Favor Bank: Why is it so hard to ask for help?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Favor Bank
Click the screenshot to read Sallie Felton's entire column.

Click the screenshot to read Sallie Felton’s entire column.

From Dr. Wayne Baker: Welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher, who last week wrote our first series of columns on how we approach death in America. Here is Terry’s first column in a new series …

Why do so many of us find it so hard to ask for help, even when we need it?

Most of us are more than willing to help others when we see a need, but most of us balk at asking for help when we could truly use a little.

In March at the Daily Good website, writer Sallie Felton asked, “Why is it we’re eager to help others but not ask for what we need?” (Click the screenshot, at right, to read her entire column, which continues to draw reader interaction at that website months after she raised the question.)

In her original column, she lists 11 potential reasons, including the natural reluctance to be a burden, to appear weak, to seem less than perfectly able to handle the challenges we face.

That kind of thinking runs deep.

In his comprehensive and groundbreaking research, Our Values founder Wayne Baker has identified “self-reliance” as one of the strongest held of American core values. In a 2011 OurValues column, Dr. Baker wrote: “In four national surveys I conducted over the past two years, over 85 percent of Americans say they would rather depend on themselves than on others. Like it or not, individualism is coded in America’s DNA.”

One of the 11 reasons Felton cites is the fear that, if you ask for help, you might feel obligated to reciprocate, to help in return.

Maybe we’re cheating ourselves both ways, first by spurning the help we need, and then by rejecting the opportunity to become more deeply connected with each other by accepting favors, and by doing them in return.

Are you hesitant to ask for help?

Do you feel obligated to others when you do favors?

Among people you know, what’s the biggest reason people don’t ask for assistance?

Please, add a comment below, and …

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Five Guilty Pleasures: NAPS

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
Mom (times 2). Photos by Rodney Curtis.

Mom (times 2). Photos by Rodney Curtis.

From Dr. Baker: This week, welcome author Rodney Curtis, best known for his regular column The Spiritual Wanderer. Rodney is considering American values from an entirely fresh perspective—looking at those moments of joy that surprise us day by day.
Here is Rodney’s second column …

I was lying on the couch—taking a break from blogging—trying to figure out what guilty pleasure I’d write about next. There seem to be so many. Some I’d like to share, some I’d never want out there. My eyelids got heavy and I knew I needed a quick nap.

(CUT TO: Overhead shot of Rodney’s eyes snapping wide open.)

Naps! I love taking naps!

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to get angry at Mom when she’d come home from a long day of teaching. She insisted upon needing “feetsies up time.” Her quick, power naps that didn’t seem to last longer than 10-15 minutes rejuvenated her, she claimed. I wanted her to drive me places, talk to me, not just zone out. “You can’t be getting any benefit from those, Ma!”

And then college happened.

Late night study sessions, early morning classes, loud people in the dorm: sleeping wasn’t the easiest commodity to come by. I’m literally yawning right now just writing about it. Naps helped me catch up on my sleep debt more than anything, especially during Stats class. No, no, Stats homework I mean. I never napped in class. Alma College was a tiny school; with so few students in a classroom I would’ve been instantly busted.

And then journalism happened.

I don’t like admitting this. I think this is where the guilty pleasure title really fits. But during several internships and, indeed, during several full-time newspaper jobs I lived pretty close to the office. Since a photographer does his work out in the community, I could generally find time to swing home and plop down on my bed for a few minutes/hours. Before cell phones I would worry about how much time I was away and rely on someone at work paging me in an emergency. After the introduction of these amazing portable communication devices, I could take my cat naps knowing I was available in an instant. Sleep was bliss.

That felt good. Well, actually it felt kind of terrifying finally admitting that. But “live life on the edge,” right?

And then babies happened.

Parenthood = Sleep deprivation. The common myth is that a mom or dad can get things done while their child naps during the day. If “getting things done” means catching up on sleep, that seemed to be the only thing my wife and I were good at during down times. Plus, our first child didn’t really do much napping. I was incredulous hearing about a co-worker’s kid who slept 12 hours at night, then napped three hours during the day. Something wasn’t right. He was drugging her. He had to be.

All that napping prepared me for getting older. Now, quick daytime siestas on the couch or longer interludes back upstairs help me face the rigors of modern living. I’m not the only one who believes in the art of 30 winks. Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace, “A nap after dinner was silver, before dinner, golden.”

