Narrative Paths Journal

An evolving architecture of the human voice

Copyright (c) 2011-2019 L J Frank. All Rights Reserved

Narrative Paths Journal is a literary magazine focusing on new philosophies and ideas.” Uriél Dana



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The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

My take. The Internet is a towering deluge of information and data. The internet user is exploited on a minute to minute bases. Humanity itself has become the product or even worse the carcass left over after the wealthiest high-tech companies “have picked over our remains.”  We are living in age of massive inequities in knowledge, information, power and wealth.

Today, even hope comes with a price tag. The hundreds of volumes published each year on how to survive and achieve wealth helps those already with money who invite the ignorant on new ways to achieve modest wealth, while lining their own pockets. Everything costs, even opinions on self-help. Our human debt grows alongside our economic debt.

It’s the nature of today’s oligarchy to desire control.  Essential to capitalism is the win-loser mentality of competition. In such a game only the wealthiest are the winners. The cards are stacked. The game is rigged against the majority unless you are willing to do whatever is necessary. Even then your playing a game that’s not your game. People have become the product in the age of surveillance capitalism.

The author states, “This book is about the darkening of the digital dream and its rapid mutation into a voracious and utterly novel commercial project that I call surveillance capitalism.” Everything a person does today is affected by the Internet and the technologies on the horizon appear to govern all aspects of the human experience.

Who are these technology companies that are so invasive of the human experience.  Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft are some of the most significant – with  “technologically advanced and increasingly inescapable raw-material-extraction-operation.” Everything we do online is currently collected and sold to feed the wealthiest…hope in the long run may turn out as an existential illusion as Nietzsche once observed.

Is it too late? Have we already succumbed to capitalism latest incarnation? How does one strike back? Civil ligation is costly for most people. Today who has the resources? What part of your soul is up for sale? The thrust of this work is about knowledge and power and the economics behind it.

Capitalism itself succeeds best when knowledge and wealth are redistributed to level the playing field.

Our competitive and capitalistic ideals? As Thomas Paine observed, “Infidelity (to our ideals) does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe what he (she) does not believe.”  If the wealthiest have no moral compass then a civilized society finds itself on the edge of a cliff. Is capitalism itself core to problem with the technological giants merely taking advantage of those “of a lesser god?”

The book opens the door to many questions….core to surveillance capitalism is the very nature of greed. Who shall reverse the course? The author gives her thoughts and offers intriguing insights. The questions remain. Thought-provoking.



Masks, Faces of Culture by John W. Nunley, Cara McCarty. (2000)

What is it about masks that draws us to that which is concealed? Masking is ancient – entertainment, fashion, superstition, myth, war, politics, culture, ritual, religion, power, fear, joy and more.

The authors begin by stating: “Masks are the most ancient means of changing identity and assuming a new persona. From the beginning putting on a mask has never been a singular activity. In order for masking to have meaning and relevance, it needs an audience, a minimum of one observer, The urge perhaps even universal human need, to transform ourselves has coexisted with the development of human society.”

The origins of the word mask, the authors suggest, comes from the Arabic maskhara,which meant “to falsify” or “transform” into the face of another, whether human or animal. Over the centuries the word mask came to imply varied meanings depending on the group or culture but ultimately meant to conceal the person’s actual face.

The authors in this rich tapestry of photos and cultures note that masks are essentially a core to being human and are found in every regions of the world – for ritual, entertainment, war and mystery that is very personal to the wearer of the mask. This work focuses on the “journey” the mask people devise from “renderings in prehistoric caves to their use on the moon.”

The authors offer a general survey from the Prehistory and Origins of Masks, Rites of Passage, Festivals of Renewal, Men as Women, Theater to  Offense and Defense. Though there are other more scholarly works this book offers insights that cause the reader to want to know more. Not all occasions for wearing a mask are reviewed. (The book was created as a companion to an exhibition at the St. Louis art Museum). For this reader the survey offers a general psychology of culture – the process of channeling emotions, passions, courage, fear and beliefs through masking.

The book is worth the reading for the anecdotes, stories, associated myths and insights surrounding the use of certain types of masks and viewing the exquisite photographs from around the world. Masks is a very fine reference work.


History of Patriarchy

There is no clear beginning of when this societal model began—It was probably preceded by a Matriarchy and there is archeological evidence to support that conjecture…. Recorded history suggests Patriarchy started about 2000 years ago. Appearing in different cultures at slightly different times—In China Confucius was an advocate starting in 550 BCE. In the Western world it roots back to Aristotle in Greece in 384 BCE.

Aristotle portrayed women as morally, intellectually, and physically inferior to men; saw women as the property of men; claimed that women’s role in society was to reproduce and to serve men in the household; and saw male domination of women as natural and virtuous”. Wikipedia.

Patriarchy swept from Greece to northern Asia to NW India via Alexander the Great in 356 BC, who was tutored by Aristotle. Reached the west via the Romans in 55 BC. Britain was slightly later in 26AD after several attempts at invasion. In time, Britain as ‘Great Britannia’ made up for that late entry into the ethos with colonial activities spreading Patriarchy throughout Africa and India and beyond.

Note…In South India the Goddesses power and culture was preserved as the original invaders never went down that far and nor did the British colonize to the degree they did in the north.

Patriarchy subjected women to manipulation, abuse and subordination. Conquerors raped women to chastise them and make them feel lesser, teaching them viscerally to know their place as females, as properties. It was a rape culture, suppressive of women. And suppressive of all feminine traits inmen and women: crying, showing feelings and vulnerability, all the softer emotional expressions were seen as a weakness. Patriarchy is about power and dominance by the leadership using men as slave warriors, like tin soldiers.

Interestingly, at the same time in Egypt women were still in positions of power and respected, most notable was Cleopatra. Who managed to manage Patriarchy for a while as she held her queenly status and power. But after her no more females in governing power. There was push-back in England with the Boadicea rebellion against the Romans in 60 CE. She was a Celtic female warrior immortalized in a statue in London. Tall and mighty wearing her armoured bodice, standing upright leading her chariot of horses with her daughters in the back, raising their whips in defiance. Indicating the power of females in the society pre Patriarchy. Unfortunately historical records about Boadicea were written by the Roman conquerors so we have little detail about her full influence and stature.

Females were re-imaged by Patriarchy into subservient providers.

In Christianity the dutiful mother aspect of femininity was the sole focus with Mother Mary, particularly in Roman Catholism. The life and influence of Mary Magdalene was never fully expressed in the bible. In the Church of England (Anglican in North America) after the big Patriarch Henry V111 separated from Rome, female worship was removed, no altar to Mother Mary. No females in the stained glass windows. Occasionally the saint selected was Joan of Arc and she was disguised as a male.

In Victorian times patriarchy was very powerful, exerting a rigid, firm, authoritarian domination of the culture; gender roles were very fixed. Men to be breadwinners and women to manage domestic life. Women were deemed uninterested in sex and only married for the pleasure of home and motherhood! Dr. Acton. But Queen Victoria’s diaries apparently revealed a racier sexual orientation and of course women with every opportunity allowed their sexual nature to express however they could….

