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Big thank you to the Placitas Library! It was a good gathering of Placitans thanks to Judy, Bob, Anne, and Cosmos (and I’m sure some others I don’t know about). Great job and great equipment.

After a brief talk and a power point on the effects of viral fear, particularly media-induced fear, we had a Q&A that lasted about 45 minutes. Some of the questions or comments were very political, others truly got the point of the book. One woman, who was very elegant and seemed to be very intent on the content, asked: “So it’s basically fear that keeps people from realizing how afraid they are!” I nearly jumped into the audience to hug her. That’s precisely the idea. It becomes a feedback loop. The characters, started on their paths by need and fear, can’t stop or even see themselves truly, because they are so afraid. That is the push into the abyss.

Another fellow wrote me an email about a memory he had and graciously gave me permission to publish it here. It describes precisely the sort of fear that keeps otherwise bright, good people from doing what needs to be done.

When I was a small lad of about 8, maybe 10 years of age, I went to a small amusement in late Spring or early Summer.   The lines were a lot easier to navigate.  My favorite was always the roller coaster type rides and this park had a very old wooden one I had never ridden.  It was a good ride but like most, ended way too soon and while I was thinking about riding again, the little clump of cars stopped before the place where we boarded.  It wasn’t much, maybe 20 feet or so short of where we entered the ride and I looked around and saw a sign that said to stay seated until the ride came to a complete stop.  It did seem like the little train had stopped for a lot longer than I thought it should have and then noticed that it started to roll forwarded again slowly.

Problem was that a girl in the seat a couple ahead of me had pushed open the restraint bar and gotten out of the car.  The landing had a small step you used to reach the walkway and as the cars rolled forward, I saw this girl’s foot on that step get caught between the riser of the step and the train moving forward and it twisted her foot completely around.  There was a lot of yelling and stunned people just sitting there.  I got up and went to the girl, braced my weight on one of my arms as I straddle her so she would not be able to see her foot.  She was very scared.  I was talking to her calmly and slowly.  She asked if it was bad. . .had she broken her foot and I said yes and blocked her so she could not see just how bad it was.  I looked up at the crowd and this really upset me.   Everyone just stood around doing nothing.  I remember thinking that they were all transfixed like they were watching an very interesting movie on the television.  I yelled at a couple to keep the crowds back and give the girl some room to breathe then singled out three people and told them to call for help.  It was like a light bulb went on and I was the adult among all these children.

Later in life I met that moment in our lives that we all know we might reach someday and hope we never have too.  That moment when your heart is pounding so loud in your ears and the gear is almost a taste in the back of your throat then it hit me.  This was that moment when people froze.  The moment that made the difference in how you were to go forward or you could also choose to freeze.   I remember how remarkable I thought it was that I could still move and concentrated on my breathing and tried to gain some control.  I’ve gone to that place a few more times and each time it is always the same but you get to recognize it better and know what has to be done.  I realize that it is no sin for those that chose not to move, to remain frozen, but that was something they had to live with and something they would need to deal with.  I was thinking about this as you were talking today.

T. L.

That pretty much sums it up.

We’ll be having another book signing at Bookworks in Albuquerque, NM on July 10th. Hopefully, by then, we’ll have two book trailers for people to watch.

Stay tuned.
And thanks everyone for coming!

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Michelle Wargo conducted an interview with me about The Next Osama. It seems that Heartbeat Radio’s mission–to make people more aware of the messages with which they are surrounded–is right on line with the ultimate purpose of the book.  In that spirit, we just disconnected our cable TV.

To see their website, go to www.heartbeatradiousa.com.

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The Huffington Post recently published a series of articles I wrote on fear and the media, written as a form of penance for the years I spent in advertising doing exactly what The Next Osama warns us about–using fear as a motivator.

This is an excerpt from the first piece, entitled, ‘Tis the Season to Be Fearful: Confessions of an Ex-Ad-Woman (Part 1) :

It was a long time ago. I was young. I was writing for Madison Avenue, hobnobbing with celebrities, going to parties.  It was as far from a meaningful life as I’ve ever been, but it was the 1980’s, Reagan was president, we were selling and everyone was buying. Life was “good.”

Then one day I got an ad order for one of the firm’s big clients. They were pushing a new diet pill that would expand in the stomach and fool the person into feeling full so they wouldn’t eat. I read the marketing stats carefully. Their targeted audience was young, female and anorexic.

