Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't try to be a good person.

The other day, my mind was blown in my Clinical Psychology class. Dr. Lars Nielsen visited and gave a short lecture and a therapy demonstration. Don't try to be a good person, he said, because a "good person" doesn't exist, so you will only disappoint yourself. Instead, he said, we ought to try to do good things.

This seems like a merely semantic difference, just wordplay. However it is much more than that. If I try to be a "good person," in some sort of Platonic or ideal way, and never achieve that goal, then I will constantly be comparing myself to what I'd like to be, feeling inferior and somewhat worthless, and thinking all sorts of psychologically harmful thoughts. But if I instead simply try to do good things, I don't have to define myself by what I do.

You are not defined by what you do. You merely do what you do.

By what, then, are you defined? Perhaps you don't need a definition, but your mind might insist, so let us see... if you're religious, you can perhaps define yourself simply as a child of God. There is really no psychological reason why you need to consider yourself any more or any less than that. If you are not religious, it is equally simple: you are a fallible human being, and nothing more or less.

We needn't further categorize human beings; we needn't call people "good" or "bad;" we needn't rate ourselves or others. When we do, we risk depression or arrogance. Stop telling yourself that you are a bad person. You do bad things, but that doesn't make you a bad person. On the other hand, don't stress about becoming a good person. There is no such thing: persons are just persons.

You might want to dispute that last point. "There is certainly such a thing as a good person," you protest, "I know plenty of good people. I want to be like them!" I would submit in response that no human being is better than another. Your friends that you call "good people" may do admirable things, but as people they are not superior to you.

I know not all of my readers are Christians, but for what it's worth, the Bible backs me up on this one. Jesus said, "why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." This statement is recorded three different times (Matthew 19, Mark 10, Luke 18). Similarly, the Book of Mormon records a sermon (see Mosiah 2-5) given by King Benjamin, in which he implicitly says, "I am no better than you." Think about that for a moment. If you're a Mormon, like many of my readers are, would you believe Thomas Monson if he said from the pulpit this October that he was not a better person than you? It would be true. But would you believe it? Or would you instead dismiss his claim and say, "no: he is only being humble. He really is superior to me as a human being." Many of us would surely react thus, but we would be wrong. Because there is none good but one, that is, God.

This means that, quite literally, there is no such thing as a good person. You will therefore always fail if you try to become one.

There is such a thing, however, as a good choice. You can certainly succeed in making those.

As we start to think this way, we will realize that we do not have to prove our worth: not to others, not to ourselves, not even to God (As C. S. Lewis once wrote, God "love[s] us not because we are lovable, but because He is love").

You might protest: "but I do have to do certain things, if I am to get to Heaven! So I have to do them!" Not so. Think about it: you don't HAVE to go to Heaven. You might WANT to, but that is entirely different.

All you MUST do is exist: you have no choice in that matter, existence is necessary. Everything else is completely up to you. Do you choose to be kind to others? Well, I think that's swell. But always remember that you don't HAVE to be kind to others. If you are doing it by choice, it is wonderful and empowering and when you fall short you will think, "I would like to be nicer next time." But if you are doing it because you feel like you MUST (to prove your worth, etc), then when you fall short you will feel worthless.

Remember: nothing you do - or fail to do - can ever make you worthless.

When you go into a test, for example, do not tell yourself that good results will prove your worth. Do not think of yourself as a worse person if you fail. However, go into the test telling yourself that you hope for good results; recognize that success will be beneficial to you. If you fail, you are still the same person who could have succeeded, and as a human being, you have the same degree of worth.

You might do rotten and terrible things. But you are not a rotten and terrible person.

Can you feel the difference?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Water in public schools.

I'm writing this particular entry as an assignment in my Biology class; instead of creating a new blog just for this post, I decided to just put it here. If you're interested in water issues, feel free to read. If you're bored, I apologize. Stay tuned for next time, and assuredly I will be more entertaining then.

The issue I'd like to discuss is water in public schools. My source is a National Geographic article entitled "What's Best for Kids: Bottled Water or Fountains?" It is from March 3rd of this year and can be found here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/02/100303-bottled-water-tap-schools/

The problem:

Many kids are unhealthy and overweight and while it's not entirely the school system's job to fix that (I believe that dietary habits ought to be taught by parents), it is certainly fair to ask public schools to try not to make it worse. But there are a lot of sugary drinks - like the Coke I'm drinking at this very moment while writing this article - readily available in public schools. Experts say this is a Very Bad Thing.

Sugary beverages like soda are linked to obesity. "Soda in schools has been such a huge problem for the last couple of decades, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), "and getting rid of sugar-sweetened beverages and shifting to bottled water should be a top priority."

So, we've got fat kids, and too much soda in schools. Seems simple enough, and according to Margo Wootan as cited above, all we need do is simply switch to offering bottled water. But is the solution really that simple?

The solution:

Not really. The solutions are Legion, for they are many: but they each have their drawbacks. Let's examine them here.

1. Schools could switch to bottled water. However, bottled beverages in general provide a lot of environmental problems. National Geographic points out that "The U.S. public goes through about 50 billion water bottles a year, and most of those plastic containers are not recycled, according to Elizabeth Royte's 2008 book Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It." Also, the Sierra Club claims that groundwater pumping by bottled-water companies harms watersheds.