 The invasion and dominance of Patriarchy is here today even after a lot of social change, thanks to the suffragettes and then the women’s movement in 60s 70s and now we have “Me too.” In only 100 years a lot has changed for women in terms of societal inclusion as equals and more recently allowing men to show their feelings. The Hippy movement of 60s and 70s challenged and broke down a lot of the structural suppression of sex ‘make love not war’. However that wave of change was not sustained, as by the 80s the same people became intoxicated by money and status. Probably the harnessing of the media by patriarchal influences feeding our human frailty to addictions of many types to placate our fear of being separate and alone.

The Nature of Patriarchy

Patriarchy in the human condition is perpetuated in our Western culture as Britain and then USA exported the model throughout the world. It is institutionalized control! Encouraging stiff upper lip as opposed to open expression of vulnerability and emotions. Rigid viewpoints as opposed to listening to other perspectives, embracing another’s perspective. Even though Patriarchy has suppressed women to a secondary status under men. It is not onlyabout suppressing women. It is suppressing any freedom of expression that breaks the mould.

Important to recognize how Patriarchal thinking is an energy influencing both men and women, not gender based. Women in leadership roles recently pretty well had to carry that energy to be in power e.g. Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Theresa May, Hillary Clinton to some degree too. Now we have recently watched the US confirmation  of a Supreme court Judge Kavanaugh with questionable integrity supported by patriarchal women in the senate, specifically Susan Collins, even when women were screaming in protest as they had experienced sexual abuse themselves… .

Feminism in the 60’s rose up against Patriarchy but some aspects were rigidly similar, an Us vs Them, anti men. ’Me too” can set up the same polarization We need to listen to each other much more and create new codes of behaviour that honour both genders.

The evolutionary shift we desire is from combat to understanding. From rape culture to respect so critical now. with Trump (USA) and Ford (Canada).

Understanding starts with opening a conversation.

Conversation can start with Curiosity, ‘why do you think that’?

Be willing to listen and learn and change our perspectives. Remember the term ‘Active listening’ I think this is more about ‘Heart listening’ –listening from our hearts about what matters at the more crucial levels below the mind debate, what really matters between us as human beings. Accepting the differences without rancour and any need to convert, just be with the differences and see how every friendship, every family, every country can accommodate differences and still be held in love and connection. We can all still come together and celebrate the birth of a newborn, the sight of a glorious sunset, the uplifting of an amazing idea, the tender touch of connection when something is wrong for another. Our similarities of our humanity always outweigh our differences of the mind. It’s not easy to try to keep going to that place of universal connection, but we can –with our minds set on doing that –give our minds something great to do and…heh, presto, hopefully!

*Hilary has been meditating for over 25 years as a teacher. She also has 20 years as a senior executive in advertising and marketing in London, England and Toronto, Canada that feeds into her insights into the human condition.To learn more, go to: www.divinealign.com



Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer


Old ideas are rewritten, reexamined and metaphors created. Did primitive humans really have time to contemplate the idea of monogamy, non-monogamy and intimacy in their transient, raw struggle to live in the natural world?  Are such concepts purposeless to the ancient male and female searching the land and seascape for their next meal?

Partnerships evolved and formed among those who had something of value to exchange. Monogamy and non-monogamy were non-issues. Intimacy was a matter of language with multiple translations depending on the tongue one spoke. The feelings of the heart are of the human animal. And human relationships varied depending on the ethnic group and emerging culture.

In the story of Beowulf  (725 CE) to wed or wedde etymologically signified being mortgaged. Marriage was tied to the concept of property. Such a mortgage meant an exchange of something of value.  It was not a new idea. Language progresses. Variations in meanings are altered over time within a specific cultural context.  Geography and climate play roles. Weather extremes affect food, water, cultural and the social interactions in daily life.

What is true or not true varies within the context of a culture and an environment, which includes an unfolding and developing definition of family, religious and social ties and the politics of “to exist” and how an individual learns and translates the society and community in which they live. See The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman.  We gain knowledge or begin “to know” in relationship to others.

During Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, humans were able to separate different types of relationships – sexual intercourse for example was viewed as an act of recreation and not simply procreation. Monogamy and non-monogamy meant very little for the sake of survival. Timothy Taylor’s Prehistory of Sex is a worthy resource for understanding the dynamics of sexual relationship variations. Is monogamy a myth peculiar to humans? See D. Barash and J Lipton’s work, The Myth of Monogamy.

Patriarchy and monogamy it appears were not part of the daily vocabulary of ancient ethnic groups. Eventually, to wed was a verbal contractual arrangement. Roles were woven into the ethnic context in which people were born. To wed simply meant an agreement to share something of value, however that value is defined.

When ethnic groups began developing agriculture, along with the introduction of a male God, the phallus and its sexual implications and the challenges in worship emerged. See Howard Eilberg-Schwartz’s God’s Phallus.

The idea of possession, such as land, animals, family, servants and slaves affected attitudes and the development of what was considered sacred and written as such. Man invented what he considered to be sacred with a tendency toward ritualizing his inventions to empower their meaning.  Would it have been different in a matriarchal world?  The Genesis version is a metaphor to justify patriarchy. It’s not history. It’s a rationale for a way of life.

Jealousy? Is jealousy genetic in the human species or is it learned behavior associated with the concept of possession and ownership? There is a question whether jealousy was widespread. Did it become more so when property, spouses, servants, slaves and animals were more formally incorporated within the structures of society? Patriarchy and property, (human and otherwise) appears to have been viewed as an investment and a return on investment. Sex and relationships became more compartmentalized depending on the ethnic group’s rules, guidelines and commandments to insure order. One is led to ask, to what degree is control, power, money, monogamy, non-monogamy and jealousy interwoven?

In primitive groups, sex was a vehicle for more than just producing children. It was experienced as part of natural behavior and at times within an ethnic group’s rites and ceremonies.  It was also considered a joyful occasion and what we describe today as homosexuality, heterosexuality and bi-sexuality were viewed as natural and in some cases considered possessing magical and mystical elements.

Cultural conditioning affects behavior. Studies such as The Manipulated Mind by Denise Winn, indicate that people are subject to conditioning. And, conditioning takes many forms – defining a relationship is one form of conditioning, mostly through a species of religious and cultural belief. We are raised to view things in a certain way and think it’s natural or unnatural or perverse to whatever the norm is at the time. Our informal and formal education feeds into our conditioning, as noted in Brain Washing  by Kathleen Taylor.

