Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: March 23, 2016 - Year 14, Issue 3
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Stress is Enhancing and Signals Growth
There is some new research on stress that might surprise you! Kelly McGonigal, a health researcher, psychologist and Stanford academic has been studying the debilitating effects of stress for over a decade, but then came across a study which dramatically changed her mind about stress.
The study tracked 30,000 Americans for 9 years who were asked how much stress they had experienced in the last year. They were also asked: “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” Then the study looked at public health records to correlate who died. People who experienced a lot of stress had a 43% increased risk of dying – but only the sub-set who believed stress was harmful for their health. Those who didn’t believe stress was bad for them had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the 30,000 people study (Keller, Litzelman, Wisk, et al. 2012, University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health).
The take-away for McGonigal is that when you change your mind about stress, you change your body, too.
In a second significant study conducted at Harvard, participants were told stress helps them meet their challenges. They were told their pounding heart was preparing them for action and breathing faster was getting more oxygen to their brains (Jamieson, Nock, & Mendes, 2012, Harvard University, Dept. of Psychology).
McGonigal has come to understand that our stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience and that mechanism is human connection. In stress, the hormone oxytocin gets released and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory, helps us to stay relaxed during stress and to seek out others for social support.
McGonigal cited another study which tracked 1000 adults from 34 – 93 years of age. They were asked how much stress they experienced in the last year. They were also asked how much time they have spent helping out friends, neighbours and people in their community. Public death records were also looked at, over the next 5 years, to see who died. Again, for every major stressor, like financial or family crises, that increased the risk of dying by 30%. But, people who spent time caring for others showed no stress-related increase in dying. Caring created resilience (Poulin, Brown, Dillard & Smith, 2013, University of Buffalo, NY, Dept of Psychology).
In another study, scientists looked at the effect of stress on monkey’s brains. Instead of frazzling their neural circuitry, the scientists discovered that stress helped their brains generate new cells that boosted their ability to learn and remember.
This way of looking at stress reminds me of a video I saw years ago by Rabbi Abraham Twerski confirming McGonigal’s message from a spiritual perspective. It’s about how lobsters grow.
How do you think about stress?
“Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
... Hans Selye
2. ENVIRONMENT - New Food System Key Solution to Climate Change
For any of you who watched the Oscars in February, you would have noticed Leonardo Di Caprio’s comment during his acceptance speech calling for action on climate change. That caught my ear, as did a talk I attended a few weeks later, by the Indian scholar, scientist, author and food activist, Vandana Shiva.
Shiva has advocated for many environmental and global concerns, including seed freedom. She campaigned against the implementation of the 1994 World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement - which broadened the scope of patents to include life forms. She calls the patenting of life ‘biopiracy’, and has fought against attempted patents of several indigenous plants, as well as seeds.
At her talk, Shiva said that 50% of climate change is due to industrial agriculture. So, I looked around and found quite a few connections to how we grow our food and climate change. I had heard already about cows creating methane gases, and how lands are destroyed from grazing, and that unsustainable amounts of water are used to grow corn to feed cattle, but the impact is more complex yet. It includes the use of chemical fertilizers, heavy machinery, deforestation to produce that animal feed and climate-damaging waste through excess packaging, processing, refrigeration and the transport of food over long distances (Grain.org).
The actions suggested to change our food system are fundamental but achievable. Cuba did it when they were forced to. For us, it would mean changing how we produce and distribute our food. It would require a shift from relying on an industrial and transnational food industry to grow and ship us our food, towards more food sovereignty, more small scale farming and agro-ecology and more local food markets. According to Shiva and others, this change could cut global emissions in half within a few decades.
What are we waiting for?
“Globalized industrialized food is not cheap: it is too costly for the Earth, for the farmers, for our health. The Earth can no longer carry the burden of groundwater mining, pesticide pollution, disappearance of species and destabilization of the climate. Farmers can no longer carry the burden of debt, which is inevitable in industrial farming with its high costs of production. It is incapable of producing safe, culturally appropriate, tasty, quality food. And it is incapable of producing enough food for all because it is wasteful of land, water and energy. Industrial agriculture uses ten times more energy than it produces. It is thus ten times less efficient.”
… Vandana Shiva
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3. NEGOTIATION - Restorative Workplace and the Value of Compassion
A collaborative I’m involved with, www.restorativesolutions.ca, puts at the heart of our work the word “Restorative.” This word goes with “Restorative Justice” but also has its own meaning. What is it that is wanting to be restored, when we go into an unhealthy workplace or work relationship?
Recently, I saw a talk by Thupten Jinpa which helped to focus my own thinking, that the restoring we are all wanting, is a restoration to compassion.
Thupten Jinpa is a former Tibetan Monk, the Dalai Lama’s long-time translator, and a scholar in his own right. He believes firmly that compassion, defined as a deep caring for another and wanting to connect and help another, is natural and an aspect of our nature.
He goes on to say that compassion provides us, as a species, a moral anchor for our ethics. When confronted with an ethical dilemma, he suggests the best question to ask is: “What it the most compassionate thing to do here?”
He quickly clarifies that compassion is not giving in. In my own work as a mediator and conflict midwife, I have found the people I work with often believe a compassionate response is weak or giving up their own interests or needs. Jinpa explains the compassion he knows demands that you “never lose sight of the fact the other person too is a person just like me who wishes to seek happiness and overcome suffering.”
As I study great leaders as part of my Masters program these days, I also see that the ones I admire have responded to injustice, and in particular social injustice, fiercely and with compassion. In assessing leaders and my own leadership, I’ve been informed by Martin Luther King Jr’s words:
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Yet, there are still many people who believe our true nature is not compassion, but survival of the fittest and the welfare of the self. Some of that can be traced back to the European thought, stemming from a misinterpretation of Darwin, regarding our true nature as a species.
Jinpa studied Western philosophy at Cambridge, in England. He was completely surprised at how deeply embedded the narrative of competition was in the West and in particular the idea that the ultimate explanation for human behavior is rooted in self-interest and competition is used to achieve this self-interest. Also, that altruism didn’t really ultimately exist. He sums this perspective up by quoting an American biologist who said: “Scratch an altruist, and watch a hypocrite bleed.”
So there is the fear that if we are “too kind” we will be seen as a “push-over” – and we won’t be seen as tough. We make a dichotomy between our rationale side and our emotional side.
Ultimately, Jinpa advocates not leaving compassion at the mercy of a situation only responding to situations that might evoke compassion from us. He advocates making compassion a proactive stance from how we relate to our world, giving ourselves a choice to respond from a compassionate lens. Our perspective changes everything.
A place to start, is to ask yourself how compassion ranks in your priority of values, principles and standards? Does it rank high – why or why not?
Jinpa also offers a practice from his Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Each morning, he offers, set an intention to spend the day with more mindfulness, more compassion and paying attention to how your behavior impacts others. That intention setting, daily, he says then starts to shape our motivation for how we behave. We can shape our motiviations and behaviours, by how we consciously set our intentions.
“Witnessing kindness makes us feel compassionate, and compassion predicts helping behavior.”
… Thupten Jinpa, A Feareless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our LIves
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training