Jul 312012

You have seen me struggling to make sense of the differences between conservatives and liberals, the balance between personal liberties and public responsibilities, and persistent class differences in America. Today, I read an article that suggested a difference between American elites that fills in a gap in my thinking. Naturally, I’m excited and want to share.

Despite our belief that all men are created equal, we have always understood that some of us have advantages of education, wealth, connections, and influence that are not shared equally. And, as a competitive capitalistic society, we mostly accept these class differences in the hope that someday we, or our children, might get rich and powerful too. We expect to always have our elites.


The thing that got my attention was the idea that, in America, there are two major background philosophies among our elites. Some derive their life-views from Puritan thought while some get their thinking from Plantation attitudes. This makes a difference in how a person of privilege thinks about what they do with their wealth, what responsibilities they feel for others, and how they define liberty and freedom.
The Puritan ethic emphasizes community and the conviction that those having wealth and power also have the responsibility to use some of it to improve their societies. Historically, they typically responded to an inner call to community service and doing good for others. They have endowed universities and public libraries. They have endorsed government policies that improve the lot of the common man. The Roosevelts and Kennedys have fit this mold. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are determined to use their fortunes for good.

Holders of the Plantation ethic are very much different. Sara Robinson’s article describes its origins in the West Indian slave states and its “…utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.”

David Hackett Fischer further describes Plantation Elites that, “…always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press… they… sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and pursuit of pleasure – including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.” They held themselves to be unaccountable and above the law.

In the Puritan Ethic, both liberty and authority reside with the community. Individuals are expected to balance their personal desires against the greater good and occasionally make sacrifices in behalf of others. This kind of support maximizes each citizen’s liberty, dignity, and potential. In the Plantation Ethic, one’s sense of liberty depended on their God-given place in society, and gave them the freedom to “take liberties” with the lives, rights, and property of other people. This results in their feeling the right to dominate, exploit, and abuse others and their property with impunity. This defines them, in their own eyes, as “free men.”

What sort of elites do you want writing your laws and running your government?

© 2012, David Satterlee

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Jul 112012

Isn’t it encouraging to meet someone who takes pride in doing their job well? I’ve met several such gems recently here in town. Do you know someone like this? Tell them that you noticed. Even if it’s not the same person that I had in mind, the one you compliment will receive that positive recognition from you. You can make their day. My most recent contact made the comment that they “believe in being proactive rather than reactive.”

A person who is only reactive waits for something to happen and then responds to that event. A person who is PROactive takes initiative to make change happen, anticipates potential threats or opportunities, and takes steps ahead of time to be prepared. Things seem to go better for proactive people. The reason why is explained by the saying, “Good luck is found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.”

As individuals, we have an advantage over lower life forms. A bacterium may simply react by moving toward food or away from an irritating chemical. In fact, when there are no opportunities or threats, there is no need for change. On the other hand, when change is at hand – when compelling change is afoot all around us – we need to respond.

Reactive change allows us to adjust with less urgency and in smaller steps. A mountain shepherd can lead his sheep to greener pastures as the season matures. However, being overly fond of old habits, characterized by reactive change, can leave us unprepared for a crisis (or even an unexpected windfall).

Proactive people are in the habit of staying so aware of their situation that they can anticipate needed changes. More than that, they are, by nature, open to examining, evaluating, and possibly embracing new ideas and opportunities. Proactive people are more likely to prosper during a time of dramatic transition.

In groups, however, there can actually be benefits to reactive behavior. You have heard the phrase that “too many cooks spoil the soup,” or “lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When change is necessary, it can do harm to the entire group if someone selfishly obstructs progress in defense of their private interests. For instance, a tribe works best with a strong, competent, visionary leader who can find solutions to difficult problems, inspire hope, and show the way forward when change is necessary. I’ll talk about this in more detail next week.

© 2012, David Satterlee

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May 312012

Our Democracy requires the participation of informed citizens. How do citizens become competent to become active in government, working to create a better country for their neighbors? Education at home and at school is a key factor.

A successful democracy assumes that people are basically good and decent should make responsible choices for themselves. Without the general moral and intellectual capacity of its citizens, it would be impossible for a constitution to grant universal citizenship and self-governance.

Parents and schools are expected to bring out the best in our children. The best involves more than prescribed knowledge and obedience to authority; it includes self-knowledge, self-discipline, and the enduring desire to keep on learning. We hope to maximize every child’s potential. We want every person to have the liberty and ability to pursue the adventure of a productive and satisfying life. Further, we expect that the success of every person contributes to the collective success of our communities and our nation.

As children develop into mature adults, they should be able to understand their beliefs, form personal opinions, explain themselves, consider the needs of others, and make decisions that produce good results. Especially today, when few find secure employment for life, we need to be able to think critically about new situations, solve new problems, and work successfully with previously-unknown people.