I don’t know what made me suddenly so sensitive or intolerant of such an obviously necessary strategy — who else would you sell a diet product to? — but I got angry. And in a pique of rebellion I hurled my typewriter against what I felt to be a nasty injustice and sealed my fate when I submitted an ad with a picture of the little expanding pill and a headline that read: Fat Chance.

Needless to say, they never ran the ad.

Not too much later I was enrolled in graduate school for social work.
Being a therapist is not too different in some ways from being a copywriter, when you think about it. It’s all about understanding people, their motivations, habits and triggers. What I do with it now, however, is very, very different than what I used to do. And what I’d like to do is share what I know about advertising so you can become selectively immune to it. Consider this a mental, psychological and emotional vaccination. And an act of contrition for me.

This is from part II, How To Defend Yourself Against the Media’s Fear Tactics:

Human nature may be the same, but there are new rules of engagement.

With every major invention, every technical ratcheting forward, human history has been irrevocably altered. Some of the most pivotal alterations have been the result of the least dramatic and perhaps least glamorous discoveries, such as the toilet and interior plumbing.

Massive changes followed the introduction of those little white bowls in the average home, most notably the decrease of acute epidemic disease and the increase in the human lifespan, which in turn has had a ripple effect on everything we think and undertake.

If we have 80 years to live instead of 40, well, then we have more time to get educated, we can wait to be married, we can pursue more than one career. Perhaps the most notable effect of our recent longevity has been the illusion that somehow life can (even should) go on indefinitely if we can only get a hold of that slippery little gene or remember to take that new antioxidant.

This dynamic — technology permuting culture — is pervasive throughout our collective experience. As our technology has changed, our lifestyles have changed. And as our lifestyles have changed our expectations, our strategies for living and our psychologies have changed. War has been no exception to the rule. The way we wage it and the battles we choose to fight have been similarly transformed. However, this time not only has the nature of war changed, but our very battlefields have been moved and we barely noticed.

And finally this is part III, Is There A Vaccination Against Fear: Medicine and the Media

Confessions of an Ex-Ad Woman Part III

The other day, we watched a commercial for a new drug that promised relief for neuralgia, but added that it might cause lupus, cancer, heart problems, and rashes that could indicate a life-threatening disease. As the commercial wrapped up with a warm and fuzzy moment, I pondered how big business had changed the face not only of media, but of medicine. And I thought not only about the demands of advertising (tell, tell, tell so you can sell, sell, sell), but about the way it conflicts with the essence of healing and how, once again, awareness is the true antidote.

The First Law of Healing: Primun Non Nocere
First Do No Harm. This is still the sacred oath of every medical school graduate across the country as he or she accepts the diploma, title and rank of healer. However, in a world of unreasonable speed in which new protocols and pharmaceuticals are being produced, pushed through FDA approval, and heavily promoted in measures of seconds, not years, it may be more than doctors can promise us anymore.

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First in a series of articles on Media and The American Psyche.

A while back a friend told me about a graffiti artist in New York City who’d been covering subway and building walls with a simple declarative statement: Stop shopping and start thinking! This is particularly interesting since we are now approaching the season to shop and shop and shop and shop. It also made me wonder what he was suggesting we actually think about. And perhaps more importantly, what we were doing instead of thinking.

So, more than half-way across the country, I went into town and I spent a day watching people. I observed them on the street, in stores, in restaurants, on television, at gas stations. A typical group of young people (anywhere from approximately 10 years of age to 20) walked in much the same way a school of herring swim, in a huddle, somehow sensing one another’s movements, veering left, then right without much in the way of verbal communication because every one of them was either wearing an iPod or had a cell phone planted on one ear.

For the rest of the article, go to:  Huffington Post.
The comments from readers were some of the most thoughtful I’ve received yet.

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THE NEXT OSAMA

Review and interview by Donna Olmstead, freelance writer and reporter for The Albuquerque Journal  (October 2010)

Placitas psychotherapist and writer Judith Acosta recently talked about her new novel, The Next Osama (2010). Judith says she wrote the psychological thriller to explore what happens to individuals in a culture dominated by fear. The book is set after Osama bin Laden has been eliminated, in the muck of a media-induced fear frenzy that still courses through major cities and rural towns.

“This is the story of what we think we see, faith in what we don’t see, and all the gray spaces between. It is the story of the media’s calculated use of terror–what it does to one small American family and what it can finally do to us all,” she says of the book.

Although Judith has been writing all of her adult life, this is her first published novel.

Why did you turn to fiction to write this story?

