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The New Republic writer William Deresiewicz, a 24-year Ivy League affiliate, came under fire when he wrote its latest cover story, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” arguing that the blind drive and ambition these institutions encourage actually don’t do students any favors:

Our system of elite education [from Ivy League schools to test prep courses to the grueling admissions process] manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing, but with no idea why they’re doing it.

These impractical standards for applicants—off-the-charts test scores, just the right amount of extracurricular activities to appear accomplished but not intense, relationships with or recommendations from all the right donors—promote all the wrong qualities, Deresiewicz argues. There’s a greater social reward in being able to talk about the right books than actually reading them, a loved one of a student wrote to him, perfectly illustrating his concern on meritocracy. He cites that a survey of college freshmen found that self-reports of emotional well-being has hit its lowest in the course of the 25-year study, with increases in eating disorders, self-injuries and alcohol abuse.

But there’s a buzz-idiom, three little words that always seem to rise to the defense of pricey endeavors: “return on investment,” the phrasal enemy of any whimsical liberal arts major. Seldom do we wonder, let alone challenge, what anyone means by “return.” Earning more money, perhaps? “Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job? What, in short, is college for?” Deresiewicz asks. To teach you to think and build a self, he answers, but not quite of the technocratic nature one might develop in Harvard.

The irony is that elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things. As of 2010, about a third of graduates who went into financing or consulting at a number of top schools… It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker.

Yet another problem with the system is the “banner of diversity” every selective college waves in a rather misleading fashion, with background economic status being fairly uniform across these campuses. How diverse can a school claim to be when most of its students (of various races, granted) mainly come from families of bankers, lawyers and doctors?

Let’s not kid ourselves: the college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class maintaining its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself.

And the numbers support the argument. In 1985, 46 percent of freshmen at the 250 most selective schools came from the top 25 percent of income distribution; in 2000, that number rose to 55 percent of freshmen. As for state schools in 2004, 40 percent of freshmen came from families with a yearly income of at least $100,000, up 32 percent from 1999. Most astoundingly, however, is that fewer than half of high-scoring SAT students from low-income families even enroll at four-year institutions. While tuition is, indeed, on the rise, Deresiewicz speculates that these numbers reflect the increasing costs of raising an eligible applicant, with expensive extracurricular activities or prep courses likely affecting the disparity between the could-have-beens and the admitted.

Many took this informative piece as an affront on the privileged, who, no doubt, still put forth tremendous effort for that long-anticipated acceptance letter, despite the hurdles they’re forgiven. And what about those who receive financial aid, who wowed the admissions staff solely on a bootstraps-résumé and gifted scores, all while lacking an esteemed last name? As for the mechanical thinking in exchange for curiosity, certainly there are a number of exceptions.

But that all seems beside the point. “The system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society it’s supposed to lead,” Deresiewicz writes. At a time when affirmative action has been slowly fading state by state, innovative alternatives have been suggested: What if advantages were given based on economic standing rather than race? A new mass of minds—more justly diverse, this time around—would populate the campuses and challenge the order Deresiewicz so frankly condemns. Classrooms that aren’t socioeconomically homogenous would naturally breed more profound discussions, exposing varied opinions that are surely results of mixed backgrounds. This could not only repel the historically sustained hierarchy, but also simultaneously enliven the lost sense of wonder, inspire a deeper thirst for knowledge, and revitalize each student’s self-mission for a true education. Deresiewicz concludes, “We have tried aristocracy. We have tried meritocracy. Now it’s time to try democracy.”

Image by David Ohmer, licensed under Creative Commons


Volume of information has been affecting how scientists measure cognitive decline.

As the volume of possessed information has been improperly correlated with cognitive decline, linguistic experts argue that brains don’t necessarily slow with age, but rather, benefit from experiences. Tests that once showed decline in intellect have actually been showing people merely having more material to process, says Michael Ramscar, lead author of the 2014 study Topics in Cognitive Science from the German University of Tübingen.

“Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly. Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2,000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?”

Einstein once said, “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.” But was he right? The proportion of physicists who completed their prize-winning work before turning 30 had peaked in 1923, at 31 percent. But in 2000, that number had dropped to 19 percent for those younger than 40.