At 80, my mother still puts her “feetsies up” every day. She has taught me many wonderful life lessons, not the least of which is the power of napping. When we spent a week with her at a rented cottage Up North, she reinforced the value, sustenance and downright awesomeness of naps.

Maybe now I can stop feeling guilty about them.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Share this series with friends. Especially if you’re a regular reader of The Spiritual Wanderer and you want to alert friends to this one-week, temporary home for Rodney’s stories. You know what to do: Click any of those buttons above the photos of Mom napping—but try not to wake her.

Five Guilty Pleasures: COLD COFFEE

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Five Guilty Pleasures
tall iced coffee with Rodney Curtis column photo by Kenny Louie used courtesy WikimediaFrom Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, welcome author Rodney Curtis, whose first two books chart his course from a career in traditional journalism through survival of cancer—and an upcoming third book will cover his life in the crumbling of America’s newspaper industry. Thousands of readers have followed his long-running blog, The Spiritual Wanderer, drawn to his style of laughing even in the face of fear.  As Rodney usually does, this week, he is considering American values from an entirely fresh perspective—looking at those moments of joy that surprise us and keep us going day after day.
Here is Rodney’s first column …

Cold coffee.

Even the phrase instills distrust. Who would sip something icy cold that should—in its natural state—be hot?

I distinctly remember when my wife and I made the conscious decision to jump into the coffee craze. It was the early ’90s and it seemed like coffee was hip and happening (though the phrase “hip and happening” has never been hip and happening). Starbucks had burst onto the scene but since our little town out east wasn’t “sophisticated enough” for one of those joints, we settled on Dunkin Donuts.

First, though, we had to get over the fact that coffee tasted really bad. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but on its own, coffee is bitter and scalding hot. That’s why God invented cream and sugar. Put yourself in our shoes: We were young journalists chasing politicians all over New Hampshire and a molten hot beverage sitting in your cup holder doesn’t always make the best traveling companion. Neither really, did journalist John King—whom I ferried from the airport, all the while hearing nothing but a tapping on his computer—but I digress.

Enter iced coffee. On the very same trip where John King ignored me (something about being on a deadline) we swung through Quikava, a drive-through joint next to the airport. I could keep my eyes on the road while my lips were plastered to a rich, sweet, succulent—chilled—brew shooting through my mouth and veins. Life was incredible.

Then, like a strung-out junkie who finds a full bag of Cheetos, I somehow fell in with an even worse crowd, the chosen frozen. I think it was Coffee Coolattas at first or—wait, no, no, it was definitely Frappuccinos! I catapulted through space and time, ending up first in Midland, where I would actually call ahead at Zero Dark Thirty to the local Dunkin Donuts and order their special homemade version of a Coolatta before work. Then I landed here in the Detroit area, where an evil Cappuccino Blast from Baskin-Robbins was so intoxicating, I devoted an entire chapter about it in my first book, Spiritual Wanderer.

It didn’t stop there, oh no. In the book’s dedication, after mentioning my wife and daughters, I said they were: “The three things in my life better than Cappuccino Blasts!” What the #@! is wrong with me? I openly and publicly admitted to loving my family as much as a caffeinated beverage. I have a disease.

Thankfully, dear reader, my predilections have slightly altered again and the vastly caloric frozen drinks have somewhat given way to the milder, decaffeinated calm of a certain large Tim Horton’s iced coffee. And usually, I walk with my wife down the block to procure one, so there’s at least a modicum of exercise involved.

It’s still cold and it’s still coffee, but for now I think I’ve finally gotten the monkey off my back.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

What reliably gives you a moment of joy in daily life?

Share this series with friends. Especially if you’re a regular reader of The Spiritual Wanderer and you want to alert friends to this one-week, temporary home for Rodney’s stories. You know what to do: Click any of those buttons above the cold coffee picture.

5 Ramadan Surprises: How about a nice cold glass of camel’s milk?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises
Camelicious is the brand name of the new camel's milk product line from the Middle East's first scientifically designed camel dairy—headed to European markets.

Camelicious is the brand name of the new camel’s milk product line from the Middle East’s first scientifically designed camel dairy—headed to European markets.

Camel’s milk?

As Ramadan begins this year, headlines are popping up across the Internet about this very healthy and, by all accounts, tasty milk. Until this week, the most popular recent headline concerned an Abu Dhabi hotel chef developing yummy camel’s milk drinks—basically milk shakes—as a way to end the fast after the sun goes down. One glass packs plenty of energy, protein and vitamins in a delicious form! (Here’s a New York Daily News version of the story.)