The paradigm or model for relationships is evolving and progressing at a fresh pace. Partnerships and the entire concept of monogamy, non-monogamy  and marriage will continue to dramatically change through the 21st century. We are living in a period of a rebirth of consciousness and thinking as a result of the downstream effects of technology, the dynamics of politics and social constructs and the quality of spiritual and sensual life and the questions raised by the existence of artificial intelligence. The consequences of nuclear and chemical war, natural disasters, plagues, diseases and global warming have consequences on human behavior. Increasing numbers of people are looking at origins and beginnings to better understand the present and where and how to live with each other and survive.

Lifestyle variations have emerged as more information and knowledge becomes available. See My Two Husbands by Angi Becker Stevens, and Ryan and Jethra, Sex at Dawn, The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. These are variants relationship types and under increasing scientific study as is  the monogamous man coupled with the non-monogamous woman, see Insatiable Wives – Women who Stray and the Men that Love them by David Ley, Ph.D.

Regardless of the lifestyle, intimacy can be viewed as a cultivated familiarity.  It’s fluid and immeasurable regardless of how the relationship is being defined – the individual’s chronological or biological age or physical and gender similarity or difference, and so forth. Intimacy allows for the opportunity for self-transparency. Still, in a world of social media the private nature of intimacy appears increasingly reshaped – intimacy is experiencing a paradigm shift.

Along with the shift in the nature of intimacy the monogamous/non-monogamous couple though not fitting the model we are conditioned with continues to take root. We realize that caricatures and labels are never adequate relationship descriptions. See Ethical Slut by Easton & Liszt.

The monogamy myth offers insights into both in animal and human relationships. Non-monogamy it seems is the norm, more for the female than the male. Will increasing numbers of women find more balanced emotional and biological satisfaction and marital accord when she is non-monogamous – does female satisfaction lead to greater male satisfaction and a more of a balanced relationship – emotional, physical, sensual, health and spiritual?

A visit to the ancient Ajanta Caves in India with its Buddhist influence I was struck by the erotic secular art in painting and sculpture conveying the woven nature of the spiritual, mystical and sensual. Intimacy is fluid as is  gender and biology. In an increasingly unstable world is a new paradigm shift needed that rises above the older models and constructs defining categories of empowerment? Will such a development be cause for adopting a more sharing and nurturing life? In Gnostic literature from ancient Egypt, particularly the Nag Hammadi Library, there is a metaphor within the fragmented text of the Gospel of Thomas that observes in effect – when the male becomes female and the female becomes male, the truth will emerge.

We know that diverse forms of communication are being incorporated into our life of which the looming  artificial Intelligence is one dimension. Is there a need for a new model of social consciousness? Monogamy, non-monogamy and intimacy are experiencing multiple paradigm shifts. What will the paradigmatic shift in relationships begin to look like in the wake of human technologies? Will technologies be designed to create other technologies that are human-like? Artificial intelligence will create new issues of intimacy within the structure of human relationships. Will the software be equipped with an emotional interface? By the person(s) designing the software?


Sidney Jourard wrote in The Transparent Self,  “Shall I permit my fellow-men to know me as I truly am, or shall I seek instead to remain an enigma, and be seen as someone I am not?”



Plagues and the Paradox of Progress – Why the world is getting healthier in worrisome ways by Thomas J Bollyky (2018)

My take: In 1995 Laurie Garrett published her remarkable scholarly research on plagues/diseases in a book titled The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance. It was a disturbing book about viruses and diseases for which there were few cures as new stronger strains of viruses were and would develop for which the traditional antibiotics were of limited use. She was on target In her excellent study.

In 2018 Thomas J. Bollyky has produced an in-depth study of how medical science has resolved a large number of the medical challenges it has faced with the result that the world population in general terms is healthier. The caveat being there are still plagues, diseases and a rise in non-communicable diseases science continues to deal with. That said, the historical reality of the world in which we live is there are more people living and surviving as a result of improvements in medicine.

The population growth also means more people are having more sex without precaution for religious, cultural and illiteracy reasons. The issues are global…what happens when populations explode and where do the masses of individuals find living wage work, along with increasingly expensive shelter, food, clothing and medicine. How do they survive? Especially in an increasingly impoverished world where the divisions between rich and poor grow on a daily basis. Woven with the expanding populations is the effects of global warming, limited fresh water supplies, increased air pollution alongside the rising prospect of increasing violence and war as people compete for survival. A holistic perspective and solution are needed. The author (like Garrett in her book) describes in detail the problems with a final chapter offering possible solutions. This is not a feel-good book…neither was Garrett’s.

If we keep up to date on the news around the world and look at the scientific facts rather than solely politically generated information we realize rather quickly the world is in trouble. Fresh initiatives and collective efforts are essential. Bollyky’s informative work is not necessarily new information. Rather it’s both historical and up-to-date documented information he has pulled together in a readable and thought-provoking fashion to offer the reader a world view of what is known with some possible ways to respond to our human generated  predicament. This is a critical and significant study.


Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer


When I was younger I always thought

my face in the mirror was just a facsimile of me,

the real me was the one that was doing the looking

so as a balance to the surface of things I grew my mind

and then a recent birthday occurred.

I approached the mirror as if I was forty

while shaving and watching my beard wash down the drain

like past faces never fully reaching their possibility

My lips moved, “I don’t feel like the facsimile in the mirror,”

exercise, vitamins, patronage of a spa, prayers,

crossing a desert, climbing a mountain, bathing in artesian springs,

and being in places too uncertain to process deep thoughts,

experience alters the face as does time,

perhaps I’ll put on my sunglasses and find some beach to walk

and meditate on meanings while the surf chills my feet,

but then evening arrived.


I was visiting an art museum to attend a wine tasting

while sipping a blend of Cabernets’ Sauvignon and Franc

and fingering through my mind’s archive of past lives

I looked up to see someone vaguely familiar

wearing a wide grin below the wrinkles around her eyes

she mentioned she knew me from decades ago

and we kissed the other’s cheek,

an immediate warmth ensued

so we talked as old friends do

and then after our lengthy, intimate conversation

came a blushing realization  –

we had really never met each other before

though our faces suggested otherwise

or perhaps it was the contours of a facsimile.



Gandhi, An Autobiography, The story of my experiments with truth, Mahadev Desai, translator from the original in Gujarati. (1957)

“I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”  (Carved on a wall at the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad)

Mahatma Gandhi’s words and even misquotes have been repeated countless times. His philosophy of non-violence has been preached throughout the world in various religions. His coinage of satyagraha or “to replace methods of violence  and (to be) a movement based entirely upon truth,” remains unique.

In his Autobiography Gandhi shares his struggles and insights. He was a complicated man – living, experiencing and experimenting with life within the context of his times (the first part of the 20thcentury). He admitted he intellectually and spiritually fell down – he always rose up to remain open to finding the truth regardless of how painful. What he found was that Truth is found in morsels. There is never the whole truth. The world is diverse, and people translate our words through the filters of their own minds just as he admitted to the same. To understand truth he sought the simple life of a peasant. He was very familiar with both the life of Buddha and Jesus.