Intelligence—taking into accounts reasoning, planning, abstract thought, problem-solving, self-awareness, communication, creativity and learning—is either considered crystallized or fluid. Crystallized intelligence is built up from knowledge previously learned, whereas fluid intelligence is the capacity to think logically and solve problems independently of acquired knowledge. A 35-year test shows that our fluid intelligence peaks in young adulthood, in our late 30s and early 40s. But our crystallized mentality proves much more stable, not declining until our 70s, says Vanessa Hill. This begs the question: Is there a point where our fluid and crystallized peaks meet?

While it is difficult to measure how experience and sharp intellect influence a “peak,” Ramscar says that, other than Alzheimer’s, we know that the brain changes, but not necessarily experiencing cognitive decline. Scientists have only assumed that neurological changes are related to cognitive decline because they happen simultaneously, but this notion will be reassessed after further studying.

A 2012 Prosmer survey reveals that, on average, women experience a mental peak by age 39 and men by 42, and a creative peak in women by age 35 and in men by 37. Approximately 69 percent of women are worried about having a diminished mental capacity in old age, compared to 58 percent of men who worry.

Ramscar, however, argues that the fear and assumption that old age causes a decline in mental stability could pose a societal issue. “Population aging is seen as a problem because of the fear that older adults will be a burden on society; what is more likely is that the myth of cognitive decline is leading to an absurd waste of human potential and human capital. It thus seems likely that an informed understanding of the cognitive costs and benefits of aging will benefit all society, not just its older members.”

BrainCraft explains more on mental peaks here:

Image by Dierk Schaefer, licensed under Creative Commons.


Energy Healer Practicing on Lady 

Editor's note: The following essay is part of a new department in the Mind & Body blog called "Gotta Have Faith," where Utne readers of all faiths and spiritual persuasions are invited to share their perspectives on religion and spirituality in a civil and respectful forum. If you'd like to submit a post to this blog, please contact Christian Williams.

I’m a Minnesota farm boy who studied physics (PhD U of MN, 1969) so he could teach. I began my journey as a hard nosed physics professor, with many an unhappy student. By 1979 my wife had left and I was frantic for new pathways. Then I spotted a campus poster which offered marine biology experience at an old US spy base in the Bahamas. I investigated and found dormitories, lab space, rickety vans, and a kitchen staff who could make peanut butter sandwiches. It could work.

As an old scuba diver I knew that such an experience could be life changing for these farm kids. I did my best to promote the trip. Alas, I could not persuade a single soul to spend their Christmas vacation in the middle of an ocean. No way, Jose. After three weeks of coaxing and haranguing, I slunk home after work, prepared Mac ‘n Cheese for my 5th grader son, and went to my bedroom to change. With little hope and much desperation , I sat on the bed and “laid it out” to the Source I now call The Folks Upstairs,  “This can mean major growth for my students, but I cannot do it by myself. I Need Your Help!” 

Deeply discouraged, I returned to the kitchen to serve our evening meal. Then it happened: I’d scarcely begun to shovel in my supper when the phone rang. April and her friend Gwen were on board! I expressed deep thanks and replaced the phone.Then it rang again, and again. Within an hour I had the core group of students who would join me on the adventure. With it came the gentle “whap upside the head” realization that I was allowed to follow my own star, sans interference. At the same time, Assistance was “on call” when I was forced to ask for help. Score one for Spiritual Guidance. BTW: The trip was a great success!

Fast forwarding 20 years: I was nearing retirement age for my teaching career and again seeking new directions. Daughter Charly and I chose to attend a beekeeping class at a Minnesota university. We found seats at the venue and waited patiently for “Dr. Maria”, the eminent bee researcher who was to teach the class. She arrived, visibly haggard. “I just cannot conduct the class. I’m feeling dreadfully ill. My assistant will teach today, and perhaps I will feel better tomorrow.” As she turned and left, the hopes of the group sagged, for she was respected and loved for her inspirational talks to our local bee organizations. As the class was beginning soon, I left Charly at our seats and hurried to pay my tuition. By chance I passed by Dr. Maria’s open office door; she sat there, looking like Death warmed over. While I’d had no training as a healer, I knocked timidly at her door and said, “Maria, I’d like to try to help you...”. She slowly turned and smiled weakly.

