The Decline of Productivity and How To Fix It–Part 2

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

In Part 1 of “The Decline of Personal Productivity and How to Fix It”, I described how personal productivity has been declining in many peoples’ lives, with a negative impact on productivity and personal well being. Part 2 of this article provides a number of practical suggestions on how you can deal with the problem and change your habits.

Strategies To Increase Productivity By Working Less, Taking Breaks, Controlling Disruptions and Developing a Personal Control System

  • Shorten your to do list. Many of us unconsciously keep adding things to do in our lives, without deleting any. So make an extensive list of the things that don’t really matter in your life (that is essentially just busyness), and delete them, so you can make more room for the things that really matter in your life;
  • Change your have to do list to a love to do list. Prioritize all the things you do and make sure you commit corresponding time and energy to them rather than less important things. Spend time on the things related to your most important values;
  • Rest in a do nothing state. There is plentiful research evidence to show that doing nothing in a restful state (where there is nothing to accomplish) strengthens your state of being, rather than doing, and can enhance your energy levels and creativity;
  • Learn how to say no and guard against energy vampires. Workplace culture often requires that you sacrifice time for others, whether that means acting as a mentor or maintaining an open-door policy. The benefit to others’ productivity often comes at a cost to your own. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recommends extreme selectivity as a check on your desire to always be accommodating. McKeown likes to ask people to imagine they have no to-do list, no inbox, no schedule of appointments. While it’s nice to be able to help people and be the “go to” person at work, if you’re efficient, and get your to do list done, people will notice and readily ask you for help. Learning how to say no to requests is critical for maintaining your physical and mental health;
  • Eliminate or seriously reduce multitasking. The research evidence is pretty clear on multitasking—it reduces productivity and cognitive functioning. Replace it with what has been termed “single tasking”—doing one thing at a time with complete focus. Learning how to mediate can help immensely;
  • Learn how to live in in present. This is an essential part of mindfulness. When we occupy our minds with thoughts and emotions by rehashing the past, hoping to change it, or constantly thinking about the future, particularly what could go wrong, we increase stress levels (including cortisol in our bodies) and become less productive. Focusing on the present moment and what you can do only then is the answer;
  • Measure progress daily and stop measuring your worth by what you accomplish. In her book The Progress Principle,  Teresa Amabile emphasizes progress (moving forward with one’s work) over productivity (getting things done well and efficiently, irrespective of their importance). A sense of making meaningful progress, she found, has much greater positive impact on engagement and motivation. Her latest research suggests that the simple act of looking back on progress also positively affects your sense of accomplishment and how competent and effective you feel at work. Francesca Gino, also an HBS professor, asked some employees at an Indian company to spend 15 minutes at the end of each day writing about what had gone well. The group that took time to reflect had a performance level 23 percent higher than that of employees who spent those last 15 minutes simply working. If reviewing incomplete to-do lists brings us down, it appears compiling have-done lists bestows a sense of satisfaction and enhances performance;
  • Manage your energy, not your time. This concept is taken from Tony Schwarz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement,  where he argues that ensuring your energy levels (physical, mental and emotional) are more important than trying to manage time to fill in all you want to do in life;
  • Stop writing down, visualizing and telling everyone about your goals. This may sound counterintuitive, because we’ve become brainwashed with the conventional wisdom of goal setting. Yet there was no research to show that writing down goals translates into success. And visualizing your goals being accomplished is more hype promoted by self-help gurus than motivational; 
  • Schedule breaks in your daily work (17 minutes), ideally every 52 minutes or even less. Use a timer as a reminder;
  • Schedule everything in your calendar rather than creating to do lists. Scheduling has the added impetus for you to confront what you have to do, rather than burying it on some hidden to do list. This includes scheduling your free time.A study was conducted at National Pingtung University of Science and Technology in Taiwan found  a positive relationship between free time management and quality of life;
  • Plan your day in reverse. Start with your desired ending time (eg: 5 pm), and then calendarize all you want or have to do in reverse order including free time. This also gives you a greater sense of control over your work life as opposed to reacting to time demands as they appear;
  • Take regular vacations or sabbaticals. A 2010 survey indicated that the average American accrues 18 vacation days and uses only 16. More than forty percent of American workers who received paid time off did not take all of their allotted time last year, despite the obvious personal benefits, according to “An Assessment of Paid Time Off in the U.S.” commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group, and completed by Oxford Economics.The average French worker takes more than twice the vacation time. To some, this statistic encapsulates the difference between American and European workers. Americans believe they are productive and Europeans are lazy. In fact, it’s the opposite. Europeans understand that breaks improve workplace efficiency. Americans mistakenly believe that more hours will always increase output, while ignoring the clear evidence: The secret to being an effective worker is not working too hard. Not taking vacation time is a bad idea, as it harms productivity and the economy. Those are key findings of a new study (link is external)released earlier this month. One of the most watched Ted Talks by Stefan Sagmeister, who takes a sabbatical every seven years and describes the incredible benefits.Make the beginning of your day the most productive. Tim Ferris author of The 4 Hour Work Week  recommends not checking email for the first hour or two of the day. Dan Ariely, co-founder of Timeful, a time management app, and the New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions,  says you have 2-2.5 hours of peak productivity every day. You may actually be 30% more effective at that time. He argues most people are productive in the first two hours of the morning.
  • Control your email habits. Some organizations, particularly in Europe, have taken action to restrict internal emails for employees to address their negative effects on productivity. Other studies how shown how attending to emails throughout the working day occupies up to 30% of the entire working day, but does not actually result in productive work. A study by the French business watchdog company ORSE found that reading useless email messages damaged concentration, as it took more than five minute to refocus on the task at hand. A study  by the University of California, Irvine, which was co-written with United States Army researchers, found that people who do not look at e-mail on a regular basis at work are less stressed and more productive. A study (link is external) done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis.
  • Become a master in regulating your emotions. Research shows how you start the day has an enormous effect on productivity and you procrastinate more when you’re in a bad mood. Researchers  found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods;
  • Develop a personal system that simplifies things, is routinized and reduces decision fatigue. Roy Baumeister, author of the New York Times bestseller Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, (link is external) argues every decision you make depletes your self-control. Having too many choices or decisions to make depletes willpower and afterward your self-control is impaired. Personal organization guru David Allen, author of best seller, Getting Things Done, (link is external) has great suggestions on a personal system; 
  • Engage in mindfulness practices. Mindfulness has been shown in research (link is external) to help people be calmer, more grounded, handle stress better, improve emotional regulation and cognitive functioning.

