Friday, April 25, 2014
What is the level of change that can occur in lives encouraged to read? I have mentioned before that reading is an enjoyable flow activity and one of my natural highs. Reading is an important way to learn as well. The question I pose comes from reading an amazing book, Finding a Voice: The Practice of Changing Lives Through Literature. The book is co-authored by Jean Trounstine a humanities professor at Middlesex Community College and Robert Waxler, an English Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It tells the story of a program they started in Massachusetts to use literature reading with prison inmates in the reformation process. They networked with probation officers and judges to help inmates change their lives with reading in a program they call “Changing Lives Through Literature” (CLTL).
The core idea of the program is to harness the transformational power in reading literature by creating book clubs for inmates to attend. A unique aspect of it is that the inmate groups meet and a probation officer and judge are in the groups reading the same book as the inmates. Part of that power in reading is found in personal reflection. The authors point out that “Literature was empowering. Discussion enhanced that power. The process of reading let to reflection. Reflection often led to change.” (p.7). The stories the inmates read allow them to reflect on their own lives. I have spoken with students who had done prison time at colleges I have worked at over the years. One common thread that is sometimes shared especially after I have lectured on critical thinking is that they started having problems because of their impulsivity and lack of reflection in their lives. So the CLTL program awakens that inner reflection that can help the inmate think more critically about their lives.
One judge from Texas, (another state that in parts use the CLTL program), spoke of how reading a book may seem like a small thing for most of us; but for an inmate starting out on his own reading and finishing a book can be a major life tipping point. I liked what the judge had to say about reading: “When you read a book, it slides in to your soul. It gives you a glimmer, a dream of something a little higher. Sometimes the margin of difference is slight. But that small advance can actually be a huge gain. It can make all the difference.” (p.39). Those in prison have lost their voice, their dream. Granted their initial voice was off base getting them in trouble but through a literature program like CLTL they can find a positive voice to rebuild their lives with new dreams.
Of course since the book is about prison inmates it helps to see and to hear their stories of how reading literature was a change agent for them. I will just list two here of many from the book. Some that were touching for me being the Bookhead I am; were a few stories that stated how they had never really read a book before or they never took reading seriously when they were in school. Here are two voices to listen to:
“Manuel, a small time drug dealer, stated that ‘reading opened his mind.’ He felt that he could relate to the character Wolf Larsen in the Sea Wolf. Manuel soon became drug free and a college student.” (p.2)
“A female probationer said about herself while examining Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God -- Like Janie, I don’t want to be anyone’s slave or servant, nor do I want to be someone who’s just around for convenience. I want to be treated as an equal. I’ve had too many experiences where guys want you for your money, car, sex and only treat you nicely when you’re providing them with those things. As Janie did, there are two things everyone has to do for themselves, and that’s to go to God and find out about living on their own.” (p.57).
I see an opening of the mind as well in the female probationer’s voice. Through a character in a story she has come to understand she has to make choices for herself in living her life and going to God in her life. For me that connects with the previous Judge’s thought on how reading books “slide into our souls” as they can make internal changes if we are open minded as Manuel states.
The CLTL program is a program that should be encouraged in more criminal justice programs. It seems very cost effective as it is just correctional officials volunteering some time to join a group of interested inmates in a book group setting. At the same time reading about the program reminds me of the power of reading to change not only inmates lives but everyone who takes the time to pick up a book and read!
Reflection: Think over a book that helped change your life? Was it fiction or nonfiction? Is there a particular character in a book that has stood out to you?
Here is the link to Robert Waxler’s information at the CLTL website:
http://cltl.umassd.edu/profileswaxler.cfm From this link you can learn a little more about him. Take some time as well to click on the about CLTL tab and learn more about their program.
Here is the link to Jean Trounstine’s website. You can learn more about her passion for helping inmates there: http://www.jeantrounstine.com/?page_id=152
Friday, April 18, 2014
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With this week close to Easter I was contemplating what to focus my blog on as I was sitting at my computer. I had been looking over some other books on the importance of reading when a song by Mandisa came to my mind as I was listening to her music. The song speaks to the importance of resilience. Having the inner fortitude to bounce back from the difficulties of life is the overcoming for a resilient person. We each have different difficulties and problems that try to keep us on the ground while resilience is telling us inside to not quit so we stand up and press on. Listen to the video of her song by clicking on the song title and think over the lyrics that point to the importance of the personal affirmation of “I am an Overcomer!”.