Maria sat quietly while I stood behind her. I was guided to place my hands prayerfully on either side of her head. After two minutes, I seemed led to remove them. She turned to me, astounded, “What did you DO?”  I hadn’t the slightest notion, for I’d had no training in healing work. I quickly left and paid my fees. When I returned to the auditorium, Maria was already there, goin’ like a house afire, the chalkboard rapidly filling with bee genetics. After only minutes, she was once again in top form. Score another for Spiritual Guidance. 

I was inspired by the unexpected healing success, but unsure of this newfound skill. Could an old physics professor morph into a healer?  I enrolled to train with Mietek Wirkus, a well known Polish energy healer who had been well studied by energy researchers at the Menninger Clinic, then of Topeka, KS.

The first clients came slowly, luckily for me. I could treat their minor aches and pains. And I learned the meaning of the word “practice”, for in the beginning I was NOT very good at this healing thing. During the next fourteen years, my classes, clients, colleagues, even the internet would teach me. At the same time, the issues to which I seemed Led became more complex. I gradually became aware that I was being manipulated, in the best sense of that word, again by The Folks Upstairs. The Process was benevolent, for I never seemed to be presented with a healing problem until I was prepared to deal with it. Our first cancer patient came to us five years after our doors opened. Lisa, our first brain cancer patient, appeared in year thirteen. Cases that were similar seemed to come in groups of three.

More manipulation followed: Seeking more expertise, I placed a small ad in the Tracy, MN paper (population 2200), the place of my birth and the chosen locus for the work. A Chinese man called, whose English was limited. I understood only two words: Qigong Master. Qigong masters are highly regarded for their healing skills. Master Wu was taught qigong as a 10 year old in China, and his some 35 years of healing experience were to become invaluable to our group.  

Located in an area of low population density, we slowly expanded our service area. Tom was a West River South Dakota rancher whose spinal cord injury from a rollover had given him wheels and an electric motor. I’d repaired electrical cables when doing physics, and thought, “How hard can it be to fix a spinal cord?”

Tom lived 300 miles west, and travel was difficult for him. I had learned the basics of “distance energy healing” from Mietek Wirkus -- it much resembled the offering of a Sunday morning prayer for a loved one in a faraway hospital. When I suggested it, Tom said he’d get back to me after he’d checked things out. His Source accepted the idea, and Tom and I began to work together, he on his small ranch near Phillip and I in our Minnesota farm home. I visualized working on his body as though it were laid out before me. Below is the unedited record of his email after our first distance work:  

“The date is 12/30/99 My concept of what transpired between Chuck and myself. The first noticeable sign was a tingling in my right calf then up to my thigh (I don't have feeling below my nipples) In order I can't remember. My left leg had the same sensation twice. My groin felt a strong sensation two times. If it would of been a little stronger it would have been uncomfortable. This morning prior to Chuck’s work, my shoulders and neck ached. After the treatment they seem to be relaxed. Conclusion: I seem to feel some of what you’re sending my way (from 300 miles away). It's wild. Gotta go, excuse my grammar. TOM"

Although Tom is still in his chair, he became more functional, and can now access the kitchen when he needs a beer or a sandwich. I’m still trying to figure out how he could have felt something in a part of his body long divorced from sensations because of his rollover accident.

In fourteen years, we’ve served clients in thirty states. Sometimes we use “EFT”, a tool which uses light finger tapping on energy points instead of the sharp needles of acupuncture. EFT is excellent for resolving emotional issues, even heavy ones such as PTSD. It works well by phone.

We average about a 50/50 mix of patients who have physical issues and those that seem mostly emotional. When a patient presents a physical problem, it’s likely that an emotional issue will walk in alongside it. After we’ve cleared the emotional aspects, the physical issue is more easily dealt with.

Over the years we’ve added to our services, with chelation, herbals, hyperthermia, hypnosis, massage, naturopathy, nutrition, Tai chi and yoga. Whole food diets assist the healing of chronic conditions such as cancer, MS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as can herbals such as Protandim.   

Do our patients live longer? Not necessarily, but they do seem to live better.  Sometimes what’s most important is to simply listen. Appointments can run an hour or more; goodbye hugs are always offered and usually accepted.