What’s behind that quirky recipe story is more surprising: Camel’s milk suddenly is making a splash in the Middle East, in Europe and in India, too. The Indian news isn’t related to Ramadan, but it is a sign of the rise in international campaigns to take camel-dairy-farming seriously. Indian journalists are reminding readers that Gandhi himself loved a good glass of camel’s milk. In many decades of reporting on world religions, I’ve somehow missed that detail in Gandhi’s life—but, hey, Indian reporters are spreading that claim this month. Must be true, right?

The big news, though, is a new Middle-East-to-Europe flow—not a new oil pipeline, but a camel milk production line! For the first time, a United Arab Emirates camel dairy has established an approved market in Europe. This news story has been a decade in the making! Back in 2003, the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products was formed and, by 2006, the “world’s first sophisticated camel milking plant, incorporating state-of-the-art technology and camel research” was completed.

Camels are producing milk in new commercial programsThis is a long-shot commercial campaign. Most global markets have forbidden the commercial sale of camel’s milk for many years. U.S. laws prevented marketing this milk until 2009. Even in 2013, there are very few camels milked on American soil. Why? It’s hard and it’s expensive! Camels are bigger and ornerier than cows. They take longer to mature into milk producers. They’re harder to buy, breed and maintain—especially with no clear market for their dairy products.

Lots of health claims are made about this milk. Around the world in arid climates, camel-culture nomadic people are supposedly able to survive on nothing but camel’s milk for many weeks at a time. Wikipedia reports that “camel milk is rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, and immunoglobulins; compared to cow’s milk, it is lower in fat and lactose, and higher in potassium, iron, and vitamin C.”  You can find similar claims at many emerging camel-dairy websites across the Internet.

Camels are coming to America! In recent weeks, a camel-dairy farmer touched off a buzz in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area—that’s right, the Amish farming heartland.

I love this surprising Ramadan story because it focuses on the widespread and longstanding Muslim interest on health. Given the harsh regions that many Muslims call home around planet Earth, this concern for healthful living can be described as an Islamic tradition.

Come on, help us dispel stereotypes this week! Share this story with friends. Click the blue-“f” icon and “Like” this story on Facebook. Or use the little envelope icon and email to friends. Remember to wish Muslim neighbors “Ramadan mubarak!” (“Blessed Ramadan!“)

5th anniversary of OurValues: After 1,300 columns, can you guess our most popular subject?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 5th Anniversary
Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Celebrate the 5th anniversary of OurValues.org with us this week. Founded in 2008, OurValues.org was created as an online experiment in civil discussion about tough issues. Thank you for being part of our 1,300 columns—and counting! I appreciate the thousands of readers, here and around the globe, who have made this project so successful.

This week, we’ll revisit some of our most popular columns, along with some OurValues.org staff favorites.

What’s the single most popular subject? Abraham Lincoln. We’ve had quite a number of columns about Lincoln. As the creator and regular writer of OurValues.org, I began marking this 150th anniversary year of Lincoln’s historic actions in 1863. In January, I wrote about Lincoln’s life-long struggle with depression—what at the time was known as “melancholy.” It’s a story of supreme resilience and transcendence.

Not only did my column quickly become the most-read post on OurValues.org—but it drew the interest of Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer. Within months, Duncan had become a regularly engaged reader and occasional writer himself. As a guest columnist, he wrote this week-long series on the 16th president that appeared in May.

That’s part of the power of OurValues.org—it draws a fascinating mix of people together, wherever they live. They contribute in various ways to this national discussion we are weaving, year by year. Together, we keep demonstrating that civility is possible in America.

Care to revisit the most popular column? Here it is in slightly edited form:

ABRAHAM LINCOLN is known the world over, but not for his lifelong struggle with chronic depression or “melancholy.” How did his mental struggles play into his life’s work? In his movie Lincoln, Steven Spielberg clearly shows scenes in which Lincoln seems to struggle with the chronic melancholy that affected his life. But the film underplays the central role of clinical depression in Lincoln’s life and how he managed it. Melancholy was the key to his greatness, says Joshua Wolf Shenk in Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

Lincoln’s bouts of depression were legendary among his confidants. These bouts were “just one thread in a curious fabric of behavior and thought that Lincoln’s friends and colleagues called his ‘melancholy’,” writes Shenk. “He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. As a young man he talked of suicide.” His friends put him on a suicide watch, a rare reaction in those times. Melancholy was his companion throughout his life. “His law partner William Herndon said, ‘His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.’”