Gandhi understood and tried to exemplify compassion for all living things. He explores the idea that no political undertaking such as a democracy can long survive with the sharp divisions between the rich and poor – such divisions are a violence to the person living a meager existence.

This thick volume is a shared personal look into his life’s experiences – from his days as a lawyer to his diet, to civil disobedience, imprisonment, communications with the Russian author Tolstoy to his feeling about life on a day-to-day basis and a myriad of insights. His vision and his methods were of a grand scale but ultimately he understood his own weaknesses and frailties. He constantly tested them. He experimented with truth on a daily basis.

There has been numerous volumes written about him – good and bad, some calling him wicked, racist, and tragic and others praising and calling him Father and enlightened one for without him the independence of India might not have occurred when it did. He was man of his times caught up in the web of wars, poverty, anger, populism and people seeking help for their profound conflicts in life. To understand the human struggle he adapted his life to be with the least among us. His self-examined life was a philosophical and political inquiry requiring action.

In light of what has been written about him during our own times I think it’s valuable to revisit Gandhi’s own words and actions and how he perceived the world around him. In his search he says,”To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself.”

Near the end Gandhi writes…”So long as man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa (cause no injury) is the farthest limit of humility.”

This thoughtful work is a glimpse into the man through his own words. It serves as a reference tool.


Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer


Tell her I am leaving now,

a cause long forgotten

slowly seeps back into my brain

as I step over a mangled, dead body

lying in the street

a human soul bleeds

another religious holiday arrives

woven in a tapestry

of stone, wire and bullets

and a child dies of hunger

a veteran of some past war kills himself,

soldiers, police and vigilantes

exit the cathedrals and temples of faith

attending to the corporate business at hand,

the politics of blood


but in whose Name?


I contemplate the imprisoning walls

built on the borders of the mind

when I notice folded hands

no longer attached to the owner’s arms

lying in the gutter

in prayer

forsaken by their God,

and a young boy cries, “it hurts”

but reason is in hiding.


A sound is heard in a distant valley

I climb a rock-strewn slope

and look over my shoulder


who profits the most

as more weapons arrive

in a distant field

while deal makers make deals

the voices of war remain undiminished

and in the wilderness of hope

is a desert

I must cross,

tell her I am leaving now.



The opioid drama is an American tragedy steeped in lies. The tragedy is estimated to cost the United States a trillion dollars within the next year. Thousands will feel its effects in detox and rehab centers, not to mention our prison systems.  The death toll will be close to 100,000 Americans, regardless of the push to teach families and friends to take on the roles of “first responder”, armed with narcan. President Trump has declared this epidemic a public health crisis, but he has not asked Congress for additional monies.

That leaves states, counties, cities and taxpayers to cover the tragic politicized errors of government agencies who through corporate influence approved the foundations of the current opioid scenario. What is the role of Big Pharma in this? There are 12 pharmaceutical companies that have been named by Forbes that are making billions. And the death toll is increasing.

“We kept seeing our crime problems and overdose deaths going up every year. We got no response for anyone with the federal government,” Mayor Paul Billups of Ceredo, West Virginia, told The Daily Beast. “They didn’t have a plan, so we decided to come up with a plan. We decided caring for people is more important than marketing and profits.”

Ceredo is one of about 250 states, counties, and cities that have filed lawsuits against multiple pharmaceutical companies and distributors of opioid prescription pills that are blamed for turning pain patients into heroin addicts.

Richie Webber is one such victim turned advocate. He was a star high-school track and football athlete 10 years ago, Webber got injured and was given pain medication, Oxycontin that led to his heroin addiction and two nearly fatal overdoses. Webber has been clean for about three years working along with a community group in his native Ohio to help people like him get treatment.

“I find it really odd when the pharmaceutical companies that make pills like OxyContin claim they are non-addictive and just help people with pain,” he said. “Well, let’s look at it from my perspective. We’ve helped more than 300 people get into rehab this year, and 90 percent of them started with prescription pain pills. That’s non-addictive?”

The FDA approved the drugs that Big Pharma created, in particular, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, The defendant named in most lawsuits is Purdue Pharma, which introduced OxyContin in 1996. The drug is a pain medicine based on a morphine derivative that Purdue stated was non- addictive. In the 90’s it was first prescribed for patients with cancer or deep bone pain. The later part of that decade pain became the 5th vital sign, scripted by the Joint Commission Accreditation Committee, mandating that all patients were to be asked “on a scale of 1 – 10, describe your level of pain”. Doctors and nurses were to document on each patient and treat that patient according to a subjective question. Vital signs are not subjective. Vital signs are objective. By the turn of the century, doctors had to treat chronic and even minor pain with these harmful substances.

By the year 2005, we were in the throes of the worst opioid epidemic since the American Civil War. We have been subject to danger, harm to our communities, families broken and devastated, increased health insurance costs, increased police and hospital/ER use, increased use of our prison system and loss of life.

Lawsuits are filed all over the country, from Seattle, Washington, to Rutland, Vermont.

“All we are looking for is a little justice in all this,” Pete Orput, the Washington County attorney in Minnesota told The Daily Beast on why his county joined other counties in the state filing suit. “We just want some payback. For years we have heard the pharmaceutical companies tell us they have nothing to do with the addiction. I resent what they have told us, and I resent what they have done in our community.”

The defendant named in most lawsuits is Purdue Pharma, which introduced OxyContin in 1996. “What happened was compassion became conflated with opioid prescribing, so a doctor who wasn’t willing to prescribe opioids was viewed as withholding and sadistic,” said Anna Lembke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and author of Drug Dealer MD: How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked and Why It’s So Hard to Stop.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said: “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge… We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”

Opioid prescriptions tripled between 1999 and 2016 and so too did overdose deaths. In 2016, 42,249 people in the U.S. died of opioid-caused overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—more than deaths from breast cancer that same year. The White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) last November estimated the cost from the opioid crisis was about $500 billion in 2015.

“It is accepted and there is little doubt that too many of these drugs were put into the marketplace and sold beyond their legitimate needs,” Kessler told The Daily Beast. “The vast majority of people get addicted because of prescriptions, and we need to tighten the distribution and make the manufacturers of these drugs more responsible for what they have placed in the market…This is a public health issue, and we need to get better control on how much of the drug is placed in the market. These lawsuits may call better attention to those goals.”

Pharmaceutical companies in the past have settled lawsuits like these (including Purdue Pharma) and treat their fines as a cost of doing business. It’s about capitalism and profit.

Will Big Pharma be forced to pay?  Blame? Is it the corporate structure of such companies? Just the amount of funding that might go to the families of the deceased could be huge. From 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. How is that possible? Why did the American Medical Association ( the AMA) wait 20 years before requesting the removal of pain as it’s 5th vital sign from its standard of care?

Kenneth Feinberg, the attorney who oversaw the Sept. 11 victims fund l, as well as similar appointed jobs with the BP offshore oil cleanup and the Boston Marathon bombing, said any settlement would need to be combined with congressionally approved funding to “have a better idea of whom to and how much is distributed.”