Our patients expect to pay “out of pocket”, or by donation, for health insurance seldom covers what we do. (I’ve been paid in garden vegetables, frozen chickens, pasta sauce and a ceremonial sword.) We may be patients’ last refuge, after even well known Minnesota clinics have done their best. Patients come, “when nothing else works”.  

Do we have a huge cash flow? No, but we pay our bills and try to charge fairly. If a patient feels financially squeezed, we work it out. Helping To Heal welcomes you with free parking, gentle music, and no traffic lights for thirty miles.

(With thanks to my son Pete for his editing assistance)

Photo by Fotolia/mykeyruna



The affects of climate change can be harmful to the earth—and your mind.

Climate change clearly alters physical landscapes; once abundant fields turn barren in times of drought while large chunks of ice have been documented breaking off glaciers and dramatically splashing into the sea.

But considering the disturbances climate change can have on the mind is much more abstract. That hasn’t stopped a few researchers from beginning to assess the affects climate change has on mental health. Much of the findings are thanks to psychiatric epidemiologist Helen Berry of the University of Canberra in Australia, who has looked at how farmers and youth have dealt with consequences stemming from climate change. Not surprisingly Berry found that, “What happens from a psychological point of view is people get knocked down. Whenever people are knocked down, they have to get up again and start over. And the more that happens, the more difficult it is to keep getting up.”

However research into the emerging field is an uphill battle for a variety of reasons. Aside from the fact that there are still people out there who don’t believe climate change is occurring, for those who do, linking it to mental distress is tricky. There are a number of factors ranging from someone’s predisposition to depression to what people are used to in terms of climate—while farmers experiencing a drought will be negatively affected, those in urban areas may enjoy rainless days. Additionally, securing funding for research hasn’t been easy. Most funders want to see quantifiable results which aren’t always possible in mental health studies, let alone research that's tied to the complicated matter of climate change, which Berry suspects will need to be conducted on a very long-term basis.    

Regardless, the field is making some inroads and with that comes an expanded vocabulary. Glenn Albrecht is a professor in environmental studies at the University of Newcastle, also in Australia, who has coined solastalgia defined as “the homesickness when you’re still at home and your home environment is changing around you in ways that you find negative, and that you have very little power over.” Other terms include endemophilia (the love people feel for what’s special about where they're from or live) and soliphilia (a positive state that is a result of collaboration and healing). In fact soliphilia may be the best antidote for solastalgia; Berry has found that when people work together on environmental activities like restoring a garden, their anxiety decreases.

In the U.S., the American Psychological Association and ecoAmerica recently teamed up and produced a report entitled “Beyond Storms and Droughts: The Psychological Impacts of Climate Change” which cites consequences such as PTSD and depression. It concludes that vulnerable groups such as those living under the poverty line will likely experience more climate related stress. The report also urges people and communities to prepare for the impact of climate change; by strengthening social ties, integrating mental health awareness with disaster preparedness, and getting organizations to work together, some of the negative ramifications can be assuaged.

Image by Eduardo Mueses, licensed under Creative Commons.


prayer booth

Editor's note: The following essay is part of a new department in the Mind & Body blog called "Gotta Have Faith," where Utne readers of all faiths and spiritual persuasions are invited to share their perspectives on religion and spirituality in a civil and respectful forum. If you'd like to submit a post to this blog, please contact Christian Williams

While in a meeting, a newspaper editor, after learning that I practiced spiritual-based healing, said, "Since Christian Science is weird, it ... "

The editor stopped mid-sentence, looked at me, and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to say weird. I'm so sorry."

After the editor apologized several more times, I said, "Forget about it. It's okay," and we went back to our pleasant discussion.

The editor's "Weird" comment reminded me of '73. In 1973, I was in Brad Shearer's kitchen. Brad and I attended high school together. He was a star football player who went on to play for the Texas Longhornsand the Chicago Bears.

While in Brad's kitchen, I watched as he took a large glass measuring cup and cracked eight eggs into it. After whipping the eggs, he opened the door of a small machine, placed the measuring cup inside, closed the door, and turned a dial. A minute or so later, he opened the door, took out the cup, and began eating the eggs with a fork. Weird!

Weird, because in '73 I had never heard of, much less, seen a microwave oven. How did those eggs cook in just a minute?

Just as the microwave seemed weird to me in '73, the thought of providing prayer for illness or pain can seem the same to you when you first encounter it. However, both are effective. Both utilize laws. The microwave transforms food. Spiritual treatments can transform people. Both accomplish this from the inside out.

The microwave oven cooks by a completely different method than a conventional oven. It uses radio waves. The waves are absorbed by the food's water, fats and sugars. As they are absorbed, the waves convert into atomic motion—heat. This heat cooks the food.

Just so, spiritual treatments heal by transforming thought. Heats it up, so to speak. The cold/dark fears of materialistic thinking, which cause difficulties, melt and vanish allowing our natural strength, balance, and health to be experienced.

As radical as it sounds, we live in a mental world and the body is thought manifest. Simply put, just as a sad thought causes tears, thought touches every aspect of our being. As thought is spiritually transformed, the body expresses greater health.

Those looking into how Jesus healed so effectively are discovering life to be controlled by divine laws, and health to be governed spiritually. Weird to some. Wonderfully important to many.

Researches at the Danish Pain Research Center, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark, recently revealed the findings from their study on prayer. They discovered that "prayer reduced pain intensity by thirty-four percent and pain unpleasantness by thirty-eight percent for religious participants, but not for non-religious participants." The study shows that prayerful expectations can contribute to better health outcomes.

Studying the effectiveness of prayer is not easy. The reason? Just as not all medications are the same, not all prayers are the same.

Neither are people who pray entirely the same. It would be difficult to grasp the complete driving ability of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe if the test-drivers were fifteen-year-olds from your neighborhood driver education class. Just so, each test subject during a study of prayer’s ability may not be spiritually prepared to apply the full might of divine power.

There is much to be learned about the impact prayer-based healing can have on humanity. However, from what I have witnessed, spiritual practices are gaining momentum.

I use a microwave daily. I rely on prayer as a first choice for healing. Each has become a natural thing to do.

Keith Wommack is a syndicated columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at his website.

Photo courtesy Zach Alexander, licensed under Creative Commons



For some people, environmental implications figure into one of life’s biggest decisions—whether or not to have a child.

According to philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau, “One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.” While the idea of making the world a better place is subjective; the salient point in Thoreau’s statement is to do something.

Everyday choices add up to a cumulative impact on the environment; actions such as recycling, using cloth grocery bags, or purchasing items made from sustainable resources that do not further threaten the habitats of animals in the wild. For example, choosing a candy bar made by a company concerned about orangutan conservation and deforestation due to non sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia can mean the difference between extinction and preservation of these charismatic primates. With education and awareness, we understand how seemingly small, everyday choices add up to big impact. 

Bigger choices we face include: purchasing energy efficient appliances or fuel-efficient cars, taking public transportation, or planting trees that will cleanse the air of pollutants for years to come. For some people, environmental implications figure into one of life’s biggest decisions —whether or not to have a child. 

An article written by Grist’s Senior Editor Lisa Hymas encouraged people to feel good about their choice to opt out of parenthood, thereby reducing their carbon footprint. The more goods we consume, the larger our carbon footprint. Not everyone who opts out of parenthood does so for environmental reasons. Whatever the reason, Hymas and countless other nonparents have something in common —they are targets. Targets of judgment and assumptions about what kind of people they are and the lives they are living. While the parenthood decision applies to both women and men, societal pressure is greatest for women whose lives continue to be viewed through the lens of motherhood. Women’s lives have undergone a complete overhaul in the past few decades; however, something very fundamental has not changed. There are still widely-held assumptions that all women desire motherhood—or that they “should” desire it—and those women who do not want motherhood are viewed as selfish or dysfunctional. 

