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Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category



Provide Students with Mental Illness the Medical Care They Paid For

Feb16

by: Jeremy Sher on February 16th, 2016 | Comments Off

MIT's Stata Center (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I sat down to breakfast with my cereal, orange juice, and bottle of pills. Around me were several undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who lived with me at the cooperative house where I served as Resident Advisor from 2012 to 2014. When the conversation turned to my pills, I explained, as naturally as could be, that I was taking lithium carbonate to treat my mental-health diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, Type II.

As the students’ eyes widened, perhaps wondering about the fitness of their new RA for the job, I explained that mood disorders based in brain chemistry are extremely common, that treatment is easy, that I’ve never felt better since beginning treatment. With a confidence rooted in life experience, I said to the students that I am a high-functioning person who gets a lot done, who accomplished a lot as a student at MIT years ago, and who has continued that pattern through a leadership career in political technology and now into studying for the rabbinate. I am managing a mental health condition. Thus, in a scene often repeated during my tenure, I encouraged the students to seek mental health screening if they should ever find themselves experiencing intense mood swings, periods of lethargy, or other potential warning signs from my life and from commonly available literature. I assured them that for those of us who experience these very common disorders, life gets a lot better with treatment.

Unfortunately, MIT has a lot of work to do ensuring a nondiscriminatory environment free of stigma and threat for students suffering from mental illness. During my two years as Resident Advisor, by far the most common question I received about mental health care was: “How can I seek mental health treatment without MIT finding out about it?” Each of the dozens, probably hundreds of times this conversation took place over my 26 months on the job, it was my understanding that there is a widespread, deep fear among MIT undergraduate students that if they seek mental health care, their statements might be used against them to stigmatize them, to disadvantage them, and/or to remove them from school against their will.

Never mind, for the moment, whether these fears are well founded or not. I don’t intend to be the party accusing MIT of doing anything in particular involving any specific case, for two reasons. First, I am as intimidated as the students of a self-defending bureaucracy – although I did send this article to high-level staff before publishing it, and I have e-mail records of their positive, if noncommittal, response. Second, this problem is hardly unique to MIT, and the purpose of this article is to bring the issue of student mental health into open discussion, not to make specific allegations of discrimination, medical malpractice, or other misconduct.

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The Need for Palliative (Humane) Care

Jan14

by: Bev Alves on January 14th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

During our lifetime, many of us will face life-threatening or life altering illnesses or injuries, or perhaps we will watch those we love face them.  We all want to be loved and comforted; we all want and need to be supported when we are seriously ill and we want a gentle and dignified passing when it is our time.   Everyone is going to pass from this world (hopefully to a better place).  We need a healthcare system that can provide support, guidance and direction to those who are facing these challenges. This system is called palliative care.

Palliative care is a medical specialty, which provides coordinated, comprehensive care to reduce pain and suffering for anyone who is given a life-threatening or life altering diagnosis.  It is care to provide comfort and support for the patient and for the patient’s loved ones. This medical specialty differs from hospice in that you are not required to have a six month or less, prognosis; curative/restorative treatment, as well as complimentary treatments, are allowed and provided.  Often this care is provided by an interdisciplinary team.  It is care to help heal, if possible, and improve the quality of life for anyone who is seriously ill.  It should start as soon as someone receives a serious diagnosis.

Recently I learned there are national PCHETA (Palliative Care Hospice Education and Training Act) bills, HR 3119 and S641 that need to be passed.   Here’s a summary of HR 3119.   These PCHETA bills would help to educate medical professions and help make palliative care become the Standard of Care for healthcare everywhere.  These are some of the organizations that are supporting the PCHETA bills. www.patientqualityoflife.org   (Click on members)

Palliative care was originally going to be a covered benefit in the Affordable Care Act.  Sadly, without any understanding of this essential care, Sarah Palin called this care “death panels.”  Mrs. Palin and some others caused so much fear and concern that it was removed as a benefit before ACA went into effect.  Recently however, a bill was passed that would allow physicians to receive payment for essential conversations with seriously ill patients.   “In a proposed regulation released July 8, 2015, CMS introduced two new billing codes—previously recommended by the American Medical Association—for advance care planning provided to Medicare beneficiaries.”  This regulation would allow “physicians and other health professionals to bill Medicare for advance care planning, as a separate service, starting January 1, 2016.”  It is a good first step!

