Dogs, Bees and Us: Do dogs or cats prevent heart attacks?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
Birmans on homemade stamps on Zazzle

Birman owners love our “sacred cats of Burma”! On the Zazzle design-it-yourself website, a number of Birman owners have made US Postage stamps from photos of their cats. And, the cats are featured on commemorative stamps in countries from Congo to New Zealand.

I wasn’t always a cat person.

My affection for felines began when our son was 6 and my wife announced, “He needs a cat.”

My wife was an only child and had a special bond with her cats. Our son is an only child, and my wife felt it would be beneficial for him, too. When we told him we were going to get him a cat, he was so happy he burst into tears. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the human-animal bond, including its relevance for our values.

And, by the way, did you know that sharing our lives with animals yields health benefits?

We looked for a breed that was sociable, gentle, quiet and companionable—settling on Birmans, known as the Sacred Cats of Burma.  From the moment we got the cat, I observed the evolution of a boy-cat bond that supports what biologist Marc Bekoff writes in his latest book, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation. This book is a remarkable collection of Bekoff’s columns from Psychology Today about the latest research into animals, their psychological and emotional lives, and human attitudes toward animals.

One thing I’ve learned, for example, is that a cat can get depressed. We saw that whenever we went on a trip and had someone stop in regularly to feed the cat. Sociable animals need companions and we realized that our responsibility was to provide one. So, we got a second Birman, half-brother to the first, and the depression never reappeared.

Our animal companions also produce benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Bekoff cites a 10-year study with the astonishing conclusion that having cats helps prevent death from heart attacks! “Those who owned a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attacks than those who had no feline in their lives,” he writes, summarizing the study.

Do dogs have the same effect?  They don’t, according to the study.  Dogs, of course, have other beneficial effects on our lives.

What have you learned from your animal companions?

Are you surprised to learn that cats reduce death from heart attacks?

What benefits have you observed?

Want to learn more about Marc Bekoff’s work?

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Marc about his new book and this emerging field of research in this week’s cover story.

Valuable Objects: What’s the significance of an Eagle Scout badge?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Valuable Objects
Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks about his Eagle Scout BadgeAll of us have objects in our lives that convey meaning and significance. These objects tell stories about our values and how we acquired them. The stories remind us that values are not abstractions, but emotionally invested principles that shape our lives.

So, what values are conveyed in an Eagle Scout badge?

Yesterday, OurValues staff met with a group of men and women to discuss values—and the objects that signify them. We asked each person to bring a physical object that conveyed their values and how they acquired them growing up. The stories they told were a mixture of love, poignancy, joy, sadness, hope, and resilience amidst trials and tribulations. All were inspirational.

We’ll discuss some of their stories this week, starting with Jim Jeffries and his Eagle Scout badge.

First, a little background: Eagle Scout is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements are arduous, and all must be completed before the boy turns 18 years of age. The requirements, according to the BSA site, include “merit badges, service project, active participation, Scout spirit, position of responsibility, and unit leader conference.” Only about 5% of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

Leaders in many fields of American life proudly list, among their accomplishments, having earned the badge, including more than 40 U.S. astronauts, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

What values does an Eagle Scout learn? There are many. Here’s Jim’s story: He was a Boy Scout in Maryland, where they stressed camping and backpacking. “When you start as an 11 year old, and do all that stuff,” Jim said, “it really gives you a sense of independence and self-confidence.”

When he was a young teen, Jim and friends would take some significant backpacking trips to the White Mountains. “You really learn a lot when you throw a 50-pound pack on your back and you start walking through the woods for a week and you come out on the other end. You can get hurt out there if you are not careful, so it really teaches you a lot of things.”

I recall hiking (and surviving) the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains, and I know what Jim is talking about.

So, for Jim, his Eagle Badge represents the core American values of self-reliance and achievement.

This week, I am inviting all readers of OurValues:

What object in your life tells a story about your values?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.

5th anniversary of OurValues: A small world after all?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 5th Anniversary
Brandenburger Tor aka Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Germany

This is Das Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, known in English as the Brandenburg Gate. Photo by Thomas Wolf, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Obama is in Germany today, meeting with the German president and chancellor. He gives a speech at the Brandenburg Gate almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy gave his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech there. The last time Obama was in Germany, 2008, he addressed a huge, euphoric crowd. Today’s official reception is grand, but the public reception is lukewarm, reflecting concerns about drones, NSA spying and other matters.

