Applied Psychology

Applied Psychology


The Consolation of Reliable, Positive Values

positive values November 10th, 2020

Sigh. I entitled this blog what I did because I am having a difficult time of it at the moment. My dad did die this year. And Trump did ascend to power this year. But $hit has really been hitting the fan, as they say. Today, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor have been caught in the thorny bramble of bad behavior. I was also a bit shocked by Louis C. K., Senator Al Franken, and Representative John Conyers. I look around and institutions seem to be tarnishing, crumbling, under attack, and failing. It feels like we are more divided and that there are more dangers than I am comfortable with. In this blog, I will try to make sense of my angst, and use reliable, positive values as a consolation. 

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Sometimes, You Can’t Square the Moral Circle

square the moral circle July 24th, 2020

Sometimes two family members, or friends, or members of the same social group can kind of “steer clear” of each other’s hot spots. Maybe agreeing to disagree works, or simply avoiding the topics in question (Thanksgiving dinner comes to mind!). However, certain issues are just too ineluctable to make peace with. This is why it has been said that “one shouldn’t talk religion or politics in polite company.” In this blog, I reflect on a couple instances when this was the case for me. Morality is hard to compromise about, and when you have two diametrically-opposed opinions about fundamental moral issues, it can be too difficult to successfully square the circle, as it were.

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Magnanimity & Altruism: Saving 50 Jews from Death

magnanimity June 25th, 2020

Eleanor and Gilbert Kraus are very likely two of the greatest unsung heroes in American history – at least, in Jewish history. I watched a documentary about their courageous acts (in 1939), which amounted to nothing less than a full-throated display of magnanimity and altruism. Here is their story. I will also include a selection of quotations about magnanimity by noted Holocaust survivors, human rights activists, altruism researchers, and stalwart exemplars of virtue and honor such as Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Viktor Frankl. 

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Wisdom: From Whence Does it Come?

Does wisdom come only form the mouths of babes? June 14th, 2020

Yikes! Controversial and possibly incendiary topic alert! It’s won’t be that bad. Here is the reason for the title: I published a book of quotations about values and wisdom in 2003. It must have had 1,000-1,500 quotes, just one after another, based on the value the quote represented (e.g., truth, justice, wisdom, passion, etc). No one had any problem with the Emersons, MLKs, John F. Ks, or Helen Kellers, but one person did not like my use of a quote by Hitler. He was Jewish, I imagine, and found the book unpalatable. He wrote me back with something along the lines of: “There is no way I could endorse a book that features a quote by Hitler.” So the questions arise: What is the purpose of wisdom? Could Hitler possibly have hit upon a vein of gold in his otherwise dank and unproductive mine of ideas? Was the professor wise, or foolish? How do we know when someone is imparting wisdom, or dropping a load of bull?

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The Wise Favor Truth Over Conspiracy Theories

conspiracy theories May 21st, 2020

…unless of course there is a conspiracy afoot! That does happen from time to time, when all the stars are aligned. Usually, though, conspiracies fail or never even get off the ground. Isn’t it odd that the same government that the hardcore libertarians we have had in our midst since the inception of the Tea Party which is constantly facing budget cuts and which sees its best and brightest dismissed due to cronyism and corruption is also fully capable of hatching and executing a “deep-state-type” massive, successful conspiracy? We are to believe that the Federal government is at once a bunch of masterminds intent on crippling the decent government officials we duly elected with our awful, dark-money-driven campaign finance system—the “deep state”—capable of engaging in a very sophisticated feat of skullduggery, intrigue, and nefariousness, and yet we can’t even get masks to doctors? Kids go hungry. We can’t control the debt. Mexican immigrants are supposed to be our worst problem if you watch Fox News. I would say the U.S. government could more easily be accused of garden-variety, low-level corruption like Russia, or totally incompetent, like Venezuela, than this!  Nay, this just doesn’t add up. What is much likelier, logically and rationally, is that the people who see conspiracy and libertarian affronts and liberals run amok are suffering from bias, lack of objectivity, fantastic thinking, and group phenomena. They should turn off Fox or Facebook and read a book by Mark Twain or George Eliot, I say. Here are some thoughts.