The 1960s and ’70s were a hotbed of environmental issues and consciousness-raising. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, released in 1962, caused a public outcry that led to the eventual banning of the pesticide DDT (1972) and the passing of the Endangered Species Act (1973).  Paul Ehrlich founded the organization, Zero Population Growth, in 1968, an organization whose mission it was to communicate about the Earth’s finite resources.  Amidst the controversy, in 1969, Stephanie Mills garnered national media attention when she declared in her college graduation commencement speech that she was “saddened” to announce that the best choice she could make to protect the environment was to not have children. Fast forward to 2010 and Lisa Hymas’s statement that she is “delighted” to say that the best thing she can do for the planet is to not have children. When contrasting those two statements, one might think that U.S. culture has evolved tremendously in four decades with regard to attitudes and assumptions about women’s reproductive choices; however, my research proves otherwise. While conducting interviews with 200 women across the U.S. (mothers and women who are not moms), I heard the following statements from women without children:

• From a 51-year-old woman: “When I was in my 20s, my grandfather said to me, ‘You better hurry up and get married; you don’t want to end up like your aunt!’” (Referring to her single, older, childless aunt whom this woman adored.)

• From a 21-year-old woman: “My grandpa asked me, ‘Where’s your ring? You can’t wait around forever!’ and I thought, can I finish college first?” 

As a mother of three, I am acutely aware of the assumptions my teenage daughter faces. Ten years ago, I read Madelyn Cain’s book, The Childless Revolution, with a haunting interview. Quoting a woman Cain called “Donna,” who found she was infertile and could not become a mother, Donna said, “If I cannot become a mother, I may as well be dead.”  During my interviews, I found a real-life example of Cain’s “Donna;” someone I’ve known my whole life, who expressed, “When I couldn’t get pregnant, I remember thinking—what’s life all about then?” For years, I have envisioned my own daughter’s future and considered, “What if my daughter does not want to be a mother someday? What if she’s unable to become a mom (through biology or circumstance)? Is there a way to protect her from the assumptions that bombard women from all manner of sources? My quest to answer these questions resulted in a book I’ve written (to be published later this year), The Female Assumption: The Impact on Women’s Lives when Motherhood is Viewed as a Mandate.    

During my interviews/surveys with mothers, I heard a very high level of assumptions that their daughters will follow in their footsteps and become moms someday. One can assert that these assumptions are supported by statistics in a country where fertility rates are still very high despite a decline over the past few decades.  What was alarming about my research was that 42 percent of the mothers I surveyed said that, if they heard their daughters voice ambivalence or disinterest in motherhood, that they would “urge them” toward motherhood by making statements such as, “Motherhood is an experience not to be missed,” “I never knew love until I became a mother,” and, “If she doesn’t become a mom, that means I can never become a grandmother.” Another 10 percent of the mothers said that they would sit their daughters down and question them about their disinterest in motherhood. For this group of mothers, I wondered, if they would ask “Why not?” would they also ask “Why?” if their daughters expressed their interest in motherhood? The answer lies in the assumptions one holds about females’ lives.

Among the women I interviewed who are not mothers, a majority of them grew up assuming that they would have children someday. Most of them struggled with external forces in order to preserve their inner selves; and said that they felt (or currently feel) that the pressure to become moms came from those closest to them. One woman commented, “As a teenager, I remember feeling sad when people told me I’d have kids someday.” Another woman commented, “My family and friends were always pushing me toward motherhood; I found new friends and disassociated with family ... problem solved.” 

The reality is that an increasing number of women are choosing not to pursue motherhood and they are quite happy; except for the cajoling, intrusive, and sometimes caustic, comments they hear because they are not moms. Some women want to devote their lives to other goals; such as a woman I spoke to who said, “I want to be a hero,” when speaking about being a teacher for kids living in high-poverty, inner-city areas. She said, “These kids need great teachers.”  Other women do not feel the maternal drive that our culture correlates with femininity. For example, one woman expressed, “I never felt drawn to motherhood; I am who I am.” 

A high-profile woman who was never drawn to motherhood is Christine Walker, spouse of Robert Walker, President of the Population Institute. In an exclusive interview with Mrs. Walker for my book, she said that she had a “terrific childhood” (debunking the myth that a woman who doesn’t want to be a mother had a dysfunctional childhood); but that she didn’t like the “noise, crying, and clean-up” associated with childrearing. In Robert Walker’s words, “My wife and I chose to be ‘childfree’ long before the term was invented ... we like children, but we did not like them enough to take on the commitment of raising them.” According to Christine, “My husband and I are very close, I’m very fulfilled within my own self, we have no regrets.” Robert and Christine have been married almost four decades. 