Germans also are an important audience for The column has an American focus, but the international readership of demonstrates that it really is a small world after all. We also have many readers from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Philippines, China, Netherlands, France, and Sweden.

Over 1,300 columns have appeared on One of the most popular posts featured Germany and its role as a model of a post-nuclear world. Here is it, in edited form:


Would you be willing to sacrifice your lifestyle if it meant we could end the use of nuclear energy? Six of ten Germans are willing to do so, based on a new poll. A majority (57%) say they want Germany to close all nuclear power plants in less than five years. Is a nuclear-free Germany a model of our future?

Along with a change in lifestyle, Germany plans to shift to 50% renewable energy by 2050. That’s an ambitious goal, and even if it’s attained, where would the other half come from? Natural gas is one source, but coal is another—and coal is the real enemy, says environmentalist George Monbiot. The human and ecological costs are far greater than the risks of nuclear energy, he argues.

Germany’s neighbor—the Czech Republic—is delighted with Germany’s plans to cut nuclear, looking to profit by selling them energy from coal-fired plants. Czech companies don’t face pressure to close their nuclear plants, and politicians are in favor of increasing the use of coal as an energy source, according to business reports.

This all goes to show that the German model illustrates the limits of a nation-specific energy policy. One nation bans nuclear energy and its citizens are willing to take a hit to their lifestyle. Another nation invests in nuclear and coal-fired energy. It’s the same thing when you decide to not use pesticides on your lawn, but your neighbor asks for a double dose.

The energy dilemma we’ve discussed all week goes beyond national boundaries. It requires a multi-national policy. And, that takes a level of cooperation that we have not seen before.

What do you think of Germany’s model?

Is it a model that you could support?

Or, is it futile given that other nations will do the opposite?

Please, Comment below:

Older Americans: Views of stem cells and testing on animals?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Older Americans
Human Embryonic Stem Cells (in top photo) and neurons formed by stem cells. Photos by Nissim Benvenisty released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Human Embryonic Stem Cells (in top photo) and neurons formed by stem cells. Photos by Nissim Benvenisty released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Stem cells offer the possibility of treating diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other diseases, conditions, and disabilities. But medical research using stem cells from human embryos is controversial, and many people don’t think this type of research is morally acceptable.

What do older Americans think?
Once again, you might be surprised!
(Use the series index at the bottom of this post to read the other examples of changing attitudes I have highlighted this week.)

Today, almost seven of ten Americans 55 years of age and older say that embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable, according to a new Pew Research Center report. This is a 20 point increase since 2001. Majorities of young Americans (ages 18–34) and somewhat older Americans (ages 35–54) have always supported this type of medical research, but there has been fluctuation up and down. “Much of the increase in moral acceptance of stem cell research,” Pew researchers say, “has been driven by a change in the opinions of adults aged 55 and over.”


How about medical testing on animals? Here, young Americans are leading the charge—away from this type of research. In 2001, 66% of young Americans said that medical testing on animals was morally acceptable. There’s been downward trend over time. Now, only 47% say that it’s morally acceptable to conduct medical testing with animals. In contrast, opinions of Americans of the two older age groups have remained favorable over time, with only a slight downward trend.

Are you surprised by any of these findings?

What is causing the shift on stem cells?

Are there moral parallels with the medical testing issue?

What are your views on these two issues?

leave a comment below:

One Thing: Does Zingerman’s prove the exception to this rule?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series One Thing

Ann Arbor ZingermansWhat’s the secret—the “one thing”—that makes life successful?

In various forms, that’s the question Ari Weinzweig, CEO and Co-Founder of Zingerman’s Community Businesses, gets asked over and over again. Reporters on deadline ask Ari for the one thing that makes Zingerman’s so successful. Entrepreneurs about to launch businesses ask him to identify the one thing. Competitors search desperately for the one thing.

Do you know the Zingerman’s answer to—one thing?

Ari spoke this Monday at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, sponsored by the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship.  The title of his talk was “Fixing the Energy Crisis in the American Workplace: Living the Twelve Natural Laws of Business.” He revealed the one thing, which, as you might guess from his title, was this:  There is no one thing. There’s no single ingredient that creates success. Rather, it’s a combination of multiple ingredients that somehow work together to create a successful business.

He drew an analogy between organic farming versus monocropping. Organic farming includes, among other things, crop rotation, natural pesticides, no additives, no genetically modified organisms, natural fertilizers, and adaption to local conditions. In other words, it’s the way farming has been done for eons.