“But getting anything through Congress is a chore,” Feinberg said. “If Congress enacted and appropriated enough money to deal with this crisis, a lot of these lawsuits would disappear.”

Meanwhile, we continue to witness the decay of our society caused by the FDA, Big Pharma, the DEA, the JCAHO, because once a patient can no longer access prescription drugs what are the options?  Heroin, stealing, robbing, selling their bodies, disturbing and disruptive scenarios mount for people to remain free from the chilling and painful effects of withdrawal, risking their lives, again, with the possibility of using fentanyl tainted drugs that are available online in the crypto-markets.

“What we need now, more than anything else, are people willing to serve as uniters, people in our communities who can rally others for the greater good, reject cynicism and winner-take-all politics, and embrace the more difficult work of this generation: to unite our country in common cause” – Cory Booker, US. Senate.



The Genesis of God, A Theological Genealogy by Thomas J.J. Altizer (1993)

As the author, an intellectually engaging, brilliant if not radical 20th century theologian, passed away on November 28, 2018, I thought I would offer my thoughts on this particular work and not the man’s reputation. The book has been alternatively sitting on my shelf or in a box with other books for close to twenty-five years in five different states. This is not your typical review. How could it be?

Having a substantial collection of works on Johann Faust and written about him I came across the words, “In  deinem Nichts hoff ich das All zu finden,” or “I hope to find the All in your Nothing.”  Altizer quotes Goethe’s Faust.

Allow me to step back, Altizer’s has a complicated mind with an intellectually provocative approach. He wants to discover the Christian God’s genesis and delves into theology, poetry, prose, philosophy, mythology, history and the culture of belief among other things.

This is not a thick book except in the fecund, nimble and erudite nature of Altizer’s ideas. It required a rereading at least for me.

He begins by saying that “Nothing is more forbidden today than thinking about God….”  For me that means we may attend church, listen to talk about the inerrancy of the words written in artificially anointed sacred works, yet we don’t truly “think” about God. That idea speaks to the fragility of our institutions, our self and truth. Truth being that which is based on the facts.

Altizer engages the reader in the thought process of the German philosophers, Hegel and Nietzsche. He notes that both of these men were philosophical and historical thinkers at once and each realized  a profound historical thinking that is a consequence of the death of God.

The death of God inaugurated modernity itself as an absolute self-alienation or self-estrangement…”which is the self-alienation of the very center or subject of consciousness itself.” It’s even more complex.

The author takes us on a thought-provoking journey into the human mind and how we perceive and deliberate on a concept like God. Man invents the name “God” or “Yahweh” etc., and then gives “God” attributes whether that God possesses them or not. Once you allow for attributes than manipulation of attributes beyond inspiration occurs.

Altizer states, “nothing is more deeply alien to everything to which we have known of genesis, than the genesis of God or an actual as opposed to an eternal genesis of God, a genesis which is the beginning of God, and the absolute beginning of God.”

The questions in one’s mind lead to more questions whether spiraling upwards or downwards. Was the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in reality the crucifixion of God and the resurrection of freedom to be responsible human beings in an existential world on a fragile planet that clings to survival by its fingernails. Are we approaching an apocalyptic genesis? Or is “In the Beginning the beginning of an apocalyptic genesis,” a genesis that is the Absolute will of God?

How does one crucify a God, (the word God was invented by man)?  Did God die through the apocalyptic death of Christ? Was the death of God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ indicative of the end and hope of humankind?

The book is provocative and opens the door to many questions. Thinking about God is problematic and extends beyond faith and what we perceive as reality. This book is for the theologically and philosophically curious.


If you’re like me, you’ve been increasingly dismayed by the events of recent years.

Right wing politics has been taking over in many states, provinces, cities and countries. Walls and fences have been proposed and built, to curtail the movement of people. Plans to reduce our global use of fossil fuels have been radically watered down or even shelved altogether.

We are the first generation to feel the effects of global warming, and we are the last generation that is able to do anything about it.

Just where are we heading?

I’ve spent much of my life being curious and following my interests in diverse topics. Recently, I was exploring the ideas of human activity in space and attended a lecture by the American astronaut Terry Virts. He reminded me of something I’d heard before, from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. Both observed that when you see our blue planet from space, you see the blue of the oceans, the wisps and masses of white clouds and the greens and browns of the land. What you don’t see, they observed, are the lines we see on political maps. We don’t see from space the political borders that divide us, the people, on our planet.

My own thought, to add to this vein, (it’s by no means a unique view) is that we are all together on this floating blue orb.

The planet belongs to us all, and we all belong to the planet.


Think about lines for a minute.

There are lines that bring us together – telephone lines, fibre optic internet cables, roads, lines of words in a book, lines of music. These are things that unite us. They allow us to communicate as members of a global community.

And then there are lines that divide us.

The right-wing government of Hungary, seeing thousands of people fleeing from dangerous places like Syria, put up a fence to prevent individuals and families with children from finding refuge there.

Israel put up a wall dividing its state from the Palestinian people.

The current President of the United States of America campaigned on the idea of building a wall along the border with Mexico – another line which would have the result of not only keeping legitimate refugees out of the USA, but of dividing the American people themselves. There are those who see refugees and migrants in a negative light; others who see the possibilities for cultural enrichment that come with diversity. Too frequently these days, the arguments are either black or white, with no grey area in between.

Political lines have been drawn:  Right-wing, versus Left; Conservatives versus Progressives; Big Business and polluters versus environmentalists.

Drawing lines like these, I believe, puts our planet in peril.

During the week of December 2-14, 2018, the United Nations held a Climate Change conference in Katowice, Poland. The big takeaway of COP24 was that we have just eleven years to make a significant change in our use of fossil fuels on this planet.

Under the “leadership” of its current administration, the USA has withdrawn from the previous Paris Accord, leaving China and European countries to lead the way.

In the days leading up to COP24, the World Meteorological Organization released a report with the latest findings: 2017 atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 405 parts per million, a level not seen in three to five million years in the record of this planet. The President of the United States said he didn’t believe it.

On December 3rd, respected British environmentalist and broadcaster, David Attenborough, told the conference delegates:

“Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change.If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

The rise of nationalism, populism and other forms of right wing politics around the world are contributing to the coming disaster. “Put business interests first,” they say. “We all have the right to do what we like.”

Eleven. Years. From. Today.

That’s All We Have,according to the United Nations scientists.

And yet, we still have people in power who just don’t get it. They choose short-term gains instead of looking to the longer view.

The new Premier of Ontario, Canada, cancelled the Cap and Trade program that penalized polluters and distributed funds for energy conserving projects, and projects enabling the switch away from fossil fuels.

They don’t get that our entire civilization depends upon the earth, depends upon the natural world.

They don’t see that leaving fossil fuels in the ground makes us healthier and results in huge savings to our health care systems.

