/connection/intimacy to emotional intimacy, being able to open up with another person and create a deep connection. I'm talking about relationships with a big R.

Intimacy implies vulnerability--which means that safety and security need to be present in order for us to be intimate. We crave this kind of connection but because of how vulnerable it makes us, most of us are also scared of it.

As I have said or implied in many previous posts, our current society takes this desire for intimacy, relationship, connection and uses it to try to sell us stuff we don't need. Creating real intimacy is a difficult but rewarding path. It means taking risks and getting close to people. It means getting hurt, again and again, and still reaching out and trying to get close.

Somewhere I read the story of the two porcupines trying to keep warm. They would move closer together, only to stick each other with their quills. Then they would move apart but as things got colder they would move together again only to get stuck again.

It's truly a dance. It's easy to drug ourselves with TV, shopping, the internet, and often real drugs (including alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco) rather than try and get close and get hurt.

If you are involved with someone (or someones), even just as close friends, try and get closer. What gets in the way?

If you are not involved with anyone, try reaching out (again).

I often say that the goal of simple living is to have less stuff and more connections, but the truth is: it isn't easy.

Peter Fox, "How to build intimacy"--A family therapist's take on intimacy and relationships; his site has lots of other useful information
Harriet Lerner, The Dance of Intimacy--A guide to relationships for women (but hopefully usable by anyone)
Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Embracing the Beloved--Relationship as a spiritual path; a primarily Buddhist perspective but drawing on a number of traditions; for couples ready to truly deepen their relationship and individuals ready to add a deeper component to all their relationships
Linda Marks, Healing the War between the Genders--While it focuses on male-female relationships, it contains much that's useful in any relationship; has a number of exercises on opening to intimacy and developing intimacy
Virginia Satir, Making Contact--A little book about how to be emotionally honest and connect with people

Quote of the Day: "Psychological intimacy is about attachment, connection, being safe to express tenderness and vulnerability with family, close friends as well as in sexual relationships. ... It grows with trust, courage, self-disclosure and feedback and withers without them." - Peter Fox