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Friday, September 4, 2020

Therapy After Terror - A Book Review

THERAPY AFTER TERROR:      

 9/11, PSYCHOTHERAPISTS,   
AND MENTAL HEALTH


By
   Karen M. Seeley (2008)

Reviewed by

  September K. Trent
      and
  Geoffrey W. Sutton

“Everybody’s trauma was so raw. It didn’t matter who you were talking to
—relief worker, direct victim, other therapists
—you were all the same body in some ways”
 (p. 152). 


Seeley peppers her analysis of the effects of 9/11 on psychotherapists and the field of mental health with excerpts from pungent and thoughtful interviews. We glimpse the chaos through the eyes of psychotherapists who lived the trauma in their personal and professional lives. On the morning of September 11, 2001, New York therapists are running to the Red Cross shelters to donate their time, psychologists are treating patients who are eyewitnesses to the worst enemy attack on the American homeland, and counselors, themselves victims who lost everything, are trying to counsel others through trauma-colored lenses. Seeley examines the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in light of the severe impact of the terrorist attacks and the difficulties mental health professionals had when attempting to formulate a diagnosis. The author, Karen M. Seeley, MSW, Ph.D., is a clinical social worker and cultural psychologist in the Anthropology Department at Columbia University. In addition to her academic qualifications, she provides a highly readable and thoughtful analysis of psychotherapy in the context of terror.

In the first and second chapters, the events of 9/11 are retold in the context of therapists’ views of the event and their attempts to donate their skills. Project Liberty, a government funded mental health project, was formed immediately following 9/11 to help its victims deal with their unsteady mental health. Seeley uses personal recounts by psychotherapists as they tried to volunteer their services for Project Liberty and the Red Cross. Many psychotherapists experienced confusion, which they attributed to problems of organization and education about handling a mental health crisis. Most of the professionals did not feel helpful because they were sent to places where no victims arrived. Only later did they learn that no victims arrived because so few survived the twin towers attack.

As readers, we gain insights from Seeley and the psychotherapists that are notably different perspectives on the effects of the terrorist attacks. Because the American mass media
focused on the visual assault and the horrific destruction, an in-depth exploration of the psychological sequellae has been missing. Seeley illustrates how the emotional aftermath silently but powerfully impacted a wide swath of people in New York City. In particular, the psychotherapists’ stories are heart wrenching. Their narratives take the reader to ground zero, facilities where families are struggling to find lost loved ones, and the private offices of psychologists. Through Seeley’s reconstructed timeline of the events and the ineffective efforts to cope with the trauma by some of New York’s most experienced therapists, chapters one and two capture the reader’s desire to learn the lessons from these untold stories of 9/11.

A few days after 9/11, the Red Cross and Project Liberty identified the problems and places where psychotherapists were needed. Chapters three and four explore a range of psychotherapists’ experiences in different facilities. Both the Red Cross and Project Liberty sent psychotherapists to ground zero to talk with fire fighters, police, and construction workers who were searching for survivors. Other professionals were sent to Family Assistance Centers or Service Centers that were set up by the government to help families find and identify lost loved ones and to obtain monetary support from the government. All of the psychotherapists spoke about the extreme difficulty they experienced in trying to help so many victims and their families. The workers at ground zero did not want to talk about anything; they wanted to keep working because they might find one of their fallen colleagues. For the families of those who were in the twin towers, it was difficult to accept a loss that included no remnants of their dead family members. A poignant example of emotional pain is one psychotherapist’s report of a family receiving a container representing the ashes of their loved one from one of Rudy Giuliani’s aides. Seeley offers great insight into the emotional vulnerability of many different kinds of victims—both clients and psychotherapists. As clinicians we appreciate the
analysis but, as ordinary readers, we are captivated by the stories and yearn to know what happened to these people.

Chapters five and six discuss the toll that helping trauma survivors takes on psychotherapists and the problematic diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. All of the psychotherapists
experienced the same emotions that their clients experienced. Many of the psychotherapists lived through the same traumatic events as did their clients. Understandably, psychotherapists found it difficult to hide their own emotions and experiences during psychotherapy so that their
clients could fully disclose their feelings and focus on their recovery. How appropriate is it
for psychotherapists to treat clients while struggling to manage the same symptoms? Many New York therapists did just that. They felt that they had to help the victims; the victims’ mental health was more important than their own. With every new client and every recounting, the psychotherapists were retraumatized. Should psychotherapists endanger themselves under extreme circumstances?