It is not enough for a student to simply acquire the skills of a trade. Graduates need to be equipped with an expanded perspective and the mental flexibility to make their way on the unfamiliar landscape of our rapidly-changing world. This kind of preparation allows them to recognize and take advantage of opportunities as they arise. Even better, this kind of preparation allows them to network socially, work well in a group, maintain supportive relationships, and actually create opportunities.

Critical thinking should not be the private tool of the privately-educated elite. Critical thinking should be one of our most cherished values, and the birthright of every child willing to apply themself. Critical thinking should be an expected product of a rich family life. Critical thinking should be the core competency delivered by our public schools.

Some may recoil from all this be-the-best-you-can-be and prepare-for-your-future effort. Some may be content to do what they’re told, do only what is needed to get by, and blame others for their misfortunes. Some may realize that I have been describing a “liberal education,” and correctly conclude that the more of it you have, the more liberal you will likely become. Maybe that’s a good thing.

How can our individual, community, and national well-being be bad? I am convinced that we must prepare our children to successfully resist those who would take away our government of, by, and for the people. If we do not, we will see the completion of the efforts of a powerful few to seize our government and use it to enrich themselves.

©2012, David Satterlee

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May 202012

Among the many opinions about the differences between Conservatives and Liberals, some point to the difference of blaming internal or external causes. “If you were to ask people about the cause of someone’s problems and sufferings (such as homelessness), you will hear two very different explanations.”

If you are a conservative, they point out, you will blame internal causes such as a lack of work ethic, family or religious values, sense of shame, or some other personal weakness.

If you are a liberal, your explanation will likely focus on external causes such as lack of education, oppression, social injustice, or some other influence outside of their control.

The essential conservative point is that interior causes can and MUST be addressed individually. Every person bears an inescapable personal responsibility to work continuously on their internal weaknesses and faults. It is not “success” if someone dragged you to the finish line.

You may seek guidance or it may come unsolicited, but you must walk the walk. A door may be opened to you, but you must enter. Your mother, teacher, minister, psychologist, or warden may point the way, but you have look where they point, set a destination, and keep on faithfully through every obstacle.

Liberals completely accept and internalize this core conservative value. They have individually embraced and fully assimilated the idea that you cause your own suffering and bear your own responsibility to master it. They believe in personal choice and responsibility so fervently that they take it for granted and assume that everybody understands it intuitively.

However, liberals do not believe that a personal failure is the end of the road. They are not comfortable going back to grazing while a predator munches on a weaker or slower neighbor’s carcass. If a member of the herd can be rescued from a hole, if sentries can give an alarm, or if circumstances can be improved, liberals believe that the community should work together to take these actions.

This leaves liberals to work with what remains – external factors. It is not that liberals believe that external factors are the EXCLUSIVE cause of problems and suffering. It is that liberals see external factors as something that they, as a community, have the collective ability and moral responsibility to address. This is called government.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Liberals would rather persuade and rehabilitate you than punish you or whip you into submission.

Liberals believe in people’s responsibility to raise themselves up. In fact, they have faith that most people can, and will, better themselves if their burdens are temporarily lightened. But, they would rather offer opportunities such as education, social equality, or a safety net than leave a suffering neighbor torn and bleeding by the roadside.

If we are to ever find a practical approach to building consistently robust, productive, and satisfying communities, we must come to terms with both internal and external problems.

If we blind ourselves to the stereotypical perspectives of either conservatives or liberals we will fall to the tyranny of incomplete solutions to our many problems; we will constantly engage in endless destructive battles of “either/or” when the reality is found in “and/both.”

©2012, David Satterlee

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Feb 272011

Religion, Science, and Truth

by David Satterlee

Both religion and science build theoretical models to explain observations. Sometimes the models work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes sacrificing infants to Baal brings productive crops, sometimes bleeding a patient breaks a fever. Most cultures have rejected both of these discredited concepts (religious and scientific, respectively) while even science often fails to distinguish between correlation and cause.

Even having a thoroughly-consistent theory does not establish truth. Traditional Chinese Medicine successfully treats “spleen deficiency” for problems totally unrelated to our anatomical spleen’s function. Both religious and secular authorities have found themselves needing to adjust their accepted doctrine from time to time. Most religions hold a very tenuous claim to truth by faith when you consider that current beliefs (like language, culinary tastes, and DNA) can usually be traced to the intersecting influences of earlier cultures and societies. Continue reading »

Feb 072010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 6

Satisfying Life Experiences

The most satisfying life experiences tend to be those involving self-respect, accomplishment and social relatedness. They notably did not include exercising power influence or acquiring material or physical gratification. Cultures that emphasize community responsibility are less likely to identify self-directed activities as producing happiness. The classic elements of the “American Dream” have a dark side: “materialism is toxic for happiness. ”

Self assessment exercise.