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The Winter of Our Discontent

Shakespeare May 9th, 2020

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” Shakespeare wrote nearly 500 years ago. Talk about something standing the test of time! Indeed, there are many quotes from his prescient plays and striking sonnets that still aptly describe human beings today. As I write, it is nearly April, 2020, and the world is caught in convulsions of the chaos created by coronavirus. The pandemic, like something Shakespeare would have taken inspiration from, highlights both the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the wonderful and the absurd. It shows everything about human beings, the human condition, and humanity’s aspirations — and failings. It is through this lens that I write a bit about what is evident all around us now, in the winter of our discontent.

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Empathy is a Solid Route to Moral Goodness

moral goodness May 5th, 2020

Empathy is the degree to which a person can place oneself in another’s shoes. Anyone can feel pain when someone steps on their toe, but what if you see someone else wincing in pain, grasping their own toe? The question is related to what you experience when you determine, perceptually, that someone else is suffering in some way. Empathy is a key driver of moral goodness, I believe. Another way to describe this phenomenon is, acting right is about empathizing with the other. What follows is my rationale.

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My Father Suffered Greatly in Retirement

my father April 26th, 2020

My father was a brilliant surgery resident at the famed Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA when he was oh, probably, 27 years old. He ended up specializing in and completing another residency in family practice (long story!) by the time he was 31, or thereabouts. Coming from relative poverty, a loveless and sometimes-physically-abusive home, and facing anti-Semitism growing up in the 1950s, I remember him telling me “I went off to college at age 18 with only a suit.” As in, no money, no furniture, no books, no nothing. My father busted his butt and was an admired and even loved physician in the rough part of L.A. when I was growing up. He was asked to be the head of four Kaiser Permanente when he was, oh, about 40. Instead, he opted to remain at Kaiser-Montebello and be the Physician-in-Charge at that clinic. Mort Merchey spoke Spanish with probably 50 percent of his patients—who always remembered him generously during the Christmas holidays. As if that weren’t enough, he also was a Captain in the Reserve Corps of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a huge organization. My pop knew how to shoot his Magnum .357 as well as any uniformed deputy could. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that he did pretty darned well, considering where he came from. He makes me look like a slacker in comparison, that’s for sure! He was smart, good-looking, funny, amiable, and competent. Driven to school in his true-blue Mercedes convertible in the mornings, needless to say, I had the greatest respect for my dad’s professional and educational achievement.

This story does not, however, have a happy ending, exactly. My dad suffered greatly in retirement. This happens with many people, perhaps especially those who are like him.

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Politically Progressive Quotes from African Americans

african americans April 11th, 2020

African Americans are an integral part of the United States of America. 95% were brought against their will from Africa (or born to recently-arrived African slaves). They have had to struggle to find even a basic fair treatment from the majority-white populace, and it is incomplete. As a case in point, more black Americans are dying from the coronavirus, proportionally, than whites. Some of this might be able to be attributed to the larger number of premorbid conditions that tend to plague African Americans to a greater degree than other races, but even that leads to the recognition that there must be much about the American experience for black people that is significantly worse than for whites. Asian Americans have pretty decent outcomes in American society, and so it’s hard to tease apart the legacy of slavery from cultural mores and personal choices that are salubrious and prudent. At bottom, though, what is not in dispute is that the African American experience in America has been rough, and that has something to do with racism. I won’t chase every tangent that this introductory paragraph logically leads to — for example, the fact that African Americans are less economically advanced than whites. I will simply sample some politically progressive quotes from African Americans. Who better but these Americans themselves to share their experience?

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Political Extremism: The Authoritarian Voter

February 21st, 2020

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tend to be the poster children of political extremism if you ask a partisan from the Right. You hear this repeatedly on Fox News — these are their main bogeymen/women. These hard-working patriots will be called frauds, hypocrites, radicals, Socialists (of the Communistic stripe, that is), traitors, and so on. I don’t want to make a defense of those on the far end of the political Left in this country, but I will in this blog highlight a dangerous style of thinking that is the garden of political extremism when paired with political power or demagoguery: the authoritarian mindset. 

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