… We Can’t Confidently Rely Upon.

Brainwise, I was very lucky as a kid. Our family was intact until the day my father drove up alongside the curb in front of our failing neighborhood grocery store, opened the driver’s window and handed me out a puppy. I didn’t see or hear word one from him for the next 20 years. (Ironically, as soon as he was grown enough, Corky the puppy ran away as well!). Fortunately, I was a relatively healthy-brained four-year-old by that time – a solid neurological foundation had had time to set.

Any time a parent or significant person abandons a family, there are important negative, neurological consequences for every member. Dr. John Briere, president of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies sums up those consequences pointedly: “If we could eliminate child abuse and neglect tomorrow, the DSM (Psychiatry’s Diagnostic Bible) would shrink to the size of a pamphlet.” Working to shrink that abomination is one reason why I research and write this column.

Also, according to Frank Putnam, psychiatric director of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, abuse and neglect are the single most costly public health problems in the US today. They are a major contributor to struggles with alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse, mental illness, AIDS and violent crime, costing more than 100 billion dollars a year in this country alone. Skillfully address child abuse and neglect, and the “War on Drugs” gets reduced to a local police action. But unfortunately, this recently released plan to make America the healthiest nation on earth makes absolutely ZERO mention of any need for educating parents.

Safety and Sustenance

One job of skillful, caring parents is to provide safety and sustenance. Safety and sustenance are essential for answering The Big Brain Question “Yes.” Our brains need people to care for us, and to care skillfully. What this means for starters is for mom to avoid the 200 brain damaging toxins found on average in tested, contemporary umbilical cord blood. Almost every failing that I can identify in contemporary society seems to have at its roots, people not skillfully caring for one another. And that failing jumbles and impoverishes our neurological wiring.

The caring that so many of us didn’t receive, and weren’t shown repeatedly, over and over again, frequently translates unconsciously not only into family life, but  into modern business practices as well. Here’s a recent real world example;  similar unskillful caring happens I’m sure millions of times a day the world over.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Last Thursday I was meeting a colleague in Seattle for lunch. Since I don’t use my mobile phone much, I have a GoPhone deposit account with AT&T. You deposit money with them and they subtract a dollar every time you turn your phone on and they also charge something like ten cents a minute thereafter. I needed to call my colleague to tell her I would be late. I turned on my phone only to discover that the $90 balance remaining the last time I used the phone had somehow recently “expired.” If you don’t use the money you deposit with them, AT&T’s fine-print contract allows them to simply steal any unused balance after the allotted time passes. Needless to say, I saw red. My limbic system became completely high-jacked. I’m still pissed about their thievery a week later. I wrote a letter to their CEO. Good luck.

Or take something simple. I walk into a Starbucks where they charge me $4.50 for a cup of hot cider. Then I sit down and try to use my computer and they want to charge me an additional fee to use their WIFI. I can go down the street to a Happy Donuts or Le Boulanger and get WIFI for free, with complimentary refills on most of their drinks. I get the distinct feeling with Starbucks that it’s more about the money than it is about me.

The money isn’t the main issue, of course. The issue is that AT&T and Starbucks aren’t skillfully caring for me, the person who makes their existence possible. They don’t answer the Big Brain Question “Yes.” They easily could be, and that’s the shame of such business practices, not only with AT&T and Starbucks, but with millions of other businesses the world over. They are oblivious to how such behavior impacts patrons and their neurology, not to mention customer retention. What they fail to realize is that operating in a manner that promotes well-being, that stimulate our neurology in positive ways, can be massively good for business.

Now, to balance this negative example, a few months ago we asked a neighbor who’s an electrician to come over and give us an estimate to put in a digital meter on our community well so we could figure out how much it was costing to run the well pump and the heater and share the cost equitably. Bruce came over gave us the estimate and a date he would be available. He showed up early, offered to install a used meter at a discount, and finished the job in less time than he estimated. He also offered to let us pay him in Terras, the local currency here on Whidbey Island, created as a means of promoting bartering and easy exchange for local services. How did my brain feel after each of these very different transactions? I’m sure you can guess.