Not pursuing motherhood does not necessarily equate to denouncing it; however, this can be the perception. Whatever reason a woman has for opting out of motherhood, whether the decision is related to the environment, her own goals, or her likes/dislikes, must she justify her reason to those around her? Is it fair to judge a female’s character based upon her choice or ability to become a mom? A woman’s right to choose her own path to authenticity has been hard-won by strong females throughout history. Female activists and writers, dating back to the 1700s, have expressed ambivalence about motherhood. But, according to Stephanie Mills, “the discussion keeps disappearing.” 

As a culture, we must ask ourselves, why are women’s voices suppressed or disregarded in the 21st century? Borrowing from biology, we call the forces that keep alive certain cultural morés “replicators.” For example, the cultural moré that “children are the ultimate celebration of life” is kept alive by society’s replicators. There are many magnificent ways to celebrate life; and many have nothing to do with children. Another cultural moré is that children fill a void in a previously-unfulfilled life. Again, there are a significant number of ways to live a fulfilled, happy life, to the exclusion of raising one’s own child. 

As a mother of three, I am realistic enough to talk about the sacrifices of motherhood in a way that the majority of mothers do not. This does not dilute the love I feel for my children, nor does it hint at regret. My goal for my research and my book is to highlight the injustice of judging women on the basis of their choice to be mothers; and to highlight the need for all of society to update the scripts that are used with females ... rather than saying, “When you have children ...” instead say, “If you have children ...”  There are many scripts that need updating when speaking to females about their lives—scripts that reflect more sensitivity and less judgment.  My husband and I are raising our daughter to know that all we expect of her is to become a kind and self-sufficient human being. Beyond that, her choices are her own. 

I advocate for each person who comes into contact with females, whether at home, school, or in the workplace, to use sensitivity when speaking about motherhood. Not all women desire it; their reasons for opting out of motherhood are as varied as the women themselves; and their reasons are no one’s business but their own.  

Photo courtesy Sergio Vassio Photography, licensed under Creative Commons


Health Benefits of Walking

What if there was a way to reduce the risk of many major diseases at the same time as helping improve your overall health, decreasing your weight and boosting your energy? And what if this treatment was simple to do and took only a few minutes each week?

Wait, it gets even better! What if this could be accomplished with no special equipment or training and it would cost absolutely nothing.  You could do it any time and place you want--in fact, the vast majority of us have been doing it since the age of two.

Well, this health breakthrough actually exists. Taking a walk (or rolling on a bike or in wheelchair) for 30 minutes a day will cut your chances of dementia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis by at least 40 percent, according to a surge of recent medical research.

If more people adopted this easy habit, the United States alone could save as much as $100 billion a year in health care costs. And there’s growing recognition that our kids would do better in school, our neighborhoods would become friendlier and we’d all more happy.  It’s the best way to enjoy the pleasure of public places, and to strengthen the spirit of the commons in your community.

Do the Right Thing

Growing numbers of people are ready to embrace the benefits of walking.  Going for a walk is already Americans’ favorite activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and we walk six percent more on average than a decade ago. Walkable communities--where schools, shops and entertainment can be easily reached on foot--are a red-hot real estate trend. A new coalition of more than 500 local advocacy groups, America Walks, is pushing to make walking more convenient and safe across the country.

A national movement to promote walking was launched last year at the Walking Summit in Washington, DC, attended by more than 400 people from 41 states and 235 organizations, ranging from AARP and the NAACP to Marriott Inc. and the Sioux Falls (SD) Health Department.

The public clearly understands that walking is good for them and their families.  A national survey commissioned by Kaiser Permanente found that 94 percent of Americans believe walking is good for our health, 91 percent believe it helps us lose weight and 85 percent that it reduces depression.

Americans will get even more encouragement to take a stroll this year when the US Surgeon General’s office releases an official Call to Action on Walking and Walkability, which highlights the mounting medical evidence that walking is one of the best ways to prevent disease and stay healthy. Yet the CDC reports that 52 percent of all Americans still don’t meet the CDC’s recommended minimum for physical activity: 30 minutes a day five days a week for adults, and one hour a day for kids.

