December 28, 2006
Politics and Positive Psychology; Reconciling and Integrating Them
By Rob Kall
For 20+ years, I've been involved with the world of Positive Psychology-- before it even had a name. The other day, a reader, who checked out my positive psych website, asked how I reconciled my political work and punditry with my positive psychology work. This is a stab at starting to explain.
Originally Published on OpEdNewsSomewhere around 1981, 1982, when I was actively working as a biofeedback practitioner, working with people with stress and pain problems, I developed an audio relaxation tape with a psychiatrist friend to go with the biofeedback ring I'd invented.The tape included about half a dozen different ways to relax. One part of the tape asked the listener to think about a loving, happy experience with a child or pet, and to feel a hearwarming feeling, then to let the warmth flow into the hands. Handwarming is a basic principle of thermal biofeedback. You learn to quiet your nervous system to allow the muscles in your blood vessels in your extremities to relax. This allows more blood to flow and your hands and feet get warmer. I used the tape with my clients while they were hooked up to biofeedback computers (apple 2Es and Commodore 64s back then) and I discovered that the heartwarming imagery produced optimal relaxed physiological responses. Heart rate, muscles and breathing calmed and relaxed, Hands warmed up. I became intrigued with the heartwarming memories they recalled. I started researching the phenomenon, only to hit a block. There was no research on heartwarming. So I spread a wider search light, only to find there was almost no research on positive aspects of psychology. There were hundreds, even thousands of studies on orgasm-- the BIG 'O' but the little 'o' for the little glows and sparkles that ordinary pleasures and moments produced were not mentioned in research. I love blindspots-- areas that ordinary eyes, sight and vision do not see. Heartwarming and the bigger picture of positive emotional phenomenon was just that-- a huge blindspot that most of psychology had ignored. I started having my clients collect the heartwarmers they either encountered in daily life or remembered, into a diary. Once they started collecting them, it became clear to me that they were'nt all what I considered to be genuine heartwarmers. Some seemed to be different varieties of positive experiences. Positive experiences. That was a concept that, in 1983, 84, 85, was barely looked at or understood-- another related blindspot. I started spending time in university libraries, digging up what I could from Psych Abstracts, journals, etc. There wasn't much to find. I went to the American Psychological Association meeting and happened to meet BF Skinner there. I asked him about it and he stopped in his tracks, looked at me and encouraged me that this was a ripe area for exploration. If my own curiosity hadn't been enough, encouragement from one of the giants of psychology helped. So I spent the next twenty years exploring the world of Positive Experience and what has come to be called positive Psychology. I gave my first talk-- about emotional self regulation training-- in 1985. During that time, I have had a ball asking questions, like, "how far can you go, helping people, by only looking for positive solutions, rather than looking at pathology, symptoms, diagnoses and treatment of all of the above?" My understanding evolved over time. I came to accept, after first rejecting it, that assessing pathology is valuable and useful and sometimes necessary to make the best use of positive approaches. But I also came to believe that you can be very effective and help a lot of people by teaching them skills that help them to move toward the positive, rather than away from the negative. I created a website positivepsychology.net and wrote a book about my ideas that is currently available as an e-book, with info about it on the website. That said, I received an email the other day from a reader who checked out several of the websites on my email signature: opednews.com,futurehealth.org, brainmeeting.com, storycon.org, positivepsychology.net, quotationscentral.com She wrote to me, asking how I reconciled my political work with my postive psychology work. Here's her email, posted, with permission.
Mr. Kall, I found your Positivity Central page (http://www.futurehealth.org/posctrl.htm) while browsing around your various sites, beginning at opednews.com. The juxtaposition of these two sites, with seemingly opposite perspectives, started my thoughts a-swirling once again about my own seeming inconsistencies in positive thought and political awareness. I know you're busy, but I just have to try to explore this a bit if you're willing to indulge me with a reply. I find this so intriguing because in my past studies of "reality creation" I embraced the notion that we actually create our own realities by the vibration of the thoughts we entertain. I'd had many personal experiences that seemed to validate the theory before I decided to enthusiastically embrace a "practice" of conscious reality creation. For several years, I kept my mind "beautiful," untroubled by thoughts about anything that didn't fill me with good feelings; I stopped reading the paper and sought out only good news (precious little of that in MSM!); I refused to entertain worries and I tried to rationalize other people's troubles if I allowed myself to consider them at all.. I was determined to keep my thoughts focused on as much bliss as I could so I could create a blissful life. But after a couple years of George W. Bush's presidency, not even my most stubborn efforts allowed me to maintain an untroubled perspective. Finally, I decided it was irresponsible of me to keep my head in the sand when my country was going to hell in a hand basket and dragging the rest of the globe with it. Although I couldn't shake my conviction (or the memory of so many validating experiences) that we do indeed create our own realities, I began to suspect that something was missing from the theory that reality is a product of solely thought vibrations. Although I knew the quality of my thoughts were important in reality creation, my sense of responsibility as a citizen of this country and this planet force me to commit myself to political responsibility and activism. Of course, the more informed I became, the harder it became to keep a "higher vibration" of thought pattern supposedly required to create my desired reality. The more I learned about political reality, the more frustrated, angry, and afraid I became. Now, I do everything I can to use that energy in a productive, positive way, to make a difference for the benefit of all. The activism helps some, but the "reality creation" vs "political responsibility" question remains unresolved. Your involvement in these two seeming opposite fields of positivity and politics implies that you've found some kind of resolution to the tension that lies between them. To my current mindset, this seems as unlikely as Christian fundamentalism embracing evolution, the big bang theory, and the morning after pill simultaneously. The gap between the two (though I continue to study and ponder both) seems unresolvable. Can you tell me how you make the leap in thought that allows you to bridge these two perspectives? Did you have the same mental tug of war I have with these issues? I will be back to your sites and I appreciate your taking the time to read this.Now, the truth is, this has been a struggle for me, one which goes in different directions, meaning, sometimes I integrate them and sometimes I don't. Over a year ago, considering the idea of assembling a book from the hundreds of articles I've written for OpEdNews, I went back to the older archive, from before OpEdNews was MySQL database driven, and was surprised to discover that a majority of my articles were negative-- attacks on Bush, on right wingers, on Republicans and republican policy. I realized that if I put a book together, it could be a pretty negative one. I could end up looking like a left wing Anne Coulter. Seriously, look at some of these articles:
Cuckolded by Bush Bush the Pimp, and his Whores. Yo, George W. Bush and your sleazy, divisive, whore mouthpieces and strategists... you want to talk about character and integrity, about American values... We're ready. Bring it on! How many Neocons does it take to replace Blondes, rednecks or ethnics in a joke, to screw in a lightbulb, or screw up a country?The first thing I did was find some positive articles I wrote and put them at the top of the page. And I am proud that, while I do tear some new anatomical parts for Bush and friends, on ocassion, I have also written from a positive perspective-- about heroism, vision, positive approaches. Still, I must confess that there are times I just need to let a nasty, zinging op-ed loose. I just get mad some times and need to get it out. More recently, I must confess, with 20-50 articles a day coming into the site, I can vicariously exercise my spleen through other writers rectal surgery (tearing whoever a new one.) Most recently, at the interfaith church I attend, our minister's sermon invited us to love the hitlers in our lives. I took this as a challenge. I know that when I indulge my anger and my hate, it hurts me. I allow the person or group who/that inspires my anger to turn on a part ofme that I would rather not give energy to. I don't need to get angry to get things done. Sure it may help sometimes, but I think better when I'm not angry. I'd rather by working towards something good than fighting something bad. Still, that hasn't stopped me from standing up and speaking out against the corruption and terrible leadership we've seen these past few years. One thing I am blessed with is creativity. I used to call it the curse, because I'd be distracted in so many different directions with all the ideas I'd have. Ben Franklin called imagination a Bawd-- like a whore, because it seduces you in so many directions. Still, my usually limitless creativity applies to article ideas very well. It's one of the reasons I was able to write an article for Writer's Digest on how to come up with article ideas and pitch them to editors, which they made a cover article. I mention this because I don't have to worry about coming up with article ideas. I have to decide which ideas to give energy to. I WANT to give energy to healing, positive, visionary articles, that help readers see ways to move towards a positive future. But sometimes I see something so disgusting I just dash off a negative piece. Generally, it takes a bit more effort, more thinking through for me to come up with positive articles. Part of the problem may be that I watch the news-- CNN, MSNBC, mostly. That is not a great way to evoke positivity. I should at least switch to Oprah come 4:00 PM. One thing I have been doing more is heavier editing. Anger and nastiness that I let out in a first draft can frequently be replaced by more thoughtful, kinder, frankly, better writing that moves the idea further and that is more likely to reach moderate, non-members-of-the-choir readers. Lately, I've been looking for ideas that I can write about that describes positive futures, positive behaviors, positive plans. I started thinking about writing a book on traitors, but quickly turned that idea into one on Courage and Fear, Heroes and Traitors. I'll still be able to stick it to the traitors on the right, but will also be describing a heroic path of courage in process. Lately, I've encouraged the hundreds of writers (over 500 article contributors) on the site to broaden their writing beyond the regular areas of politics and to take a more positive look at the future and the opportunities we face. I expect to be doing more of this and will probably be working with our editors to encourage them to find and recruit articles that report on what good is happening. That's also the approach I've tried to take to the hardest problem in the world-- the middle east conflict-- asking writers to report on good news and cooperation. It doesn't always work. But it's a policy. It's tough. The tendency is to want to slam a partisan combatant, especially one running for office. Unfortunately, contemporary politics is more based on character assassination that build up. If I don't like John McCain as a presidential candidate, I can probably be more effective, today, when there is no clear Democratic or green or other left leaning candidate yet, by going after McCain negatively. And I want to be effective. So I am pragmatic. I'll be writing about how I believe that McCain, in spite of what so many people say, is anything but a hero. It's not a finished concept-- my way of balancing political writing and positive psychology. It's a challenge aggravated by the success of the website, which has inevitably brought me hate mail, sour grapes rejected writers and crazy people. But that's a different issue, really, one that I consider myself blessed to have to deal with as a part of the success of the site. My hope is to continue to face the challenge, to remember more than ever my history of working with positive psychology in both my writing, my editing and my development of the community OpEdNews. For example, the next feature we'll be adding will be support for groups. This will enable people to come together and cooperate and work together more, and more effectively-- to share information, make decisions and communicate better. Empowering good work is a positive thing. Another philosophy I've developed along the way comes from web 2.0 thinking-- that a website works best when its decisions are decided by the people. It's not always easy to let go of control, but I've learned, from postitive experiences, that the more I trust the readers, users, writers and participants in the OpEdNews community, the more successful it becomes. Over the years, I've become enamored with the way indigenous, preliterate tribal cultures lived. They cooperated, respected all members of the community and shared in decision making. I talk in the past tense because most of them have been destroyed by "civiliation." Still there is much we could learn from them about sharing resources, tolerance, equality, kindness, connectedness to nature and more. In a way, the natural coming together of communities on the web has tribal aspects. Perhaps the ghosts of the tribes of the rain forests that are no more have reawakened in the digital world of the internet.
Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.
Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.
To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V.. and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table