Friday, December 23, 2011

Free Advice

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Okay, so this particular posting is part informational, and part rant. If you can stand it through the rant part there may be some useful information for you. 

As some of you may know, my ex -girlfriend and I have a son together. For privacy’s sake I’m not going to mention either of their names, but I will tell you that we have split custody of him. Although our parenting time is split 50/50 right down the middle final educational and medical decision making authority rests with me. This particular part of my custody situation has been an ongoing battle for the last three years and I finally got tired of it, so I started asking around to get some legal advice as what I had been doing up until this point had obviously been ineffective. 

I should probably pause here for a moment and explain some background. I’m not wealthy. Hell, I’m not even “well off”. I make enough money to cover my expenses and, on occasion see a movie or go out to dinner and that’s about it. Hiring a lawyer to represent me isn’t exactly feasible. It’s something that would take a lot of thought, consideration, planning, and shopping around to find the right lawyer for the right price. It is due to this situation that I decided to poke around the internet and try to find some answers. I can usually get the gist of the situation if I understand what the rules and limitations are. So, I decided to ask for some free advice. There are many websites out there where you can ask for free advice. There are sites like if you have medical questions, there’s,, and others. I saw one particular page on Google called and the caption said “post your legal question on ask a lawyer to receive a reply from an attorney or a legal professional”.  It sounded like just what I needed. But, I forgot the old adage about “free advice”. And no, this didn’t cost me any money, but it sure cost me some time. 

Somehow, I’m not even sure how, instead of posting my question to an attorney on this site my question was posted to a community forum. I asked my question and I had the first few responses within hours. The responses that I was receiving however started to raise flags as they were highly unprofessional.  The nature of my question was how do I go about getting my son’s mother stop her shenanigans and obey the court order and stop authorizing medical treatments without my knowledge or consent. The first reply was logical and polite; the response was asking me to state, word for word, what the custody agreement said. But the next few comments were something along the lines of “oh, this is going to be good” and “I’m so glad I woke up for this”. At this point I was thinking to myself, “wow, pretty rude for professional lawyers to talk like this”, but I could really use the advice so I pressed on with my conversation. 

The main premise of the conversation centered on the fact that my son’s mother has been secretly taking him to a counselor’s office for the last 4 months without saying a word about it to me. Now, some background here; we had been taking him to a psychologist earlier in the year and after a few months he improved and we agreed that a counselor was no longer needed. And yet, about a month later, she started taking him on her own without saying a thing about it. The people offering advice didn’t ask about that.  His mother told the first therapist that she wanted him seen because he did things like bang his head on the floor, acts all wild and crazy and she can’t control him, and just generally runs amok. He doesn’t exhibit this behavior at my house. His teacher at school says that he sometimes has trouble with talking out of turn and staying in his seat, but I’m really not all that surprised by that. But I digress, once I found out that his mother has been secretly taking him to these appointments I wrote a letter to the clinic telling them to cease and desist all treatment. They ignored my letter and continued treatment anyway. This is not the first time that my son’s mother has pulled this stunt either. In 2009 she did exactly the same thing with the exact same clinic. I met with the counselor then, we chatted and then I told them to stop seeing my child. When I posted that I was trying to get the clinic to stop seeing my child and I wrote a cease and desist letter to the clinic I got some very interesting responses. One user said that it seemed “fishy” that I would want to stop treatment. Another user asked who told me that a cease and desist letter would work and that I should “hit that person with a clue by four”. 

Now, at this point, I think that I should pause for a moment and explain further. I work in the Behavioral Health field. I work for one of the largest Behavioral Health organizations in the state of Arizona. We employ more than 800 people spread out across over 75 offices throughout the state. When we get a cease and desist letter, we’re compelled by law to follow it. I explained all of this to the forum. They tried telling me that my company was operating illegally and that they didn’t have the right to do that; that we didn’t understand the law. Really? Well, that’s good to know. I’m sure that the lawyers who sit on Board of Directors probably aren’t aware of that. Thanks for clarifying, I’ll be sure to point that out to them. I was beginning to get a little flustered at this point because I know how the situation works here. We’ve been served with these letters countless times before at work. If we have truly been operating illegally as this user suggested then surely the parents involved would have sued us or enacted legal action against us by now. I tried to brush the comment off and stay focused on my main question: what do I do now? What’s the best next step? 

Instead of just answering my question, the people on this forum felt compelled to judge and condemn me. They don’t understand the entire four year case history. They don’t understand the personalities or motivations of the parents involved in this case. All they understood is that the mother was taking my son to a counselor and I wanted to stop it. Gosh darn it I’m such an evil person who is overreacting. One person even went to so far as to say that I’m going to “cause more harm than the mother will by interfering”. Excuse me? What makes you qualified to make that statement? How much do you know about me or the mother? How much do you know about her general level of medical ineptitude? How much do you know about me for that matter? How much do you know about my son and his medical needs? I was offended that someone who knew very little about the overall case would make such a statement. 

Rather than just answering the legal matter at hand the users continued to judge my decision to try to cancel treatment. I tried informing them that the mother is feeding incorrect information to the counselors and therapists and that their decisions and information is only as good as what they are being told. To demonstrate this point let’s do an exercise. Suppose that you are a clinician. A child comes in to see you brought in by his mother. The mother says that the child is unruly. The child displays unruly behavior in your office. The mother states that the child is unruly in school. The mother also alleges that the father has ADHD so the child is at a high risk for being predisposed to having it. As a professional therapist, what is the most logical conclusion that you can draw on based on these facts and these facts alone? That the child probably has ADHD, right? Of course you would; that’s what the data is suggesting. However, now consider these new factors; the child does not display unruly behavior while in the father’s care (and other family members besides just the father and step-mother can vouch for that, so it’s not an issue of confirmation bias), the father does not have ADHD as the mother suggests, but instead suffered from emotional abuse (whose symptoms can mirror those of bi-polar and ADHD) and he produce medical records from two different psychologists that corroborate this story. Now, understanding that one of the classic signs of ADHD is that it will manifest itself across the board in all situations and environments if it is truly present what conclusions would you draw? Are you as likely to be convinced that the child has ADHD? Or could it be possible that the child’s unruly behavior is the result of poor parenting skills? Further, take into consideration that the child has an atypical environmental situation going back and forth between two households every week, and that he was ripped out of one school and placed into another part way through the school year, and that he attended Kindergarten without any formal “preschool” experience. Is it really unusual that his behavior in school is atypical? Would you still automatically assume that his atypical behavior is caused by a neurobiological condition, or could it be the result of his environment? 

Instead of focusing on my legal question at hand I was forced to get into a long drawn out debate with these “experts” about the reasons behind my decision and defend myself to them. I had to explain to them that I was qualified and knowledgeable enough to make the decision that I felt was in my child’s best interests. But, from here, the argument turned into one about ADHD and its prospective treatments.  The comments then became about how much harm I’ll be doing by pulling my child out of therapy. I’m curious how they know so much about my child’s particular therapeutic needs when they’ve never met him. One user said, and I quote “There's absolutely no reason to think that the professional is incompetent or has made an incorrect diagnosis, nor that he will prescribe unnecessary medication. OP (Original Poster) really needs to chill out a bit. He's going to do more harm with his frantic action than Mom is doing.” Excuse me? It’s obvious that this idiot doesn’t understand a thing about behavioral health nor how diagnoses are formulated. It’s not as objective as regular medicine, and there is, admittedly, some guesswork involved. With regular medicine you can see that a person’s arm is broken and treat it. With behavioral health things are not quite so black and white. You can identify a record a patient’s objective behavior, such as “patient is exhibiting signs of trichotillomania”, however, you can only guess at what’s causing that behavior. Are they hallucinating? Do they have a chemical imbalance? Do they suffer from anxiety, or paranoia? Etc. There are far more “behind the scenes” factors that come into play here.  And, for those of you who do not know, up until the age of 12 a child’s brain is still in a high state of development. Introducing a brain in that state to a Class II narcotic can have permanent damaging effects. For instance, one side effect of Ritalin and Dextroamphetamine, especially when used in young children, is that it can lead the patient to develop adult-onset insomnia in a high number of cases. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, I’m wrong about this too, apparently. 

One of the advantages of working in Behavioral Health like I do is that I get to take all kinds of training classes on all kinds of topics. I’ve taken no less than three different training courses on different kinds of abuse, including a free course offered through the CDC on preventing abuse. I’ve also taken several different courses on psychopharmacology, apothecary, medications, and common behavioral conditions, including specific courses all about ADHD. Another advantage is that I have a few friends who are doctors in the field. One of them is an MD who prescribes medications to behavioral health patients, and another is dual-doctorate holder who has a PhD and an EdD. This is where I get my information from; professionals who work in the field. I’m also on speaking terms and have easy access to about a dozen different doctors who work in my building. And you know what they all say? They all pretty much agree with each other; meds for ADHD children under 12 is a bad idea.
So, after trying to explain all of this to these people they begin attacking my credibility. One of them says “oh, okay, so you’ve taken a few classes and you think you know something about psychology. Good for you.” After I explained that I was a fully licensed Behavioral Health Technician he says “oh, so you cannot diagnose illnesses or write up treatment plans, thanks for clarifying that.”  At this point it became obvious that this person had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. The Behavioral Health Technicians, or BHTs as they’re called in the field, are the work horses of the behavioral health field. They do write service plans (they’re not called treatment plans in behavioral health), they read and interpret the Service Plans, they dole out medications, the write progress notes, they perform all kinds of similar functions. Service Plans are required to be signed off by a higher-level professional, but the BHTs are well-versed in how they work, what they mean, and how to write them. But, they’re also well-qualified in medication reactions, side effects, uses and the identification of common behavioral issues and conditions. 

It was at this point that I seriously began to question some of the advice that I had been given. I asked them, pointedly, how much experience and training they’ve had with behavioral health. I also asked them what makes them qualified to give advice on behavioral health issues when their specialty is law. The answers to these questions were shocking. One user said that “legal experience is more important than psychological training”. Really? That’s good to know. If I ever think that I’m having a breakdown I’ll run to my lawyer’s office, because, according to this guy, lawyers are better at psychological issues due to their vast legal experience. Several of the users posted very vague, evasive answers like “you might be surprised” and “enough to know what I’m talking about”. But the kicker was the person who clarified everything; “at what point did anyone on here say that their specialty was law?” I checked their profiles most of them don’t have their professions listed. One person said “What do you think my job is???” and under his interests he listed “smacking stupid people”. One of them was a business professional and another was a stay at home mom. And they’re giving out legal advice?  It was at this point I realized this whole thing had been an exercise in futility and deleted the thread. 

My friend Lee pointed out the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which explains the situation I just experienced perfectly. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a paradoxical situation in which people either overestimate or underestimate themselves in relation to a particular area of expertise (the IQ counter-part for this is called the Downing Effect). But, without fail the D-K effect is quite fascinating and fairly reliable. Generally the more incompetent a person is the more they tend to overestimate their own skill, fail to recognize the skill of others, and fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy. The scholars behind this theory won the Nobel Prize for their work in 2000. I’ve certainly seen this in action firsthand before too, although I didn’t know what to call it. I’ve talked to people who lacked the capacity to understand what I was talking about so, naturally, I was the stupid one because I wasn’t making any sense to them. 

Another interesting thing that I ran into is that a few of these people, several of them in fact, exhibited clear signs of narcissist behavior.  For example, in his “about me” box one user has just one quote from another user; “It is our unanimous opinion that you are damn right and it should be obvious to any moron that your (ex) (SO’s ex) (boss) (landlord) (local police) should be immediately (jailed) (fired) (reprimanded) (arrested) (demoted) (shot) (evicted). In fact, you are so astonishingly correct in this matter, it will not surprise us one bit if you are offered a generous settlement, because, by golly, that’s just how it should be.” Not only is this on this person’s profile page, it’s also on their signature…for every single post. They took a compliment about one particular situation and adapted it to mean that they were right about everything all of the time. There’s no worse thing you could do for a narcissist. 

The moral of this whole story is this; just because the advice is free doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good. Be sure that your sources are credible before acting on any advice that you’ve been given. As an example; I did get in a touch with a bona-fide lawyer and asked the same question. She says that my cease and desist order should be enough and that medical practitioners are required to comply with that. After all, that’s the whole point of denoting which one parent has the right to decide. If your child was on life support and was never going to wake up and one parent said pull the plug and the other said no, how do you know who to listen to? The court order tells you. But, according to these crackpots on this page, it’s just all meaningless drivel.  

I hope that you’ve learned as much from this experience as I did and that you take “free advice” with a grain of salt and always get to know where the information is coming from.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Santa: To Tell or Not To Tell

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Today’s entry is by special request. One of my friends and readers wrote in requesting that I do an article about the ethical implications involved with lying to your children, even if it is about Santa Claus. I could tell where he stood on the issue by the tone of his message; he thinks that telling children that the big, red-man exists is bad and creates an ethical dilemma. After all, you are lying to children, so how do you get them to trust you after that? I have been telling my own kids about Santa, but I do see his point. It made me wonder if there were any studies conducted on the subject and what the “court of public opinion” believes. And, with any luck, we’ll be able to put that debate at the family get-togethers to rest.
I will start off by saying that after reading his message it induced a moment of nostalgia. I vividly remembered when I first learned the truth. It was second grade. Like my friend, my 2nd grade teacher felt that it was ethically reprehensible to lie for any reason. Because of her beliefs she informed our entire second grade class that there was no such thing as Santa Claus. To say that she had a classroom full of very upset little children would be an understatement. Interestingly, I remember being angry with my teacher for breaking “the spell” of Santa, and I remember wondering why my parents would tell me about Santa if he wasn’t real. Was it some joke that I wasn’t part of? What was the point? Despite the unfortunate manner in which I learned the truth I just came to accept that it was just something that adults did.
It is with these thoughts and experiences as a backdrop that I began my research. I wanted to keep an open mind about this topic and gather the information as objectively as possible. Human history is full of make-believe beings; leprechauns, fairies, gnomes, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and all manner of monsters and demons. There are Jedi and Sith lords, time-travelling robots, and even aliens from outer space. The most obvious and most common form of creating these lies is for entertainment purposes. They are used in story telling sometimes as a metaphor, or a symbol, or as an archetypal character to represent a particular type of person. The difference here is that in literature and movies these other stories are understood to be make believe right from the start. So, the question really becomes; is lying to your children about Santa harmful to their emotional well-being? Is it unethical?
Interestingly enough, the question of Santa came up in the ethics class that I am currently taking. There were essentially two schools of thought on this topic. The first group, a very small margin, felt that it was ethically improper to tell their children lies about Santa Claus. Of course, I should also add that this person’s reasoning was that “Jesus would be mad that you’re assisting your children in worshipping a false idol”. They seemed to have the ethical quandary of lying about Santa confused with a moral dilemma of whether hyping up Santa at Christmas constitutes worship.
The second group felt that it was okay to lie to your children about Santa. However, this group was also divided into two camps as well. Half of this group felt that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it whatsoever. They wrote things like “it encourages young children’s imaginations” and that it “served as a vessel for passing along traditions and values”.  The other group, which I admittedly was part of, felt that it did constitute a breach of ethics in the strictest sense of the definition, but that the end justified the means. Sure, a lie is ethically improper, however in most cases ethics and morals are not resolute, concrete ideologies that are unyielding in principal. I’m willing to bet that I can pose several scenarios in which you would likely violate your own moral or ethical code in some way or another.
Having exhausted my search of materials in class relating to this topic, I turned my search to other resources. My first bid was to go to the all-knowing, all-powerful internet. While information gleaned off of the internet should always be taken with a grain of salt I do find it a good starting point for some of my other resources. In my search on the internet I Googled the phrase Santa Claus Ethics. The results of this search immediately convinced me that my friend is not alone in his view of Santa. 
One interesting site that I found is a blog called Pea Soup. The blog itself is a huge site with dozens of contributors and focuses exclusively on ethics, philosophy and academia. While this particular entry by Heath White was rather short, it sparked an internet debate when it first appeared 2 years ago. Dozens upon dozens of further articles popped up all over the internet in response to White’s post, and dozens more popped up in response to those responses. White opposed the proliferation of the Santa Claus myth. He argues that it’s immoral (which it may be to him, but the question is whether or not it’s ethical, and yes, there is a difference). White argues that the Santa myth has, at least, three strikes against it.
1.       It involves a lot of lying and deception practiced on credulous people.
2.       It tends to foster greed in children and contributes to the notion that happiness equates to the material wealth that you possess.
3.       By telling children that the gifts that Santa brings them are tied to their behavior it further undermines their personal growth. Especially since the gifts that a child receives are not the result of the child’s behavior, but rather are the result of the family’s socio-economic standing and parental temperament. This tends to breed moral complacency in well-off children and false feelings of moral inferiority in less well-off children.
One of the more prominent and immediate responses appeared on the blog Love of All Wisdom. The author here counter’s White’s points Vis-à-vis. The author here, Amod Lele, raises some interesting counter-points to White’s claims. He argues that White’s first point should be invalidated because it paints a bleak picture of humanity if children only know the truth and never pretend or make believe. He says “One can tell children stories they will understand, long before they understand the difference between myth and reality. Is this a lie? Perhaps, but one shudders before the implications of an account of truth so unflinching and demanding that it requires all children’s stories be clearly marked as false and fictional.”  He further goes on to describe such an existence as cold. As a parent, I’ll admit that there are certain things that I’ve told my child that weren’t entirely true. For example; there’s some kind of chemical processing plant near our house. On the premises of this plant are two tall silver spires of pipe of different heights. They look to be some kind of giant pressure valves or boilers, or something of that nature. In truth, I have no idea what these things are. I’m not even sure what chemical is processed there. So, when my son asked me what they are I told him that I didn’t know. And then he told me that they were rocket ships. To this day they’re still rocket ships. He’s 5 and he can get a lot of concepts, but explaining that it’s some kind of equipment that has to do with pressurized processing of a chemical is not likely something that he’s going to understand at his age. So, I let it go until he’s older and can understand such concepts.
Lele’s agrees with White’s second point. He’s also indifferent on White’s third point as well. The one thing that he does admit is that in order for the Santa-Behavior myth to carry any real weight behind it parents would actually have to follow through on their threats on not give gifts to children who genuinely are naughty. However, as he points out, most parents lack the capacity for this or are so blinded by their love for their children that they overlook their transgressions and misdeeds.
Some argue that the Santa-behavior myth teaches children to be good by providing rewards for desired behavior, a-la B. F. Skinner. However, as any good psychologist will tell you, providing one gift annually based an abstract average of overall behavior is not consistent or frequent enough to have any lasting effect on a child’s long-term development. Some psychologists argue that one reward per week might be too long of a delay, particularly in very young children. 
One thing that also seemed to come up in all of the discussions that I found was the concept or notion of tradition. Most people know that Santa Claus as we know him today has existed for quite a while. In my earlier post on some holiday myths I pointed out some of the different tales and traditions which make up the modern Santa. The question that is hotly debated here is “how do you separate out the traditions from the lies?”
Many people, myself included, are on the fence about it. It is technically a lie, yes, but it seems as though it’s a culturally accepted one and one that has good arguments from both sides of the issue. Many more people don’t even give the issue a second thought.
One interesting side-question as I press on. I did come across one blog where the author was writing about a response to a NY Times article. The commenter asked “if you’re a child and you figure out that there’s no such thing as Santa, is it unethical to continue to play along in the hopes of getting more presents?” An interesting question, to be sure. Certainly, that would support the argument that belief in Santa promotes greed. But, could they also not say something to their parents as a means of retaliating? ie: You lied to me that he existed in the first place, so I’m going to lie to you by saying that I still believe. Is that ethical for either party?
One blogger over at Philosophy, etc. argued that the proliferation of the Santa Claus myth isn’t really a lie because children are able to discern the difference. They cite a few cognitive psychologists who suggest that children know all along and they’re just playing the game with us. I vociferously disagree. Over time they may figure it out and elect to play along, however, if you are a small child and you are suddenly told that there is not a Santa after years of believing it can be quite a traumatic experience. And it’s not as though this is just a few harmless tales that are easy to disbelieve in, it’s a world-wide conspiracy. You have department stores telling your children that Santa is real, internet websites where you can video-chat with Santa, major newspapers writing stories about Santa’s exploits. I mean, if it’s in the news it has to be true, right? And let’s not forget the US Government helps perpetuate this myth. What I am talking about? The US Military’s NORAD tracks Santa website, of course. They even have a page called “Is Santa Real?” where they neither confirm nor deny his existence. However, they also provide a video and an interactive map that shows Santa’s progress across the globe on Christmas Eve. This isn’t just some small white lie that you tell your friends “no man, that shirt doesn’t make you look stupid”, this is a large, elaborate lie that goes on for weeks and months and years by almost everyone.
Another interesting blog that I read was called Philosophy Dad in which the author counters six points in favor of lying to your children about Santa. Here are the six points in favor of lying, according to Steven Law:
1.       It makes them Happy
2.       Educational Fibbing
3.       Gives them something to believe in
4.       Fun for adults
5.       Useful for controlling behavior
6.       Protects children from upsetting or damaging truths
Now, I could write out Philosophy Dad’s responses to these, but you can read them on his blog (that’s why I put the links below…) So, instead I’ll post my opinions on these points.
Yes, it does make children happy, at least in the short term. And, I think that this is the reason that most people convince themselves that this lie is okay. I know that’s certainly true in my case. The one thing that I would be willing to bet is never considered; does this belief in Santa make them happier at Christmas time than they would be if they didn’t believe?
Steven Law suggests that lying to them deliberately about things like this can teach them to become better “truth detectors”. He further goes on to quantify that “educational fibbing” isn’t quite lying, that it’s more of a practical joke. I disagree with him here. First, to me, educational fibbing would be a lie to explain a naturally made situation. For example: Where do babies come from? The storks bring them. That is an educational fib. It’s a lie that’s told to children about a real-life situation because they’re too young to understand the answer. However, in the case of Santa, he’s entirely fictitious. As such, telling lies about Santa does not, in my mind constitute an “educational fib”. And, as I pointed out a moment ago, this is one world-wide conspiracy that’s embedded into every facet of our culture. It’s way deeper than a joke…unless you count what the robots were doing to the humans in the movie the Matrix as a joke (completely replacing their reality with a made up one), in which case it’s hilarious. A “fun joke” would be the government taking your Social Security Money, and make you believe that there is a Social Security fund, only to tell you when you really need it that there’s no such thing as Social Security. That’s fun, and totally harmless right? No one gets angry over that. Why should kids be any different?
Yes, everyone needs something to believe in and hope is a powerful thing. However, why must all of these beliefs and hopes be extrinsic? Why can’t we teach children to believe in themselves for a change?
Okay, yes. It is fun for adults. However, just because it’s fun does that make it ethically correct? I’m sure that President Clinton found his rendezvous with Ms. Lewinski to be “fun”, but that certainly wasn’t ethical.
Number 5 just baffles me. It’s useful for controlling behavior? Granted, I’m not arguing that children shouldn’t behave themselves, we live in a civilized world. However, there are many tools for controlling their behavior. The most effective is: teach them to control their own behavior. It’s a novel concept, I know, it is years ahead of its time. All joking aside, this is like rationalizing that it’s okay to lie to people so that we can get them to act how we want them to act or to do what we want them to do. It’s a good thing the government hasn’t adopted that philosophy.
The last point seems the weakest to me. Sure, telling someone that there is a Santa and getting them to believe in it and then telling them later that there is no Santa is potentially damaging. However, not telling them about Santa at all isn’t damaging in any way. If they’ve never been told that there is a Santa, then the truth won’t be damaging at all because they’ve never been deceived. It's the deception that is damaging, the act of finding out that you've been betrayed, not the truth in and of itself.
Some blog-readers comment that it’s basically okay to lie to children since they don’t understand it anyway. If that’s the case my question back is “at what point do you tell them truth?” If you’ve been lying to them because they don’t understand and you can get away with it, do you automatically own-up as soon as they do understand, or do you keep the lie going?
Some other readers suggest that explaining the myth of Santa is fine, however, actively engaging in the Santa pretense is a different matter altogether. Another reader points out that a child psychologist says that it’s a rite of passage for children to learn the truth about Santa after believing in him. His argument is that this helps children understand that the world can be a place full of lies and misinformation and that they shouldn’t take everything at face value. It introduces them to the concept of the lie in the first place. While I see his point, I’m not entirely convinced that this is the most effective way of accomplishing that task.
One angry reader on Pea Soup wrote “Are you kidding me?? Santa is just a fun part of Christmas. No, he is not the essence of Christmas. That would be Jesus Christ as we celebrate His coming as the true reason of Christmas.”  He goes on to say that the author is on the wrong soapbox and that they should be preaching against TV and Radio. But I digress, this is news to me. I had always thought that the “true meaning of Christmas” was for the Roman Catholic Church to make an official holiday coincide with the pagan Winter Solstice festival so that it was easier to convert them. Weird. Also, to this person I would pose this question; if the essence of Christmas is about Christ, then why do many Christmas traditions pre-date Christianity? And what about non-Christians who celebrate Christmas? To say that the responses to these articles are varied from the sane and polite to the downright rude and facetious is a bit of an understatement. For example; one reader responded by saying that we should just ban all fictional works of all types. Clearly, he is missing the point entirely.
As I read through these things I am reminded of a topic for a future discussion, but one that I’ll touch on here. Is it right or ethical for us as adults to force our worldview and our beliefs onto our children because we think it’s in their best interests? There are some adults that I know that absolutely will not believe certain things no matter how much evidence that you throw at them. And they will get literally upset with you if you shatter some of their other illusions (such the fact that humans are genetically descended from common ancestors with apes). What if kids are the same way? What if they really want to believe and we rob them of that? Is that just as much of a disservice to their well-being as lying and then telling the truth later?
I tried researching actual bona fide research journals to see what the “experts” had to say on the matter. There were some arguments that pointed out that parents who act out the roles of Santa have parallels to fetishism, ambivalence and narcissism. There was also an article that used the term “Santa Claus” in reference to make-believe political bills whose concepts are so unrealistic that they will never work. The one thing that I did not find was any kind of empirical evidence to support this debate one way or the other. There are absolutely no studies that offer up concrete proof that this is or isn’t healthy for our children. For now, this debate seems destined to remain in the realm of the theoretical.

Note: There are quite a lot of interesting responses both for and against this on the various blogs that I posted below. If this is one that interests you then I encourage you to read through them.

Grand Canyon University: Philosophy 305 – Ethical Thinking in the Liberal Arts. Module 2. Prof. Scott Douglas.
Cluley, Robert (2011) The organization of Santa: fetishism, ambivalence and narcissism. The Journal of Organization. Nov, 18, 2011. Vol 18. No. 6 Pgs. 779-794. Retrieved from Sage Online.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Education, Legislation & Insanity

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I was planning on writing about this particular topic last week however I put it off a few times as I wanted to gather some more information before writing it out. I think I’m ready now, or at least I’ve delayed long enough.
There are some issues that occur that make we wonder if all logic and reason has completely dissipated from world leaving a sad, empty shell of humanity bereft of common sense and intellectually bankrupt. It’s a bleak outlook, I know. One of those issues is sexual harassment in the schools. Now, before you get all belligerent and self-righteous let me be clear; I’m not advocating that honest-to-goodness sexual harassment cases be ignored simply because they’re in a school setting. However, what I am suggesting is that some of social, political and legislative views on what constitutes and defines sexual harassment may need some serious revision.
Presently, I work as an Information Systems Analyst in a Human Resources department while I finish my college education. In my role here and at several previous jobs I’ve had to sit through countless hours of sexual harassment trainings and seminars. From what I know about the subject and I what I see reported on the news, there is a sad absence of reason and a proliferation of preposterous litigation surrounding this issue in our public schools.
To understand my frustration, allow me to bring to your attention a few noteworthy news articles from recent years.
As anyone who’s been around little kids for any length of time will tell you, little kids like to hug. They’re little huggers. That’s what they do. Not all kids, mind you, but enough. My own son is certainly no exception to this. Being a parent and being around small children regularly I can’t possibly imagine any child doing this with deliberate intent to harm someone physically or emotionally, and yet, there are those who would have you believe exactly that.

The first story that I remember really bringing this topic into the forefront of my consciousness was in December of 2006, December 8th to be exact. The story happened in Hagerstown, Maryland. A 5 year old Kindergartener was suspended from school. He was suspended on the grounds that committed sexual harassment against a fellow classmate at Lincolnshire Elementary. The nature of his crime, in case you were wondering, was that he pinched a female classmate on the buttocks. School officials said “fits the state Department of Education's definition of sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others."” The boy’s father was outraged at the school saying that his son was unaware of the seriousness of this allegation and only knew it as playing around.

Surely this was an isolated incident, right? A momentary lapse of judgment on the part of the administration?  No, sadly, it wasn’t. Las Vegas, Texas. Four days later… December 12, 2006. A 4 year old boy attending La Vega Primary School was sentenced into in-house suspension. This student is a pre-kindergarten student. What did he do to earn himself in-house suspension?  According to the school, he committed sexual harassment. Allegedly he inappropriately rubbed his face into the bosom of a teacher’s aide.

Two years later another incident; 2008, Greer, Greenville County, South Carolina. A six year old child was sent home with allegations of sexual harassment because he told his teacher that one of his follow students liked looking at her behind. Mind you, the student who’s being accused of this wasn’t looking, he was ratting out the looker. Maybe the boy’s classmate had good taste, maybe the teacher sat on some tape, or had a hole in her pants, or maybe the informant was mistaken about what he thought was happening. Whatever the story was, the boy was suspended for sexual harassment because he insinuated that a classmate would look at their teacher like that.

But the insanity doesn’t stop there. Four days later it happened again. Apr 8, 2008. The Washington Post ran another story about sexual harassment. The alleged abuser in this case was another 6 year old boy. This boy (whose alleged crime actually transpired in the preceding November) was that he smacked a fellow classmate’s bottom. The girl told the teacher who took him to the principal and they wrote him up with “Sexual Touching Against A Student, Offensive” and put it in his permanent file. And then, as if to drive the message home, they called the police.
Fast forward to Feb 12, 2010. In 2006 a 6 year old boy from Brockton, MA was suspended for Sexual harassment against another student. The family sued. The case was finally settled in court four years later. The ruling? After paying out more than $50,000 in legal fees the court ordered the city to pay out $160,000 in damages to the boy and $20,000 in damages to the parents. They also had to pay the boy’s attorney $60,000 for his legal fees.
While this kind of rampant accusatory behavior is amplified in schools, it is not entirely an element found solely within public schools. Just a few short weeks ago, Nov 25, a news story broke about a family that was suing a 6-year old boy for first degree sexual assault. The basis of their allegations centers around the fact that this boy was “playing doctor” with their 5-year old girl. Curiously, the girls brother, who was also playing doctor with them is not being cited or charged with anything  even though he is the same age and committed the same acts. Developmental Psychologists are in an uproar over this case in particular as they cite that playing doctor is a normal part of the exploratory developmental stage of the human psyche.  They say that it often makes parents feel uncomfortable to know that their children are comparing privates with one another, but it’s how children learn what is different and the same between other people. They further go on to say that “so long as all of the parties are participating willingly, there isn’t any harm in this”.
Even more outrageous, On December 5th there were two separate and distinct cases of “sexual harassment” charged against children. First, on December 5th, a first grader was charged with sexual harassment after he kicked a bully in the groin (again, another topic for a separate post).  Here’s a summary of what happened. The 7-year old boarded the bus. The bully approached and demanded his gloves. The first grader refused. The bully began to choke him, so in response, the first grader kicked the bully in groin. The first grader was sentenced to suspension on grounds of sexual harassment. The bully was not cited or charged with anything.
Elsewhere in the country that very same day another first grader was suspended for sexual harassment for calling his teacher “cute”.  The school’s administration claimed the language violated the sexual harassment policy of the district. After an intense deluge of national media coverage the school district quickly performed an investigation and found that “no sexual harassment had occurred” and the following day the principal resigned over the incident.
I could have produced many more examples, but I felt that these were sufficient in number and nature to demonstrate my point. If you don’t believe me try Googling “sexual harassment” and “kindergartner” together. The craze isn’t just with very young elementary student’s either. There are many cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse charges that may or may not be justified against older children (ages 6-17) as well. Some are outlined here.
And sexual harassment claims also exist in the college campuses as well. But we would expect that given the types of activities that sometimes happen at college. But even at the college level some of these claims are unreasonable, such as a claim filed against Western Nevada College because she had to write an expose on her masturbation routine and draw an illustrated interpretation of her orgasm. Why is this a little unreasonable? Because the class was “Human Sexuality”, and it was an elective course that she willingly signed up for. And it’s not as though this is some young, naive college student either, this particular student is 60 years old.
So where did the system go wrong? As far as I’ve been able to discover, it seems as though the sexual harassment craze went haywire in the early 1990’s.  By the late 1990’s this sexual harassment push was in a frenzied stage. In fact, it was so popular and out of control that the Comedy Central adult cartoon series, South Park, poked fun at the issue (and the results of the issue) with their portrayal of the character, Petey the Sexual Harassment Panda in 1999.
A whole series of new policies and directives were passed and aimed at schools turning them into a zero-tolerance zone for many things (more on that later too), sexual harassment among them. The entire system has been spiraling out of control since then.
Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, said he had never come across a case of sexual harassment in elementary school in his three decades in the schools. To label somebody a sexual harasser at 6 “doesn't make sense to me”, he said. “Kids can be exploratory in behavior. They can mimic what they see on TV.'"
Proponents of the new policies will cite any number of studies like this one or this one or this one or this one or this one.   One study says 1/3 of middle and high school students feel that they’ve been sexually harassed. Others say that “48% of female high school students feel that they’ve been sexually harassed”. These are obvious concerns and these statistics are what is driving the blind push to enact a proliferation of new policies to stem the flow of insanity. However, I can’t help but wonder if they’re looking at this the right way.
As a result of these new policies, the Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended in 2007 for offensive sexual touching, or 'improper physical contact against a student.' In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended during 2007 for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education.  33.6% of all of their suspensions and allegations were aimed at children 7 years old or younger.

At least there are few champions of reason and logic. David Davis was the executive director of an Advocacy Center in Waco in 2006. He thinks that it’s absurd to charge children this small with sexual harassment allegations. He says assuming the boy has not had sexual encounters, or been inappropriately exposed to pornography, most four-year-olds are sexually innocent.

Another book, Promoting Social Justice for Young Children also heralds logic and reason as key elements when dealing with children and charging them with crimes of a sexual nature.
So what’s changed? Well, for one thing, with the intensity of sexual harassment awareness that’s been occurring in the last four decades our culture is more aware of sexual harassment as an issue than we have at any other point in our history. So, it’s not unreasonable to assume that higher number of cases of sexual harassment are being reported simply as a result of this awareness. Does that mean that we should allow it? Of course not. However, some reason has to be administered in the application and distribution of these policies.
Why is this such an issue? Well, for one thing, depending on the county or the state that this is happening in, many of these charges are a felony. In some states they are a Class B felony, in other states they are a Class 2 felony. In some of these cases state laws will require that, if convicted, these children will be registered on a sex offender watch list once they turn 18. This is completely ridiculous, in my opinion.
There’s an official guide to “sexual harassment” published for use by schools. This guide was written by the US Department of education ( ). It’s rather long so I’ll spare all of the details, but I will quote page V of the preface. Under the “definition of sexual harassment” the guidebook states; “one commenter urged OCR to provide distinct definitions from criteria used to maintain private actions for monetary damages. We disagree.” They refuse to spell out and delineate exactly what constitutes harassment leaving it open to the interpretation of the individual schools. They cite a prior guidance in 1997 and a court case (Davis) that if “conduct of a sexual nature is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate or benefit from the education program, or to or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment” it constitutes “sexual harassment”.
The problem with these laws is that even the EEOC and other federal government branches are vague about what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t. However, most of us assume that “harassment” as a broad definition defines an action which has been repeated more than once. For example, going back to the first grader who called his teacher “cute”, that same behavior in the workplace would hardly constitute sexual harassment. If I walked down the hallway and said to one of my co-workers “you look very cute today”, that wouldn’t really constitute anything. However, if that statement made her uncomfortable and she said as much and I persisted in that behavior, then it clearly moves into the grounds of harassment.
The other serious issue that’s raising red flags for me is the complete and total breakdown of our judicial system. There is also a proliferation of court cases involving teachers or other faculty who have had sexual relations with their students. In some of these cases absolutely nothing happens to these teachers. For example, in 2002, 43-year old teacher Pamela Diehl-Moore was tried in a New Jersey court for sleeping with a 13-year old boy, a student who had just completed her 7th grade class. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta was assigned to the case. When delivering the sentence he said "I really don't see the harm that was done here, and certainly society doesn't need to be worried. I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship. Maybe it was a way for him, once this happened, to satisfy his sexual needs, people mature at different rates."  The initial sentence was five years of probation with no jail time. Two months later after an appeals court heard the case her sentence was changed to 3 years in prison.
On the one hand, we have judges who are being extremely lenient with teachers who sleep with their students, but then on the other hand we have lawyers and school administrators who are charging students with sexual harassment? When did we cross into the Twilight Zone, exactly?
Many of the litigators claim that their charges against 1st and 2nd graders are completely justified as the law does not impose an age restriction or definition. In my mind this is a grave travesty; to charge a child with a crime like sexual harassment when they don’t even understand the concept of sex and are physically incapable of even having sex is completely absurd. But it doesn’t end there. To me, charging kindergartners and preschoolers with these crimes is the worst travesty that a school can do to their students. In many cases it is the first time that these kids have been to school. It’s the first time that they’ve been exposed to so many other kids their age; it’s their first exposure to a school environment, etc. We teach them how to add and subtract and say their shapes and colors, but we can’t teach them how to be a student? At what point is a child supposed to learn that these behaviors are wrong? Sure, some people will say that it’s the parent’s job to teach their children, and I’m not arguing that point. But, the parents aren’t always going to have their children in the same situational context as the teachers will. Ultimately, the teachers should be teaching the students what to do and how to act in school. To punish the students for things that they don’t even understand is a grave injustice.
I ask you, dear readers, to ponder this the next time that you hear about plans discussing “education reform”. Many, many people are clamoring for education reform, and rightly so. However, almost all of the new proposals focus solely on academic reform. None of the address issues like this, or the violence in the schools that I addressed earlier in the month. I vociferously believe that in order for any kind of educational reformation to be truly effective it has to be a holistic plan that addresses all of the failings of the system. To use an analogy, it doesn’t make sense to me to replace one tire when the other three are still flat.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Myths & Misinformation: Holiday Myths: True or False

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Sorry it's been a few days between posts, dear readers. Things have been busy of late. I post-poned the post that I've been working on yet again in favor of something a little more light-hearted and fun. In this post I thought it would be fun to tackle some common Christmas and Winter myths. Enjoy!
Poinsettias are poisonous. Or, at least that’s what the word on the street is. I’ve been hearing this story from various people for at least the last decade. The truth of the matter is that poinsettias are not toxic. The Poison Control Center reported 22,793 calls about poinsettia poisoning in 2007. Of all of these cases no one died and 96% did not require hospitalization. Of those that were hospitalized none resulted in considerable poisoning.  Let’s do some quick calculations here. In 2007 the US population was 302.2 Million people. But only 22,793 cases of poisoning were reported to poison control. . This is less than one-tenth of one percent of the population. (in fact, it’s 0.0075424% to be exact).  Of the 22,793 people who reported being poisoned only 912 were hospitalized. That’s 0.0003018% of the total US population. To put this into perspective for you, 18.9 million people suffer from peanut allergies. That’s 6.25% of the population. Also, there is an average of 9,537 peanut-related hospitalizations each year. This means that peanuts are 10 times more poisonous than poinsettias, and that’s something to chew on. 
Winter/Christmas is the highest rate of suicide throughout the year.  This is another common mythos that I hear reverberated throughout conversations during this time of year. I’m not really sure where this particular myth originated, or when. Most people cite a number of different reasons why suicide rates would be higher during the winter; family dysfunction drives them over the edge, loneliness during the holidays, psychological depression brought about by the cold and dark season, etc.  The actual statistical data collected about suicide rates suggests exactly the opposite; more suicides are likely to occur during the summer months. This data is further supported by the 2010 report from the US Army where they state that June was the month with the record number of suicides. Why would this be true? Psychology may hold the answer. First, understand that the majority of suicide victims who have been autopsied have been discovered to have some form of mental disorder (whether they knew about it or not was a different story). Also, drugs or alcohol are also found in the victim’s bodies almost 75% of the time. Taking that into consideration consider that although people may be depressed during the winter months, many people expect to be depressed. They tell themselves that it’s due to the stress of the season, or the stress of the weather, etc. They tell themselves that they’re just in a lull and that things will get better when it warms up. However, during the summer months, people don’t expect to be depressed. There’s no environmental or situational explanation for their depression and they feel that life won’t ever get better. Also, while we’re talking about suicide, most people who have committed suicide have talked about it prior to doing it. So, if you know of someone who has mentioned it before, please, take them seriously.
Christmas is literally the day Jesus was born. This is yet another very common holiday sentiment that goes around during this time of year, especially by Christians. Here’s the truth of the matter; the only “accurate” (taken with a grain of salt) account of Jesus’ birth is the account as explained in the Bible. But not even the Bible provides us with an exact month or date of his birth. Matthew 2: 4,000: Oh yes, thoust nearly forgotest, let it by known that thine Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, of Bethlehem, was born onto this world on this 25th Day of December.  …I’m sure that verse was probably cut out during editing. Here’s a couple of things to consider.
1.       It’s widely-established that the shepherds flocked to the manger where Jesus was born.  It’s also widely known that shepherds only take their flocks to field between spring and autumn. During the winter they are penned up as it is too cold to be outside. As such, it’d be kind of hard for the shepherds to see the star in the first place.
2.       Also consider that Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of some 70 miles. Although the common story is that she rode on a donkey, the Bible does not definitively state that. It’s also possible that she walked. Assuming that she did ride a donkey, they have an average walking speed of 9 mph, which would mean that she would have been exposed to freezing temperatures for somewhere around 8 hours.
3.       The date December, 25th was specifically chosen by the Roman Catholic Church. The winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) takes place on December 21st. On or around December 25th many of the ancient Celts, Druids & Pagans would celebrate the return of the sun by having a feast. It was easier for the Church to convert them to Christianity if that day was already a “holy day” in the Church as well.  
4.       Let’s not forget about the Calendar Change. In 1582 the Pope Gregory XIII declared the discontinuation of the Julian Calendar and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar (named after himself and the calendar that we still use today). When they changed the calendar over the days were out of alignment by about 10 days. Thus, December 25th on our calendar would have been December 15th in Ancient times.

Santa Claus was invented by stores to help sell toys. Well, you’ll certainly get no argument from me that Christmas has become overly-commercialized. However, it’s my duty to report that this myth is false. Santa Claus was not invented by the major mega-corporations, nor was he invented by the toy companies. Most people know that one of Santa’s many aliases is St. Nicholas. A good portion of the population operates on the assumption that Santa is a modernized version of St. Nick and that his life and the life of Santa are largely the same. This is true, but only partly so. The St. Nicholas connection is certainly the oldest of the myriad of pieces that make up the Santa that we know and love. St. Nicholas lived in 280 AD, making the story of Santa one that has roots going back 1800 years.  Some historians have linked the American version of Santa Klass first originated with Dutch settlers around the time of the Revolution. The Dutch would get together every December to honor Sinter Klaas. His read suit seems to have originated in the 1800’s with George Irving’s popularization of St. Nick as the Patron Saint of New York. Supposedly in that time period he wore a blue tri-corn hat with a red waistcoat.  Santa was proliferated by stores in the mid-1800’s in an effort to boost sales, and also by the Salvation Army during this time as a fund-raising tool. Santa acquired his magical reindeer in 1822 by a poem authored by an episcopal minister. (The poem was called An account of a visit from St. Nicholas). Rudolph made his appearance in 1939 and was further popularized by Gene Autry who sang a song by Johnny Marks from 1949. However, as I mentioned earlier, St. Nick is not the only historical figure to have influenced Santa as we know him. Some sources indicate that Santa gets his long beard from the Norse God, Odin, who is also associated with the Yule Season. The same sources indicate that Santa’s now famous hat is also borrowed from Odin, as is the tradition of leaving carrots for Santa’s reindeer. ..only in Odin’s case it wasn’t reindeer, it was an 8 legged horse named Sleipinir. Scandinavian folklore has also left its mark. In 1840 an elf named “Tomte” began delivering yule gifts in Denmark. This elf soon made his way into houses in Norway, Sweden and Finland. It is from this Scandinavian influence that Santa is recognized as the “King of the Elves” and where he gets his army of elven helpers.
Sugar makes children hyper. Yep, this age-old saying is extremely difficult to debunk. I’ve already done one extensive article on this topic alone back on October ( .  However, I’ll say it again: Sugar does not lead to hyperactivity in Children. BBC reports that at least 12 randomized studies have shown that sugar has no effect on a child’s behavior. No, not even children with ADD/ADHD are affected. The studies all point to the parents believing that their children are hyperactive when there is no data to support it.
You should wear a hat because 90% of your body heat escapes from your head. How many times have we heard this, or something like this? (admittedly the percentages vary, but the message is the same).  The truth is that it’s all a bunch of bologna. The myth apparently originated from a US Army Training Manual when some scientists misconducted a test about artic survival conditions and failed to take into account all of the different variables involved. This myth has since been debunked by modern science in pretty much every country from the US to India. Take a look at some of the sources for more info if you don’t believe me.
Holiday diets will help me lose weight/I need to diet to keep from gaining 5 pounds. We’ve all heard this one before, right? We’ll, here’s the dirt on this myth; the average American only gains around 1 lb. of weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it’s not the 5 pounds that we’ve been lead to believe.  But dieting can keep that pound off, right? Well, not as much as you would think. Dieting during the holiday season means that you only gain ½ lb. instead of a full pound. It hardly seems worth it to me.
Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Holidays! And Bah Humbug to you all! (I think that covers everyone….)

As always, don’t just take my word for it:

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ethics, Morals, Faith & Happiness

[Johnathan Clayborn]
The class I'm taking right now is Philosophy 305 - Ethics in the Liberal Arts. It's an interesting class, and yet, at the same time I get the feeling that it's going to be a very long class as well. The questions that were posed this week

Do you agree with Plato that eudaimonia is a direct result of living ethically? Why or why not? Support your claims with logical reasoning, examples, and evidence.

First, a definition: Eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation. In Aristotle's works, eudaimonia was used as a term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved.

So, the question is: can humans be happy, flourish and achieve their best good through the direct result of living ethically? Why or why not?

Me: In this particular case, no, I disagree with Plato's claim that eudaimonia is the result of living ethically. I do think that living ethically plays a role in our overall happiness, however I think that it is only one of many different facets to our happiness. Maybe it's because I'm a psych major, but I also think that Maslow's hierarchy of needs playing into our overall happiness as well. I mean, I can live ethically all I want, but if I my basic human needs are not met, then I would still be unhappy. Of course, if I lied, cheated and stole my way into meeting my basic human needs, I would be unhappy also. This is sort of in line with a conversation I had with a colleague a few weeks ago. We were discussing the old adage "money doesn't buy happiness". It turns out, according to research data, that it least up to $75,000/year. After that money can't buy happiness. I saw the point the researchers were making, but my friend didn't. So I posed a hypothetical question to him; suppose that you are a low-income family. You fit the legal criteria of "working poor". You are the sole income provider. After paying your bills you barely have any money left and are living paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have much sick time left at work and your boss gets pissed off when people take time off of work. Now, suppose that your car breaks down and your son gets sick. You don’t have enough money to fix the car and take your boy to the hospital. You don’t have any friends or family who can loan you the money. As a result, you have to make a choice; do you put the needs of the entire family first and fix the car so that you can keep your job which pays for the house, the food, etc, or do you put the needs of your son over those of the entire family and get him seen by a doctor and risk loosing your job? It's a Kobayashi Maru and definitely not an easy choice. No matter which answer you choose, you will undoubtedly be unhappy. This is a situation that a person with more money wouldn't even have to contemplate, and yet, as a working-poor person you're not doubt going to face sleepless nights. And then, of course, there's the option of engaging in illegal activities in order to acquire the necessary funds to do both, but then you're violating your ethics and are also unhappy. Tying this all back to the original question; I don't think that Plato was ever faced with situations like these. I think he's got part of the answer, but overall I think he's wrong.

Now, at this point I am the only person in the class who disagrees with Plato. Everyone else is saying "yep!", or "sure can!", etc. I'm paraphrasing there, but it's the same rhetoric over and over. As a result my question response, as usual, quickly becomes a hot topic.

Here are some of the responses that I got: Mr. J.R. wrote: "I don’t agree that money buys happiness. God provides all of the food and health that we need. Money buys stuff. Stuff does not equal happiness. I have been around people from all walks of life and it certainly seems that those who live simple lives are happier then the wealthy. I myself live in a low income family an I have never lost a night of sleep over it. We have many trials in this life but God has always carried us through."

Really? Here was my response to him: "Respectfully, I disagree. Here's why:
1. It's been scientifically proven that up to $75,000/year an increase in money does also increase your happiness. This is not an avocation that we should be greedy. Nor it is a statement that money is the end-all, be-all of happiness, but it is evidence that money does play a factor.
2. God obviously wants people to have money. Church tithes are often between 10% - 20%. If money did not play a factor into happiness, then why wouldn't church tithes be 100%?
3. God does not provide food or health or shelter, money does. I cannot pay my landlord with prayer. I cannot buy groceries with prayer. God may lead me to a job which provides me with adequate income, but God does not miraculously cause this "stuff" to materialize magically in my home. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely believe in God. But I also take my faith in a pragmatic approach. The Bible states that God helps those who help themselves. There's even the parable about making money grow in Matthew and in Luke.
 In answering the hypothetical situation I posed earlier there are no right answers. No matter which choice you make you will be sad or stressed out. You will not be happy. Why are you unhappy? Because you don’t have the money to pay for both items. If you could afford to pay for both, then you wouldn't be unhappy. Hence, money does play a role in your overall happiness. But, money does not equal happiness. Money without faith will not bring you happiness. The "stuff" that money buys will not bring you happiness. There's more to it than that; happiness is a complex thing affected by many different facets of life."

J.R. said “Sir you have a very well thought out opinion but I believe that it is a misguided one. First of all the bible does not say that God helps those who help themselves. This is not at all a core theme found in the bible. It is actually quite the opposite, God helps those who cannot help themselves. The bible does say that we should work and work as if we are working for the Lord, but by no means is any of our faith put into how much money we make. We do have practical decisions to make regarding money and how we use it, but the concept of the more money we make the happier we are just is not true. There is no scientific proof that those who make 75 thousand are happier than those who don’t because there is no way to measure happiness. Money is simply a tool that we use to keep track of our assets. It was not always like this though. In ancient times, assets were measured by livestock and land. Everything is a gift. The fact that some have the ability to earn more then others is a gift from God. So the core principle here is that God is the initial provider not money. Thank you again for your opinion, I enjoy reading your posts.”

I replied with this: “I appreciate that you recognize that I've given my opinion some thought. I think that this is going to be a topic where we are going to have to agree to disagree. I can cite many examples from the bible where the message that God helps those who help themselves is the prevailing message. There is also scientific proof that those who make more money are happier; they've conducted studies and they've asked people exactly "on a scale from 1 to 10, how happy are you". Sure, there is a measure of subjectivity to the test, but it can still be measured.”  

And then there was Mr. C. N.: "Hey Johnathan, In my opinion happiness comes from appreciating what you have. The reason why people are unhappy with there financial situation is because they are comparing it to what others have. I believe that money is a facture in a persons comfort, but people who live very modestly and small are sometimes the happiest. The world pressures you to think that you need the big house, the big car and the beautiful spouse to be happy. Jesus taught us to live simply. Remember, in his ministry, Jesus had no home or income. He lived in God's spirit. He was truly happy and He wants us to follow in His footsteps. There is nothing wrong with living comfortably, but it should not determined the happiness of an individual if they are at peace with God."

First, I don’t see how the hypothetical situation that I posed above has anything to do with comparing what I have to my neighbors. The basic principle of the argument is that you can't afford to care for your own family and either choice you make will lead to mental suffering or unhappiness. What does that have to do with the Jones'? Nevertheless, my response was thus: "I hope that you didn't get the implication that I was agreeing that people should lead large, extravagant lives, not at all. There's nothing wrong with living modestly. However, I also look at the world much more pragmatically than most. Sure, Jesus didn't have income or a house, but he also had the ability to grow or catch his own food, something that most of us can't do today. And he really didn't suffer from sickness or injury (until his crucifixion anyway). So, you have a person who doesn't have to pay for food (let's not forget about the miracles that he performed with the loaves and the fish and turning water into wine...) and someone who never gets sick and has the ability to miraculously heal those around him. Of course, Jesus would have very little need for money indeed. However, since I'm not Jesus, I'm not able to multiply food,  I have to buy it instead. And I certainly can't heal my family, so I have to pay a doctor to do that. I can follow the teachings of Jesus and love my fellow man all day long (and I do), but that act alone does not solve the very real problems of making sure that my family is fed, or that they are healthy, etc. And to that end, money can lead to happiness insomuch that I rest my worried mind. After all, didn't Jesus end up donating the money that he came into contact with those less fortunate? Could you imagine all of the happiness and health that could be spread around the world if churches themselves would tone the opulence down a touch and instead focused on feeding the sick and hungry and poor? I'm sure money would make them quite happy, and healthy. And what about monetary donations to children's hospitals who help destitute children with cancer or other serious ailments? Money in and of itself is not bad, and I certainly don’t think that's what Jesus was saying (after all, the tithe is only 10%, so he must want you to keep some of it...). It's not that money is bad, it's that greed is bad. After all, doesn't the books of Matthew and Luke use a parable about increasing your profits in a positive way? (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-27). In a pragmatic sense, peace with God is wonderful, and it will certainly help you achieve overall happiness, but it wont provide you with medicine, food or clothing."

And then there was Mrs. C. L. Who lit the powder-keg with one simple line: "How does one's faith play into this?"

I told her: "I think that faith would fall into the category of needs as described by Maslow. Faith provides people with a purpose, with hope. I also think that faith has a direct correlation into the particular morality that a person follows, and as such, the actions that they are permitted and not permitted to do. For example; Jews are not permitted to eat certain foods, and neither are Muslims as their faith prohibits it. Does this make them unhappier? Or does their faith counteract that?"

Bewilderingly she wrote back with this: "That was my point, one's faith (ethics are, of coarse, included in faith) is really the only true happiness. That is the happiness that Plato speaks about...happiness in every aspect of life, the good and the bad. Is that kind of happiness possible without God and obedience to Him?"
Which garnered this reply from me: "I don't see ethics as included in a person's faith. In my opinion faith controls a person morals while society dictates ethics. Ethics are decided in the court of law and the court of public opinion whereas morals are influenced by faith. I do not think that we were making the same point. If you got the impression that I was saying that a person's faith was all they needed to be happy then I must apologize as I don’t think I phrased my explanation the right way. The problem with the type of  logic that you pose is that God leads you to happiness, so therefore God must be the only path to happiness. What about Buddhists? Are they unhappy? They don't believe in God. What about Wiccans? Or Zoroastrians? Or Muslims? There are many different religions with different beliefs. Is it necessary for them to believe in God in order to be happy, or is it simply that belief in something is enough?"

There was only 1 person in class who responded intelligently to my post. We'll call her RF. She asked "So then would you agree that achieving a state of eudaimonia would depend on what you need (individually) to feel happy? Would you also agree that the morality therein depends on a personal level of values, ethics, and standards?". A fair and intelligent question, finally! My response was "Yes, and yes. Absolutely. Some people would be perfectly happy being alone or having very few social interactions. However, other people would be miserable by this experience and would only be happy by lots of social interaction. Clearly, happiness and the path to happiness is unique and individualized. And yes, I think that each person has a different moral and ethical standard. Some people never steal, some people only steal in certain circumstances. Some people never lie, others lie to protect people, others lie because they think it's fun. I think that personal experience, family tradition and faith all play a role in shaping a person's moral views."

Now, all of this ties into the question that posed earlier in the week: Identify unique characteristics of moral/ethical principles. How are they different or how are they similar to principles found in law, etiquette, and religious commands?

One of my classmates had this to say: "Morals and ethics touch each of us on a common ground as human beings. Whereas principles found in law, etiquette and religious command vary from cultures, countries and people. Moral/ethical principles are what separate us from that of being animals"

To which I responded with this: "Having studied ethics and morality in the past I find it fascinating that so many people who have the same religion and the same nationality can have such a wildly different outlook on ethical or moral behavior. It makes me wonder what other intangible elements are at work there and whether we can ever truly understand what causes some people to have one set of morals and ethics and their brother or their sister to have a different set." This statement got two separate replies and two completely different schools of thought.

The original author wrote back with this: "I have to wonder if sometimes if the difference is in level of guilt, shame or embarrassment a person feels for violating a moral/ethical standard that makes personal ethics waver from person to person in the same pew. Or even beyond that the amount of conviction a person ALLOWS themselves to feel." And my reply was: "I agree, guilt definitely plays a role in the limit that our ethical and moral considerations are bound. However, I think that there are probably certain situations where most people would go against their ethical beliefs, especially if they were coerced or blackmailed. But, since I personally view ethics and morals and slightly different, the question would be will everyone violate their morals? For example; I think that most people would steal in order to save someone they loved from being tortured (ethics), but would people kill someone in order to save a loved one (morals)?"  No response was given to my question.

The other response to my post was quite interesting indeed, for lack of a better word. Mr. J. R. again with this: "I guess the big question remains...Is there an objective moral law or are morals just a matter of opinion?"
I said: "It's been my experience that morality and theology go hand in hand. That being the case, there are almost certainly cases where morality will differ from culture to culture. As an example; today it is morally reprehensible in American culture to kill a child. However, in Ancient Greece the Spartans used to commit infanticide for children that they deemed "unworthy". The practice of infanticide still occurs in some parts of Asia where over-population is a serious issue. Here in the states we view it as an immoral act; in those countries they view it as an everyday part of life. Most Americans are self-righteous enough to say that, of course, our morality is right, and theirs is wrong. But who's to say for certain? We know how to do what's right because it's explained in the Bible. What about people who worship a different God? Are they right also? It's a slippery slope sometimes."

J.R.: "We call it abortion but it is the same thing. I think all people have one thing in common. That is the fact that for the most part we all adhere to some common moral principles. For example-it is wrong to kill and steal. Now sometimes people rationalize but just about all people agree on these core principles. The reason for this- is the existence of objective moral law, truth, and one law giver."

Me: "Well, I can certainly agree with the sentiment that infanticide and abortion can be classified as loosely the same concept. And I do think that you are correct about there being a common core set of moral codes, and interestingly I also agree that it's because there is one moral code giver. The questions I would pose back are these: 1. If the common moral code is not to take human life and to be kind to your fellow human, how do serial killers and mass murderers fit into this philosophy? Are they merely "defective" in some way? Or do they follow a different set of morals? 2. If everyone more or less has the same moral code and the reason for this is that there is one law giver (God), then would that suggest that underneath all of the ceremony many of the world's religions actually praise the same God? Or is there a different explanation?"

J.R: “Good questions. Serial killers are a product of a sick, sinful, and fallen world. Most serial killers were severely harmed as children which caused catastrophic psychological harm which is why they act the way that they do. This is why raising children the right way is absolutely crucial. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our decisions no matter how we were raised. As far as other religions go, a common misconception is that we are all worshiping the same God in a different way or refer to God by a different name. This is not true. All religions are fundamentally different. They differ in their theology, and in regards to sin, salvation, and the afterlife. There is only one God so we cant all be right about who this God is because all religions have a completely different opinion of who he is. The bible says that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and that nobody gets to the father except through him.”

Me: “Great conversation, Jeff. Two more questions: 1. If serial killers are the product of their environment as you propose, how do you explain the fact that all serial killers have a brain that is physically different from ours, so much so that it can be visibly detected by MRIs? 2. How do you know for certain that the other faiths are wrong? In the book of Genesis God destroyed the tower of Babel. He scattered mankind to the corners of the earth and confounded their languages. If God is omniscient surely he would have known that such an action would have resulted in the degeneration of Mankind into different sub-cultures with their own values and opinions. Surely he would have realized that a one-size fits all religion would no longer work for the world ad provided each religion with a suitable way to worship him. If God is as powerful and complex and religion posits him to be, then how we can we as mere mortals ever claim to truly understand him for certain?”

There was no further response.

But, this does open some interesting concepts to ponder. Can eudaimonia be achieved merely through ethics as Plato suggests? I say no. Eudaimonia was a concept first posed by Aristotle, not Plato. Aristotle takes virtue and its exercise to be the most important constituent in eudaimonia but does acknowledge the importance of external goods such as health, wealth, and beauty. By contrast, the Stoics make virtue necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia and thus deny the necessity of external goods. By this reasoning alone, eudaimonia is more than just a blind belief that living ethically will bring about happiness.

The second interesting concept is this: are ethics and morals truly the same and interchangeable as many would suggest? In my mind, no. There are many different types of ethics. There are personal ethics and there are business ethics. There are ethics for particular groups (usually called "codes of conduct). Every group, culture and society in the world has a set of ethical parameters that they follow. However, every person in the world also has a different and unique set of ethical codes as well. some people consider it ethically inappropriate to steal from the company they work for, however, they think that it's ethically acceptable to defraud a different company to get free things. To me, as I'm sure that you probably picked up from my responses, ethics are rules to which we adhere to help us navigate successfully through society and other interactions with our fellow humans. And people's ethical codes are wildly different. Morals are on a whole different level altogether. Morality is the set of codes by which you live to reconcile your own mind and your own consciousness. Typically, we feel at peace in our consciousness through the instruction of a supernatural deity (ie: God), however, even Atheists have a moral code. Morals tend to have a deeper meaning and significance, they are how you hold yourself accountable for your actions.

My response to the that second question reiterates this point: "In my experience moral and ethical decisions are choices and guidelines that are intensely personal. In legislative mandates the courts dictate how you should act or not act in a given situation. In etiquette, the "rule of the land" and the social expectations rule the day. With religious mandates the choices come from God (or at least on his behalf). But moral or ethical implications tend to be more vague, and far more personal. No one really sets these rules for you, they are yours to figure out on your own. And, often enough, these guidelines intersect and overlap the principles of law, religion, and etiquette. In many cases law, etiquette and religion dont always agree anyway, and yet your "moral compass" is supposed to help you navigate these discrepancies."

I find it interesting that so many people blindly say that you have to believe, not just in God, but in their God in order to be happy. Faith is enough, but faith isn't necessarily religious. The basic tenant of faith, any faith is the belief that we are something more than the sum of our parts.

At least my professor has some reason. He said “Good post - I heard that once and it was followed with "not even a million dollars could make you happy" to which I said "yeah, but it sure would be nice to try!"So if happiness in that sense isn't the right motivation, what is?”

I closed this week’s discussion with this final thought: Thanks Professor, I try to be very pragmatic in my approach to the world. I try to balance religion and science. I find it interesting that although Plato says that all you need is ethics, Aristotle says that wealth, health and ethics are all facets to achieving happiness.

In my own personal view I think that happiness is a combination of the following areas:
1. Following your own ethical and moral code.
2. A sense of purpose, and/or the feeling that you are wanted or appreciated.
3. having your basic physical needs met: (food, shelter, clothing, etc).
4. Having affectionate relationships (friends, spouse, etc).
5. A sense of legacy. (children, grandchildren, knowing that you will be remembered after you die).
6. Faith. This is not the same as religion, but it could be. It could be faith in God, or it could be faith that humanity is good and just, etc.

These things may not be important to other people, but those factors directly contribute to my own happiness.

I leave you, dear readers, with these closing thoughts: what things truly make you happy? Is your faith alone enough, or is happiness a complex state that encompasses many different parts of your life?