We need to redefine productivity. Unfortunately, it has become synonymous with busyness. We are seduced by the cultural norm of measuring productivity as the goal of “getting all the work done.” So we invent the checklists or to do lists, and excessively focus on what hasn’t been done.

What if productivity was defined not be describing what we get done but by doing things we want or love to do. Or by defining it by doing things well, instead of fast. What if we decide to take control over our lives and value time off, vacations and doing nothing as strategies for improving our productivity. Wouldn’t that create a different kind of life?

 

The Decline of Productivity and How To Fix It

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Part 1 of this article describes in detail the decline of personal productivity. Part 2 will provide some practical solutions.

The most common expression I hear from my clients and colleagues and friends is “I don’t have enough time,” or “I can’t seem to get everything done.” They are often amazed by the people who seem to be super productive without become workaholics.

Productivity, or the lack of it, seems to be a widespread personal and organizational problem.

At the organizational level, the emphasis on employee engagement levels, which is another way of defining productivity, has been a focus of many Gallup polls, other research and management fixes. At the personal level, the focus has been on work-life balance, workaholism, and stress.

A closer examination of the issue of productivity surfaces several important perspectives:

  • The applied definition of productivity
  • The relationship between productivity and working hours
  • The impact of technology on productivity
  • Our scattered and over stimulated lives
  • Solutions to the personal productivity problem.

The definition of productivity

The dictionary defines productivity as “the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.” Since the industrial revolution began, we have equated productivity with other concepts and beliefs—progress and growth. The success of our free market capitalist system and economic prosperity has since been based on structural systems and habits that require unending economic progress and growth. Yet we are now beginning to realize that our obsession with economic growth and productivity is in fact creating huge problems, and economic growth is the cause of them. It requires a constant increase in the flow of raw materials extracted from the planet to be turned into goods, services and waste. The more we grow, certainly using current economic thinking, the more resources we need to use and the more pollution we create. Our definition of productivity takes a positive perspective, not indicating it has detrimental effects. Hence our belief that productivity is good, and anything that can enhance it is good. But what if productivity was bad? What if the bad effects outweighed the good?

Productivity and Working Hours

The industrial revolution’s factory model of work ushered in the use of humans as virtual slave labor for the average worker (but not their wealthy owners), with 12 and 14 hours working days for six and seven days a week. Soon the 40-hour workweek became the base upon which the workplace was structured. As global economic competition increased, productivity-working hours were assumed to be the driver of economic success. Indeed the concept has been integrated into accepted measurements such as GDP and GNP, none of which measure human well being or social factors. And while the 40-hour work week for a while became the norm, in part due to government policies and the power of unions, the norm has slowly been eroded, most notably in North America and Asian countries. But not in many European countries, where the work week has been reduced.

In the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin predicted we’d work a 4-hour week. In 1933 the U.S. Senate passed a bill for an official 30-hour workweek, which was vetoed by President Roosevelt. In 1965, a U.S. Senate subcommittee predicted a 22-hour workweek by 1985 and a 14-hour work week by 2000. None of those predictions have come to pass. In fact the opposite is true. The number of hours people work is increasing.

Working hours in North America and the U.K. have steadily risen in the last 20 years. A DIT research report found that 1 in 6 employees now work more than 60 hours a week. Full time employees in the U.K. work the longest hours in Europe and a British Medical Association report found that 77% of consultants work more than 50 hours a week and 46% more than 60 hours.

According to U.S. Census and CPS data, the number of employed American men regularly working more than 48 hours per week is higher today than it was 25 years ago. Using CPS data from 1979 to 2006, this increase was greatest among highly educated, highly-paid, and older men, was concentrated in the 1980s, and was largely confined to workers paid on a salaried basis. A new study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirms that on average, people in the U.S. are putting in 20 per cent more hours of work than they did in 1970. It also shows that in the same period, the number of hours worked in all the other industrialized countries, except for Canada, decreased. The average work week in the U.S. is 54 hours according to a Sage Software Survey in 2007. In an average week, only 14 percent work 40 hours or less. One-third work 50-59 hours a week, and 80% work between 40 and 79 hours according to a 2006 study of 2,500 Americans. In Japan, in contrast, annual work hours declined 17 per cent and in France they declined by 24 per cent. In general, a third of all American workers could be viewed as chronically overworked in 2004, according to a report by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute in New York City.

So in many ways we have begun to accept overwork or workaholism as a necessity to drive productivity. At what cost?

In the U.S., and Canada workaholism remains what it’s always been: the so-called “respectable addiction” that’s dangerous as any other—whether or not they hold jobs. “Yes, workaholism is an addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it’s not the same as working hard or putting in long hours,” says Bryan Robinson, PhD, one of the leading researchers on the disorder and author of Chained to the Desk and other books on workaholism. Workaholic’s obsession with work is all occupying, which prevents workaholics from maintaining healthy relationships, outside interests, or even taking measures to protect their health.

So who are these workaholics? According to several research studies, there is no typical profile, although Baby Boomers are more susceptible to being workaholics than Generation Y workers. Most workaholics are successful. And workaholics are more likely to be managers or executives, more likely to be unhappy about their work/life balance and work on average more than 50 hours per week. They neglect their health to the point of devastating results and ignore their friends and family. They avoid going on vacation so they don’t have to miss work. And even if they do go on vacation, they aren’t fully present because their mind is still on work.

It’s been my experience in working with many firms, particularly large ones, that overwork is the norm. In a society where job dedication is praised, workaholism is an invisible addiction. Work is at the core of much of modern life. If you work excessively you can be both praised in the corporate world, and criticized because of a lack of work-life balance.

Workaholism is like a badge of courage for many. Professionals are working harder than ever and the 40-hour work week is a thing of the past. Workaholism is a reflection of our culture’s embrace of an extreme ethos. For many professionals, work is the center of their social life and friendships.

Personal connections, once made exclusively through family, friends and civic organizations, are now made in the workplace. In conversations with executives and employees alike in the boardrooms and lunchrooms I have visited, the most common comments I hear are phrases such as “I’m up to my neck in alligators,” or “I can’t keep up,” or “not enough time.”

The phenomena of overwork can’t be blamed entirely on employers and bosses. Laura Vanderkam, author of What Most Successful Do on the Weekend, contends many workers lack the self-discipline to set proper boundaries between work and their personal lives. Many report a feeling of being needed or important by overwork.