Related to the problem of psychotherapists’ perspective on the trauma, is the difficulty they experienced in diagnosing their clients. Many diagnosed their clients with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) without considering the time the client had experienced the symptoms or the related diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder. Many psychotherapists felt that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) was not useful in the diagnosis of victims from 9/11 because there was no appropriate diagnosis. Complicating the psychotherapists’ dilemma were signs listing PTSD symptoms posted throughout New York City. Although PTSD came closest to the expressed symptoms, other nuances could not be accounted for such as the variations in intensity of responses experienced by those walking among human debris versus those experiencing and re-experiencing the visual violence on television and realizing their husband or wife was in that conflagration. She closes chapter six with a thoughtful discussion of emotional contagion as so many trauma victims in close proximity shared their stories and symptoms. Disturbingly, some of these were also psychotherapists, who may have increased rather than alleviated the trauma.

In the last chapters, Seeley summarizes what psychotherapists learned about trauma and how to treat it. Numerous classes and programs are not educating the psychological community because many of the psychotherapists felt incompetent. Many of the psychotherapists questioned the relevance of traditional psychotherapy. They felt that the therapy sessions and all the theories of psychology that they had been taught were not working. The question of theory has stimulated research about the psychological impact of 9/11 and effective treatments for victims of extreme trauma. Seeley identifies spirituality as one dimension that can be helpful to those experiencing trauma. Many psychotherapists found it exceedingly difficult to work with clients who had no spirituality. Psychotherapists will find that these last chapters are very informative because Seeley identifies specific problems and difficulties experienced by victims of terrorist attacks.

The foregoing review is from a review published by Trent and Sutton.

*****
I (Sutton) am adding a note for readers unfamiliar with academic discussions of spirituality and psychotherapy to note  that in recent decades a considerable amount of research has been done to discover the role of spirituality in helping people cope with stress, including trauma. 

Cite This Review

Trent, S. K. & Sutton, G.W. (2020, September 4). Therapy after terror: 9/11, psychotherapists, and mental health. Sutton Reviews https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/09/therapy-after-terror-book-review-by.html

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Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy- A Book Review by Sutton

AMISH GRACE:           

HOW FORGIVENESS
TRANSCENDED
TRAGEDY

By
   Donald Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, 
   & David L. Weaver-Zercher

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton



The horrific slaughter of Amish children attending school in the Old Order Amish community
of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, garnered international attention in October, 2006. When
the Amish responded with forgiveness and reconciliation, people were doubly shocked. Christian teaching and psychological research on forgiveness can appear as sterile narratives until tragedies upend everyday life. The authors of Amish Grace offer informed readers the kind of details and analyses that allow Christian clinicians and researchers to consider how Christian virtues and psychological research on forgiveness and reconciliation may be integrated.

The authors explore the virtues of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation as they review the
Amish response to the tragic school shooting of October 2, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, USA. Following an account of the shooting and the sequellae, the authors devote five of their 13 chapters to aspects of Amish forgiveness. Readers will find useful resources in the endnotes and Appendix. Each of the authors has published on Amish culture. Donald Kraybill is a distinguished professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Steven Nolt is a professor of history
at Goshen College, and David Weaver-Zercher is an associate professor at Messiah College.


In Part One, the authors revisit the school shooting narrative with an emphasis on the
responses of the Amish toward their community victims as well as the family of the shooter
who committed suicide. In addition to explaining how the varied responses fit within Amish
traditions, the authors explored the reactions of various North American pundits who both
praised and criticized the Amish response. A quote from a father whose daughter died revealed his perspective on the Amish worldview: “Our forgiveness in not in our words, it’s in our actions; it’s not what we said, but what we did. That was our forgiveness (p. 52).”
Although forgiveness is part of the broad Christian tradition, the authors explored the
Amish distinctiveness in Part Two. They noted the long-term cultural habit patterns that stem
from a literal interpretation of Matthew 6:14-15. That is, “The Amish believe if they don’t forgive, they won’t be forgiven” (p. 95). The personal ramifications can be seen in another quote: “By not forgiving, it will be more harmful to ourselves than to the one that did the evil deed” (p. 95). Given the force of their interpretation of Scripture, the power of tradition, and the pressure of conformity among a small interdependent community, it seems untenable that
anything other than a forgiveness response would have occurred.