To change this situation, more than two dozen leaders of the emerging walking movement gathered this spring in Washington, DC to work on a compelling message to encourage more Americans to walk.

The meeting--sponsored by Every Body Walk!, a collaborative of more than 100 organizations representing health care, business, government and citizen organizations--featured Jonah Berger, a Wharton School marketing professor who wrote the bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

What Stops Us From Walking?

“Everybody knows they should walk, so why aren’t they?” Berger asked, raising the question of how do we overcome barriers, both physical and psychological, that stop people from getting on their feet?

The public opinion survey sponsored by Kaiser Permanente (which powers the Every Body Walk! Collaborative and convened the Walking Summit) listed people’s most common reasons for not walking:

*Few places within walking distance of my home:  40 percent
*Don’t have time: 39 percent
*Don’t have the energy: 36 percent
*Lack of sidewalks or speeding traffic: 25 percent
*No one to walk with: 25 percent
*Crime in my neighborhood: 13 percent

How to Talk About Walking So Others Will Listen

Here’s a compilation of ideas to overcome these barriers coming out of the walking strategy meeting:

-Emphasize how the benefits of walking go beyond health

You’ll enjoy more vitality and energy.  You’ll experience less stress and anxiety.  You’ll look better and feel more creative. You’ll have more fun.

-Identify yourself as a regular walker

Literally, talk your walk. Tell people why you love it.

-Remember walkers are athletes too

There’s nothing pedestrian about walking 5K or10K. Some communities host walking marathons and half-marathons.

-Encourage people to start their day with a walk

They’ll feel invigorated all day, which reinforces the message that walking refreshes and energizes you.

-Suggest replacing driving to the gym with walks around the neighborhood

Save time and money while getting to know your neighbors.

How to Make Walking More Visible

-Wear Gold Shoe Laces

The African-American women’s walking organization Girl Trek, outfits members with gold shoelaces for their walking shoes to reveal themselves as regular walkers. 

-Call on the Power of Art

 Public art on the theme of walking serves as a reminder to take a stroll. Artists design crosswalks, trail signs and gateways to walking paths that capture people’s imaginations.

-Enlist high-profile local figures to schedule regular public walks.

People will don their sneakers for the chance to walk with a public official, athlete, entertainer or physician.

How to Encourage Others to Walk

-Plan a walk with friends & family

 Suggest a walk first and then maybe a meal or drink or movie or round of cards

- Walk Every Wednesday

Around the country, people are organizing walks every Wednesday. (#WalkingWednesday on twitter). 

-Suggest a Walking Meeting

Energize that afternoon discussion by doing it on foot.  Do your next phone meeting standing up. 

-Organize a Walking Club

Like a book club, but with water bottles instead of novels.

-Turn Your Coffee Break into a Stroll

Recruit co-workers for a refreshing trot out on the sidewalk or around the campus.

-Issue a Walking Challenge

 Try some friendly competition by seeing who’s the first to walk a hundred miles. North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital sponsored a contest encouraging its employees to walk the distance from New York to Paris, with some winning a free trip to the French capital.

-Establish a Black Belt for Walkers

Many of us are drawn to compete with ourselves.  Create awards for people hoofing it a half-hour for 365 days straight or striding the distance of the earth’s equator (24,901 miles).

How to Make Your Community More Walkable

-Post Signs Around Town Listing the Walking Times to Popular Destinations

Walk Raleigh, a fledgling group in Raleigh, North Carolina, hung up 27 handmade signs around downtown that became so popular the city posted their own official versions.

-Mark a Definite Walking Route

A walk after dinner is an enduring custom in Mediterranean and Latin American countries.  Italians call it a passeggiata. People generally follow the same route through the heart of town, making it a social occasion as much as exercise regimen.

-Tell everyone: “If they can walk in LA, we can do it here.”

Famous for auto-cracy, Los Angeles actually harbors many walkers and hosts the Big Parade, an “epic public walk” that covers 40 miles and 100 public stairways over two days accompanied by food, music and art. Every town could create its own walking parade or festival.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks, edits and consults about how to improve community life. He is author of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons. Hiswebsite

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