Does More Working Hours Mean Greater Productivity?

Not according to research. Economists for some time have argued working longer hours would negatively affect productivity. John Hicks, a British economist was one of the first in the 1930s to look at the issue ), and concluded that productivity declined with increases of working hours.

John Pencavel of Stanford University showed in his research  that reduced working hours can be good for productivity. The study found that productivity declined markedly after more than 50 hours per week. His study also showed that the absence of a rest day (such as Sunday) damaged productivity.

Research by the Draugiem Group, a social networking company using a time-tracking productivity app called DeskTime, conducted an experiment to see what habits set their most productive employees apart. They found the employees with the highest productivity didn’t work longer hours than anyone else. In fact, the study showed that these people didn’t even work full eight-hour days. What they did instead is to take regular breaks (17 minutes for every 52 minutes of work). Other studies have shown that 90 minutes of continuous work without a break reduces cognitive performance. What is critical about the breaks was the focus—these productive people did something totally unrelated to work, rather than checking email, phone messages or other tasks. Instead, they took a walk, read a book, meditated, engaged in social talk.

There’s more proof that working more hours per day doesn’t translate into greater productivity. In Greece , the average number of hours worked per worker is among the highest in the OECD, second only to Korea, yet the economy there has ground to a halt, partly because problems in worker productivity. In contrast, economies in Germany and Sweden are robust where workers work considerably fewer hours.

Longer hours have also been connected to absenteeism and employee turnover. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention even has an entire website devoted to the effects of long working hours even if workers aren’t paid for this extra time.

A survey  from UBS has shown that the French continue to work the least amount of hours per year in the world. People work an average of 1,902 hours per year in the surveyed cities but they work much longer in Asian and Middle Eastern cities. People in Lyon and Paris, by contrast, spend the least amount of time at work according to the global comparison: 1,582 and 1,594 hours per year respectively. Nationmaster ranks France as #18 in terms of GDP per capita, at $36,500 per person, yet France works much less than most developed nations. They achieve their high standard of living while working 16% less hours than the average world citizen, and almost 25% less than their Asian peers.

The Impact of Technology on Productivity

Technological progress was assumed to have driven productivity and economic growth. Yet, there is evidence  that it hasn’t contributed greatly to our standard of life. Between 1991 and 2012 the average annual increase in real wages in Britain was 1.5% and in America 1%, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a club of mostly rich countries. That was less than the rate of economic growth over the period and far less than in earlier decades. Other countries fared even worse. Real wage growth in Germany from 1992 to 2012 was just 0.6%; Italy and Japan saw hardly any increase at all. And, critically, those averages conceal plenty of variation. Real pay for most workers remained flat or even fell, whereas for the highest earners it soared.

It seems difficult to square this unhappy experience with the extraordinary technological progress during that period, but the same thing has happened before. Most economic historians reckon there was very little improvement in living standards in Britain in the century after the first Industrial Revolution. And in the early 20th century, as Victorian inventions such as electric lighting came into their own, productivity growth was every bit as slow as it has been in recent decades. This failure of new technology to boost productivity (apart from a brief period between 1996 and 2004) became known as the Solow paradox. Economists disagree on its causes. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University suggests that recent innovation is simply less impressive than it seems, and certainly not powerful enough to offset the effects of demographic change, inequality and sovereign indebtedness.

Technology has allowed workers both at work and at home, through the use of smartphones, tablets , email, and instant messaging to be “on” and available at all times for work, even outside of working hours. And increasingly, people are working on vacations or not taking vacations at all, particularly in the U.S.

Our Scattered and Over Stimulated Lives

John Robinson, one of the leading researcher on the issue of time use, says the biggest problem we have today is not “not having enough time,” it’s that our lives are so fragmented, over stimulated and interrupted. Ed Hallowell, best selling author of Driven to Distraction , argues that we have a “culturally generated ADD.” In other words, there are so many distractions and stimuli, we are losing our ability to focus.

Many studies have shown that most workers are frequently interrupted at work. Top CEOs and executives can be interrupted as often as every 20 minutes.

And research has shown that for every interruption it takes an average of 25 minutes to fully regain your cognitive focus. Dr. Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, found that average information workers are interrupted every three minutes – nearly twenty times per hour or seventy-three times every day. And the average manager is interrupted every eight minutes. Interruptions include telephone calls, incoming email messages, interruptions by colleagues, and crises. On average, most of us experience one interruption every 8 minutes or approximately 6-7 per hour. In an 8-hour day, that totals around 50-60 interruptions in the day. The average interruption takes approximately 5 minutes. If you are receiving 50 interruptions in the day and each takes 5 minutes, that totals 250 minutes, or just over 4 hours out of 8, or about 50% of the workday.. Cognitive studies on interruptions show that an interruption requires immediate attention and action and most of us allow and even encourage interruptions to take place and to take precedence over other tasks. We often respond quickly to these interruptions, as it gives us a feeling of closure, knowing we may not have to address this issue in the immediate future.

And what about multitasking?

The evidence is pretty clear that multitasking is not efficient and takes a severe toll on productivity. No two tasks can be done at the same time with 100% efficiency. As multitasking increases, our ability to distinguish between what is relevant from non-relevant declines. You’ve likely heard that multitasking is problematic, but new studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Research conducted at Stanford University  found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. What’s interesting is the research conducted at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. Finally, it was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research at the University of Sussex found that multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

In summary, there are signficant reasons why personal productivity is declining. Part 2 of this article will suggest strategies to fix the problem.

The Crisis of Fatherhood

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Blogs by admin

As we approach Father’s Day, it may be useful for us to reflect on what’s happened to fatherhood, and indeed male identity in America.

Some would argue that America is rapidly becoming a fatherless society, or perhaps more accurately, an absentee father society. The importance and influence of fathers in families has been in significant decline since the Industrial Revolution and is now reaching critical proportions. The near-total absence of male role models has ripped a hole the size of half the population in many urban areas. For example, in Baltimore, only 38 percent of families have two parents, and in St. Louis the portion is 40 percent.

Across time and cultures, fathers have always been considered essential—and not just for their sperm. Indeed, no known society ever thought of fathers as potentially unnecessary. Marriage and the nuclear family—mother, father, and children—are the most universal social institutions in existence. In no society has the birth of children out of wedlock been the cultural norm. To the contrary, concern for the legitimacy of children is nearly universal.

