Posted by Frederic Brussat on June 19, 2017

The automated teller machine was invented in 1967 and the self-service till appeared in 1984. By 2013, there were over 200,000 in stores throughout the world and by 2021, there could be well over 325,000 in service.

According to this article on BBC Future by Adriana Hamacher, a 2014 poll found that 93 % of people dislike self-checkout machines and in some cases their anger and impatience with the machines drive them to theft. But the machines are popular with vendors since having customers do all the checkout work means less overhead to the store. Armed with this information about customer discontent, stores are talking about improvements in speeding up transactions, replacing the voices that irritate people, and redesigning machines.

We agree with the Japanese approach to self-service shopping: many establishments have held off on machines and put the accent on improved staff efficiency through omotenashi — elaborate courtesy. We are also quite skeptical about the idea that making technology more fun and cool is the best way to deal with self-service discontent. It seems to us that encouraging kindness, courtesy, and hospitality in the store may require more than a machine redesign.

Posted by Frederic Brussat on June 8, 2017

The Danish people are known to be among the happiest in the world. In The Book of Hygge, Louisa Thomson Brits defines it as "a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered. Hygge is an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation."

In an article by David Robson on BBC Future, we learn about a project designed to identify emotion words — like hygge — from other countries. Its director, Tim Lomas at the University of East London, gives as an example the Finnish concept of sisu which is a sort of "extraordinary determination in the face of adversity." According to Finnish experts, the English notions of grit, perseverance, and resilience do not convey the inner strength conveyed by their term.

Such "untranslatable" words offer us a chance to enrich our language and expand our appreciation of cross-cultural meanings and insights. Here are a few more examples:

  • Desbundar (Portuguese): to shed one's inhibitions in having fun
  • Tarab (Arabic): a musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment
  • Shinrin-yoku (Japanese): the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally
  • Dadirri (Australian Aboriginal): a deep, spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening Sukha (Sanskrit): genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstances

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on June 5, 2017

In an article in The Guardian, Luisa Dillner states that optimism is linked to health benefits and makes people more resilient. A recent paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology shares the findings that optimists were less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung conditions or infections during the eight-year study period. The women were aged between 58 and 83 years of age.

The power of positive thinking is a character trait that expects good outcomes even when someone is facing steep challenges. That is why more than 85 studies equate optimism with better health.

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on May 26, 2017

Having just celebrated 48 years of marriage with Mary Ann, I was delighted to see Penelope Green's article in The New York Times about the fifty-year marriage of Buddhist scholar and activist Robert Thurman and former model Nena von Schlebrugge. As professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University and the president of Tibet House USA, he is promoting a biography in graphic-novel form of the Dalai Lama called "Man of Peace." Thurman hopes it will appeal to millennials. The Tibetan leader ordained Thurman as a Tibetan monk, the first known Westerner to take the necessary 253 vows.

Thurman and his wife took marriage vows despite the fact that they were once voted by their friends as the couple least likely to succeed. They built their own house in Woodstock, New York, where they still live. Ms. Thurman offers two keys to a lasting and mindful marriage:

"If you share a spiritual outlook, it's an area you can return to when you are having your petty struggles, which are nonsense compared to what you really care about. On a practical note, you have to take turns, so that no one partner becomes dominant in the relationship."

Posted by Frederic Brussat on May 23, 2017

According to a report, gaining refugee status in the United States takes an average of 18 - 24 months and most of work is done abroad. This treasured designation involves screening by the U.N. and eight different federal government agencies, as well as three face-to-face interviews, biometric security, background checks, and security database checks.

Our friends at have alerted us to 100 Questions & Answers about Immigrants to the US. This guide is part of the Michigan State University School of Journalism series on cultural competence. Check out the various sections on identity, language, religion, culture, customs, social norms, economics, politics, education, work, families and food. Then reflect upon how you can support a more open and hospitable immigration policy.

Posted by Frederic Brussat on May 19, 2017

In an article on, Olaf Werder points out that in today's polarized milieu, dialogue between people has given way to "parallel monologues, paired with an inability to listen." Many conversations devolve into competitions where participants verbally attack each other and do not hesitate to shout their ideas rather than convey them in a civilized manner.

There can be little understanding or insight when dialogue is trashed for just another competition. Whereas human beings have a natural drive toward belonging and serving the common good, Werder suggests that we need to work harder "to balance impersonal with personal communication, seek out and engage with opposing opinions on purpose, and try understanding the background for someone's position by actively listening."

Posted by Frederic Brussat on May 16, 2017

Improving your sleep quality is as beneficial to your well-being as winning the lottery. This is a finding in a report appearing in by Dr. Nicole Tang from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick. She reports on a four-year research project involving more than 30,500 people in UK households. Those taking positive steps to change their sleep habits ended up significantly happier and healthier.

More study needs to be done on the happiness that comes from improved sleep quality. This applies to the U.S. where more than one-third of adults don't get enough sleep.

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on April 10, 2017

Do you remember the adulation given the American missile bombardment of Bagdad in 2003? Politicians and journalists alike were impressed with the U.S. military's ability to induce "shock and awe" while putting on a global demonstration of U.S. might and superiority.

At that time, we were doing regular articles in a series we called "Spiritual Literacy in Wartime." (These pieces now appear in our "Spiritual Literacy in Today's World" section.) In one titled "Shock and Awe," we looked at the deeper meanings of awe and reverence.

We reread that article last week . . .

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on April 3, 2017

Wendell Berry has been writing and living a life of limits, simplicity, and letting go for many years. For Ragan Sutterfield, Berry is a model of Christian renunciation. He quotes him in his American Catholic blog post "Learning to Live Poorer: A Meditation for Lent":

"We all live by robbing nature, but our standard of living demands that the robbery shall continue."

These words, Sutterfield adds, "ring in me like the words of John the Baptist: repent, for the kingdom of God has come near."

The 40 days of the penitential season of Lent are a good time to confess that because of our practice of conspicuous consumption, we "drive too much, buy too much, use too much." The drastic changes in weather signal that climate change is already with us; it "pits the excesses of human life against the whole of creation." The alternative, says Berry, is to "waste less, spend less, use less, want less, need less."

Sutterfield has posted this Berry quote on his refrigerator: "We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do." This transformation can come through establishing new habits that reverence the good earth and the objects which accompany us on our spiritual journey.

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on March 17, 2017

Here's something to think about. Could you stay offline for a day – perhaps by taking an Internet Sabbath? Could you still do your job? Would your family and friends worry about you? How would you use your extra time?

Rachel Nuwer in an article for the BBC . . .


About This Blog

Spiritual literacy is the ability to read the signs written in the texts of our own experiences. It is recommended and practiced in all the world's religions. Whether viewed as a gift from God or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning. More