In Part Three, the authors compare Amish forgiveness to the models presented in the scholarly works of Robert D. Enright and Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (See for example Enright, 2001; Worthington, 2006). The authors appear well aware of leading psychological definitions of what forgiveness is not as well as the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. Next, the authors employ these psychological conceptualizations to answer some critiques of the Amish response. For example, one critical theme was the speed of the Amish response coupled with the lack of evidence for strong negative emotions. In contrast, the authors cited interview evidence that the Amish did feel intense emotions including anger as predicted by psychological models. Later, the authors show how Worthington’s distinction between decisional and emotional forgiveness can account for the quick and seemingly restrained public forgiveness response of the Amish whilst feeling strong negative emotions that persisted much beyond the time of the overt media coverage of the expressed forgiveness. One may of course wonder about applying the concept of decisional forgiveness when members of a community act in unison to follow a cultural pattern. 

Amish Grace is a well-written perceptive analysis of the Amish perspective on forgiveness and
reconciliation. In addition to the insights into Amish forgiveness, the authors offer an analysis
of psychological models of forgiveness and provide a basis for discussions of the integration of faith and psychology. Readers may wish to consider that, in the Amish view, forgiveness is an expression of community and is tightly wedded, if not blurred, with notions of reconciliation. In my view, the authors did not quite capture this forgiveness- reconciliation nuance, which is similar to the overlapping forgiveness-reconciliation conceptualization Volf described in Giving and Forgiving (2005; Sutton, 2009). For anyone interested in exploring forgiveness and reconciliation contextualized by violence, Amish Grace is a must read.

BUY THE BOOK: AMISH GRACE

Sutton, G. W. (2011) [Review of the book Amish grace: how forgiveness transcended tragedy by D. Kraybill, S. M. Nolt, & D. L. Weaver-Zercher]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 30, 258-259.  Academia Link    Research Gate Link 



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The Next Christians - A Book Review by Sutton

THE NEXT CHRISTIANS:       

THE GOOD NEWS
ABOUT THE END OF 
CHRISTIAN AMERICA

By
   Gabe Lyons  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton


How do young Americans perceive Christians?

Lyons reports the results of a study he commissioned to "understand the perceptions that sixteen-to twenty-nine-year-olds have about Christians (p. 3)" In the eleven chapters, Lyons explores these findings in the context of anecdotes and other research to suggest changes that appear to occur among Americans who self-identify as Christians. The book is a highly readable report of survey findings likely of interest to anyone following trends in American culture and religion. This book extends Lyon's previous interests reflected in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why itMatters, which he coauthored with David Kinnaman.

I would characterize Lyon's approach as Purpose Driven Research. In the first part of  the book he outlines his case for the problems with contemporary American Christianity. He draws on survey data, quotations from various Christian leaders, and stories to  support his view that American Christianity is in decline. Examples include the removal  of symbols from public places like the Ten Commandments, the popularity of  Christopher Hitchens's atheist polemic, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons  Everything, and the decline in church attendance (31%) among Protestant teens.

He opines that Christians have largely participated in the culture in one of five ways: Separatists live in a Christian bubble ('insiders'), cultural warriors fight against the loss of Christian dominance in society, and there are cadres who proselytize (evangelizers). Some have tried to fit in with others in the culture (blenders) and other Christians have focused on good deeds, (philanthropists). 

His focus (Part II) is on the Next Christians identified as restorers. Lyons describes their six characteristics in separate chapters. I will report the key qualities so you can have a sense of his thinking about Christians who are engaged in restoring society. First, they are provoked but not offended. They are keenly aware of people with serious needs such as addiction and other lifestyles often characterized as sinful. Rather than being offended by the behavior patterns, they participate in rehabilitation efforts. 

Second, they are creators and not critics. Instead of condemning various cultural expressions (e.g., film, music), next Christians are actively involved in creating culture that reflects God in beauty and craftsmanship. 

Third, they are called rather than employed. Next Christians reject traditional distinctions
between professional ministers and other vocations. For the next Christians, all vocations represent ministry. 

Fourth, they are grounded and not distracted. Recognizing the temptations and distractions in life, next Christians rely on the known spiritual disciplines such as immersion in scripture and prayer, taking a Sabbath rest, and fasting as replacements for the common distractions of contemporary culture such as high levels of television watching, increased productivity, and consuming food and other goods. 

Fifth, they are in community rather than alone. They are people who open their homes to neighbors and get involved in helping others with various activities ranging from moving to childcare.