As Alexander Mitscherlich argues in Society Without A Father (link is external), there has been a “progressive loss of the father’s authority and diminution of his power in the family and over the family.”

“If present trends continue, writes David Popenoe , a professor of sociology at Rutgers University, “the percentage of American children living apart from their biological fathers will reach 50% by the next century.” He argues “this massive erosion of fatherhood contributes mightily to many of the major social problems of our time…Fatherless children have a risk factor of two to three times that of fathered children for a wide range of negative outcomes, including dropping out of high school, giving birth as a teenager and becoming a juvenile delinquent.”

According to David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, chair of the National Fatherhood Initiative and founder/president of the Institute for American Values, organization, and research conducted by Popenoe and scores of other researchers:

  • Approximately 30% of all American children are born into single-parent homes, and for the black community, that figure is 68%;
  • Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents;
  • Child abuse is significantly more likely to occur in single parent homes than in intact families;
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census;
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law;
  • 63% of 1500 CEOs and human resource directors said it was not reasonable for a father to take a leave after the birth of a child;
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools;
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes according to a report in Criminal Justice & Behavior;
  • In single-mother families in the U.S. about 66% of young children live in poverty;
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes;
  • Children from low-income, two-parent families outperform students from high-income, single-parent homes. Almost twice as many high achievers come from two-parent homes as one-parent homes according to a study by the Charles F. Kettering Foundation.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control;
  • Of all violent crimes against women committed by intimates about 65% were committed by either boy-friends or ex-husbands, compared with 9 % by husbands;
  • Girls living with non-natal fathers (boyfriends and stepfathers) are at higher risk for sexual abuse than girls living with natal fathers;
  • Daughters of single mothers are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 111% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a premarital birth and 92% more likely to dissolve their own marriages.
  • A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
  • Juvenile crime, the majority of which is committed by males, has increased six-fold since 1992;
  • In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
  • The Scholastic Aptitude Test scores have declined more than 70 points in the past two decades; children in single-parent families tend to score lower on standardized tests and to receive lower grades in school according to a Congressional Research Service Report.

Blankenhorn argues that America is facing not just the loss of fathers, but also the erosion of the ideal of fatherhood. Few people doubt the fundamental importance of mothers, Popenoe comments, but increasingly the question of whether fathers are really necessary is being raised and said by many to be a merely a social role that others-mothers, partners, stepfathers, uncles and aunts, and grandparents can play.

“The scale of marital breakdowns in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of,” says Lawrence Tone, a noted Princeton University family historian, “There has been nothing like it for the last 2,000 years, and probably longer.” Consider what has happened to children. Most estimates are that only about 50% of the children born during the 1970-84 “baby bust” period will still live with their natural parents by age 17-a staggering drop from nearly 80%.

Despite current interest in father involvement in families, an extremely large proportion of family research focuses on mothers and children. Health care agencies and other organizations exclude fathers, often unwittingly. Starting with pregnancy and labor and delivery most appointments are set up for mothers and held at times when fathers work.

The same is true for most pediatric visits. School records and files in family service organizations often have the child’s and mother’s name on the label, and not the father’s. In most family agency buildings, the walls are typically pastel colors, the pictures on the wall are of mothers, flowers and babies, the magazines in the waiting room are for women and the staff is predominantly female. In most welfare offices, fathers are not invited to case planning meetings, and when a home visitor is greeted at the door by a man, she often asks to speak with the mother. Given these scenarios, fathers are likely to get the message that they are invisible or irrelevant to their children’s welfare, unless it involves financial support.

Popenoe and others have examined the role of fathers in raising children and found there are significant differences than that for mothers. For example, an often-overlooked dimension of fathering is play. From their children’s birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. The play is both physically stimulating and exciting. It frequently resembles an apprenticeship or teaching relationships, and emphasizes often teamwork and competitive testing of abilities. The way fathers play affects everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting the essential virtue of self-control.

A committee assembled by the Board of Children and Families of the National Research Council, concluded “children learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the content of playing with their fathers. Fathers, in effect, give children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing others’ emotional clues.”

At play and in other realms, fathers tend to stress competition, challenge, initiative, risk taking and independence. Mothers, as caretakers, stress emotional security and personal safety. Father’s involvement seems to be linked to improved quantitative and verbal skills, improved problem-solving ability and higher academic achievement for children. Men also have a vital role to play in promoting cooperation and other “soft” virtues. Involved fathers, it turns out according to one 26 year longitudinal research study may be of special importance for the development of empathy in children.

Family life-marriage and child rearing-is a civilizing force for men. It encourages them to develop prudence, cooperativeness, honesty, trust, self-sacrifice and other habits that can lead to success as an economic provider by setting a good example.

Mark Finn and Karen Henwood, writing about the issue of masculinity and fatherhood, in the British Journal of Social Psychology, argue that the traditional view of masculinity, with its focus on power, aggression, economic security, and “maleness”, and the emerging new view of fatherhood, which incorporates many aspects of motherhood is a source of struggle for many men who become fathers.

In a study of fatherhood in popular TV sitcoms, Timothy Allen Pehlke and his colleagues concluded that fathers are generally shown to be relatively immature, unhelpful and incapable of taking care of themselves in comparison with other family members. In addition, the researchers found that fathers often served as the butt of family members’ jokes. All of these characterizations, while the intention may be humor, depicted fathers as being socially incompetent and objects of derision.

In a study of depictions of fathers in the best selling children’s picture books, researcher Suzanne M. Flannery Quinn concluded that of the 200 books analyzed, there were only 24 books where the father appears alone, and only 35 books where mother and father appear together. The author concludes, “because fathers are not present or prominent in a large number of these books, readers are given only a narrow set of images and ideas from which they can construct an understanding of the cultural expectations of fatherhood and what I means to be a father.”

It seems to me that the issue of the decline of fatherhood and the problem of the male identity crisis are inextricably intertwined.

In my Psychology Today article, “Our male identity crisis: What will happen to men?” I said, “In a post-modern world lacking clear-cut borders and distinctions, it has been difficult to know what it means to be a man and even harder to feel good about being one. The many boundaries of a gendered world built around the opposition of work and family-production versus reproduction, competition versus cooperation, hard vs. soft-have been blurred, and men are groping in the dark for their identity.”

Overwhelmingly, the portrayal of men and the male identity in contemporary western societies is mostly negative. Men today are extensively demonized, marginalized and objectified, in a way reminiscent of what happened to women. The issue of the male identity is of crucial importance because males are falling behind in school, committing more suicides and crimes, dying younger and being treated for conditions such as ADHD more than females.

There has also been a loss of fatherhood in society as artificial insemination by anonymous donors is on the rise. Further, medical experiments have shown that male sperm can now be grown artificially in a laboratory. There has been a rise in divorce rates where in most cases, child custody is granted to mothers. Continuous negative portrayal of men in the media, along with the feminization of men and loss of fatherhood in society, has caused confusion and frustration in younger generation males, as they do not have a specific role model and are less able to define their role in society.

From once being seen as successful breadwinners, heads of families and being respected leaders, men today are the butt of jokes in the popular media. A Canadian research group, Nathanson and Young, conducted research on the changing role of men and media and concluded that widely popular TV programs such as The Simpsons present the father character, Homer, as lazy, chauvinistic, irresponsible, and stupid and his son, Bart, as mischievous, rude and cruel to his sister. By comparison, the mother and daughter are presented as thoughtful, considerate and mild-natured. The majority of TV shows and advertisements present men as stupid buffoons, or aggressive evil tyrants or insensitive and shallow “studs” for women’s pleasure.

According to J.R. Macnamara, in the book, Media and the Male Identity: The Making and Remaking of Men, less than 20% of media profiles reflected positive themes for men. Violent crimes, including murder, assault, and armed robberies accounted for over 55% of all media reporting of male activities. Macnamara says that over 30% of all discussion in the media of male sexuality was in relation to pedophilia, and males’ heterosexuality associated with masculinity is seen as violent, aggressive and dominating. Men are frequently shown in TV shows and movies as lacking in commitment in relationships and are shown as frequently cheating on women. And with increasing frequency, women are shown on TV shows and movies as being independent single mothers, not needing a man.

Guy Garcia, author of The Decline of Men: How The American Male is Tuning Out, Giving Up and Flipping Off His Future,  argues that many men bemoan a “fragmentation of male identity,” in which husbands are asked to take on unaccustomed familial roles such as child care and housework, while wives bring in the bigger paychecks. “Women really have become the dominant gender,” says Garcia, “what concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way.”

“The crisis of fatherhood, then is ultimately a cultural crisis, a sharp decline in the traditional sense of communal responsibly, ” contends Popenoe; “It therefore follows that to rescue the rescue the endangered institution of fatherhood, we must regain our sense of community.”

Beyond that, fathers—men—bring an array of unique and irreplaceable qualities that women do not ordinarily bring. Some of these are familiar, if sometimes overlooked or taken for granted. The father as protector, for example, has by no means outlived his usefulness. And he is important as a role model. Teenage boys without fathers are notoriously prone to trouble. The pathway to adulthood for daughters is somewhat easier, but they still must learn from their fathers, as they cannot from their mothers, how to relate to men. They learn from their fathers about heterosexual trust, intimacy, and difference. They learn to appreciate their own femininity from the one male who is most special in their lives (assuming that they love and respect their fathers). Most important, through loving and being loved by their fathers, they learn that they are worthy of love.

Recent research has given us much deeper—and more surprising—insights into the father’s role in child rearing. It shows that in almost all of their interactions with children, fathers do things a little differently from mothers. What fathers do—their special parenting style—is not only highly complementary to what mothers do but is by all indications important in its own right.

For example, an often-overlooked dimension of fathering is play. From their children’s birth through adolescence, fathers tend to emphasize play more than caretaking. This may be troubling to egalitarian feminists, and it would indeed be wise for most fathers to spend more time in caretaking. Yet the fathers’ style of play seems to have unusual significance. It is likely to be both physically stimulating and exciting. With older children it involves more physical games and teamwork that require the competitive testing of physical and mental skills. It frequently resembles an apprenticeship or teaching relationship: Come on, let me show you how.

The way fathers play affects everything from the management of emotions to intelligence and academic achievement. It is particularly important in promoting the essential virtue of self-control. According to one expert, “Children who roughhouse with their fathers . . . usually quickly learn that biting, kicking, and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.” They learn when enough is enough.

Children, a committee assembled by the Board on Children and Families of the National Research Council concluded, “learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the context of playing with their fathers. Fathers, in effect, give children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing others’ emotional clues.” A study of convicted murderers in Texas found that 90 percent of them either didn’t play as children or played abnormally.

So as we annually celebrate Father’s Day, and reflect on it’s importance to social stability, more men in our culture need to find their male identity and commit to the central importance of fatherhood.

Why the Business World Needs Liberal Arts Graduates

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Articles by admin

Liberal arts education is in a life-and-death struggle amidst pressure by politicians, business leaders and educational administrators to diminish or eliminate their presence in our post-secondary institutions and replace them with a job-targetted educational system emphasizing technological and practical skills. Yet, ironically, the importance and utililty of a liberal education has never been greater.

The Causes

Powerful forces have contributed to a perspective that a liberal education is no longer relevant including:

  • Each year in the U.S. alone, more than 30 million workers are working in jobs that did not exist in the previous quarter;
  • Every year, more than 1/3 of the entire labor force changes jobs;
  • Students now graduating from post secondary institutions will have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38 years old;
  • Competition with Asian countries where technological education is stressed;
  • Unemployment rates for college graduates remain high regardless of the economic recovery from the recession.

Political and “Expert” Pressure on Colleges and Universities

Business and military leaders complain that students are ill-educated for the work that needs doing. Some, for example, Walter Russell Mead,  recommends scrapping liberal arts in higher education and replacing it with skill based certificates, or The Council on Foreign Relations,  which recommends an education system that produces better soldiers, security analysts, managers and producers.

Liberal arts education programs are under duress in higher education, in an atmosphere of increasing anti-intellectualism, where uninformed opinions based on little facts and even less study of our history and culture is on a daily basis being spouted by political and business leaders.

Part of the reason for the decline of liberal arts in colleges and universities and their focus more on professions, technology and sciences has been an economic one. The rising cost of post secondary education has made a liberal arts education out of reach for most working class and middle class families, and these students are compelled to pursue vocationally oriented educations out of necessity. Second, higher education institutions have partially solved their funding problem by turning more and more to research grants and endowments provided by corporations which are often driven by self interest.

In an article by Joseph Epstein  argues the division between vocational and liberal arts education, which began during the 19th century with the advent of the land-grant state universities in the US., are today tilting further and further in favor of the vocational. Even within the liberal arts, more and more students are fleeing from the traditional liberal arts courses such as English or History to the marketable subjects such as Economics, in hope that this will bring them the practical credentials that might impress prospective employers.

The war on the liberal arts is also born from the same desire of right wing America which has produced voter ID laws, which is an attempt to limit democratic participation. The goal of a liberal arts education was never primarily direct economic benefit for the recipients, it was to produce an educated citizenry.

Rosanna Warren, the Hanna Holborn Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago, argues “Most people need and want the arts in their lives. Our civilization may now be so coarsened that we will eliminate the humanities from our schools, and we will train citizens only for technical skills which give them no sense of what they are living for, or why.”

What is a liberal education and why is it important?

According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, a liberal education can be defined as “an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.”

The term
 “liberal education” was first used in classical Greek and Roman
 times, chosen to emphasize the fact that it helped people deal with their 
rulers critically. Through time, a liberal education was thought to help a
 person become wise.

As former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley has so aptly put it, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet.”

“I think, increasingly, anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade,” says Lawrence Summers, a former president of Harvard University, “and so the most important kind of learning is about how to learn.”

David Autor, the MIT economis who has stuided the impact of technology and globalization on labor, writes “human taks that have proved most amendable to computerization are those that follow explicit, codifiable proceures where computers now vastly exceed human labor inn speed, quality accuracy and cost efficiency. Tasks that have proved most vexing to automate are those that demand flexibiilty, judgment and common sense.” In other words, the kinds of skills learned in a Liberal Arts education.

The humanities and social sciences are not merely elective, nor are they elite or elitist. They are necessary and require our support in challenging times as well as in times of prosperity. And our current education system in North America is losing that perspective. So says a report by the national commission on the humanities and social sciences of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

It’s fashionable these days for many business leaders to lampoon liberal arts graduates and exalt those with professional degrees. Yet as Peter Drucker, often acknowledged as the world’s foremost expert on management and leadership, said this belief is misplaced. Drucker drew many of his insights from literature and social sciences, not economics and business. Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute argues, “The problem is that the broad world of ideas has become largely separated from the world of business.”

In an
 article in the London Times, entitled “Harvard’s
 Masters of the Apocalypse,” Philip Broughton, a Harvard Business
 School graduate and author of What They Teach You At Harvard, 
says “You can draw up a list of the greatest entrepreneurs of 
recent history, from Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google and Bill Gates of
Microsoft, to Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Lak-shmi Mittal – and there’s not 
an MBA among them.” Mark Zuckerberg was a classic liberal arts student who also happened to be passionately interested in computers. He studied ancient Greek intensively in high school and majored in psychology while he attended college.

Steve Jobs made a statement that points straight to the value of the liberal arts in the 21st century. “We’re not just a tech company, even though we invent some of the highest technology products in the industry,” said Jobs, “It’s the marriage of that plus the humanities or the liberal arts that distinguishes Apple.”

Norman Augustine, longtime chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, insists that liberal arts deficiencies are putting the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage. In a 2010 American Management Association Study (link is external), less than 50% of the executives polled said their employees had effective communication and innovative-thinking skills and 80% said colleges and universities could better prepare America’s future work force by placing more emphasis on the humanities.

E. O. Wilson, a world-renowned American biologist contends “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom,” Wilson declares. “The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.”

“You need some people who are holistic thinkers and have liberal arts backgrounds and some who are deep functional experts,” Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president who oversees the company’s hiring, told the New York Times (link is external), “Building that balance is hard, but that’s where you end up building great societies, great organizations.”

At the very moment when China, Singapore and some European countries are seeking to institute the concept of a broad liberal education, increasingly the U.S. and Canadian higher education institutions are narrowing their focus on scientific and technological enterprises.

What About Financial End Results

There are lots of cause-and-effect arguments out there–science and technology graduates get paid more than liberal arts graduates, so the argument goes. Yet, in an article in the Wall Street Journal  by Melissa Korn, she cites the research by the American Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) which advocates a broad-based liberal arts education and shows that while liberal arts graduates initially make lower salaries compared to business graduates, in the long term the differences are minimal. An excerpt of the AACU’s report states “The case for Liberal Arts goes beyond purely vocational or economic reasons, they are indispensable to the vitality of democracy and future of global understanding and community.”

Finally, Fareed Zakaria, in his recent article in the Washington Post raises the alarm for an American push for STEM education and the diminishment of a liberal education, saying “America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips butr instead by constantly reimagining how computer and other new technologies will itneract with human beings.”

In summary, it’s clear that a core Liberal Education is necessary for a thriving economy and sustaining a democratic society.

The Body Image and Eating Disorder Tsunami

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Negative body image and eating disorders constitute a not-so-silent Tsunami that are wreaking havoc in the lives of women and men today.

This article was prepared with the assistance of Samantha Skelly, (link is external) a coach specializing in working with people with eating disorders.

Recent studies, which focus on these problems, go beyond the usual finger pointing at celebrities and media.

A recent study by researchers Petya Eckler, University of Strathclyde and Yusuf Kalyango Jr., of Ohio University; and Ellen Paasch, University of Iowa found that more time on Facebook could lead to more negative feelings and more comparisons to the bodies of friends.

They surveyed 881 college women about their Facebook use, eating and exercise habits, and body image. They were able to predict how often women felt negatively about their own bodies after looking at someone else’s photos or posts, and how often women compared their own bodies to those of their friends.

The findings showed that more time spent on Facebook was associated with more negative feelings and more comparisons to the bodies of friends. They also found that for women who want to lose weight, more time on Facebook led to more attention being paid to physical appearance. This included attention to one’s body and clothing.

Previous studies have examined college or adolescent girls and the effect of Facebook on users’ body image over non-users’. However, this is the first study to link time spent on Facebook to poor body image.

“Public health professionals who work in the area of eating disorders and their prevention now have clear evidence of how social media relates to college women’s body image and eating disorders. While time spent on Facebook had no relation to eating disorders, it did predict worse body image among participants,” said Eckler. “As experts in the field know, poor body image can gradually lead to developing an unhealthy relationship with food. The attention to physical attributes may be even more dangerous on social media than on traditional media because participants in social media are people we know. These comparisons are much more relevant and hit closer to home. Yet they may be just as unrealistic as the images we see on traditional media.”

Another study by Jasmine Fardouly and colleagues and published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly (link is external) concluded young women objectify themselves more browsing Facebook, magazines than media types.

“Our research shows that spending more time reading magazines and on Facebook is associated with greater self-objectification among young women and these relationships are influenced by women’s tendency to compare their appearance to others, particularly to peers on Facebook,” the researchers commented.

Surveying 150 female college students and staff ages 17-25, researchers Jasmine Fardouly et al., also found the following connections between type of media, comparing the way women look, and self-objectification:Magazines, though significantly related to self-objectification, are infrequently read by women. On average, the women spent about two hours a day on Facebook, accounting for 40% of daily internet use, and check the site every few hours.Facebook users compare their appearance most often to their own images, then to those of their peers, and rarely to images of family members and celebrities.

The researchers discussed reasoning for this finding. For example, unlike TV and music videos, on Facebook, users can compare pictures of themselves with their peers or past images of themselves. The researchers also note that self-comparisons may lead to greater self-objectification for women as they look at themselves literally as an observer. They wrote, “Furthermore, self-comparisons to images of a previous self might engender a greater focus on specific body parts, also contributing to self-objectification.”

To help young women stop comparing themselves and promote wellness, the researchers recommend that young women post fewer images of themselves on Facebook and follow people on Facebook who post photos less frequently.

The researchers continued, “This was one of the first studies which shows that appearance comparisons partially account for the relationship between media usage and self-objectification. Young women report spending long periods of time on Facebook and this research highlights some of the potential negative influences that Facebook may have on how young women view their body.”

In another study linking Facebook to eating disorders, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders researcher Pamela K. Keel found many women who experienced “likes” on Facebook showed links to eating disorders. Facebook has become a global phenomenon and an active space for social comparison. With the increase in technology use, there is a positive correlation with decreased body image in young women. In her study, 960 female college students were evaluated on the time they spend on social media sites, how important “likes” are, and whether or not they “untag” photos of themselves.

“Over 95% of college women in our study use Facebook, and those with Facebook accounts described typically spending 20 minutes on the site during each visit, amounting to over an hour on the site each day,” said Keel.

Women who spent more time on Facebook reported a higher incidence of appearance-focused behaviors and reported greater eating pathology. These women were more likely to give greater significance to receiving comments and “likes” on status updates, frequently untagged pictures of themselves and compared their photos to friends.

“In examining the immediate consequences of Facebook use, we found that 20 minutes of Facebook use contributed to maintenance of higher weight and shape concerns and anxiety compared to a control internet condition. This causal link is important because anxiety and body image concerns both increase risk for developing eating disorders,” Keel stated.

Although it is a main cause to the issue, Facebook could possibly become a maintenance factor for prevention programs. The main objective is to encourage women to develop better self-image and practice responsible use of social media sites.

“Facebook merges powerful peer influences with broader societal messages that focus on the importance of women’s appearance into a single platform that women carry with them throughout the day. As researchers and clinicians attempt to understand and address risk factors for eating disorders, greater attention is needed to the emerging role of social media in young people’s lives.”

Perfectionism is a key factor influencing body image and eating disorders. Marika Tiggemann and Tracey Wade from Flinders University, has published her study in the Journal of Eating Disorders  which describes adaptive perfectionism as high standards driving a person towards achieving a goal body image, and maladaptive perfectionism as concerned with mistakes and other people’s opinions. The finding indicates that both are involved in heightened concerns about body image, which in turn places people at risk of developing an eating disorder.

Over a thousand women representing a cross section of the population (aged 28-40) were involved in this study. They ranged from underweight to morbidly obese, with a BMI of 14 to 64, and overall, the further these women were away from a healthy BMI, the bigger the difference between their current and ideal body images.

While perfectionism is recognized as an important factor in eating disorders, the exact role of perfectionism in perceived body image has been difficult to pin down. The study found that women who desired the lowest BMI and the smallest body size tended to be more concerned about making mistakes, and more worried about organisation and higher self doubt than everyone else.

The co-author of the study, Wade, explained, “While some perfectionism is normal and necessary there becomes a point at which it becomes and unhelpful and vicious cycle. Knowing that perfectionism of any sort is a risk factor for eating disorders suggests we should tackle ‘all or nothing’ attitudes with clients, as well as helping them to become less invested in defining their self worth in terms of their ability to achieve high standards.”

In another study, Eric Stice and his colleagues from Oregon Research Institute have found that their obesity prevention program reduced the risk for onset of eating disorders by 61 percent and obesity by 55 percent in young women. These effects continued for as long as 3 years after the program ended. In their research on eating disorders, Oregon Research Institute (ORI) scientists help young women reduce the influence of the “thin ideal,” which is described as associating success and happiness with being thin.

Stice, and his colleagues have found that their obesity prevention program reduced the risk for onset of eating disorders by 61% and obesity by 55% in young women. These effects continued for as long as 3 years after the program ended.

These results are noteworthy because, to date, the idea that we can reduce risk for future onset of eating disorders and obesity has been an unrealized goal: over 80 prevention programs have been evaluated, but no previous program had been found to significantly reduce risk for onset of these serious health problems.

Stice notes that, “One reason these programs might be more effective is that they require youth to take a more healthy perspective, which leads them to internalize the more healthy attitudes. In addition, these programs have simple take-home messages, which may be easier to remember in the future than messages from more complex prevention programs.”

Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Stice has been studying eating disorders for 18 years. He has conducted this line of research at Stanford University and the University of Texas, and now continues at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene, Oregon. He is presently funded by NIH to conduct two research studies to further test these programs with young women in Eugene/Springfield.

The obesity prevention program, called Healthy Weight, helps adolescents adopt a healthier lifestyle, wherein they gradually reduce intake of the least healthy portion of their diet and increase physical activity. This program simply teaches youth to balance their energy intake with their energy needs, and to do so on a permanent basis, rather than on the transient basis which is more typical of diets. College-age women in Eugene/Springfield are participating in this study.

The eating disorder prevention program, called the Body Project, consists of four one-hour weekly sessions in which participants critique the thin ideal espoused for women in our culture and learn how to challenge current and future pressures to be thin. The program has also produced reductions in other important outcomes such as body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms. Stice has partnered with area high schools on this study and has trained high school counselors to facilitate the weekly sessions.

“It is our hope that other institutions and communities will adopt this program for delivery in their schools,” notes Stice; “If this program is delivered to enough youth, it should be possible to reduce the prevalence of these serious health problems.”

