Backseat Mishaps


Have you ever seen the sharp line between fresh and salt water when a river and the ocean meet? You can see the clear blue of the sea and the muddy brown of the river pressed up against each other, both inherently refusing to commingle with the other. Each has their differing chemistries and clear differences. The same is true for the front seat of a car and the backseat when you have a toddler.

The front seat is understandable and logical; the rules are certain. You feel peace and clarity sitting in the front. The toddler’s backseat is quite different with its illogical and impulsive murky rules of decorum. You can poop in your pants, vomit, smash food into the seat fabric, scribble on everything, feed your rear-facing 2-month-old sibling M&Ms, punch your sister several times and act innocent when mom turns around at the crying, and make deals with each other with the same ethics as a Chicago gangster. Anything goes.

But sometimes the backseat is dangerous. In the past month, two children in my practice found drugs in their mother’s purse and consumed them. A 4-year old injected his mother’s EpiPen into his thigh and had to go to the hospital for monitoring for several hours. A 15-year old found her mother’s homemade brownies, ate some and learned they weren’t just brownies. And earlier this year a 5-year old opened the door of a moving car and fell out. Fortunately, all three (and the parents) are fine and wiser for the time.

Here is some genuine Wise Guy advice to help forego the firsthand experiential OMG abyss.

1) Fundamentals. Rear-facing car seats until age 2 or outgrow seat, forward-facing car seat from age 2 to 5, booster seat from age 5 up until seat belts fit properly, and seat belts when lap belts lay across the upper thighs (not stomach) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). Parents and caregivers lead by example.

2) Simple living. All manner of things make their way into our purses and man bags over time. The bigger the bag the more we stuff into them. It’s time for an honest and fearless bag inventory.

3) Frisking. Your inquisitive little one has the swift hands of a magician. Give your kids a maximum-security prison level pat down before putting them in the car. My mom used to sneak in a breath check and pat down with her hugs before my friends and I would leave the house on weekends during high school.

4) Shakedowns. A child can choke on something inside a vehicle and children put everything in their mouth. Check the nooks and crannies of your backseat for

potentially dangerous objects, old goldfish crackers, and old french-fries that can be repurposed as a shank.

5) Diversions. Car safety also means being able to drive free of distractions from the back seat. You can repurpose a shoe organizer stocked with activities and safe toys to put distractions at your child’s fingertips.

6) Lockdowns. There is a stage when children are too young to open a door then one day out of the blue they do it. Engage the child locks early, like at conception, because the first few days months years are a blur.

7) Heat stroke. A child can begin to suffer life-threatening symptoms of heatstroke within minutes. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult.

8) Car Theft. Vehicles are stolen with children alone inside quite frequently, even in safe neighborhoods. Most of the time the thief doesn’t realize there is a child in the back seat until they are already gone in the vehicle.

9) Power Windows. Power windows have killed or injured thousands of children. It takes 22 pounds of force to suffocate or injure an infant while power windows can exert an upward force of 30-80 pounds of force.

10) Into Gear. Every year hundreds of children are hospitalized or even killed after accidentally setting a car into motion. It can be done without the car on and without a foot on the break.



When Teachers Turn Clouds into Spaceships

The Sun Sets Sail

Painting by Rob Gonsalves

Did you know the Native Americans could not recognize the first galleons arriving in the Americas? They stared at the ships for days but misidentified their sails for clouds on the horizon. The galleons were so unique and out of their world that they could not see them. The Indians could only process the experience through their understanding of the world. How surprised they must have been to learn these “clouds” carried men of white skin who came from beyond the edge of the earth.

Sometimes things that are so obvious elude us then drastically change our appreciation and understanding of life. You cannot describe an experience, an object or a person unless you have the words for it.

Imagine walking through this world day in and day out and not seeing something so noticeable and so apparent. This is why teachers are so esteemed and respected. They provide a word or an explanation of a concept that changes our lives forever.

Robin Williams made us laugh at ourselves. He was a teacher who used comedy to show us our insecurities and prejudices. In one of his early stand-up performances, he pointed out our willingness to ignore our bigotry and need to find crazy to deal with governmental policies. Appears the zaniness of the world in the late 70s is no different than today.

He pretended to be an elderly man who was a bit crazy, “a bit fongooze bozo.” The government was giving people methadone to help them cope with the world “since the aliens arrived. And the aliens weren’t the little green suckers we thought they were. They were 8 feet tall, black and they were pissed.” He closed the show with this skit and left the stage by telling everyone he loved everyone regardless of who they were.

So play with the mystery of life. Support the teachers who turn clouds into spaceships. Release the dogmas that create bias and limit our understanding of the world. Our children will be pissed if we don’t.

“This ain’t about you.”

Forgiving someone for kidnapping you at gunpoint requires a Gandhi-sized pill of compassion, and most of us do not have this depth of empathy. Last week my family member—let’s call him John—made the worst mistake of his life by second-guessing himself. His mistake serves as a prescient reminder of how quickly the tectonic plates of life can shift under your feet and forever change the landscape of reality as we know it.

Have you ever wondered what drives people?  By understanding human needs we can interpret human behavior.  Depending on which source you turn to, human needs may range from about five needs to more than a dozen needs, or some 89 needs in total.  These are often structured as a hierarchy, but can also be seen as oscillating. Max Neef developed a model that has 9 needs: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom. These needs have been found to transcend cultures and history. However, the way in which these needs are met has evolved and changed.  So much of what we do and say is governed by our drive to meet our needs.

On August 5th, John was traveling to Stuart, Florida, to join his family for a summer holiday when he stopped at the first gas station from his exit. A fairly clean-cut and well-spoken man in his thirties approached him with a gas can explaining his car ran out of gas on I-95. Could he please get a ride?

What would you do in such a situation? John told the man he could not help him, as he had been on the road a long time and his family was expecting him. The guy walked away to stand on the corner with his gas can, and that is when the fault lines began to shift.  This is where he made the worst mistake of his life by second guessing himself. I can only assume what went through John’s mind. “Am I being prejudiced? What if I were in his situation? It is just a few minutes out of my way to help a guy down on his luck.” John confessed he felt sorry for the guy and after filling up his car John changed his mind by offering him a ride to his car.

He asked John to get onto I-95 and after a few minutes, a semi-automatic handgun was pulled from a plastic bag and pointed at John’s abdomen.  “Sorry, but this ain’t about you. You do what I say and I’ll let you go and you will see your family again.”

John pleaded that the man take his car, credit cards, and wallet if John could just pull over and get out. The gunman ignored the requests. He asked for John’s name, bank, birthday, and iPhone password. He said they would go to a branch of his bank. John drove as this man went through his iPhone. He followed the man’s directions but knew he would have to choose between fight or flight.

I am reminded of the poem “Design” by Robert Frost as I try to understand what was driving the decisions of each of these individuals and how their paths crossed.  In the poem, the narrator observes that a white spider and a white moth each choose to go to the same white flower for different reasons.  The spider seeks safety and a jump on his prey.  The moth seeks to blend in on the white heal-all.  The poem concludes when the spider makes a meal of the moth. The narrator asks, what had the flower, the moth, and the spider to do with being white? What drove them there in the night, if anything at all? What had brought the good Samaritan and the con man (gunman, and possibly a killer) together, if anything at all?

After twenty-nine minutes with a gun on him, John was instructed to get off on Okeechobee which signaled that this ride was coming to an end. Fortunately, they had a red arrow at Okeechobee Blvd and Parkway/Peters Road.  As they slowed down the gunman looked out the passenger window to check his surroundings. That is when John dived from his moving car, hit the ground, jumped up and started running. His car was still in drive so it collided with the car in front. This motorist never stopped to examine damage to the car likely out of fear upon seeing a man jump from a moving car.

John looked over his shoulder to see the gunman yelling something and now standing at the driver’s side. When he got to a place of relative safety he called the police.  Unfortunately for John, this would only be the start of his trying time.

If the start of this was nearly unbelievable what follows is incredible.  The police suggest that this entire story is made up and would like to know, “what really happened.”

John decided to advocate for himself and in less than 24 hours went back to the scene to search for cameras, look for his car, and look for the individual who did this to him.  To his disbelief, he got a ping from his iPad that was with his stolen car.  John called the police and after an hour of waiting he gives the officers the address from the GPS of his iPad.  The officers reported that the car was not seen and left it at that.  John drove to the GPS location to have his own look.  One street over from the iPad location he found a car that matched his make and model one residence immediately behind the address sent from Apple.  John drove by slowly to verify the license plate when just at that moment his former captor, the person with the con-story who held a gun to his abdomen, walks into the street to get a closer look at John in his mom’s car.

Life presents John a choice. Understandable thoughts cross John’s mind. Shall I run this person over who threatened my life, stole my car, wanted me to empty out my ATM? Besides, he ruined a perfectly good family holiday! Can I meet this person with an equal amount of disregard for human worth as he has shown to me? Will I be able to accept my choice and the gravity of the consequences?

Violence can be seen as the language of unmet needs.  Violence is the outcome of a person’s inability to identify truly and deeply what he/she needs along with an inability to communicate those needs, in which case violence in the heart takes over and manifests itself in harm, ill will, hurt and pain towards others.  Nonviolence, on the other hand, is the natural state of compassion.  When we work to listen to our needs and the needs of others through an emphasis on deep listening, we discover the depth of our own compassion.  This language reveals the awareness that all human beings are only trying to honor universal values and needs, every minute of every day.

 John chose not to run this man over, although I cannot say for sure it was the path of nonviolence, the path of compassion.  However, John was deeply aware of his own needs, which included being whole and having justice. 

 He chose to drive by him, call the police, and in a barely controlled voice tell them, “I’m the guy that got kidnapped at gunpoint, car jacked, and jumped out of my car in an intersection to escape yesterday. I’ve found my car and the person who did it. I think you better get over here soon.”

The police questioned the suspect who claimed he had never seen that stolen car before. Things would not go quite how John would have liked.  The police would not search the house; therefore a gun was not looked for or found.  The keys were not on the suspect so the car would have to be towed.  Several papers that have personal identification information were no longer in the car and conceivably with the suspect.  The suspect was arrested and charged with grand theft auto, but nothing else and released five hours later.  Also, John was called down to the police station to be questioned because the new narrative was that John was trying to buy crack-cocaine.  The police seemed unmotivated to pursue this case further because of this new ‘revelation.’  John, in absolute disbelief, pointed out that he was an attorney, a member of the Florida Bar, and a marathon runner.  He did a half marathon every day in May and ran 18 miles on the morning of the incident.

He suggested to the detective it was unlikely he ran 18 miles that morning then decided to celebrate with some crack-cocaine before joining his family at the timeshare.

John will have to put this all behind him.  He will have to accept that systems are not perfect, and people turn to violence when they have unmet needs, an inability to communicate their needs, and threaten others instead of making reasonable requests. 

If John cannot find forgiveness for his transgressor, he will be bogged down by anger and resentment.  His health will deteriorate and this experience could begin affecting his loved ones. 

I’m sure that John will indeed forgive and move forward in a manner that is both gentle and magnanimous.

These are my thoughts on ways to forgive transgressors in our lives so that we too can move forward with compassion for people who have unmet needs.

  1. Recall that all any one is ever saying is please and thank you. This person was saying, “Please give me some money.”
  2. People are more likely to meet your “please” if you make a request rather than a demand. John had a negative reaction to the demand of “give me your money” and chose not to fulfill the need.
  3. Train yourself to look past words and actions to see the human need driving the behavior. John may have given this man money if the man said, “Can you please give me $50 to help my child who has asthma and is in desperate need of an inhaler?”
  4. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. We are not perfect so forgive yourself as you learn to hear needs.

In this manner, we will as a human race begin to eliminate the language of blame, judgment, and domination while we absolve our hearts of the want for violence against our fellow man, our neighbors, our coworkers, and our family.

9 Secrets on How to Live Well to 100

Dr. Hinohara was born in 1911 and passed away on July 18, 2017, in Tokyo. He served as the honorary president of St. Luk’s International Hospital and chairman emeritus of St.Luke’s International University.  He treated victims of the firebombing in World War 2, treated victims of a subway poison gas attack in 1995, and introduced wellness physicals into the Japanese national medical system.

Among other accolades, Dr. Hinohara wrote a children’s musical at 88 and a best-selling book when he was 101.

Dr. Hinohara came to understand that he was treating people and not diseases. He insisted on fully understanding the whole of an individual as much as one would the illness.  He came to believe that curing illness would involve the use of visual and liberal arts in addition to standard modern medical treatments.

During his journey of 105 years, Dr. Hinohara crafted a philosophy to help others and himself live longer healthier lives.

  1. Energy comes from feeling good, and not from eating well or sleeping a lot.
  2. Make efforts towards everyday fitness. Take the stairs, carry your own packages, walk to your destination. Even if you have to start by walking to the mail box. We all start somewhere.
  3. Remember that doctors can’t cure everything. Challenge your doctor and ask them if this is the treatment they would advise for their son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, or father.
  4. Music and animals are a powerful medicine.
  5. Never retire, but if you must do so much later than 65.
  6. Stay busy. Dr. Hinohara worked 18 hour days, 7 days a week until his last few months of life.
  7. Keep a schedule well in advance, he was looking forward to visiting the 2020 Olympics when he passed.
  8. Find time to give back. Share your knowledge, expertise, skills, or time.  Dr. Hinohara gave 150 lectures a year even in his old age has given some 4500 lectures throughout his life.
  9. Enjoy yourself.

These are not hard and fast rules to be obeyed.  He had an often quoted philosophy on rules,”We all remember how as children when we were having fun, we often forgot to eat or sleep. I believe we can keep that attitude as adults– it is best not to tire the body with too many rules such as lunchtime and bedtime.”


The Most Popular Course in Harvard History


Tal Ben-Shahar, a Ph.D. from Harvard University, taught the most popular course in Harvard history.  Some refer to his course as Happiness 101, but it is actually Psychology 1504, “Positive Psychology.”   

Ben-Shahar says, “People are looking for ideas that will help them to lead better lives.” Depression and anxiety are reaching epidemic proportions across all industrialized countries. Suicide rates surged to a 30 year high last year.  We are checking our emails every moment of the day.  We are constantly tied to our professional and social media networks.  Our work days grow longer, our tasks more complicated, the pace of work is accelerating.  Competition is on the rise for professionals and students alike.  Students especially are having to contend with higher expectations and fewer prospects.  

This is not your father’s psychology class.  Positive Psychology hones in on themes like flow, optimism, resilience, courage, virtues, energy, flourishing, strengths, happiness, curiosity, meaning, subjective well-being, forgiveness, and joy.

Harvard Professor of Psychology George Vaillant explains, that the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, the clinical “bible” of psychiatry and clinical psychology, “has 500,000 lines of text. There are thousands of lines on anxiety and depression, and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, forgiveness, or love.”

The mind healers of the past were singularly focused on where humans went wrong, how we responded to pain and pleasure, on flaws and weaknesses, and depraved behavior.  We were in Freud’s view struggling to keep it together under the torment of deep, dark drives.  It was the job of the psychologist to work with pain because it was thought our minds could not face these issues alone.

This is not Tal Ben-Shahar’s message or approach.  Positive Psychology rests on looking at personal strengths, building competencies, seeking pleasure, pursuing happiness, growing your potential, and leveraging creative tension.  Positive Psychology aims to ground concepts from a generation of self-help humanistic psychology with research and reason.

Their lab experiments might seek to define not the conditions that induce depraved behavior, but those that foster generosity, courage, creativity, and laughter. Their departure point for achieving greater happiness is not in addressing humanity’s flaws, but to focus on people’s strengths and virtues.

He also works at bringing research from the ivory tower to a more accessible place where it can be applied by real people.  “Most people do not read the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In fact, one of my colleagues at Harvard did a study, and he estimated that the average journal article is read by seven people. And that includes the author’s mother.”  

With the hope of reaching more than seven readers here are Tal Ben-Shahar’s 5 Tips for Flourishing and Happiness:

1. Accept painful emotions as part and parcel of being alive.  When we open ourselves up to being human, that is to say invite the entire gamut of human emotion, then we open the door to all the positive emotions, too.

2. Stop texting while you are with your friends.  A very big predictor of well-being is time affluence.  The time we have to sit down and be with our friends.

3. Exercise!  3 times a week of 30-40 minutes of exercise is as powerful as some of the most powerful drugs in dealing with sadness, depression, or anxiety.  

4. Express your gratitude daily–in writing.  People who write down 3 to 5 things for which they feel grateful (big things or little things) are happier, more optimistic, more successful, more likely to achieve their goals, physically healthier (strengthens your immune system), and are more generous and benevolent to others.

5. Simplify.  Do less rather than more.  We try to cram more and more things into less and less time.  We pay a price in the quality of our work, and in the quality of our relationships.