I don’t know whether I turned to fiction or it turned to me. I don’t think anyone in their right mind actually decides to become a creative writer. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever undertaken. But the origin of it was in my office where I see fear every day. And it occurred to me as I watched one woman struggling with a relentless and pervasive anxiety after 9/11 that the media actively perpetuated her anxiety. I started calling it viral fear a few years later because of how much of it I was seeing. It’s not the same as a proper and good fear. It’s a useless fear. Good fear is what motivates us to jump out of the way of an oncoming train or defend our homes when there is a real attack. Useless fear paralyzes us and in fact makes us more vulnerable.

Telling the story of viral fear and what it does to one small group of people in New York hopefully gives people a more intimate and emotional view of it.

Besides, stories are always the best way of communicating any message.

Why do you think it’s important?

It’s vital to our survival on so many levels—emotional, spiritual, physical. When fear grips us the way it does the people in The Next Osama, it makes us irrational. This isn’t to say that there aren’t real things to be afraid of. There are. And we should deal with them courageously and firmly. Viral fear is not real. It’s insidious and it puts us in a negative trance.

Y’know the color code they use at airports and government buildings since 9/11? How often do you even pay attention to it anymore? Do you know whether we’re at yellow or orange or red right now?

When you put pressure on your arm long enough it goes numb. It’s the same with fear. And it’s utilized by the media to garner ratings, not inform or prepare us.

How does the book relate to your therapy practice?

In some ways, it reflects it. Trauma and anxiety are what I know best. What happens in my office is only one part of treatment. Helping people to a new level of awareness so they know when they are being “infected” by viral fear and knowing how to resist it is the other part.

I come from an advertising background. I know what media does and how it’s used. I did it. Perhaps this is my penance. And that would be fine by me. But it’s desperately important for my patients—for everyone—to know how and when they are being manipulated.

Test it yourself. Do some calculated channel surfing. Make mental notes of how often advertisers are using fear (of aging, of illness, of catastrophe, of weight gain) to get you to buy something you really don’t need. It’s really astonishing. I remember doing it for an article I wrote and finally lost count. It was up in the hundreds. And that was just within the time I was able to sit there and stomach it.

What’s your favorite passage?

I’d have to say the last paragraph in the next to last chapter. It was very hard to write because of how poignant the character is who’s mistaken for the next Osama and how his greatest longing became the source of his deepest wound. We’re so fallen. All of us.

What was your writing process for The Next Osama?

Painful, beautiful, relentless, compulsive and very, very disciplined. I got up every day and I wrote whether I felt like it or not. I ate a lot of dark chocolate. I walked a lot, even when I was sitting down. My feet didn’t stop moving. I couldn’t stop thinking of the characters even when I was sleeping. I came to love them all—the good and the miserable.

One of the saddest things for me was writing the last line and knowing that in order for you to open the book, I had to close it on people I’d spent a couple of years with.

But as I say that, I’m thinking that writers are a bizarre lot. I really do. All that time having conversations with ourselves in our own minds. Yikes.

What do you do to combat the daily dose of fear around all of us?

Pray often and talk to my husband. Besides God, he’s my rock and he always knows how to bring me back to basics without dismissing me. I can be very fearful about a lot of things.

Also, I avoid those shows that do nothing but warn you uselessly about mega-tsunamis and mega-volcanoes or tell you the horsemen of the apocalypse are on the horizon because of Mayan predictions. I hate them. They really do make me afraid. If I watch even a little (masochistic curiosity?), I walk around afraid and useless until I snap out of it or my husband comes home, whichever is first.

When I’m smart I remember that it’s not in my hands, that God’s got it all handled and when it’s time to go Home, I will go. Basically, if you’ve got those things in mind, there’s really nothing to be afraid of. I guess, now that I’m thinking about it, faith is the great antidote to fear.

Are you working on any other books?  What’s next?

There are a couple of books in the wings. They’re also about fear. But in vastly different ways. One’s a psychological thriller within NYPD where a cop and a psychiatrist are both “stalked” by the same fears. The other is a modern western romance where the cowboy rides a motorcycle and saves a band of wild horses in Wyoming. That one is pure emotional yahoo.

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A Commentary on State of Stuff in America

by Lawson Meadows, Guest Blogger.

The Seriousness of Stuff

The American consumer pattern is to seek the next new thing, not just for the stuff, but for the status.