They don’t see that leaving our natural areas, wetlands and forests intact will buffer us against costly climate change induced hurricanes, floods and temperature extremes.

They don’t see that our food production is at risk. Farmers rely on the winter snowpack for growing season moisture. Farmers rely on consistent and predictable temperatures and regular moderate rainfall for crop growth. Farmers understand that we all exist courtesy of our natural environment. We are dependent on the planet earth in every way.

Right wing climate change deniers don’t see that their own grandchildren will struggle to live. You can’t eat coal, oil, or money. You can’t live in a flooded coastal city.

The migration and refugee issues we have today are miniscule in comparison with what is to come if we don’t get a handle on the simple things we must to do avoid further climate change.

On December 4th, the Dalai Lama wrote to the COP24 conference:

“Climate change is not a concern of just one or two nations. It is an issue that affects all humanity, and every living being on this earth. This beautiful place is our only home. We have to take serious action now to protect our environment and find constructive solutions to global warming.”

Those constructive solutions are out there already. We need a concerted effort to implement them and bring down the costs.

Conservation saves money, resulting in less use of fossil fuels; and solar, water and wind power are increasingly competitive cost-wise. Imagine driving a vehicle that is powered by the solar panels on the roof of your house – that future actually exists now.

On December 13th, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a radio program discussing these issues. Activist Margaret Klein Salamon. Director of The Climate Mobilization, says that we are too late in the game for gradual action on climate change.  Her organization calls for an immediate ban on all new fossil fuel infrastructure and a ten-year timeline for phasing out the fossil fuel infrastructure that we do have. “What we envision is a rapid transition of our entire economy and society, with ‘all hands on deck,’ ” she said. Addressing such a challenge she says will take a collective effort such as was seen during World War II, where every able-bodied person contributed to the war effort.

Populist right-wing conservative politics contributes hugely to the problems humankind faces because of global warming. By denying science and by denying the fact that climate change exists, our entire species and our civilizations become more and more at risk. The planet will continue long after we are gone, but eleven years from now, we will wonder why we didn’t shout to the skies to make our governments act.

We have no time for naysayers and self-serving autocrats.

In fact, we have no time.

We have just eleven short years. A blink of an eye compared to the immense age of the earth.

We must begin now to change our own lives, change the way we live, change the way our societies operate, and urge, no, demand, of our elected leaders that bigger changes be made.

Those in power want to keep their power by any means necessary, but our planet needs us to act quickly and with global cooperation.

There is no time to lose.






Psychotherapist photographed carrying her pampered pets across the border into Mexico for authentic burritos


Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

Emigration etymologically is from the late Latin, probably in the 17thcentury, and means to depart from a place. The word immigration etymologically is also rooted in the 17thcentury and essentially means to move to a place.

Thousands of years before the 1600s people moved about from one place to another before there was land with political and cultural boundaries. Different words throughout history in various locales were invented by people to help identify and categorize people who departed and moved in. Once you give a name to someone it’s easier to approach and apply attributes and attempt to control them.

Beyond the sociological, anthropological and biological constructs of what constitutes a race of people lies the ultimate challenge of human beings and their memory.

Memory involves a collaboration and a sharing.  It’s inherent in the core of our humanity along with a sense of belonging, affection and nurturing. Our memory is our stored knowledge that tends to set us apart from other species. People without memory tend to lose their way.

Ancient humans departed from and moved to different places within the context of their survival. Whether they were forced to move – environmental reasons or by the chaos and plunder within their own tribe or the invading force of other ethnic groups – the result was movement especially when outnumbered and limited resources to fight back.

People in history generally moved because of distress. Distress comes in many forms – poverty, abuse, enslavement, not enough food, and a desire for survival and opportunity to live better lives. Some tribes collaborated with each other for survival while others were and are mere takers. Human life to date has been a complicated struggle of competition and associated greed versus cooperation, collaboration and sharing.

The history of human beings is the history of being an emigrant and an immigrant. The memories of such movement are integral to the study of humanity. We are all linked together in a complex web of existence and memory of that existence serves as a cornerstone for the future. What will the downstream effect be on future migration trends within the context of war, revolution, global warming, plagues or….?  Will we be around to remember? What will our memory suggest to us?

There exists a more distant and cataclysmic test for humanity should we survive our self-destructive tendencies and behavior. That is, at some point in the future the earth and our solar system will be, either  sucked into a black hole or swallowed by a dying sun. Either way, it will happen. There is no getting away from the fact that life on earth will die out someday.

Unless we become immigrants to another distant planet, or create an artificial one, all memory of Earth, the people, the civilizations that ever existed, will be gone forever as if we never existed. During the last days I wonder what surviving humans will think about life after death? Will they envision their spirits floating around in infinite space? Will the only remaining evidence of our physical existence be on a digital recording we sent into space on a Voyager mission?

The brain which houses our memory and our ability to share and collaborate is core to our future.  Aren’t we all immigrants from the “stardust” of the universe?


Kenneth Fikes is first and foremost a maverick. Growing up in a single parent family in North Carolina he became a top athlete and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in African Studies.  His greatest competition coming from within his own mind and heart. His professional positions included: Risk Management (City Bank N.A. – New York); Options Trader (Susquehanna Investment Group – Philadelphia); Portfolio Manager & Analyst (Smith Breeden Associates – Durham/Chapel Hill); Fiscal Analyst (Oklahoma State Senate – Oklahoma City); Chief Operating Officer (Oklahoma Supreme Court – Oklahoma City); Regional Manager & Broker (Banc One Securities – Oklahoma City); and Managing Director of Sydney Capital, LLC and Sydney Group since 2008.

Given a somewhat eclectic body of work across industries, he is called upon sparingly for customized consulting projects – particularly when there isn’t an accomplished expert for the issue at hand or the solution must be developed along the course of work.

NP:  We decided to approach this interview in a reflective fashion and explore the mind and spirit of a man who was and is always looking at the world around him from a distinct angle, while acknowledging he is a “what box” thinker.  With that in mind we explore the edges of a person who questions everything around him and articulates his views from an unconventional perspective.

So, who is Kenneth Fikes?

Fikes:  I’m considered by those who are in my circle of friends, colleagues and business associates as complicated, intellectual, competitive, open-hearted, and empathetic to those around me.  I am one who believes in UBUNTU. The word is from South Africa  (Nguni Bantu) and can be translated into – “I am because  of you (or, I am because we are).”  It’s a belief that essentially means all life is woven together. Human existence is about human relationships. Humanity. Our work, our family, our belief systems are all tied together. In other words, I evolve as a result of the relationships I form.

Over the years one thing has stood out. I don’t fit into a given pattern. I am always questioning why and is this the most effective thing I can do, particularly given that my ultimate concern is my fellow human being. Love, compassion and integrity are intricate to who I am.  None of it is without struggle, especially given the ways of the world we live in today.

