Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on August 15, 2017

In March of 2017, New Zealand passed a bill making the Whanganui River the first one in the world to hold the same legal rights, responsibilities, and liabilities as a human being. For the Maori people it was the climax of a 140-year struggle to recognize the river as an ancestor of the tribe.

In his report on this rights issue, David Korten of Yes! Magazine affirms that polluting or damaging this river henceforth will be the legal equivalent of harming a person. Citing the New Zealand law as a precedent, a court in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand gave the Ganges River and its main tributary, the Yanuma River, the status of living human entities.

Although Korten salutes this triumph for Mother Earth, he raises some relevant questions about the new law and its meaning in a time of ecological disarray and humankind's refusal to work together on the catastrophes heading our way with climate change.

Here's something to think about: What elements of nature do you think ought to have the same rights as humans?

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on August 9, 2017

In an article in The New York Times, Dave Itzkoff describes filmmaker and comedian Michael Moore as "a 63-year-old hybrid of Noam Chomsky and P. T. Barnum." Now he's coming to Broadway. The Terms of My Surrender is already running previews and is set to open on August 10 at the Belasco Theatre.

What can lucky ticket holders expect?

Posted by Frederic Brussat on July 27, 2017

In an article in The New York Times, Marilyn Suzanne Miller (an original writer for Saturday Night Live and author of How to Be a Middle-Age Babe) outlines the ennui and discontentment of the Baby Boom generation who have become used to the attention and buzz surrounding their changing activities and identities.

Do you remember Hostess cupcakes . . .

Posted by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat on July 19, 2017

In an article on CNNMoney, Chris Isidore notes that malls are doomed; between 20% and 25% of American malls will close within five years, according to a new report from Credit Suisse. Estimates are that a record 8,600 stores will close this year alone. In addition department stores which have been major anchors in malls — Sears, Kmart, JC Penney, and Macy's — are closing many of their stores.

In the wake of bankruptcies and closings, some malls have come up with clever ways to lure people back to their spaces by sponsoring carnivals, concerts, and food-truck festivals in their large and empty parking lots.

In 2000, Duane Elgin wrote in Promise Ahead: "The American Dream of a consumerist way of life has become a dangerous illusion that no longer fits the reality of the world and our human potentials."

Malls gave new life and energy to consumerism and now that new life and energy is flagging. But is this blow against malls a sign that the consumerist way of life is dying? Nope. Malls may be closing, but shopping has not diminished. Millions are just shopping online. Amazon, for example, has grown from being a bookstore, to offering all kinds of consumer goods including food.

And in affluent areas of the country, malls are doing just fine. Perhaps that's because the rich want to be seen buying expensive items at exclusive stories.

Posted by Frederic Brussat on June 27, 2017

It has been assumed that workers will have to be trained in software engineering, biotechnology or advanced manufacturing to survive in the future job market. But, according to Livia Gershon in a fascinating essay on Aeon.co, "The Key to Jobs in the Future Is Not College but Compassion," only a tiny percentage of people in the post-industrial world will ever end up working in software engineering. The linchpin jobs of the future will require emotional skills, whether working with customers or collaborating with corporate teams on various projects.

The sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term . . .

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 CNN.com 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 ReadtheSpirit.com 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.

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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