Monocropping focuses on one thing—one crop year after year, usually corn, wheat, or soybeans. Producing high yields requires lots of artificial fertilizers and specialized equipment. Ironically, producing one thing requires many things.

So, is the idea of one thing misguided? A reader of sent us this observation: “Nice to think of 1 thing, but life is messy for most people.”

Is one thing the wrong goal?

Is life too messy to reduce it to one thing?

Please leave a comment below:

Face of Climate Change: Do you believe in climate change?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Face of Climate Change

Earth from Space NASAEarth Day has been a major theme all this week—here at OurValues and in lots of communities around the world. The Face of Climate Change is this year’s theme, chosen by the Earth Day Network to personalize environmental threats and heroes. Today, I conclude the week with the overarching question: Do you believe climate change is real?

On Monday, I showed one face of climate change—an image I picked from thousands on the Earth Day Network web site. It was a photo of a small boy in Bilaspur, India, whose community is threatened by pollution from a sponge iron plant. On Tuesday, I offered Dr. Seuss’ fictional character the Lorax as another face of climate change. My son had watched the DVD in school on Earth Day. Then I suggested two inanimate objects—a green recycling bin and a napkin dispenser—for two more faces of climate change. The design of each of these can change human behavior, increase recycling, and reduce paper waste.

Today, let’s conclude with a core question in this whole effort: Do you believe climate change is real?

The number of Americans who say it is has been rising recently, though the figure is still below the record numbers in 2006 and 2007 when 90% of Americans agreed that climate change was happening, according to an Environmental and Energy Study Institute (ESSI) Fact Sheet. Just over a third (38%) says that climate change is a very serious threat, with another 46% saying that it is a somewhat serious threat.

There’s less agreement about the role of human activity as cause of climate change. In 2007, a Gallup poll showed that six of ten Americans say that human activity is at fault, but since then the figure has wavered around 50% or less.

The majority of Americans support regulating power-plant emissions and greater use of clean and renewable energy sources, ESSI reports. But there isn’t much support for a carbon tax.

Do you believe in climate change?

Is it caused by human activities?

How far are you willing to go to halt climate change?

Please leave a comment below:

Face of Climate Change: A napkin dispenser?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Face of Climate Change
Ecofriendly napkin dispenser

The eco-friendly dispenser. Photo courtesy of the researcher.

NAPKINS? Yes, I’m inviting readers to stretch the possibilities in this year’s “Face of Climate Change” challenge. Yesterday, I proposed a green recycling bin as a face of climate change. The color of a bin can dramatically increase recycling. Today, I propose the face of another inanimate object: the humble paper napkin dispenser.

Can the design of a napkin dispenser change human behavior?

Each year, the typical American consumes an average of 2,200 two-ply paper napkins, according to The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time. That’s about six per day. If each of us used one less napkin per day, The Green Book says that a billion pounds of napkins wouldn’t end up in landfills each year. For a visual image, that’s enough to fill the Empire State Building.

Changing the design of a dispenser can have a huge positive impact, according to the work of Dr. Soodeh Montazeri, a graduate of the Design Science Doctoral Program at the University of Michigan. She designed the study we discussed yesterday, and the one we’re talking about today.

Eco Christmas theme napkin holder

A Christmas variation that wasn’t as effective. Photo courtesy of the researcher.

A café in Ann Arbor agreed to participate in the study. Each day, they tossed out piles of wasted unused napkins. To encourage what Dr. Montazeri calls “the mindful consumption of napkins,” she replaced the café’s standard dispenser with the one shown above today. The image on it is a spruce tree, a coniferous evergreen that grows about 2 to 3 feet a year in good conditions. The image has markings showing how long it takes for a tree to grow to certain heights. And, the center of the image is a slot that shows the level of napkins in the dispenser.

The spruce-tree and standard dispensers were swapped during a six week period. Thousands of customers used them. On the days when the spruce-tree dispenser was used, consumption of napkins fell sharply. When the standard dispenser was reintroduced, consumption went back up. Consumption fell again when the spruce-tree dispenser was put back.

Because the spruce-tree dispenser has a holiday look to it, they tried a variation that looked like a Christmas tree. The consumption of napkins went back up.

What do you think of the experiment?

Have you seen designs that compelled you to conserve?

What’s another face of climate change?

Please leave a comment below: