Monthly Archives: July 2008

Find out where you stack up volunteering-wise

The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) revealed the new report on volunteering which shows that nationwide about 26.2% of Americans volunteered in 2007, a bit below the rate in 2006 of 26.9% and below the higher levels seen from 2003-2005 of 28.8%

CNCS also released new city rankings of volunteering (Miami gets the dubious distinction of now being the lowest in volunteering nation-wide with a 14.5% volunteering rate, beating out Las Vegas for bottom-of-the-barrel; Minneapolis-St. Paul, with a volunteering rate of 39.3% is in the #1 slot.

Among 75 mid-sized cities, Provo, Utah, was the #1 volunteering site with an impressive 63.8 percent volunteer rate, followed by Iowa City, Iowa, Madison, Wis., Greenville, S.C. and Ogden, Utah. CNCS noted that “For the third year in a row Utah was the top volunteer state with a volunteer rate of 43.9 percent, followed by Nebraska, Minnesota, Alaska and Montana.” After Minneapolis St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Portland, Oregon, Seattle and Austin were ranked #2 through #5 respectively.

Accompanying their rankings CNCS revealed a neat new website (Volunteering in America) that lets one explore these various volunteering statistics at the national, state or city level, with data on all 50 states and 162 cities. You can even customize a profile for a specific city by clicking on “Find a City/State” and then when you choose the state or city, select “Customize a Profile” and you can choose along what dimensions you want to look at the city or state’s civic performance. CNCS explains that the new site: “allows nonprofit leaders, policy makers and others an opportunity to get under the hood of volunteering and retrieve data and assemble unique customized reports which include both volunteering and national service data for their cities and states. The site also provides tools, tips, effective practices, and webinars to help nonprofits, communities and civic leaders strengthen their volunteer recruitment strategies, and deepen their volunteers’ commitment to service.”

CNCS data that compared volunteers and non-volunteers with the Census Bureau’s American Time Use data found that the biggest predictor was amount of television watched. Volunteers watched an average of 8 hours less of TV a week (15 hours for volunteers v. 23 hours for non-volunteers). This adds another nail to the coffin on the corrosive impact of commercial entertainment television on civic engagement from the evidence that Bob Putnam marshaled for Bowling Alone.

This is CNN’s story on the data: “Blame it on the traffic. Or the number of new immigrants. Or the allure of the beach. Whatever the reason, Miami, Florida, has secured the bottom spot — No. 50 among major U.S. cities — in new rankings of the percentage of adults who volunteer.

Volunteers sort through cereal boxes at a food bank in Washington.

Volunteers sort through cereal boxes at a food bank in Washington.

“Nationally, the volunteer rate fell in 2007 for the second year in a row, to 26.2 percent, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is releasing its report Sunday. It showed Miami with a volunteerism rate of 14.5 percent, replacing Las Vegas, Nevada, in last place among major metropolitan areas.

“To be fair, the study found 620,000 volunteers were recruited in Miami last year, more than 60,000 over the previous year. And many local nonprofits say they have more volunteers than ever. But there’s no denying how far Miami lags behind other cities, particularly No. 1 Minneapolis-St. Paul, with a 39.3 percent rate.

“The study notes that Miami’s poverty rate and average commute times are slightly higher than the national average, while other factors influencing volunteerism — home ownership and education level — are slightly lower.”

Barack Obama’s Western Wall Prayer shamefully published

An Israel newspaper (Maariv), over the criticism of Jewish religious leaders, published the contents of a written prayer that Saguaro’s Barack Obama placed in the cracks of Jerusalem’s Western Wall (Judaism’s holiest site). The paper believed that the note helped shed light on Barack’s religious character.

Shmuel Rabinovitz, the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall, said “The notes placed between the stones of the Western Wall are between a person and his maker. It is forbidden to read them or make any use of them…. [The publication] damages the Western Wall and damages the personal, deep part of every one of us that we keep to ourselves,” he said.

Is nothing private anymore? Can’t Barack at least talk to God without the NSA and the media spying on him?

And on top of that Barack got heckled by protesters at the same time

My 8 Life Lessons from Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch sadly died on July 25, 2008 after leading a brief but powerful life. I think the legacy of Randy Pausch is for me in his life lessons:

I’ve supplied 8, you can supply you own in comments…

In no particular order, here they are:

1) As much as we’re suckered by advertising to believe that happiness comes from the right soda or shaving cream or car, Randy taught us of the much greater enduring importance of human ties.

2) Children feeling loved by adults is WAY more important than any unintentional damage done to an object, as Randy’s story about minimizing the damage done to his new convertible when his nephew Chris threw up in it on the way back from an amusement park. As Randy said: “I don’t care how much joy you get out of owning a shiny new thing; it’s not as good I felt from making sure that an 8 year old didn’t have to feel guilty for having the flu.” It’s a lesson that as a parent is all too easy to forget.

3) Letting kids’ dreams live. I recently returned home to see a pretty treehouse newly covered with bright green, yellow and blue paint that my children had decided “looked better”. I held back my anger and remembered Randy’s story about the importance of his parents letting him paint his walls of his room with whatever formulas or design he wanted. I’m expecting amazing dividends over the longer term; who cares about house resale value (especially in today’s market)….

4) Persistence and hard work: parents today are too quick to reward output (“what a nice drawing”) and not nearly focused enough on getting children to realize that persistence pays off (“you should be really proud of how hard you worked on that puzzle” or “proud of how long you stuck with X”). Randy’s message that brick walls aren’t there to keep us from our dreams but to separate those who REALLY want a dream from those who only wanted it a bit (who then give up). I see the brick walls as encouraging greater persistence. One of the experiences that taught me the most about what I can achieve was wanting to give up while climbing a 5.7 pitch wall (my first climb) on Outward Bound. The instructor insisted that I couldn’t back down from where I was and had to continue climbing; at the moment I wanted to throttle him (not that I would have) but my feelings of anger had turned into a huge bear hug by the time I made it to the top.

5) Finding the Light in others: as a Quaker, I strongly identify with Randy’s message that everyone has a good side, but it just takes longer to find it in some than others. A lesson that as much as I strongly believe it, takes amazing patience to realize in one’s life. But when it finally does come, it’s like a blade of grass or a flower emerging from a crack in the asphalt.

6) Irrepressible optimism and lack of bitterness: down to the end, Randy was ever optimistic, as energetic as could be expected. A close friend had cancer recently and refused to get negative because she pointed out that the negative energy was like a cancer of its own. [Some of this is spelled out in the documentary What the #$*! Do We Know!?]

7) The value of failure: this reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s “Dig where you stumble; there you will find gold”. Our society values success so much that it’s hard not to view failure as, well, a failure. Moreover, history is viewed through the lens of the successors, and that plus Hollywood (which values simplistic stories) seems to make every successful idea or relationship seem like it was pre-destined. In real life, so many great ideas or strong relationships or successful people were forged on the anvil of prior failure which then became experience. The key is not whether you fail or not initially, but learning from that failure and getting beyond it.

8) Living with the child-like wonder. As a parent, one is often tempted to think that I have the wisdom that my children will sometime gain, or to be frustrated that they don’t yet have this wisdom. But how powerful it can be to turn that around and say they have the child-like wonder, some of which I have lost, and to use that as a constant reminder of how much they have to teach us. Whether it be the love of being in a sprinkler, or creating an imaginary city in the forest using nature, or the thrill at seeing an unusual bug, or such empathy that they are in tears about whether a protagonist in a story who is in trouble will ultimately be okay, or living so much in the moment that they lose track of the world around them…

How does the “voice of Randy” change what you do?

Randy Pausch, alas, has died

Randy with wife Jai and children

Randy with wife Jai and children

It was announced today by Diane Sawyer on GMA (July 25, 2008) that Randy Pausch succumbed to pancreatic cancer earlier this morning at home in Virginia. While he didn’t live that long in years (47), his life was a luminescent falling star that touched so many of his students, watchers and readers of the “Last Lecture.”

We wish Jai, and their young children (Dylan, Logan and Chloe) well on coping with this enormous loss and hope that millions of us can show the ultimate power of Randy’s life by translating his life lessons into our own lives.

RIP, Randy. I’m sure you’re already inspring the angels in worlds beyond and I’m thinking of the lucky newborn who gets to inherit your soul.

As Randy himself put it in remarks to CMU graduates recently and demonstrated through his life, “[W]e don’t beat the [Grim] Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well.”

Here’s what I see Randy’s legacy as being in my own life. For more of Randy’s life wisdom visit here, for inspiring quotes of Randy’s visit here. See the CNN story of his passing here and see ABC News story of his death.

The family requests that donations on his behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, Calif. 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project (that Randy started through CMU’s computer science department).

See Randy’s comments to the CMU graduates in June.

And spurred by Randy Pausch, the NY Times Well blog had a contest on advice for children with these winning pieces of advice.  And Randy explained in this WSJ piece how to say goodbye which has some wonderful videos.

Lonely people face high blood pressure risks (UPDATED 5/2013)

Two psychologists at University of Chicago (John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley) found a 30-point difference in systolic blood pressure readings between older Americans experiencing loneliness and those who are not lonely, suggesting that loneliness could increase the risk of death from stroke and heart disease.  The 30 point difference would take someone from normal blood pressure of 120 up to Stage 1 hypertension of 150.

The differences were highest at retirement age, and these differences did not go away when controlling for perceived stress, symptoms of depression, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure medications and demographic characteristics

The  paper (by Cacioppo, Hawkley, Masi and Berry), “Loneliness is a Unique Predictor of Age-Related Differences in Systolic Blood Pressure,” has been published in the journal Psychology and Aging.

The authors indicated that in a sense of social connectedness may have clinical benefits comparable to lifestyle modifications” (like weight loss or physical exercise).

229 people aged 50 to 68, who form the basis for the study are part of a long-term study on aging (and include Whites, Asians and Latinos). Respondents were rated on loneliness through questions such as “I have a lot in common with the people around me,” “My social relationships are superficial,” and “I can find companionship when I want it.”

Cacioppo found earlier that loneliness increased “peripheral vascular resistance” in young people, or in other words an increase in resistance to blood flow brought on by their response to stress.  Over time this could increase their blood pressure.  “Lonely people differ from non-lonely individuals in their tendency to perceive stressful circumstances as threatening rather than challenging, and to passively cope with stress by failing to solicit instrumental and emotional support and by withdrawing from stress rather than actively coping and attempting to problem solve,” Cacioppo said.  The latest research may well connect with Cacioppo’s earlier research and show the causal link over time.

Richard Suzman, director of the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging,  and one of the funders of the research was “surprised by the magnitude of the relationship between loneliness and hypertension in this well-controlled cross-sectional study…One of NIA’s goals is to help determine what can be done to improve the quality of relationships and social connectedness as a way to ease loneliness and reduce blood pressure.”

For related research see this Psychology Today piece.

See article “The Science of Loneliness” (New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, May 2013)

Driving Together

The high price of gas (as awful as it is to many scraping pennies to eke by) has finally begun to help curb our voracious appetite for oil.

Now comes some potential “social capital” good news that may occur as well. Spurred by the ever rising price of gas, Internet sites have sprung up that use social networking technology to try to pair commuters together for carpooling. Examples are or or DivideTheRide. [There’s been no national data on carpooling increases, but some anecdotal articles about rise in this practice here and 28% of Californians said they are carpooling more.]

Here’s an excerpt of a recent report on technological advances in carpooling by NPR:

CURT NICKISCH [NPR]: Here’s how it works. Say you’re a driver. You post online where you’re heading and when. You also give details like what you listen to in the car and what you want for reimbursement. Riders go online and check out an interactive map. If they want to join your route, you get an e-mail. Or they can place their own posting looking for a ride. Afterwards, each person can rate the other, helping other users get a better idea of what to expect. If you ask for money – some people don’t – the rider pays through an online account.

CEO Robin Chase [founder of GoLoco] says drivers are cool with the 10 percent commission GoLoco charges, because overall this service can really save them.

Ms. CHASE: The total car cost, not just the gas cost, it really realigns when and why you’re willing to drive.

NICKISCH: But not necessarily with whom yet. Rachel Hoppy is with IDC Research, and she’s an expert on social networks.

Ms. RACHEL HOPPY: They succeed best with a passionate audience. People aren’t passionate about gas.

NICKISCH: At least not enough, she says, to sign up for a new service in droves to really get online ridesharing firing on all cylinders.

Ms. HOPPY: There is so much complexity in routes that you have to have a huge group of passionate people to really satisfy all the different demands that are out there.

NICKISCH: And even then there will inevitably be these same old carpool hassles when someone flakes or has a last minute emergency and can’t go. But the higher the price of gas climbs, the more people will be willing to put up with the occasional problem. These new Web sites make it easier for those people to find each other and share a ride.

Given Robert Putnam’s earlier research that every 10 minutes of commuting times cuts all forms of civic engagement by 10 percent, let’s hope that at least riders are able to build some social capital with their fellow carpoolers even if they are living far enough away from work that their long commute is sapping their civic engagement.

Should parents ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning?’

I wrote recently about Alan Krueger’s interesting research on how religion and sports/exercise bring happiness.

An NPR story recently referred to a meta-study of happiness and parenting featured in Newsweek magazine (which claimed that parents have 7% less happiness on average) and highlighted research of Florida State University’s Robin Simon (sociology) asserting that caring for kids brought greater depression and unhappiness, partly because of the childcaring itself and partly because of shriveled social networks that stemmed from parents staying in more (for the latter finding, Simon cites research by Linsbeth Levin at Duke).

Excerpts from NPR story:

“Dr. Simon: (reporting on parents’ self-rated emotions in sample of 13,000 time diary reports): They [parents] definitely experienced more depression. They – people with kids, all parents, that is to say including people with kids who are living at home, young children who are living at home, as well as empty-nest parents, surprisingly, when you combine all kinds of parents in the United States, and ask them, you know, if they experience these serious emotions, what you find is that they report significantly more feelings of depression than people who have never had kids.

MIKE PESCA: [NPR Bryan Project host] Does it correlate to the number of kids, or just having a kid?

Dr. SIMON: Well, we actually didn’t look at the number of kids, though I suspect that it does, because other sociological studies have found that the more kids one has the more feelings of depression.”

Simon goes on to say that some of this depression stems from the fact that parents are on their own and we don’t provide them enough social support and provide enough family-friendly policies for them to reap the full benefits of parenthood, including having access to decent healthcare. And host Mike Pesca describes Dan Gilbert’s work (Harvard, psychology) that asserts that parents are happier sleeping and grocery shopping than childrearing.

Simon goes own to admit that the while parents often report lower short-term happiness from parenting, most feel immense life satisfaction and pride from being parents.

Interestingly, this research doesn’t accord with careful research of hotshot economist Alan Krueger (at Princeton), whose work I discussed in an earlier blog post. He finds childcare giving as the fifth most pleasurable activity (out of 21 asked), where pleasurability (or their U-index) is the percent of 15-minute segments in which stressed/sadness/pain emotions exceeded happiness. Childcare had the 5th LOWEST U-index score. The Krueger research is preferably methodologically since it controls for respondents’ baseline levels of happiness, depression, etc. and thus is able to weed out whether parents, for example, are just more happier people in general. You can read the Krueger study here.

The impact of deliberation on participation and trust: evidence from CaliforniaSpeaks

AmericaSpeaks organized a multi-site day of participatory meetings across the state of California in August, 2007 on health care, called CaliforniaSpeaks. Like the ad slogan, *Not your father’s Oldsmobile*, this is not your father’s public hearing. AmericaSpeaks wired the different sites together and wired small tables into a central software system that let individuals converse in small groups but also be cognizant of what all the other small tables were discussing both in their site and others. More specifically, “some 3500 Californians convened in eight sites across California: San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, and Eureka. The eight sites were linked to one another through voice and data connections so that, in a sense, the event was one very large meeting.”

Taeku Lee, an outsider and associate professor at Berkeley, was invited to observe the event and examine its impact. He concluded that:

  • As a group, participants’ substantive discussions about health care priorities and reform proposals reflected a high degree of sophistication and closely matched the two reform proposals that were
    ultimately submitted to the state legislature.
  • Participants’ opinions on health care reform itself, however, changed very little as a consequence of the deliberative event, or five months after the event.
  • Participants’ views about politics itself changed more significantly – specifically, their trust in government and their political efficacy increased appreciably.
  • Participants’ level of political engagement – at least on the issue of health care reform – rises markedly as a consequence of the deliberative event.

To see Taeku’s whole post, click here. It was especially interesting to see Taeku’s 3rd and 4th bullet points. One wonders whether there is a multiplier effect on these changes. Does the increased trust, for example, in government extend only to those participating in these events, which while large in terms of public meetings is tiny compared to the state of California? Or conversely, as they discuss this with family, friends, colleagues, does the impact of the increased trust extend out to others? Similarly, does their increased sense of efficacy enable them to persuade others to get involved?

Note: they have an interesting control group, people who said they were going to come but then didn’t show up. However, as one should note, there may be differences between these two groups beyond their exposure to the CaliforniaSpeaks event. It might be that the the no-showers are less trusting or efficacious people in general, or more likely to lack commitment. It could be something about these people that both caused them not to show up at the meeting and to show less trust and efficacy than the people who did attend the CaliforniaSpeaks meeting.