To whom much is given, much is required, isn’t just about material things. It’s tough at times to share the grace that we know we’ve received from God. People make it really hard for them self and others, yet somehow the thought always comes back, “Look at yourself and your own issues, then judge.”  That gets me straight.

Long ago, as a trader on the PHLX (Philadelphia Stock Exchange) I found myself caught up in the brash and cold nature of the competition – environment. It was about money – at all costs. Greed was and is considered good and so instead of developing further into my nature, I was in practice buying into the culture of the market. It’s a place where everything and everyone has a price.

Drinking not because of personal issues but rather as a natural part of the work and pace of lifestyle, I eventually became an alcoholic. Attending AA meetings allowed me to see another side of those given the necessity and practice of slowing down for self-analysis. I’d never imagined myself as the alcoholic ending up in prison or one who might end up where they see no palatable way out. But being around these other men and women allowed me to see that I wasn’t in fact immune to a story that could end that way if I kept on driving while drinking and the consequences that could come with such behavior. This is and was particularly true when you consider that I do not have a living parent and I’m an only child.  Sure I have friends, but they have their own families, so outside of God, I’m in this thing alone as it were.

Back to the professional stuff for a minute.  I must admit it all came easy to me. Money, the lifestyle and wealth of experience. I looked at my personal and work-related priorities.

What I found? I witnessed government failing the man, woman and child on the street. Hard work didn’t necessarily mean a living wage. The government and the corporation acted as parents, with the common persons viewed as children. Picking yourself up by the bootstraps when you have nothing to look forward to, but pain, is easy for a person of wealth to say. It’s another thing for the person who has worked hard but sees no future. Depression and suicide go hand in hand. How could I help?

I began volunteering and figuring out ways I could assist those in need both in this country and abroad. People around the world face common issues such as enough food to eat, health concerns and a roof over their head. Each job I accepted tested my personal and global view. The core to my very being was re-examined. It was about love. I knew from experience that love is not merely a word and that it often feels trite in use, yet in the real world of action it’s anything but trite. It’s a way of thinking and living. It is God. I don’t say this in the pious sense of public praise for some sort of ‘at a boy’ slap on the back, but as a true daily practice of doing my best to see the best in people, narrow the road of acceptance of any undesirable behavior from me, while broadening the road for giving grace to others who stumble when not at their best. Again, it’s a way of thinking, not standing on a stump and talking about it.

As an individual with a high tolerance for risk I understand that not everyone possesses the ability or resources or knows how to be an entrepreneur. Whether one is an entrepreneur, a lawyer, a teacher, barista or some assistant tucked away in government or academia or wherever, I found that practicing love is at the center of the human core. So when I accepted a position it was natural for me to ask myself where my love, integrity and values fits in.  I found in general people tend to react to their issues rather than graciously respond. How does one respond to a loss of job and family and living in the street like veterans who return home from a meaningless war and nothing to grab on to? One learns that not everyone has the intellectual and emotional resources to stand alone in a world where survival depends on networking and human relationships – the act of love is the only thing that can save people. The word kept following me. How do I express it in my work? I am at another turning point in my evolution.

NP:  Where is the evolution taking you?

FIKES:  It’s simple from the outside….for me it means creating the Fikes Fund and helping others such as aiding small construction firms realize their dreams and working on government projects. These projects might include homes for the impoverished, homeless veterans, single parents and projects have the greatest benefits for example in an urban or rural setting. At some level it’s scary because I just want to get up and do whatever I want to daily, but because I’m now 51 some fear is starting to creep in.  This means that I don’t know whether to think, “God forbid,” or, “God willing,” I get to be 75 years old.  In other words, I’ve spent so much time in giving that I’m now concerned about being able to take care of myself in future years financially. Don’t get me wrong, my life is great. And I have no current financial struggles, but who knows what is ahead health wise or otherwise?

With that said, I’ll keep pushing in a direction that helps others and earns substantial income for me. I don’t think I can operate outside of something that has meaning.  But what I cannot continue to do is operate at the breakneck pace I have in owning several ventures over the last 10+ years.  So, I continue with Ubuntu. If there is outside funding beyond my own personal funding of the 501c3 or I may just stick to helping disadvantaged businesses which then allows them to pay it forward as they become self-sufficient and sustainable.  This is my hope.  I’ve also learned that we really never have any control, hence circuitously, not gratuitously – all I can do is take the steps and put it in God’s hands.  It always works out.  This I know.



When it comes to competition, we Americans typically recognize only two legitimate positions: enthusiastic support and qualified support.

The first view holds that the more we immerse our children (and ourselves) in rivalry, the better. Competition builds character and produces excellence. The second stance admits that our society has gotten carried away with the need to be Number One, that we push our kids too hard and too fast to become winners — but insists that competition can be healthy and fun if we keep it in perspective.

I used to be in the second camp. But after investigating the topic for several years, looking at research from psychology, sociology, biology, education, and other fields, I’m now convinced that neither position is correct. Competition is bad news all right, but it’s not just that we overdo it or misapply it. The trouble lies with competition itself. The best amount of competition for our children is none at all, and the very phrase “healthy competition” is actually a contradiction in terms.

That may sound extreme if not downright un-American. But some things aren’t just bad because they’re done to excess; some things are inherently destructive. Competition, which simply means that one person can succeed only if others fail, is one of those things. It’s always unnecessary and inappropriate at school, at play, and at home.

Think for a moment about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop healthy self-esteem, to accept themselves as basically good people. You want them to become successful, to achieve the excellence of which they’re capable. You want them to have loving and supportive relationships. And you want them to enjoy themselves.

These are fine goals. But competition not only isn’t necessary for reaching them — it actually undermines them.

Competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth. Most people lose in most competitive encounters, and it’s obvious why that causes self-doubt. But even winning doesn’t build character; it just lets a child gloat temporarily. Studies have shown that feelings of self-worth become dependent on external sources of evaluation as a result of competition: Your value is defined by what you’ve done. Worse — you’re a good person in proportion to the number of people you’ve beaten.

In a competitive culture, a child is told that it isn’t enough to be good — he must triumph over others. Success comes to be defined as victory, even though these are really two very different things. Even when the child manages to win, the whole affair, psychologically speaking, becomes a vicious circle: The more he competes, the more he needs to compete to feel good about himself.

When I made this point on a talk show on national television, my objections were waved aside by the parents of a seven-year-old tennis champion named Kyle, who appeared on the program with me. Kyle had been used to winning ever since a tennis racket was put in his hands at the age of two. But at the very end of the show, someone in the audience asked him how he felt when he lost. Kyle lowered his head and in a small voice replied, “Ashamed.”

This is not to say that children shouldn’t learn discipline and tenacity, that they shouldn’t be encouraged to succeed or even have a nodding acquaintance with failure. But none of these requires winning and losing — that is, having to beat other children and worry about being beaten. When classrooms and playing fields are based on cooperation rather than competition, children feel better about themselves. They work with others instead of against them, and their self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning a spelling bee or a Little League game.