However, I'd venture to say that environmental issues are less important than health issues. Water is more healthy than soda, for sure. And bottled water is more healthy than tap water... right? Actually, it might not be. According to a 2008 investigation by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, some bottled water contains untested industrial chemicals. Overall, evidence for routine health risks or benefits from using bottled water is limited.* Perhaps it is not necessarily The Perfect Solution.

2. Okay, so we could remove to sugary drinks so the kids will drink more tap water, then. However, this also presents a plethora of problems. With tap water, there is a high risk of lead contamination from old pipes - known, of course, to affect physical and mental development. As the National Geographic article points out that "in September 2009, the Associated Press published a nationwide investigation showing that the drinking water in schools in 27 states is contaminated with lead and other toxic substances from lead-soldered pipes generally installed before 1985."

3. Why don't we just have schools get their tap water tested? Many schools don't choose to do so, basically because of the costs involved in remedying any lead problems that may exist (Pink Floyd's "Money" is playing in the back of my mind when I think of this). Marc Edwards, a civil engineer at Virginia Tech, says that even when the analysis is offered for free, "the majority of schools don't want to know." Is is really that expensive? Edwards says it might not be. A school wouldn't always have to replace an entire pipe system; they could simply install lead-removing filter systems on taps, or flush the system periodically after a period of stagnation.

4. The last option, though unmentioned in the article, is to do nothing: while it is more of a non-solution than a solution, it's worth consideration since the three solutions mentioned above each have their risks anyway. So, what are the risks of doing nothing? According to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates among children aged 6 to 11 have more than doubled in the past 20 years. Furthermore, "a 2006 study by Harvard nutritionists found sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is linked to higher body weight among adolescents," according to the aforementioned National Geographic article.

The Conclusion:

I think solution #3 is probably the best choice. It might be expensive to get tap water tested and, if necessary, fixed - but the cost seems quite obviously worth it. I'm not convinced that bottled water is much better than tapped, and it certainly is not better for the environment. Furthermore, filters** can be installed to purify the tap water. Therefore I conclude that schools ought to just cut down on selling sugary drinks, while encouraging and facilitating the consumption of tap water.



Peer-reviewed sources:

* http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18928830
** http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12636128

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First impressions.

Is there anything more nerve-racking than meeting lots of new people and trying to make a good first impression? I know you're supposed to "be yourself," but on the other hand, there is the idea (as Thomas S. Monson talks about) of being "your best self." That BEST self is hard to find. What is my best self like? Awesome, of course. But how do I let the awesomeness out?

In my mind, the ideal first impression says something like the following:

"Hey! I'm personable and interested enough to engage in long conversation with you, but I won't obnoxiously follow you around for the remaining duration of this party. I'm outgoing but not an attention whore. I'm surprising and witty enough to make you laugh, but not so edgy that I make you uncomfortable. I'm well-dressed, but not vain. I'm tactful but not calculating. I have unique and quirky interests, but the music from Mario Kart Wii is NOT on my iPod."

How absurd. So much to pay attention to. So much to worry about. See, I'm writing about this because I have recently moved into a new area (I'm sure this is also the case for many of you readers who are just starting your semester here at BYU), and I'm fascinated by how much effort it takes to be social (though, perhaps I am simply out of practice since I have not been a single, socially-active guy for the past fourteen months or so).

At any rate, here are some tips for those of you who are, for some crazy reason, looking to a Chris Wei blog for advice.
  1. After you learn someone's name, find excuses to repeat it out loud a few times in the conversation. You will remember it better.
  2. After someone learns your name, and while they're still nearby, introduce yourself to several other people loudly enough so that the one who just learned your name has audible confirmation of the name they're guessing that they remembered correctly.
  3. Ask questions, and be interested in the other person (but don't interrogate). Say just barely enough about yourself to be memorable - but remember, the way you relate and react to the other person's stories is even more memorable than your story of That Supposedly-Awesome Thing You Did This Summer.
  4. It is possible to laugh at people's bad jokes without being fake. After all, I am sure you've had instances where people laughed at your bad jokes without being fake. Is it because they had bad senses of humor? Not necessarily; maybe they were just genuinely interested in you as a human being, and when you attempted to make a joke, they subconsciously recognized your endeavor and applauded it by laughter, without even thinking. Perhaps this is difficult for you; in this case, don't force it - forced laughter is usually obvious. Instead, try banter: respond to bad jokes with better jokes, ones that allow the original joker to redeem his or herself. It's a win-win; their misfired humor has become a part of an amusing back-and-forth, and your humor has an opportunity to shine.
  5. Ask unique get-to-know-you questions. Yes, it's good to know where people are from and what their major is and all of that generic stuff. But maybe you can start a conversation with something more spontaneous. Examples include "you share your first name with many famous people; which are you most proud of?" or "what is your least favorite thing about monkeys?"
I could go on, but I'm leaving the rest to you. I am sure y'all are more qualified than I, anyway. Go meet people! Godspeed!