Sixth, they are countercultural rather than relevant. One way to capture Lyon's concept of relevant methods of engaging culture is to consider examples of churches that employ large screens, contemporary music, video games, and other social fads to relate to youth. Countercultural approaches seek to restore individual lives, broken relationships, and damaged communities regardless of the factors linked to the decay or the destruction. 

Lyons closes with thoughts about a new era. He offers an optimistic take on a better America led by Christians who have been transformed by the gospel and possess the six qualities of restorers. As he describes this new approach, he presents contrasts such as shifts from judgment to grace and hypocrisy to authenticity, which seems to reflect his way of thinking about culture in terms of bifurcated constructs.

The book Next Christians deserves a place in many libraries. The book is suitable for group discussions and is supported with video and other resources. Several issues are relevant to undergraduate studies, especially in the behavioral science courses at a Christian College. 

Although at times, he seems to be influenced by a confirmatory bias, his perspectives are worthy of consideration and will resonate with many Evangelical Christian readers. Clinicians and pastors may find the descriptions useful frameworks to appreciate clients who feel frustrated by the gap between traditional and contemporary expressions of Christianity.

Cite This Review

Sutton, G.W. (2020, March 22). The next Christians. Sutton Reviews. https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2020/09/the-next-christians-book-review-by.html


Reference

Sutton, G. W. (2012). [Review of the book The next Christians: The good news about the end of Christian America by G. Lyons]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 31, 176-177.   Academia Link    ResearchGate Link

 Related Reviews

unChristian

Pagan Christianity

And a book mentioned by Lyons--  

   god is Not Great


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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

God and Sex by M. Coogan A Review

 God and Sex

What the Bible Really Says  


By

   Michael Coogan  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton




Coogan sets the stage for a biblical view of sex by citing the popularity of the Bible in US society--over 90% of us have "The Book." He challenges readers who believe the Bible is simply "God's Word" rather than a collection of works by multiple authors to consider some obvious inconsistencies easily recognized by anyone who has taken the time to read the text. Coogan want readers to see the unfolding of the biblical message in ways that allows a nuanced approach to modern life. Thus, he will write about women as equals, sexual prohibitions, and the stories of rape.

Chapter 1

We begin with an invitation to see the biblical past as life in a foreign country with a different language, culture and values. He quickly shows readers love and sex through the eyes of the Song of Solomon. Then opens readers' eyes to biblical sex by lifting the veil of euphemisms. Soon, sex is everywhere. And we begin to hear women's voices.

Chapter 2

It is still common in Christianity to find only male leaders in Christian churches and organizations. Coogan provides several examples of the subordinate role of women in the Bible. He even shows us what a woman was worth by age. The highest value was 30 shekels of silver compared to 50 for men in the age group 20 to 60. This is based on the redemption vows. There's more here. We learn about widows, virgins, and the roles of women in public and the home.

Chapter 3

In this chapter, Coogan looks at marriage and divorce. Abortion and polygamy fit here. There are no comments on abortion and birth control in a culture where children are valuable assets. Infant mortality is a horrific 50% based on some estimates. Coogan explains the familiar pro-choice argument about ending pregnancies and shows the problem with the poets recognition of life in the womb. Following comments on polygamy, Coogan looks at the restrictions on divorce explained in the context of Jewish culture and law.

Chapter 4

Here we learn about forbidden relationships like adultery, incest, and rape. An important reminder to moderns is an understanding of women as a man's property. Incest is of course part of the list of forbidden relationships. The value of a virgin daughter to her father is a noteworthy point of ancient culture. Next Coogan offers his take on same-sex sexuality. He offers the cultural context for the disapproval and challenges modern moralists to consider their views about same sex-sex prohibitions in view of culture and their inconsistent stance on other moral matters.

Chapter 5

This essay is about rape and prostitution. The familiar Bible stories are revisited. We learn the oft told stories of righteous prostitutes like Tamar and Rahab, but we also see how they were marginalized.

Chapter 6

Coogan introduces ideas about God and his wives and the problem of polytheism in ancient Israel. We know Israel was warned by the biblical writers of metaphorical adultery in their pursuit of other Gods. Coogan reminds readers that ancient cultures told stories about gods having relations with humans. And he finds evidence for these beliefs in the Scriptures.

**********

I quoted Coogan's work in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures to help readers appreciate various interpretations of scriptures dealing with contemporary issues like sexual abuse, abortion, and the role of women.