Children succeed in spite of competition, not because of it. Most of us were raised to believe that we do our best work when we’re in a race — that without competition we would all become fat, lazy, and mediocre. It’s a belief that our society takes on faith. It’s also false.

There is good evidence that productivity in the workplace suffers as a result of competition. The research is even more compelling in classroom settings. David Johnson, a professor of social psychology at the University of Minnesota, and his colleagues reviewed all the studies they could find on the subject from 1924 to 1980. Sixty-five of the studies found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively, eight found the reverse, and 36 found no significant difference. The more complex the learning task, the worse children in a competitive environment fared.

Brandeis University psychologist Teresa Amabile was more interested in creativity. In a study, she asked children to make “silly collages.” Some competed for prizes and some didn’t. Seven artists then independently rated the kids’ work. It turned out that those who were trying to win produced collages that were much less creative — less spontaneous, complex and varied — than the others.

One after another, researchers across the country have concluded that children do not learn better when education is transformed into a competitive struggle. Why? First, competition often makes kids anxious and that interferes with concentration. Second, competition doesn’t permit them to share their talents and resources as cooperation does, so they can’t learn from one another. Finally, trying to be Number One distracts them from what they’re supposed to be learning. It may seem paradoxical, but when a student concentrates on the reward (an A or a gold star or a trophy), she becomes less interested in what she’s doing. The result: Performance declines.

Just because forcing children to try to outdo one another is counterproductive doesn’t mean they can’t keep track of how they’re doing. There’s no problem with comparing their achievements to an objective standard (how fast they ran, how many questions they got right) or to how they did yesterday or last year. But if we value our children’s intellectual development, we need to realize that turning learning into a race simply doesn’t work.

Competition is a recipe for hostility. By definition, not everyone can win a contest. If one child wins, another cannot. This means that each child comes to regard others as obstacles to his or her own success. Forget fractions or home runs; this is the real lesson our children learn in a competitive environment.

Competition leads children to envy winners, to dismiss losers (there’s no nastier epithet in our language than “Loser!”), and to be suspicious of just about everyone. Competition makes it difficult to regard others as potential friends or collaborators; even if you’re not my rival today, you could be tomorrow.

This is not to say that competitors will always detest each other. But trying to outdo someone is not conducive to trust — indeed, it would be irrational to trust someone who gains from your failure. At best, competition leads one to look at others through narrowed eyes; at worst, it invites outright aggression. Existing relationships are strained to the breaking point, while new friendships are often nipped in the bud.

Again, the research — which I review in my book No Contest: The Case Against Competition — helps to explain the destructive effect of win/lose arrangements. When children compete, they are less able to take the perspective of others — that is, to see the world from someone else’s point of view. One study demonstrated conclusively that competitive children were less empathetic than others; another study showed that competitive children were less generous.

Cooperation, on the other hand, is marvelously successful at helping children to communicate effectively, to trust in others and to accept those who are different from themselves. Competition interferes with these goals and often results in outright antisocial behavior. The choice is ours: We can blame the individual children who cheat, turn violent, or withdraw, or we can face the fact that competition itself is responsible for such ugliness.

Studies also show, incidentally, that competition among groups isn’t any better than competition among individuals. Kids don’t have to work against a common enemy in order to know the joys of camaraderie or to experience success. Real cooperation doesn’t require triumphing over another group.

Having fun doesn’t mean turning playing fields into battlefields. It’s remarkable, when you stop to think about it, that the way we teach our kids to have a good time is to play highly structured games in which one individual or team must defeat another.

Consider one of the first games our children learn to play: musical chairs. Take away one chair and one child in each round until one smug winner is seated and everyone else has been excluded from play. You know that sour birthday party scene; the needle is lifted from the record and someone else is transformed into a loser, forced to sit out the rest of the game with the other unhappy kids on the side. That’s how children learn to have fun in America.

Terry Orlick, a Canadian expert on games, suggests changing the goal of musical chairs so children are asked to fit on a diminishing number of seats. At the end, seven or eight giggling, happy kids are trying to squish on a single chair. Everyone has fun and there are no winners or losers.

What’s true of musical chairs is true of all recreation; with a little ingenuity, we can devise games in which the obstacle is something intrinsic to the task itself rather than another person or team.

In fact, not one of the benefits attributed to sports or other competitive games actually requires competition. Children can get plenty of exercise without struggling against each other. Teamwork? Cooperative games allow everyone to work together, without creating enemies. Improving skills and setting challenges? Again, an objective standard or one’s own earlier performance will do.

When Orlick taught a group of children noncompetitive games, two thirds of the boys and all of the girls preferred them to games that require opponents. If our culture’s idea of a good time is competition, it may just be because we haven’t tried the alternative.

How can parents raise a noncompetitive child in a competitive world? Competition is destructive to children’s self-esteem, it interferes with learning, sabotages relationships, and isn’t necessary to have a good time. But how do you raise a child in a culture that hasn’t yet caught on to all this?

There are no easy answers here. But there is one clearly unsatisfactory answer: Make your son or daughter competitive in order to fit into the “real world.” That isn’t desirable for the child — for all the reasons given here — and it perpetuates the poison of competition in another generation.

Children can be taught about competition, prepared for the destructive forces they’ll encounter, without being groomed to take part in it uncritically. They can be exposed to the case against competition just as they are taught the harms of drug abuse or reckless driving.

You will have to decide how much compromise is appropriate so your child isn’t left out or ridiculed in a competitive society. But at least you can make your decision based on knowledge about competition’s destructiveness. You can work with other parents and with your child’s teachers and coaches to help change the structures that set children against one another. Or you may want to look into cooperative schools and summer camps, which are beginning to catch on around the country.

As for reducing rivalry and competitive attitudes in the home:

  • Avoid comparing a child’s performance to that of a sibling, a classmate, or yourself as a child.
  • Don’t use contests (“Who can dry the dishes fastest?”) around the house. Watch your use of language (“Who’s the best little girl in the whole wide world?”) that reinforces competitive attitudes.
  • Never make your love or acceptance conditional on a child’s performance. It’s not enough to say, “As long as you did your best, honey” if the child learns that Mommy’s attitude about her is quite different when she has triumphed over her peers.
  • Be aware of your power as a model. If you need to beat others, your child will learn that from you regardless of what you say. The lesson will be even stronger if you use your child to provide you with vicarious victories.

Raising healthy, happy, productive children goes hand in hand with creating a better society. The first step to achieving both is recognizing that our belief in the value of competition is built on myths. There are better ways for our children — and for us — to work and play and live.

* “Copyright 1987 by Alfie Kohn.  Reprinted from www.alfiekohn.org with the author’s permission. For more on this topic, please see the author’s book No Contest: The Case Against Competition.”

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The most recent of his 14 books are SCHOOLING BEYOND MEASURE…And Other Unorthodox Essays About Education (2015) and THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting (2014).  Biography



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