  1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
  2. The conditions of my life are excellent.
  3. I am satisfied with my life.
  4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.

Flow, total involvement in a challenge, is an altered state of consciousness that produces genuine satisfaction with experiences. It is very enjoyable to be fully absorbed and engaged in such an activity. It does not arise from passivity but from active engagement with life. The specific activity is not so important as the way in which it is performed.

Interpreting life events

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

One’s interpretation of an event may differ from person to person. While some remain chronically unhappy others are capable of seeing a silver lining in the events of their lives.

Maximization and Regret

Orientation poured goals may be characterized as satisfying or maximizing. A satisfier is content to meet expectations. A maximizer tries to achieve the best result in every situation; they plan were carefully, set higher standards, but may suffer negative emotions when the results do not satisfy their expectations. They are more prone to experiencing regret, unfavorable comparison to others, and reduced life satisfaction. Maximizers also strive to keep their options open, often been less satisfied with the outcome.


Contemporary life often promotes feelings of urgency and the desire to multi task. Conversely, the ability to slow down and savor experience adds richness, vividness, and satisfaction to life. Slowing down to “smell the roses” increases happiness.


Gratitude extends appreciation for positive outcomes from oneself to a wide range of other contributors. This also increases intrinsic self-esteem and perception of social support. People expressing gratitude avoid taking life events for granted; they are less prone to negative emotions, are more empathetic, and less focused on materialistic goals. They feel happier and present themselves to others as happier.

Feb 032010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 5

Evaluate your general happiness by rating the following statements on a scale of 1 to 7:

1. In general, I consider myself:
1=Not a very happy person—7=A very happy person

2. Compared to most of my peers, I consider myself:
1=Less happy—7=More happy

3. Some people are generally very happy. They enjoyed life regardless of what is going on, getting the most out of everything. To what extent does this characterization describe you?
1=Not at all—7=A great deal

4. Some people are generally not very happy. Although they are not depressed, they never seen as happy as they might be to what it does this characterization describe you?
1=A great deal—7=Not at all

Totaled your answers and divide by eight. The mean for adult Americans is 4.8.
Two-thirds of people score between 3.8 and 5.8.

Jan 242010

Source: “Authentic Happiness,” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., Chapter 3

We are endowed with access to powerful and insistent emotional states. They arise from the deepest and most primitive areas of our brain. They include more than fight or flight survival instincts to take decisive action to kill or conserve; they include the capacity for happiness. Happiness must serve an important, fundamental purpose.

Negative emotions include fear, sadness, discussed, repulsion, hatred and anger. They are especially important in win-lose situations, where the loser may be oneself. Effective responses to negative emotions affect survival and would reasonably be an important part of natural selection. The likelihood that a person will present predominantly negative or positive emotions it is, in fact strongly affected by genetic inheritance.

Positive feelings encourage us to approach an object or develop a situation. But, negative and positive emotions are much more complex than the stimulus attraction and avoidance processes of bacteria. Until recently, psychologists have generally ignored positive emotions. They were interpreted as secondary effects of situations and behaviors. They are, in fact, as important to our survival behavior as fear.

Jan 152010

Source: “Pursuing Human Strengths,” Martin Bolt, Introduction

The Personal Growth Initiative Scale was published in 1998 by Christine Robitschek. The PGIS incorporates choice, change, control, and clear direction. She believes that personal growth must be a deliberate undertaking. A high score reflects a person who: “recognizes and capitalizes on opportunities for personal change. They search out and create situations that will foster their growth. In contrast, people with low scores actively avoid situations that challenge them to grow.”

“PGIS scores seemed to be strongly positive way related to psychological well-being and negatively related to psychological distress.” “PGIS spores or positively linked to assertiveness, internal locus of control, an instrumentality (knowing how to reach an important goals).” According to Bert Hodges, “Values provide distant but real guides that help us to find our way, that help us in the journey of life. Values provide not only place but perspective; they indicate where we have come from and where we’re going.”

Values will vary according to a person’s world view and life goals. Mihal Csikszentmilalyi says that a meaningful, productive life involves both differentiation and integration. Differentiation results from taking proactive responsibility for personal development. Integration results from also accepting responsibility for our relationships with others in our social networks. While it is healthful to be able to function atonymously, we also need to feel connected and have a sense of belonging. For instance, adolescents need to grow up, but do better if they retain strong connections with their parents.

Personal Growth Initiative Scale (PGIS) Exercise

Original source: Robitschek, 1998.

Using the scale, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement.

1 = definitely disagree
2 = mostly disagree
3 = somewhat disagree
4 = somewhat agree
5 = mostly agree
6 = definitely agree

1. _____ I know how to change specific things that I want a change in my life.