Coogan's work overlaps with other similar books aimed at helping Christians be careful with their moral proclamations. Frankly, I doubt many Christians will take the time to peruse alternative interpretations of their firm beliefs about biblical marriage and sex and presented by their clergy and in books by evangelicals. Nevertheless, Coogan's work is well documented and offers a cautionary message to modern zealots even as it helps readers appreciate an ancient culture so distant in time from our own.

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Related Posts

 Sex Texts by Hornsby

The Moral Teaching of Paul by Furnish

Sex God by Bell





Meeting Jesus Again by Borg

 Meeting Jesus Again     

for the First Time

 By

  Marcus J. Borg

 Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton

 


Borg begins by telling us he is writing from the perspective of two worlds—the world of a religious scholar and a Christian.

Chapter 1

Images of Jesus are important. Christians learn about Jesus as divine savior and teacher, but there’s more. He then tells us of his spiritual struggle as a teenager.

In my early teens, I began to have doubts about the existence of God. It was an experience filled with anxiety, guilt, and fear. I still believed enough to be afraid of going to hell because of my doubts. I felt that they were wrong, and in my prayers I would ask for forgiveness. But I couldn’t stop doubting, and so my requests for forgiveness seemed to me not to be genuine. (p.32)

As many have before, Marcus prayed for help.

“Every night for several years, I prayed with considerable anguish, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” (p. 33)

Following years of study, Borg came to see the differences in the text itself. The early gospels offer glimpses into the life of Jesus the person, but the Gospel of John presents the Christ of Faith. Borg sets up a division between two images of Jesus as pre-Easter and post-Easter. Borg closes with his new understanding of the Christian life as one of relationship with God.

Chapter 2

Borg introduces us to scholarly work on the pre-Easter Jesus. Scholars look at the various stories of Jesus’ life with a view to separating the sayings and works of Jesus from the views of the Christian community. Scholars also include information from the Gospel of Thomas. Like other writers (e.g., Spong), Borg reminds us that Jesus was Jewish. He sets aside some of the folklore to emphasize Jesus as a “spirit-person,” wisdom teacher, social prophet, and founder of Christianity as a movement of Jewish renewal.

Chapter 3

Two concepts are central to Jesus–his spirit and his compassion. Borg sees Jesus’ compassion as a key to understanding what it means to live a life centered on God. This compassionate view is not just about individuals but about community. Later, Borg contrasts this compassionate foundation of morality to morality based on purity or holiness. Examples show how Jesus attacked the “purity system” of his day.

Chapter 4

Wisdom is about how to live life. In Borg’s view, Jesus is teaching a way of wisdom that is about a relationship with God and not about living well in our contemporary culture that emphasizes the “3 As” of achievement, affluence, and appearance.

Chapter 5

Borg continues the exploration of Jesus as the wisdom of God. He notes John’s metaphor of Jesus as the Word of God and the Son of God. In short, these are more images to consider when understanding the Jesus of faith.

Chapter 6

In this final chapter, Borg presents Jesus in the context of three “macro-stories” with the Bible as a whole. Two of these are from the Hebrew Bible—The Exodus and the Babylonian exile and return. The third is the Jewish way of worship involving the temple, priesthood, and sacrifice. Borg brings these stories together in themes of liberation and life as a journey of compassion as one lives in relationship with the Spirit of Jesus.

My version included a separate essay on the Truth of Easter. Borg presents the importance of the Easter stories by looking at the metaphors of grace.

**********

 I recommend reading Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time to those who find the childhood stories about Jesus as lacking in credibility and value for life. Too often we have seen “bumper sticker theology” and trite posts or uncontextualized bit of Scripture posted on personal pages and platforms. I am also aware of many friends who have walked away from Christianity because no one engaged their minds to see the powerful story of compassion and depth of spirituality present in the metaphors spoken by and about Jesus.

This is not a book for those who are happy with a fundamentalist view of the Christian life. It is not a book that encourages seeking God for earthly or heavenly rewards. As with his other works, Borg takes the Bible seriously but not literally. Meeting Jesus Again offers a spiritual path to inner peace, rest for the soul, and compassion for others. At a deep level, Borg understands our psychological need for relationship and entices readers to find a spiritual relationship with God as revealed in the Jesus’ way.

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Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Wisdom of Crowds- A Book Review by Sutton

THE WISDOM OF CROWDS  


By
   James Surowiecki

Reviewed by
   Geoffrey W. Sutton





The next time you are part of a large group or crowd, have a look around. Would you trust
them to make a wise decision on your behalf? How about guessing the weight of an ox after it
has been slaughtered and dressed?

James Surowiecki, staff writer for The New Yorker, begins his foray into collective intelligence by taking us back to century old findings by Sir Francis Galton. The crowd of 787 that Galton
observed weighed in with an average ox weight guess of 1,197 pounds. The actual weight was 1,198. Not bad!
Surowiecki’s thesis is that under certain conditions,
 a crowd is smarter than an individual is.

The author divided the book into two parts. In the first part, readers will learn three types of
problems that appear amenable to solutions by the wisdom of crowds followed by four important conditions. Part two contains examples of situations where collective wisdom has made a difference. There is an afterword and an extensive notes section but no index. 


The Galton story illustrates the value of collective intelligence when solving problems of cognition. Perhaps you recall the Challenger explosion of 28 January, 1986? Within a few minutes, investors bailed out of contractors’ stocks that could be associated with the disaster. One stock stood out from the rest, Martin Thiokel. The other firms were down but not nearly so
much. There were so many sellers that the exchange halted trading. Six months later the Oring seals made by Thiokel were implicated in the accident. Follow-up studies noted no insider trading. 

The author provides other examples of good decisions derived from group behavior. “Just follow the crowd,” is a mantra many use when finding their way to a sports event or party. It turns out that problems of coordination are solved by crowds on a regular basis. heading for
the exits after morning worship, choosing a route to a favorite restaurant, or negotiating city sidewalks are coordination problems. 

A third problem is one of cooperation. What was surprising following the Greensburg tornado disaster of 4 May, 2007 was how few lives were lost. As soon as the tornado had destroyed every house in town, people were milling about in the dark as they systematically searched for survivors. Secular and religious rescue teams were soon on site with food, water, and other necessities.

Drawing on behavioral science research, Surowiecki identifies four conditions important to successful group outcomes. First, there needs to be a diversity of opinions presented. This is not always pleasant; however, the group-think effect will eliminate the value of input into group problem-solving unless a multiplicity of ideas can be generated. Second, people need to proffer their opinions independently. Putting forward a consensus opinion subtracts value. 

Third, decentralization is important so that people with various areas of expertise are part of the total group presenting opinions. Finally, there needs to be a way of aggregating the information. In the past, collecting and organizing a vast array of opinions would have been incredibly time consuming. Fortunately, web-based input and google-like algorithms can produce quick and efficient collation of group data in rank order.

Part two seemed less dynamic to me. After reading the principles and enjoying the wow-factor examples, the organizational case studies seemed a bit tedious and caused me to think
more clearly about factors other than crowd wisdom that might explain the outcomes. In fairness, field research is always a bit messy compared to lab-based studies with college sophomores.

Readers interested in social behavior will find the book an interesting stimulus to consider
how to tap the opinions of people in their groups and organizations. Others may enjoy
replicating some of the findings in their labs or life experience. Most readers are likely part of professional organizations and religious groups that purport to value their constituents. Given the opportunities to quickly aggregate data via the internet, what might it look like if important decisions were made, based primarily on the independent views of the populace rather than the more typical consensus-driven governing boards? Should organizations spend more time observing what people actually do rather than striving to persuade the crowd to choose another way? For example, many American churches have adjusted their schedules to accommodate Super Bowl Sunday. 

On another level, can we trust the crowd to make wise decisions in moral matters? Are the historical examples of crowds choosing to follow leaders in destructive acts representative of the impaired wisdom of crowds? We may also ask if indeed the four conditions are necessary for crowds to make wise decisions, then why are crowds not wise enough to create such conditions? 


Perhaps the usual scientist disclaimer is in order, more research is needed. You might like to know that the collective wisdom of the world suggests that religion is important. That is, based on data collected by the New York Times Almanac staff, 74% of the world’s billions are members of one of the four largest religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism; Wright, 2007).

Watch a video on The Power of the Collective by James Surowiecki




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Free of Charge- Giving and Forgiving - A Book Review by Sutton


FREE OF CHARGE:
GIVING AND FORGIVING IN
A CULTURE STRIPPED OF GRACE     



By  Miroslav Volf

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton







God as Giver and Forgiver are twin perspectives Volf offers readers  interested in a theological foundation for forgiveness. Volf inserts a personal story that illustrates the gift of forgiveness between the two sections on Giving and Forgiving, which each contain three chapters. In each section, he reflects on the theological premise of God qua Giver or Forgiver. These reflections on God’s character are tidily followed by chapters on how we should and can give and forgive, respectively. 

Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and the Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.

Volf employs the bridge across the gap metaphor to establish the purpose for this treatise. Initially, he establishes the gap as the difference between the self-centeredness of humanity on one side and the generosity of God on the other side. His book is the bridge, inviting readers to find the true God who gives and forgives.


I was about to look for the bridge when Volf challenged me with a question, “Who is God (p. 21)?” Perhaps I could end up crossing the wrong bridge if I did not consider another gap: There are images of God, which are not representative of the one true God. Volf suggests some false images created by our culture that interfere with our ability to find God as revealed in Jesus. Certain images (e.g., Santa Claus) leave us mired in a self-focused world where we miss the love that flows from God as a freely available gift illustrated by loving parents who necessarily give newborns that which they need for survival.


In the giving chapters that follow, Volf suggests ways people can learn to give freely as a response to needs instead of focusing on the beneficial effects of giving. I found myself thinking of an existential attitude as if by choosing to give, I act ethically regardless of the consequences of my act. I view the difference between Volf’s perspective and that of the secular existentialist as a difference in focus. For the Christian, choosing to give freely without considering the potential outcomes can only make sense when the giving is grounded in trust in God whose character ensures that the gift given in God’s name will yield fruit; There is a real sense of trust that in giving freely (i.e., godlike) an entire community will experience God’s love. In godly giving, God is present as part of a triangle with human givers and receivers. God’s Spirit transforms the attitudes of both givers and recipients.


Daniel’s death is a tragic story that illustrates both giving and forgiving. Volf’s parents freely gave a gift of forgiveness to a soldier when his careless actions resulted in the death of their five-year-old son. This interlude bridges the conceptual gap between giving and forgiving. Amidst the heart wrenching anguish, Volf asks the poignant question: “Why should we give a gift of forgiveness when every atom of our wounded bodies screams for justice or even revenge (126)?”


For Volf, “The generous release of a genuine debt is the heart of forgiveness (130).” As with giving, Volf finds Christian forgiveness involves a triangle: God, the wrongdoer, and the wronged person. Here and elsewhere in the discussion, Psychotherapists will discern a divergence from common psychological conceptions of forgiveness as an intrapersonal event. For Volf, forgiveness includes giving the gift of forgiveness to the wrongdoer, which psychological models would commonly consider an act of reconciliation. Similar to other formulations of the forgiveness process, the manner in which Volf describes forgiveness indicates his appreciation of the importance of affirming the wrongdoing, recognizing the justice gap, and taking another’s perspective. However, Volf does not distinguish between forgiveness and reconciliation as rigidly distinct concepts when he notes the importance of expressed forgiveness within a community. God’s love is freely given and freely expressed. As a god-inspired gift, believers express forgiveness to enhance community relations. Giving forgiveness promotes reconciliation. Volf contextualizes giving and forgiving within a community.



Christian readers will find Volf’s perspective on giving and forgiving refreshing. For me, he achieved his purpose of relating giving and forgiving to the character of God and showing their importance to community. This brief and orderly volume makes it suitable for an added reader in a college course or a small group book study. Although at times his metaphysical rationales for a particular premise (e.g., interactions among members of the trinity) do not subserve any manifest purpose, Volf captures certain nuances of giving and forgiving that suggest a thoroughly Christian lens on enhancing relationships. Because some of his ideas are at variance with some psychological formulations of forgiveness (notably the intrapersonal emphases in psychology), they deserve consideration by all those interested in integrating theology and psychology.

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Watch Volf talk about forgiveness on YouTube





Thursday, July 16, 2020

Stumbling on Happiness- A Book Review

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS     

by Daniel Gilbert

Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton





Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, will make you laugh as he weaves witticisms and humorous stories into an entertaining account of scientific research as we join him in Stumbling on Happiness. Essentially, Gilbert argues in chapter one, that we spend much of our time planning and executing unsuccessful strategies to attain an elusive state of happiness. In six sections, we learn why such a quest often proves beyond our grasp.

In part one, Gilbert provides a brief overview of the philosophical foundations of the problem of subjective analysis of happiness. He gradually leads us to an operational definition by illustrating how common human experiences can deliver shared feelings of happiness. However, he illustrates how the elusive and subjective aspect of happiness can produce self-deception by demonstrating how the human brain misperceives visual phenomena and similarly misperceives the imagined happiness value of a future event.

In part two, Gilbert builds on the results of cognitive science to show how we mistakenly recall previously recorded feelings and struggle to make affective  comparisons between experiences. He concludes the section with an appropriately humble appreciation of the problems in measuring happiness. Nevertheless, he urges us to forge ahead with the assessments we have because of the important role feelings play in our lives. Caveats aside, Gilbert has set the foundation for the next three parts that address the attitudes of realism, presentism, and rationalization to an understanding of happiness.


REALISM is the focus for part three. Gilbert argues from research data that imagination provides the illusion of foresight and a sense of.realism that is in fact unreal because we routinely fail to realize how many event-related details are filled in by our brains. He summarizes memory research to demonstrate how the brain forms imprecise memories of past events in such a subtle manner that people do not realize the inaccuracies. Thus, he expertly explains how our perceptual processes not only miss important details but also fill in nonexistent information based on previous experience and environmental cues. He also reviews the important dynamics of memory reconstruction especially as related to the accuracy of memories. Although many of these studies will be familiar to undergraduate
psychology students, Gilbert shows how these findings are relevant to an accurate
appraisal of experiences that we may or may not construe as a basis for happy feelings.


PRESENTISM. In part four, readers learn about the problems people have in accurately predicting their future feelings, which are largely based on the present (hence the name Presentism for this section). Beginning with illustrations of failed predictions and humorous past images of what the future (now past) would be like, Gilbert guides readers into an appreciation for the problems of using present experience to extrapolate to the future.

In addition, he includes research that illustrates the relatively poor job people do when asked to assess how they will feel following various events. By this time most readers should be fairly well convinced that their predictions about a given pursuit of happiness may not materialize. Even if it did, they cannot be sure that they will indeed feel happy! Finally, he builds a subtle argument for the similarity of space and time dimensions of experience in order to use research about misperceptions of distant events in spatial dimensions to illustrate the problem of appraising affective outcomes of events on near and distant time horizons.





RATIONALIZATION. Paradise Glossed, the chapter that begins part five (Rationalization), opens with a familiar Shakespearean line, "For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so (Hamlet)." Here we learn of the human penchant for recasting personal events and facts so they present a favorable impression. In Gilbert's words, we cook the facts (read confirmation bias). An interesting aside for therapists is that people end up handling trauma and disaster much better than they predict they would. So what do people commonly regret? Interested readers will find the answer on page 197
.

In the last section, Gilbert illustrates how personal theories and problematic information add to the difficulty of predicting which event sequence will lead to any particular future, let alone one that affords us happiness. He concludes with a chapter suggesting that learning from the experiences of others may actually improve our odds of a happier future more than relying on our "faithless" memories or memory dependent imaginations.

Scholarly readers will appreciate the extensive chapter-by-chapter notes that include studies from the highest quality psychology journals. The notes are followed by an adequate index. On the book's website, there is a basic 12-week outline for those who wish to teach a unit on the subject (http://www.randomhouse.com/kvap/gubert/index .html)..Pragmatic readers will benefit from a current overview of a topic relevant to an understanding of human behavior—at least for those of us who believe that a good deal of human behavior is motivated by the pursuit of happiness. 

Worth Quoting


“Impact is rewarding. Mattering makes us happy.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

“Surprise tells us that we were expecting something other than what we got, even when we didn’t know we were expecting anything at all.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

“Memory uses the filling-in trick, but imagination is the filling-in trick,”
didn’t know we were expecting anything at all.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness


“Imagination cannot easily transcend the boundaries of the present, and one reason for this is that it must borrow machinery that is owned by perception. The fact that these two processes must run on the same platform means that we are sometimes confused about which one is running. We assume that what we feel as we imagine the future is what we’ll feel when we get there, but in fact, what we feel as we imagine the future is often a response to what’s happening in the present.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

“Among life’s cruellest truths is this one: wonderful things are especially wonderful the first time they happen, but their wonderfulness wanes with repetition.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness


“the feeling of control—whether real or illusory—is one of the wellsprings of mental health.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

“When we imagine future circumstances, we fill in details that won’t really come to pass and leave out details that will. When we imagine future feelings, we find it impossible to ignore what we are feeling now and impossible to recognize how we will think about the things that happen later.”

― Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness






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Here is a YouTube talk on happiness by Dan Gilbert