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A Multicultural Immigrant Christmas

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Decades ago, nudged by subterranean wishes and memories, I hesitantly stepped into the nave of a Protestant church in my neighborhood. Like many of its kind, this congregation was small, old, and white. The only diversity it expressed, pretty much, was diversity of sexual orientation – and some diversity of opinion about diversity of sexual orientation. It was in many ways, an activist church, and for a time, gradually gathered to itself more young folk like me, gay and straight, and overwhelmingly white, who raised funds for AIDS programs, protested nuclear weapons, and pressed for inclusion of gays in the ministry.

A different church, but similar

For financial reasons, the church shared space with renters, a robust Asian congregation, far more conservative in theology, overflowing with young families who sat through a loud, hour-and-a-half sermon without blinking an eye. Despite our proclamations of diversity and multiculturalism, I’m sorry to report the two congregations remained quite separate, and some in our social justice-oriented church commented quite vehemently on diapers left in the nursery, heating bills, and I don’t remember what. We lived in two different worlds without a lot of warmth and welcome on our side. Eventually, divisions yawned even within our group, and I stopped attending.

I moved to another city. Decades passed. A friend began attending that church again. Reluctant and ambivalent, but curious, I agreed to visit one Sunday. The physical side of the church was little changed, same clay roof, dark pews, stained glass. But, mercy, how the constituency had changed! Now, the minister of the “white” church was a Korean-American immigrant. A South Asian guy led music, and the choir featured Koreans, Chinese, Latinos, and just a sprinkling of old white women and men. The children’s minister was African-American, and a family of African immigrants took up an entire pew. Suddenly, the congregation was as multicultural as a community college.

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Humiliation is the Root of All Terrorism

Dec17

by: on December 17th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Editor’s Note:We at Tikkun have long advocated for the adoption of a Strategy of Generosity in US foreign policy, decisively shifting our perspective on how we relate to the rest of the world from the “power over” approach which has failed miserably for 7000 years and produced nothing but violence and counter violence to a deep spiritual approach that recognizes the humanity of others and demonstrates our care for the well-being of all who live on the planet. In the following piece published on Truthout yesterday, our Editor-at-Large Peter Gabel offer a philosophical foundation for that vision that shows the relationship between healing and repairing the wounds that separate us and ending the otherwise unending cycle of violence that causes so much human suffering. If you find this compelling, help us spread the message.Join our interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressivesordonate to Tikkun. Read our proposedGlobal Marshall Planwhich would be a massive step toward implementing what Gabel calls for in this article. Don’t just read and love this article–join us in making it happen! Ifyou have a strategy or want to argue against ours, please send it in an email to me in exactly the form that you’d wish it to be published on our Tikkun Daily blog or website, including a one sentence bio.–Rabbi Michael Lerner, EditorTikkunrabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

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The recent killings in Paris and San Bernadino have many people at once scared for themselves and their families, angry in a way that makes some susceptible to anti-Muslim rhetoric, and also utterly shaken that people in our own midst can be drawn to ISIS and others who want to do us great violence for seemingly no reason. How could anyone wish to start shooting and killing large numbers of innocent, anonymous people in the name of restoring a patriarchal Califate from a thousand years ago? Syed Farook was a seemingly normal county employee, an environmental specialist earning $77,000 per year living in relative economic comfort in southern California, recently married, and the father of a six-month old daughter. How are we to make any sense of his and Tashfeen Malik’s secret devotion to ISIS and their decision to suddenly become mass murderers who simultaneously effectively committed suicide, leaving their little child with her grandmother? And how could tens of thousands of such people like these two be massing in Syria and Iraq, ready to become martyrs for such a cause?

As compelling as these questions are, one would have to infer from the public discussion of these killings and from the mass media that we do not really want to know the answers. The idea that ISIS and other radical jihadis are simply “evil,” or that they “hate freedom” or are simply incomprehensible purveyors of a “hateful ideology” (to quote the repeated formulation of Barack Obama) just begs the question of why they are the way they are and why they believe what they believe. To actually understand Farook and Malik and those who engage in violent terrorism, and based on that understanding begin to do something to change the conditions that have produced and will likely continue to produce so much human suffering and loss, we have to attempt to grasp the terrorists’ experience of life from the inside, to see them as human just as we are, and to see what shaped them such that their thoughts and actions make sense to them.

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The Quran Speaks: ISIS and Islam are Opposites

Dec10

by: Delilah Leval on December 10th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

They have names like ISIL, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and so on. We Americans are being told by mainstream media sources that they belong to one religion: “Radical Islam.” The terrorists insist on calling themselves “Islamic,” and the media repeats this claim, but this label is a false equivalence and a very harmful false association we should be quick to avoid. Let the public not be fooled — the peace-loving, pious adherents of a beautiful faith that translates to “Submission” do not share a faith, values, or philosophy with terrorists, homicidal maniacs. The ultimate measurement of who or what is Islamic is universally accepted to be the Quran. It is by the Quran that one can determine who/what is really and truly Islamic, and whom/what is wearing a stolen name. The first “I” in ISIS is an affront to Muslims around the world, and we prefer to call these rampant killers “Daesh” which means “to crush.” Empowered with solid information, Progressives can refute the stolen name, and the frightening attacks by politicians like presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Breaking, disobeying, and doing the opposite of every major moral requirement of the Holy Quran means ISIS are certainly not Islamic. Not one iota.Terrorists are criminals, and their crimes are crimes against all of humanity. The perfectly-honorable and pure faith, based on a Holy Quran that encapsulates the words of Almighty God himself,preaches only peace. So what is today dubbed “Extreme Islam” in the mainstream media is in actuality, Anti-Islam. ISIS is Anti-Islamic, the polar opposite of Islam.

“Islam” is Arabic short-hand for “Submission to the Will of the Creator.” That means accepting everyone and everything in the world — just the way they are. Terrorist groups are not members any form of “Islam,” extreme or otherwise; they have invented their own religion. ISIS and their kind operate against the sacred core tentants of the Holy Quran, and to disobey the Quran or choose another source besides makes one’s actions patently un-Islamic.The Holy Quran is an unchanged, consistent sacred manual to religious life for all Muslims, and the timeless Arabic text is the same today as it was 1400 years ago at revelation to the Prophet Mohammad. Actions taken against the commandments of the Quran are unauthorized by God, rejected by Muslims, and denounced by our community. Terrorists are rightfully called “extreme” — extremely sinful, extremely wicked, and extremely deplorable. In their sinful, depraved acts, ISIS represent only themselves, not Islam. And Muslims decry the association of their destructive activities with the Muslims, Islam, and the God of Abraham, Most Gracious, Most Merciful God.

The Quran commands God’s followers specifically and unequivocally to reject violence against others, reject harm against the self, and to get along with people of various faiths (or no faith at all).

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For many Jews, anti-Arab racism hits home

Dec9

by: Keren Soffer Sharon on December 9th, 2015 | 12 Comments »

Following the devastating attacks in Paris, right wing forces have been fanning the frightening flames of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. There have been calls for increased surveillance of Muslim communities, unconstitutional registration of American Muslims, and religious tests for Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States.

A transit camp (maabarah) for Mizrahi immigrant refugees in 1952

I am Mizrahi. I’m a Jew, and like many Mizrahim, I’m also an Arab. We Arab Jews have a unique perspective to offer on the Syrian refugee crisis, and on the Islamophobic and anti-Arab backlash that we are seeing in this country and across the globe. For me, anti-Arab racism is not something abstract. It’s not something that needs a historical analogy to feel visceral. The hatred and fear directed toward our Arab and Muslim friends is an attack on the Arab heritage of Mizrahim and on our rich history as Jews.

Mizrahi Jews (meaning “Eastern”) are Jews who for over 2,500 years were indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Asia and the Balkans. For much of this time, Mizrahim were deeply rooted in the Muslim-majority societies in which they lived. Our ultimate displacement was the result of several historical forces, including the establishment of the state of Israel by Ashkenazi (European) Jews with the support of imperial powers.

In the late 1930s, Ezra Haddad, an Iraqi Jewish author and historian, proclaimed, “We were Arabs before we became Jews,” in Al-Akhbar, an Iraqi daily newspaper. Before British and French colonialism, Arab Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians shared communities, identities and homes – in the deepest sense. My mother’s maiden name is Soffer, which means “scribe.” My ancestors were Torah scribes in Basra, Iraq, dating as far back as anyone in my family can remember. There was no place my family would have called home before Basra. Like other Iraqi Jews, my family was part of a thriving Jewish community living among other religious minorities in a society that was widely tolerant of non-Muslims. We shared the physical, cultural and psychic space that made us all Arab. It is only recently, through the centralizing of the Ashkenazi narrative as the dominant Jewish story, that our identity as Jews is supposed to override our identity as Arabs.

There is no history to support the claim that Jews and Muslims are, or have ever been, perpetual enemies. Let us not forget that when both religious groups were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, it was Muslims who welcomed Sephardi Jews (meaning “from Spain”) into Morocco and parts of the Ottoman Empire. And contrary to the notion that Jews were never safe in Muslim-majority territories, it was actually the Christian territories where they faced the most virulent forms of Antisemitism. Jews and Muslims were both demonized and targeted during the Spanish Inquisition under the same system of Christian hegemony that would later form the political foundations of white supremacy as we know it today.

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View from the Ladder

Dec3

by: Irwin Keller on December 3rd, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Eighty years ago, the United States debated whether it would open its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the terror of the Nazis. It did not. And this historical echo was not lost on me, as I’m sure it was not lost on Jews throughout this country.

These have been weeks of significant gravity. Serious things have happened. We have been weighed down in their aftermath, by sadness, fear, and anger. What happened on a Friday evening – the Shabbos! – in mid-November in Paris captures our imagination and won’t let go. And the attacks last week on the tourists in Mali just add to our fear and helplessness.

All of this would be enough to burden us heavily. But then comes a second wave of injury, as we watch politicians turn tragedy into cheap rhetoric. Two dozen American governors saying they would close their borders to Syrian refugees: the very people who are fleeing ISIS. Offering terrorists their victims back. And knowing that the public is insular and racist enough to believe that we couldn’t possibly tell refugees and terrorists apart.

So what can we do? What course do we take? Maybe a first thing is to climb out of this morass for a higher view. But how do we climb, when the drama and trauma hold us so tight, when gravity weighs so strong?

We dream a ladder. That’s what we do. It’s what Jacob did, in last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayetzei. He was fleeing danger too, running scared. He was escaping his brother, but in the world of Torah, violence between siblings is meant to point also to violence between nations. So Jacob’s moment was not so dissimilar to ours.

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Selective Empathy by Rabbi Zalman Kastel

Nov19

by: on November 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Selective empathy and relationships with ‘others’ – Vayetzei

Terror has struck us’ again. I write us’ referring to Westerners who identify with the Paris victims. I feel angry about this attack against ordinary people in a Western city. A terrible destruction of life perpetrated against people who live in a‘normal’city like I do. I am surrounded by outrage and solidarity expressed in French flags, on Sydney‘s Harbour Bridge, the OperaHouse and all over Facebook. But surely, every life of a non-combatant taken violently is an utterly unacceptable violation of the sanctity of life?

I am disturbed to read Facebook posts by my Arab and Muslim friends rightly expressing their hurt at the implication that French lives appear to matter more to Westerners than Arab or Muslim lives. Some posts list the names of places where Arab or Muslim blood has been spilled, including the terrible attacks in Beirut. Yet, none of these posts mention the recent stabbings of Israeli civilians. I feel a deep sadness about the selective empathy so much in evidence right now.

The term selective empathy‘ is almost a tautology because researchers in this field explain that empathy is by its very nature geared toward people we see as being like us. We can overcome this natural tendency to limit our circle of empathy either by calling on increased compassion (which is not naturally restricted to people like ourselves) or by changing our relationships with ‘them’ so that they become part ofus’.

The inclusion of those we are unfamiliar with and whom we regard as alien can feel quite threatening. After the Biblical Jacob left his village and the people familiar to him he put rocks around his head when he stopped for a nap along the way. This act is considered highly symbolic. Jacob protected his mind from the influences of a new place. Only his hands, symbolising action, were to connect with the new place, but his mind had to remain ‘unpolluted’(1).

Despite the fear some people have about how they might be changed or lose their identity, they do often make efforts to connect with the other. When Jacob met the ‘strangers’ among whom he would live he addressed them as my brothers (2)“.It is easier to regard people as abstract threats when you are not interacting with them face to face.

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USDAC Statement on Syrian Refugee Crisis

Nov19

by: on November 19th, 2015 | Comments Off

Note to my readers: This is the text of a statement released today by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk. Signatories include the full USDAC National Cabinet, members of the first and second cohorts of Cultural Agents, and members of the Action Squad. Please share!

The USDAC calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe.

More than four million Syrians have been driven from their homes, becoming refugees. Although state governors hold no power to bar entry to the U.S., a short time after the acts of terrorism that took lives in Beirut and Paris, more than half have issued statements rejecting Syrian refugees within their borders. Polls have shown that many Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Poll results from the 1930s and 1940s showed majority opposition to accepting German child refugees and Jews; and from the 1970s majority opposition to the admission of refugees from Southeast Asia.

Once again, we must ask:

  • Who are we as a people?
  • What do we stand for?
  • How do we want to be remembered?

As a culture of fear and isolation? Or as a culture that values every human life, extending love and compassion to newcomers needing refuge?


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Repentance & Reparations by Kate Poole

Sep16

by: Arif Qazi on September 16th, 2015 | Comments Off

With the High Holidays here. Kate Poole has published a new comic commenting on some of our concerns today regarding wealth, race and consumerism. Explore more of Kate’s work here.