Given that eating disorders are one of the most common problems faced by young women and that obesity is presently credited with 111,000 deaths per year in the U.S., it is vital to develop brief prevention programs for these pernicious conditions. At least seven other institutions have begun delivering these interventions in the U.S. and in other countries.

In working with senior leaders as an executive coach, I’ve been able to work with both male and female executives. In the process, I was fortunate to become acquainted with the work of Samantha Skelly (link is external), a coach who specializes in working with people with a wide variety of disordered eating and body image issues. In addition to explaining how these problems are not just those of women, but that men too struggle with these issues, she summarized the importance of her work as follows:

  • “Disordered eating and excessive dieting is not about the food, it’s about an emotional void, what we need to uncover is the root cause to effectively repair the relationship we have with food;
  • The relationship you have with yourself, is the same relationship you have to food. When starting a journey to overcoming disordered eating we need to start from within. Internal work is essential in overcoming disordered eating;
  • So often the assumed root cause of thee issues are not to blame. The media, as well as social media definitely have a negative influence on how we ‘should’ look – however often it’s a belief that seemed from as young as 6 years that perpetuated these behaviours;
  • It’s perceived that only women deal with these issues, however in my work at the moment there is a clear 70-30 split. Men of all ages and backgrounds suffer with disordered eating and body image, to the same calibre of severity as women.”

Canada’s Reputation is Becoming Tarnished

Posted July 8th, 2015 in Articles, Blogs by admin

What happens to a country’s image abroad and the self-image of the people within it, when it changes from peaceful well being to aggressive actions against the environment and other countries?

That question is one now facing Canada.

Traditionally, when people—both inside and outside the nation—think about the values of the Canadian people, words such as “friendly,” “non-violent,” “generous,” “peaceful,” usually are cited, and the country is noted for its positive social safety net, cultural diversity and tolerance. In many studies and surveys in the past, Canada has ranked among the top nations in the social well-being index and best places to live.

That image may be changing due to the economic, political and military decisions of the country’s leaders.

Here’s some examples of the significant changes that have taken place:

  • According to a review by Harvard Law School’s immigration and refugee clinic, Canada has become a more refugee-unfriendly place in the post-9/11 world, “Canada is systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers and failing in its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law,” the group’s report)states.
  • Canada’s federal government opposed former British PM Gordon Brown’s global tax  on international financial transactions;
  • Canada would not support a UN effort to recognize the human right to access sufficient water to sustain life;
  • Canada was opposed to the UN Declaration )on the Rights of Indigenous People;
  • Canada did not support the Rotterdam Convention  to ban the toxin chrysotile asbestos;
  • Canadian federal and provincial governments have supported the extremely environmentally damaging tar sands oil projects; 
  • Canada has suggested the Kyoto Protocol  on climate change be scrapped at the UN climate conference in Bangkok;
  • Thousands of mines owned and operated by Canadian mining companies in Latin America, Africa and India are among the worst offenders in terms of environmental destruction and human rights abuses according to the Canadian Centre for the Study of Resource Conflict; 
  • Canada’s per-person greenhouse gas emissions (link is external)are among the world’s highest in the world;
  • Canada’s federal government has systematically removed the collection of scientific base-line data on human populations (the long form census) and environmental biodiversity and health. 

Perhaps the biggest shift has occurred in the area of military action. Canada’s reputation in the past has been linked the role of “peacekeeper,” under the auspices of the United Nations. Former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson proposed the first peacekeeping force, which moved the world back from war in the 1956 Suez Crisis, winning Pearson the Nobel Peace Prize. From that time onward, until the mid-1990s, Canada was the largest contributor of peacekeepers and the only country to have contributed to every UN mission. From Kashmir to the Congo, from Bosnia to Ethiopia, Canadian soldiers were at the forefront of world order, contributing to peace in war-torn lands. The Pearson Peacekeeping Center was established in 1994 by the Government of Canada and became the flagship of the nation’s commitment to UN peacekeeping, providing world-class training to peacekeepers from Canada and around the globe.

The Canadian government is now closing the Pearson Center, a reflection of its dwindling support for both the UN and a peacekeeping role. Canada once contributed 3,000 military personnel to peacekeeping, and contributed more than 10 per cent of all peacekeeping troops to the UN. Sixteen years later, its contribution is less than 0.1 per cent. Today, Canada now ranks 53 – between Paraguay and Slovakia – on the United Nations contributors’ list with approximately 40 serving on UN missions overseas.

Since the 1990s, successive Canadian governments, both Conservative and Liberal, have shunned traditional UN-mandated peacekeeping for U.S.-led war-fighting missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. Those campaigns have eclipsed the UN as Ottawa’s favored military expeditionary effort.

While this was happening, NATO began to rise to prominence as an instrument of humanitarian intervention, providing a second distracting factor. Since the 1990s Canada has chosen to participate more with NATO, fighting alongside the US and its allies in wars based on humanitarian intervention, a concept which it is important to note is fundamentally different than peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is dependent on the conflicted country’s consent, and uses lightly armed troops to enforce peace agreements, a practice which has been shown through statistics to decrease the likelihood of a return to violence. Humanitarian intervention, on the other hand, is based off of military supremacy and the enforcement of peace using things like no fly zones, precision airstrikes, and offensive counterinsurgency operations.

Yet, is there a disconnect in how the people of Canada view its military role versus the political views of their leaders? In the 2002 and 2004 Focus Canada polls, as well as the 2005 Ekos-conducted Canadian Attitudes Toward the CF study. The studies verify that a majority of Canadians indeed prefer a “traditional peacekeeping role” for Canada. In 2002, of the 2021 adult Canadians polled, 52 per cent indicated that they preferred the “traditional peacekeeping role.” In 2004, the preference for traditional peacekeeping increased to 59 per cent. These statistics closely match an Ekos-conducted study in 2005, which found 57 per cent preferred “traditional peacekeeping” versus 41 per cent for a “peacemaking” role.

Canada’s military role in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq and Syria can hardly be called one of peacekeeping given its cooperation with the U.S. in initiating aggressive combat operations.

Canada has now been a target of terrorists, and increasingly, terrorists groups and their leaders see no or little difference between the Canada and the U.S.

Clearly, the more recent actions of Canada both in terms of the environment and the military contradict the traditional image of it being a peace-loving country that places the peoples’ physical and social well being at the heart of its policies and actions. We’ve already seen how those changes will impact Canada’s image abroad, and may continue to do so. What is still a question is how it will impact the self-image of Canadians.