Lincoln was able to manage his struggle with depression by harnessing its energy for a high purpose. Indeed, the thought that he had a big role to play—however unclear it was at the time—gave him meaning and direction. The specific meaning of his life became clear. In 1854, Shenk writes, Lincoln entered the slavery debates “with a vigorous argument that slavery must be restricted as a moral, social, and political wrong.” This led, eventually, to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Did you know about Lincoln’s struggle with chronic depression?

Do you buy Shenk’s argument that it fueled Lincoln’s greatness?

What’s your all-time favorite article on OurValues.org?

Please, leave a comment below:

Common Good: Is Little League baseball the answer?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Common Good
Little League Baseball game photo by Ed Yourdon released into Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Little League by Ed Yourdon, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

How do we find the common good?

Jim Wallis, in his new book On God’s Side, says that we have lost sight of the common good—but we can find it again. “The common good and the quality of our life together,” he argues, “will finally be determined by the personal decisions we all make.”

What are those personal decisions? Wallis offers ten personal decisions in his book. Today, I focus on the first one.

He tells a warm and touching story about how it plays out in Little League baseball with his sons. Here’s how he describes the decision: “If you are a father or mother, make your children the most important priority in your life and build your other commitments around them. If you are not a parent, look for children who could benefit from your investment in their lives.”

And, here’s how that advice plays out on the baseball diamond. Wallis has two sons, and has coached both of their Little Leagues teams. “It has been a father-son bond that will always be with us.” He recalls with fondness that day his older son’s team won the AAA championship, and his son wanted to go back to the field to do some more pitching. It was too dark, so Wallis suggested that they “take a slow walk around the four diamonds that compose our Friendship Field, touching home plate at each one.” And so they did, discussing the game and the great season they had.

“It was very dark when we touched the last home plate, and we could see the lights on at our house; my ten-year-old son looked up into my eyes and quietly said, ‘Thanks, I love you Dad.’ It was one of those moments you remember for the rest of your life as a father. And, for us, baseball has provided that kind of bond.”

Is Little League baseball the answer? It’s not the answer, but it is one answer to the personal decisions parents (and parental figures) can make. Maybe it’s not baseball for you, or even any sport—it could be chess, hiking, music, building things, camping trips, sailing, or any of countless ways in which we can invest in our own children and our community’s children.

What personal decisions do you make that foster the common good?

What’s your equivalent to Little League baseball?

Please leave a comment below:

One Thing: What 1 Thing defined your generation?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series One Thing

OurValues Defining Moments for American Generations Depression Vietnam JFK Assassination 9 11DOES each generation have One Thing—one big national or world event—that shapes and defines it?

Do events such as the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John Kennedy or the 9/11 terror attacks leave an indelible mark and define a generation’s worldview?

This week, we’ve seen that One Thing can be a transformative moment, ranging from a short video about conservation and paper towels to the monumental shift in perspective that astronauts and cosmonauts have when they view the earth from space. It can also be one’s singular strength or focus, such as the harmonica music of legendary Bluesman James Cotton. It can also be a warning that success is never based on just one thing, as the leaders of Zingerman’s know.

We’ve also seen that One Thing has many interpretations. One reader asked, “Is this the same as The Last Lecture? Trying to sum up everything in 1 place, or like Einstein’s search for a grand theory of everything?” Another reader said, “I like looking at lists of epitaphs and eulogies.” Journalists who write obituaries have to sum up a life in a headline or a first paragraph. It’s the one definitive thing.

It turns out that generations do have experiences in their “critical years” (childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood) that define and shape the rest of their lives, according to a just-published paper by Howard Schuman and Amy Corning.

They compiled data from surveys in seven countries, including the United States. For Americans, they examined the effects of the Great Depression, Vietnam, the JFK assassination, 9/11—and more. They examined the effects of comparable events in other countries.

Their conclusion: Certain events experienced in the critical years have “a disproportionate effect on memories, attitudes, and actions in later life.” So, maybe there is One Thing for certain generations

Do you have a singular strength or focus that is your One Thing?

What’s the One Thing that shaped your generation?

Please leave a comment below: