Monday, 28 September 2020

Advanced Lessons in Letting Go

In these moments I remind myself to, again, `do what I'm not doing' and ride the `is-ness' of life. I chatted to two women in their seventies who were doing a cryptic crossword together after going to the gym across the road. I sprung them cheating; We laughed and talked for 15 minutes about getting old (the freedom of it! Then an ex-employee sat down and told me about her recent relationship break-up. I was there longer than I expected. Imagine you are on the show The Apprentice. You have been assigned team leader for a task in an area that you find the most difficult. Your hard-selling ability will be put to the test. You are terrible at selling. You will enter the task (just as everyone else will) with a focus on outcompeting the others, since you want to win. This is where you need to make a switch. Instead of entering with a mindset intent on elevating yourself above others, switch to a mindset of assisting others. We can create social stress in a laboratory using a setup known as a Trier Social Stress Test, or TSST. When a group of healthy eighteen- to forty-five-year-olds were made to spend just a few minutes before being tested thinking about their values directed at helping others and how they would like to implement these values through their work, they had a milder hormonal stress response to the test. Their HPA axis activation was reduced and they produced significantly less cortisol, compared to others who did not do this mental prep work. Mental health is a huge aspect of keeping schools safe. For example, we must aim to have a good ratio of mental health counselors for students, and reactive measures, such as having silent duress buttons in school to be used as a direct link to law enforcement, to get them on-site as quickly as possible. We've focused a lot of our effort on the state legislatures. A year ago, we were able to get Alyssa's Law passed in New Jersey, where I was born and grew up.

Citizens and politicians had been trying for five years to pass this law, which is all about the duress button, but Governor Chris Christie kept vetoing it. The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School changed that and when we called it Alyssa's Law it was received with a different level of acceptance. People knew that we simply had to do more by creating layers and layers of protection to ensure that our kids are safe. We never thought that something like this could happen to us in Parkland. New Jersey residents felt the same way and when enough of them made it clear that they wanted to make this change, Governor Phil Murphy signed Alyssa's Law. We were obviously ecstatic! As I waited for my eggs Benedict to arrive, I flicked through the glossy magazines and started people-watching. Presumably there were one or two interlopers like me - people who were not rich, whose flights had been paid for or who had saved air miles in order to upgrade and for whom this experience was a one-off - but for some, this was how they always travelled, this was just normal. On the plane itself, I couldn't help but obsess about the other people in the first class cabin. Were they born into money or were they self-made? Were any of them very important or famous in some way? Was it possible some got their money illegally or at least unethically? I felt the urge to write a quick survey and hand it round. Studies have shown that we have strong feelings about who does and doesn't deserve money and whether it is obtained in the right way. In fact, anyone rich can gain our disapproval. In one study researchers measured the movement in people's facial muscles when they were shown a series of photographs. I got up to pay. Maria Shriver walked in. I couldn't quite believe it myself so I quickly cross-referenced the distinctive rings on her fingers with shots on her Instagram feed where you could see her hands. Yep, it was Maria.

What are the chances? How does such serendipity work? I doubt we will ever know. We can only know that life is bigger and more mysterious than we can ever imagine. And somehow, for reasons and forces beyond our knowing, when we release our grip and join life's mysterious stream of is-ness this kind of crazy shit happens. I approached Maria and vomited out all of the above very excitedly, although I tried to tone it down given that she'd just come off a long-haul flight an hour ago. This strategy may work because needing to prove yourself is a defensive stance. It is you against them. The need for defense pushes you toward vigilance and stress. Seeing others as part of your own team convinces you that you are part of a tribe--and that you have tribal protection. Here, it is you with them. You no longer need to feel defensive. There is no need to be stressed. One way of implementing this incredible tool is by approaching your day at work focused on the overall journey of your team or of your entire company. You can train your mind to see others as team members rather than competitors by actively helping or looking out for them, almost as if it were a ritual. Even if you are in a cutthroat competitive environment, this approach is likely to give you an edge as it may help you to stay calm and focused in the long run. Our advocacy through Make Our Schools Safe is what moved the needle. We reached out to all the legislatures, bringing this to their attention, telling them in no uncertain terms that if this law had been in place on February 14, 2018, it might have saved lives. I'm working now in Tallahassee to get Alyssa's Law passed in the state of Florida. We are actively lobbying legislators, trying to get them to make it a top priority during this legislative session.

We've passed one level and are moving toward the next, on our way to the governor and making it the law of the land. I feel like I'm getting in their faces, and the more they hear about it, the more I think it's going to rise to a level of importance in both parties and get passed. To keep this alive, I reach out to the media every week to let them know what's going on with Alyssa's Law. It's important to keep them aware and maintain our momentum. If they want to do a story on Alyssa's Law, that's great because it brings our cause to the public; I keep asking my friends to e-mail and call their legislators to stress the importance of Alyssa's Law. When it was an old lady in the photo, and they were told she had got soaked by a taxi driving through a puddle, their facial expression was sad. When it was a rich-looking businessman in a suit who got soaked, people didn't admit to getting any pleasure from this, but the movements of their facial muscles suggested otherwise. They couldn't help but smile. In his work on the sacred and profane meanings of money, the marketing scholar Russell Belk notes that all around the world there are fairy tales warning of the terrible fate that might befall anyone who stumbles across lost treasure. As we saw in article 9, this feeling even extends to `people like us', ordinary people who win the lottery. Good luck to them if they're nice and spend their money wisely, we think. But woe betide them if they're scoundrels and just spend, spend, spend . Back on the plane, the person behind me looked like a supermodel. Her legs were very, very long, and she managed to look elegant in the black pyjamas which the cabin crew had handed out to us at the start of the day-time flight and which (rather bizarrely) everyone wore. Those of us who aren't rich often console ourselves with the thought that those who are must find it difficult to sleep at night. She was delighted. I didn't ask to interview her. I'd already got everything I needed from my interaction with Maria Shriver. We hate uncertainty.

It's always existed (I mean, the only certainty is uncertainty), but we used to be far more anti-fragile with it. You might be as old as me and remember as a kid making plans to catch up with your mates in the holidays. I'd arrange on the Friday at recess to meet under the clock at the bus interchange at 10am on the second Tuesday of the school holidays. There I was the following fortnight right on time. Sometimes my mates would not be there. It would be 10. Train yourself to see others as players on the same team rather than as rivals. Constantly remind yourself of the aims you share with others, and focus on them. Create a ritual of helping others, just for the sake of it. Certain aspects of your nutrition can affect your stress response. Eat natural probiotic yogurt. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial found that eating 100g of probiotic natural yogurt every day for six weeks reduced general perceived anxiety and stress. Drink water. Staying well-hydrated may reduce your HPA axis response to stress. Avoid food with refined carbohydrates or added sugar. One randomized trial found that eating a meal that has a high glycemic index at breakfast time may increase cortisol levels compared to a meal with a low glycemic index. So far it's working well, and I will not stop until I make it happen. Besides this campaign, a big aspect of our organization is what we call our Make Our School Safe clubs. We also call them Dream Team clubs because we want students to create a culture of safety in their schools. So far, we have about ten clubs that have started up around the country, like the one in Stoneman Douglas High School.

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