The “new” next new thing arrives, and the “old” next new thing is now the next old thing: a typical pattern of the American consumer. However, consider that consume means “to destroy”; does that make all the good little consumers good little destroyers? Most marketers count on it, and so it is, in virtually every aspect of product development and delivery: from cell phones morphing into multi-faceted electronic tethers, to more economical, safer, faster cars; from razors with ever-increasing blades and longer-lasting lubricant strips, to the predictably unpredictable changes in fashion… the examples continue seemingly ad infinitum. Better, faster, prettier, sexier, longer lasting, and brimming with status directly transferrable to the consumer… so they say; so we believe.

Almost from birth, external influences push and prod us to use, discard, and replace as required for social acceptance based on the perception of status.

Consumer training begins early; we are driven by the actions we witness, words we hear, pressures we endure, and their accompanying, albeit transient, patina of satisfaction born from the consumption of “stuff”. However, consumption is not merely destroying or “using up” material things; it is the process by which we benefit from burning the log of status. The perception of value is in our minds, and in our lives, and therefore within us; though the value is not real, perception makes it seem so. We want to acquire the next new thing for the perceived status, or more importantly, to avoid its loss… this is clearly seen as important and necessary by many, if not most of the American consumers.

Stuff is OK until the fear of losing it causes anxiety over loss of status.

Let me be clear, I like stuff, and getting stuff is fine when it does not share the stage with the fear of loss: not so much the loss of stuff, but the loss of stuff status. It is not just the product development and marketing departments that understand this; I think most of us understand it too. Yet we trade our knowledge for the armor of ignorance, so we can feel good, feel important, and it helps us avoid the one action considered anathema by consumers… devaluation due to a loss of stuff status.

We fail to act in our best interests when we trade self-definition for definition from others, and that is sort of, well… dumb.

The status in the next new thing acquires its value from those who bow to external judgment. They rely on the observations and opinions of others to find not only definition, but acceptance. They are defined from the outside, by the outside, and for the outside based on the status of their stuff. They fear the thought of defining themselves for themselves and see no future in that anyway, because there is no new status in settling for the real constant and consistent you, without your stuff. Again, most of us understand this, but often reject or ignore it: we fail to make it a priority. We are conditioned to accept that it is the new stuff which is necessary for happiness, and this is where the dumb arrives. It is dumb, and ultimately self-defeating, to know how to behave in the best interest of yourself and those you care for, but choose not to.

Negative lessons learned in childhood, when embraced and perpetuated, can establish behaviors that render adults less than self-confident and self-directed.

I do not believe childhood experience is an excuse for wrong action, yet there are fully-grown, intelligent, seemingly successful adults, who often behave in a manner ill fitting their best interests, denying what should be obvious. Childhood experience can teach not only the fear of being at odds with the opinions of others, but eventually the habit of relying on outside judgment. Decisions are molded to avoid negative returns from others rather than to reflect the integrity of their lives. They believe without the next new thing, others will see them as inferior, and unqualified for acceptance into the status driven social level they are trained to desire. Oddly, much of the fear’s justification is only surface deep, and not supported by the opinions and actions of others: fear can distort reality.

The knowledge of how little others think about us can be a shock to those who believe they always do.

To paraphrase an old saying: “If you knew how little others think about you, you would not be so concerned about what they think about you.” Yet the fear of judgment from others drives the consumer frenzy for the next new thing. Wearing out-of-fashion Manolo Blahnik’s; a dated pants suit to a business meeting; driving a mid-sized American car to a High School reunion; watching the Super Bowl on a 24” screen; having a flip-phone that is just a phone; and heaven forbid, being “sooo yesterday!” can drive to irrational action those who labor under the illusion that status must be made manifest in that it defines your place in the world.

What is referred to as of late as the “New Normal” might better serve both the individual and the whole of our culture if one of its components was the ability to self-value.

Self-valuing, when done in conjunction with the other “selvess” (confidence, reliance, respect, and even healthy self-love) not only benefits to the individual, but like the ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, the effects spread to family, friends, business acquaintances, casual observers, and others. It is an internal process of evaluation and judgment, observing one’s actions in the context of both circumstance and personal consideration. Ultimately, we must wean ourselves from the next new thing concept, and refocus, so we can exhibit the right kind of example for the next new generation.

This could be the “Next Right Thing”

The ability to gain internal satisfaction, approval, and even status, and then measure oneself against your potentials and capabilities, may not be the next new thing, but it would be the next “Right” thing. When you rely on “your” talents, behaviors, self-evaluation, and judgment, you are be better able to learn from mistakes, heal your wounds, and reach your potentials as you pursue our passions.

What do you think?

What about you? How confident are you about being a self-defined consumer? Have you considered the effect your purchase patterns have on those around you… especially your kids? Do you see this as a problem? Is the next new thing for you a new phone or car… or a new approach?

Lawson Meadows, married for 40 years, is a father, entrepreneur, instructor, writer, and a passionate student of the family. His web site – DaMoKi.com – is dedicated mainly to family dynamics, and preparing kids to become fully functional adults. His passion is to complete and publish his book “DaMoKi Concepts – Raising Great Kids”, and affect as much  positive change as possible in the next generation.

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Again, Huffington Post brings on a battery of comments and interest in the rampant narcissism in our culture. While most of the comments were tales of personal woe and frustration, many commentators saw the much larger picture–how the narcissistic character is not only prevalent but promoted and nourished in the Age of Celebrity.

This is a small excerpt I’m pleased to share with you.

You’d think that saying “no” would be a simple thing. It has a quick meaning and only two letters. It has a strong survival component, and we literally can’t live without it.

So why does it pose so many problems?

We know we don’t like to hear it; it means that we’re not going to get our way, or that someone is disagreeing with us. But why, even when we want to or desperately need to, is it so hard to say?

Ten or so years ago I helped teach an abuse-awareness program aimed at young children in preschool and kindergarten. The program was called “Good Touch, Bad Touch” and was designed to teach the children how to recognize inappropriate behavior and then help them know what to do about it. We also had a segment on abduction prevention. In it we presented different scenarios in which a child was lured away by a grownup. As I recall, in one scenario the adult utilized a puppy as a lure; in another, he needed the child to help him with something (a sure sign something is wrong, because adults don’t ask little children for help); and in another the adult offered candy.

What we found over time was that the scenarios landed on deaf ears. Even though we repeated the program a few times during the school year, the children always failed the test at the end. In the test they were asked to role-play the child and reject the abductor by pulling away and yelling, “He’s not my daddy/mommy!” In nearly every single case, despite all the encouragement and preparation, the children went quietly with the adult perpetrator.

Even though a few children were good screamers and one little boy with an impishly beautiful face nearly yanked my arm out of its socket, the overwhelming majority of the children would have been lost had they ever had the misfortune of being in that situation for real.

Frankly, it scared us all silly. None of the people involved with the program could understand why the results were so dismal. Variables had been jostled: different teachers, different times of the day, different presentation styles, different emphases and intensities, all to no avail.

One day, instead of having the children role-play at the end, I had them role-play from the very beginning. The enactment would be the teaching tool instead of the test. And, lo and behold, they got it.

What part of “no” didn’t they understand?

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It’s always encouraging to see a lot of people respond to an article posted on a site known for good thinking and smart readers.

This one seems to have created quite a ruckus. Some of the folks got it. Some of the folks demonstrated it. The article is about  fear, how it’s marketed, how we are swimming in suggestion, the threat of the mediocracy we live in and what we might be able to do about it. Interestingly, the part that upset so many people was when I mentioned the “G” word (God). Go figure. And that’s on a conservative think tank!

Some people strongly disagreed that we have a few issues with rage and entitlement in this country. I chose this picture for them.

http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/10/the_great_american_trance.html

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According to a report by NPR last year (April 19, 2009), a torrent of money was being released into the American economy as if into irrigation ditches. Nearly a trillion dollars, to be precise.

I was curious about my own state—New Mexico. What did our leaders consider a priority? What did we need to plan for our future as well as for the immediate goal of putting people to work?

It seems we needed $2,937,146,132.00…

To do what? Please go to AmericanThinker.com to see the full article.

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The book is stepping out in Huffington Post with an article that we hope will inspire Americans to wake up.

Wake up America!

There is a difference between fear that is useful and fear that is futile. We worry about sagging neck lines when we don’t think about our bloated and sagging national debt. We are afraid of getting old but not afraid of lives bereft of purpose. We are afraid of nearly everything the media tells us to be afraid of so that we buy (pills, perfumes, and policies) whatever they are selling.

It does more than make us afraid. It makes us insensate. It distracts us.

This came home to me once again in my psychotherapy practice in which one woman was so terrified by all the things she imagined could happen to her (to her loved ones, to her home, her career, her body, her car) that she felt absolutely paralyzed. Yet, she wasn’t afraid of the things she should have been afraid of: getting into cars with strangers, anonymous sex, relentless consumption of pills and other agents of distraction).

We worry about contracting the flu, when we should be more conscious about the fear that is infecting us with every advertisement.

Wake up, America.