2. _____ I have a good sense of where I’m headed in my life.

3. _____ If I want to change something in my life, I know how to initiate the transition process.

4. _____ I can choose the role I want to have in a group.

5. _____ I know what I need to do to get started toward reaching my goals.

6. _____ I have a specific action plan to help me reach my goals.

7. _____ I take charge of my life.

8. _____ I know what my unique contribution to the world might be.

9. _____ I have a plan for making my life more balanced.


To score your responses, simply add the numbers you checked to obtain a total score. PGIS scores range from 9 to 54. People who score higher (31.5 is the midpoint) recognize and capitalize on opportunities for personal change. More than that, they search out and create situations that will Foster their growth. In contrast, people with low scores actively avoid situations that challenge them to grow.

Jan 012010
Lecture 16 – A Person in the World of People: Self and Other, Part I

This is the first of two lectures on social psychology, the study of how we think about ourselves, other people, and social groups.

Students will hear about the famous "six degrees of separation" phenomenon and how it illuminates important individual differences in social connectedness.

This lecture also reviews a number of important biases that greatly influence how we think of ourselves as well as other people.

Watch it on Academic Earth


Lecture 17 – A Person in the World of People: Self and Other, Part II

This lecture begins with the second half of the discussion on social psychology.

Students will learn about several important factors influencing how we form impressions of others, including our ability to form rapid impressions about people.

This discussion focuses heavily upon stereotypes, including a discussion of their utility, reliability, and the negative effects that even implicit stereotypes can incur.

The second half of the lecture introduces students to two prominent mysteries in the field of psychology.

First, students will learn what is known and unknown about sleep, including why we sleep, the different types of sleep, disorders, and of course, dreams, what they are about and why we have them.

Second, this half reviews how laughter remains a mysterious and interesting psychological phenomenon.

Students will hear theories that attempt to explain what causes us to laugh and why, with a particular emphasis on current evolutionary theory.

Watch it on Academic Earth

Dec 312009
Lecture 15 – A Person in the World of People: Morality

Professor Bloom provides an introduction to psychological theories of morality.

Students will learn how research in psychology has helped answer some of the most central questions about human morality. For instance,

  • which emotions are "moral" and why did these moral feelings evolve?
  • What factors guide our moral judgments?
  • And what factors predict when good people will do bad things?

Watch it on Academic Earth

Nov 242009
Stephen Aizenstat: Dream Tending

iconHave you ever had a dream that surprised or mystified you? Did the people and places in that dream seem to be as real as your waking life? If so, teaches Dr. Stephen Aizenstat, you may have already discovered the astonishing truth: that your dreams are—very literally—alive. On DreamTending, Dr. Aizenstat invites you to tap into the "world unconscious"—the living, dreaming mind of the universe itself.

Why do we dream? How does our dream life influence our physical, mental, and spiritual health? For more than 25 years, clinical psychologist and Pacifica Graduate Institute founder Stephen Aizenstat has investigated the therapeutic and spiritual use of dreams throughout the world. His remarkable conclusion: that our dreams immerse us in the vast multidimensional psyche of Nature (the cosmos), where everything is dreaming—every person, creature, plant, and object. Here, in this communal realm, we can interact with and listen to other dream visitors to heal ourselves, help others, and gain new insights from the hidden intelligence of our dreams.

A Revolutionary New Course in Dreamwork

DreamTending immerses you in this powerful and expansive form of dreamwork. Through more than seven hours of in-depth instruction—including dozens of proven dream techniques—you will enter and explore the three essential levels of DreamTending:

  • Association—How to understand the events, characters, and settings of your dreams to unravel emotional and subconscious obstacles
  • Amplification—How to use archetypes, myths, and universal symbols to decode your dream life
  • Animation—How to experience your dreams as "living images," a direct connection to Nature itself

If you’ve always felt that your dreams are part of something far greater than your own mind—and have been wanting to "break through"—here are the tools you need—with Stephen Aizenstat’s DreamTending.

Click on the cover image above to sample or purchase the Audio Download or CD from 
Sounds True, Inc.

You had the most amazing dream last night. It spoke to your highest aspiration, your most secret wish, presenting a vision of a future that was right for you. But now, in the cold light of day, that inspiring dream is gone forever, or is it? According to Dr. Stephen Aizenstat, a psychotherapist, university professor, and dream specialist, dreams are not just phantoms that pass in the night, but a present living reality that you can engage with and learn from in your daily life. In Dream Tending, Dr. Aizenstat shows how to access the power of your dreams to transform nightmare figures into profound and helpful mentors, bring fresh warmth and intimacy into your relationships, and overcome obsessions, compulsions, and addictions. Engage the healing forces of your dreams to re-imagine your career and cope with difficulties in the workplace and discover the potential of your untapped creativity.