Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mourning the passing of Cliff Nass: The Enthusiastic Ally

My advisor, Cliff Nass, passed away yesterday.  It’s hard for everyone who knew him, of course, for so many reasons.  

For me:
He was an ally to many of us, someone we knew would help us out and stand up for us.
He was enthusiastic, bringing up our spirits when grad school and life were brining us down.  

I have heard so many other PhD students complain about their advisors. It seems that the norm in academia is to have an advisor that is more adversarial than anything.  For a lot of PhD students, getting along with their advisor is a struggle and working with them is a trial.

Cliff was the opposite of all that.  Clearly a loving father, he provided that same energy wherever he was, supporting ideas that you might have not thought worthy of speaking out loud, providing you with a new perspective to see your own work as something that might help the world. A brilliant researcher, you respected his opinion and were buoyed by his enthusiasm. 

A rare ally was lost.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Common Ground: A Metta Application


Common Ground: A Metta Application from Christine Rosakranse on Vimeo.

Welcome to Common Ground: A Metta Compassion Application.
MIrroring traditional methods for engendering compassion, we have designed an application that facilitates a practice that increases the amount of loving-kindness we have not only for ourselves, but for our friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
Designed with four distinct learning phases that elicit compassionate responses, the application grows your compassion feelings outward in ever expanding spheres of connection.
You start with thinking about close friends, and how they make you feel loving and kind. Repeating like me, they want to be happy, like me they want to be free from suffering, and then finally writing in your own like me....entry, you gradual are able to call up that compassionate feeling more automatically. At the second stage you repeat these lines but while thinking about acquaintances, ending by writing your own like me for that person.
After completing compassion practices for a given group, you will see a wall with your like me response combined with the responses of others using the system.
Here we see the coming together of various voices from all over the internet, united by compassion. For your continuing practice, another layer will unlock, focusing on selfcompassion and finally, compassion for “enemies”.

Please vote for us on http://www.facebook.com/stanfordccare/app_336815736453308
for CCARE's Tech and Compassion Contest. Deadline for voting is October 25th, 2013.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Harm Reduction in Social Networking

A term that is already known and used by psychiatrists, social works, and other health care practitioners  and one that I find useful when talking about social networking is "harm reduction." The basic definition is relatively easy to understand.  People who engage in certain inherently "dangerous" (either to physical well-being or mental well-being) activities may not want to stop.  For medical professionals, these activities may include intravenous drug use or certain sexual practices.   From a harm reduction perspective, if people are going to engage in these dangerous activities it would be prudent to reduce the amount of harm that these activities cause.  For intravenous drug use, this would mean having a safe needle exchange program.  For sexual practices, this might mean providing sex education and making condoms readily available.
In an analogous manner, the ethos of harm reduction would outline a similar approach for those suffering from the ill effects of chronic social networking use or internet addiction.  The bottom line is that people are going to use the internet and social networking sites, but the ever-growing body of literature pertaining to the pernicious effects of chronic use affords us an opportunity to reduce the harm this use may cause.
For example, studies show a correlation between social networking use and lower levels of self-esteem (in tweens, Nass & Pea, 2010).  This correlation was mitigated by face-to-face contact.  The harm reduction model for counteracting FOMO (fear of missing out), skewed social perceptions (everyone is happy on Facebook), and the like may be insisting on a certain amount of face-to-face contact.
Other interventions may involve education as to the negatives of internet use, motivating a voluntary stoppage or restraint on use.  One of the richest areas for this sort of education is reaching out to children, either in school or at home because the possible negative effects are most influential on the developing mind.
With the scientific evidence mounting, we now have a clear path to reducing the amount of harm induced by chronic social networking.  The key is to get this research into the hands of designers and developers so they can implement a new way of thinking that cares for the user's psychological well-being by way of harm reduction.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Intention and direction: Take-aways from the Wisdom 2.0 Summit


     There were a few concepts introduced to me during the Wisdom 2.0 summit that reinvigorated my spirit in terms of compassion research.  First of all, no one who works to learn about compassion or wisdom is alone in that search.  Many others have realized that it is time to invest in our culture by propagating practices that engender compassion and wisdom.   A few key elements that feed into this are the idea of “being before doing” and having a particular intention.    “Being” refers to feeling into your own body and emotions.  This has also been called checking in with yourself.  
     Having an intention, a scream it to the sky type of intention, is also very important.  So I am going to put it out there for all the world to see. I intend to make the world a more compassionate place through interactive digital media. I see this digital age as one that stands on a precipice between the analytical and a more foundational sense of humanity.  Each day we are further separating ourselves and differentiating ourselves from others with our achievements and uniqueness.  I am special, I am different, and I deserve more in this world than everyone else.  We don’t explicitly say this, of course, but we tend to behave in this manner. 

Picture 1. Brainstorming about compassion

     With every post, whatever the original intention behind it, we are further differentiating ourselves.  What if we could instead use a wider, more encompassing metric to judge our progress?  What if instead of being a team of one, we could belong to Team Being?  It could be as wide and as large as your imagination and consciousness could stretch.  If you can visualize that similarity between you and someone else on the other end of the world, then you can grow your Team.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Allophilia


I’m on a mission to become a better person.  I’m not a terrible person, in my estimation, but I wouldn’t mind being better.  In this case, better means being more compassionate, more connected to the present, that sort of stuff.  Nicer, with a caveat.  I also want everyone else to be better in this sense.  We could all be nicer.  I'm not talking about the kind of nice where everyone walks all over you or you become a martyr lamenting the condition of the world.  In the simplest terms I can muster, being “nice” is empathizing with those close to you and offering help when you can.  
For the last five years I have been focusing on compassion as the means to this end.  However, compassion is a multi-faceted construct that, for most people, depends on things such as in-group/out-group preference and initial attachment.  Initial attachment means that you have bonded with a caregiver sometime during your upbringing and, because you have, you are able to bond with other people.  Research suggests that those who lack this initial attachment find difficulty later in life with creating bonds, especially pair bonds.  
As for in-group/out-group preference, society as whole takes this for granted.  Of course, we would prefer our group over those “others”.  However, this doesn’t have to be the case.  In the recent past (geologically speaking), resources were scarce and we had to fight in order to preserve our lineage.  Currently, resources are dispersed in an unequal manner, creating a real sense of dearth for some, but this is not now a reason to feel dislike or hatred of other groups.  
It may not seem natural to like the “other”.  The running commentary of those who do not seems to include valid excuses.  This is part of the reason why we have only sought to decrease prejudice.
However, we could go further.  Todd Pittinsky, in his book “Us Plus Them”, describes a new term called allophilia, literally like/love of the other.  How might we increase the like of the “other” in order to foster compassion and decrease in-group/out-group preference?  We do so sometimes and without much direct consideration.  As tourists, a person might admire the skill required to perform a folk dance in the Thai tradition.  We might enjoy the otherness of an African tribe with painted skin and traditional beliefs.
There is a fine line between enjoyment and gawking, of course.   Any time we mention “otherness” with a churlish or ironic tone, the sense of love is lost.  So the question then becomes, “How might we increase true allophilia between cultures, countries, people, and races?”  So I ask all of you - How might you feel happy for "them"?