"Overcomer" performed by Mandisa (Click on title to view video of the song)
Staring at a stop sign Watching people drive by
T Mac on the radio Got so much on your mind
Nothing's really going right Looking for a ray of hope
Whatever it is you may be going through
I know He's not gonna let it get the best of you
You're an overcomer Stay in the fight ‘til the final round
You're not going under ‘Cause God is holding you right now
You might be down for a moment Feeling like it's hopeless
That's when He reminds You That you're an overcomer You're an overcomer
Everybody's been down Hit the bottom, hit the ground Ooh, you're not alone
Just take a breath, don't forget Hang on to His promises He wants You to know
The same Man, the Great I am The one who overcame death
He's living inside of You So just hold tight, fix your eyes
On the one who holds your life There's nothing He can't do He's telling you
(Take a breath, don't forget Hang on to His promises)
You're an overcomer You're an overcomer You're an overcomer
So don't quit, don't give in, you're an overcomer
Don't quit, don't give in, you're an overcomer
Don't quit, don't give in, you're an overcomer You're an overcomer
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When the rays of hope are slim in our life we blankly stare out at those passing us by thinking how do they have it so together when we feel beaten into the ground. If we only knew what they were going through we would not think like that. At those times the urge is to quit and give up, especially if we feel we are at rock bottom. It is at these times that we need to know that we don’t have to quit or give in. Understand that you can overcome the difficulties. How can we overcome?
Mandisa looks at life from the same worldview as I do, that of a Christian, so I know that is one reason she chose to sing this song. So the foundation of my overcoming is based on the focal point of who she is singing about -- the risen Savior Jesus. She alludes to His resurrection in the line, “The same Man, the Great I am The one who overcame death.” With this week being Easter that line may be one key reason I decided to use this song this week. I believe God’s purpose for my life is greater than the problems I face so that is important in my concept of having an overcoming mindset. I have had my share of times of being knocked down in life and wanting to stay down or even going lower. With the overcoming mindset I can keep my eyes fixed of Jesus Christ’s power that overcame death and knowing in serving Him he will lead and tell me what he wants for my life. That purpose God has for me is not giving into problems and quitting. Instead it points to overcoming and holding on to His greater purpose for my life.
The affirmation in this song to be an overcomer of course bridges beyond Christians. I remember when the song first came out there was a video that Mandisa did showing several well-known people who were battling cancer and other health problems and they were overcomers over their problems. So the general principle of the song relates to all people of all beliefs reminding us of the importance of not quitting but to overcome the problems that face us.
Another point I learned from the song came from the line “Staring at a stop sign Watching people drive by T Mac on the radio.” She is alluding to Tobey Mac with the term T Mac. His music is very upbeat and positive with a strong spiritual message. The phrase stood out to me reminding me of the power of positive music when difficult days are facing us. When you are going through difficult times it may be of help to listen to some uplifting music to remind you to get up and not quit.
Reflection: What personal affirmations do you remind yourself of when you are facing low “ray of hope” days? Do you have a favorite Overcoming Bible verse or motivational quote that helps you when you hit the ground? Do you have a favorite song that helps perk you up on down days?
Friday, April 11, 2014
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This past week I noticed a Facebook post by author James Patterson mentioning myths about books. One myth stated was that books are not important. I have heard that myth mentioned by college students as we discuss reading methods in the College Success courses I teach. Now as a Bookhead, books are very important to me. That myth made me think of how books are important? Reading books is a relaxing flow activity. Books help build the creative side of our mind as well as strengthening our critical thinking abilities. Beyond that I thought is there a health benefit to reading books? Can books be good medicine for the mind and soul?
This brings me to mention a book, Read Two Books and Let’s Talk Next Week by Janice Maidman Joshua and Donna Dimenna. This is a resource book for counselors and therapists in the use of bibliotherapy. Part of me wishes they would have written more in the text on their thoughts about the therapeutic value of reading. It is clear though, that that was not their purpose. What they do in the book is to list relevant books that relate to emotional and mental problems from A-Z. They simply list the books that speak to issues such as abuse, addiction, grief, mental illness, relationships, and many other topics. Almost any problem a therapist may be facing with a client there are books to help the client. Their book is an excellent resource for any counselor or therapist who are interested in incorporating bibliotherapy in their practice.
They point out that they are not trying to replace counselors with books. Instead they point out rightly that inner healing does not magically occur in the one hour office sessions. With bibliotherapy the books act as a between session homework for the person seeking help to gain insight from between the counseling sessions. The counselor can add to the effectiveness by using some session time for the client to open-up and share what they learned from the readings.
What is Bibliotherapy?
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Bibliotherapy points back to the Greek words “biblio” for book and “therapeia” for therapy. History shows that above the door of the library at Thebes read “The Healing Place of the Soul” (Campbell & Smith). It might help if those words where in modern libraries as well. From that we can gather that books can be good medicine for the soul. Campbell and Smith note studies that show the reading of self-help books improves the quality of the therapeutic relationship.
Adams & Pitre did a survey study of Canadian therapists who used bibliotherapy. They were wanting to discover why therapists used books in their counseling practice. The primary reasons the therapists mentioned for using books be it fiction or non-fiction with clients were to: encourage self-help, enhance therapy, clients request, speed the progression of therapy, books can help explain complex ideas, and to assess client motivation. The first reason of encouraging the client to move from dependency on the counselor to pro-actively helping themselves reminds me of a Professor I had in Counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He stated that a counselor’s job is to continually be working themselves out of a job with a client. He meant by this to not make a client dependent on needing a therapist but to give them the life skills to overcome the present problem and to then hopefully be able to solve future problems.
I know over the years I have read books for a variety of reasons. Many favorite Biblical passages have helped me as I sorted out various personal problems. There have also been many self-help books that have aided my growth through difficult times and personal growth. Some that come to mind are just to mention a few:
The Road Less Traveled, by Scott Peck
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, by Shad Helmstetter
The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer;
Counselors Are Important
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If you are going through life difficulties and they are life debilitating do find a Counselor in your area to help you. Often a local pastor or priest may be able to recommend a professional Counselor in your area. Here is a link to the American Counseling Association’s help for finding Counselors across the country –
I present this information as a licensed counselor myself, so I do encourage people to seek help with a professional for help with life’s difficulties. On the other hand if you are just trying to improve your life and the difficulties you face are not that large you may instead want to visit your local library, “The Healing Place of the Soul” according to the ancient Greeks. There at the library do a search for a book that relates to the self-growth area you are exploring.
Reflection: What is a self-help book that helped you in your inner growth or through a difficult time in your life?
Adams, S.J. & Pitre, N.L. ( 2000). Who Uses Bibliotherapy and Why? A Survey From an Underserviced Area. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 48. 645-649.
Campbell, L.F. & Smith T. P. (2003). Integrating Self-Help Books in Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy in Practice. 59. 177-186
Friday, April 4, 2014
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Just a few years ago the news was filled with the protests against the rich with Occupy Wall Street. The topic of income inequality is still strongly debated in some news circles and with certain politicians catering to the Occupy Wall Street types. Are all our problems caused by the rich? Do the rich pay their fair share? A study in 2008 showed that the top 1% paid 38% of all the federal income tax. The top 50 % of wage earners paid 97% of the federal income tax while the bottom 50 % paid only 3% (http://blog.heritage.org/2011/10/04/in-pictures-how-much-the-top-earners-already-pay-in-taxes/ ). So is the answer just keep squeezing the top earners for more money or can we learn from them to better our own economic lives?
Learning from the rich is the basis for a book by Thomas Corley who is a CPA. His book is Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals. His book is not a dry fact filled non-fiction work. He shares in the introduction that he had spent years studying the lives of successful wealthy individuals. His books shares common principles he found that helped these individuals take advantage of what he calls “opportunity luck”. That luck is described as the results that comes from keeping good habits that improves life rather than tears down life. I will go through the principles here. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book as it is an engaging read as he shares fictional stories of characters who you can see are down on their luck and are open to change personal habits to improve their lives.
The first principle Thomas presents is that the Rich follow good daily habits every day. I had a Sociology Professor in Chicago who always started each lecture reminding us that man was a creature of habits. The issue is what kind of habits – good or bad? So the first point is to be aware and take some time to look at your habits and see if they are helping or hurting you?
The second principle is to be a goal setter. The author states that the rich commonly have a habit of following daily, monthly, yearly and long-range goals. I have mentioned this point many times in past blogs as to the importance of being goal oriented. Having long range plans for a big picture mind helps with your future. I of course temper this with the thoughts of Dr. Jim Bright with his thoughts on chaos theory. With our goal mindsets be flexible is the chaos of life as chaos can make changes in our long range goals.
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Moving on to principle three which is to be intentionally engaged in self-improvement. Thomas states, “Successful people read for self-improvement. They are perpetual students.” (page 45). Being a Bookhead this principle is my favorite. I was listening to Ravi Zacharias in a presentation he was doing in Sweden the other day. In the Q & A time he told one attendee to “read well”. “Read for the heart and for the mind.” Also in reading well Ravi said to read a breadth of information to develop the mind. Mr. Corey on reading emphasizes rightly the importance of reading up on journals and books that relate to your career of choice. Many say there is no time to read? He suggests just read 30 minutes a day -- journals and books that will help with your success. That short time does not seem like a lot. But if you read just 30 minutes a day that would be over 182 hours a year. Imagine the knowledge increase that would add to your career life.
His principle number four is that the successful rich devote their habits to caring for their health. Exercise and healthy eating is important in their daily regimens. This gives them more energy to be at their best every day.
The fifth principle of successful people is making it a habit to build strong relationships. An important issue in career building today is networking. The successful know the importance of networking. They are not about using people instead of how can they help others. An important question is how can they keep improving relationships?
The sixth principle is that the successful live in a balanced state of moderation. They do not live in excess. This may be a surprise as many think of the rich living lives of wild excess. Of course some do but that is why the author keeps the focus on the truly successful.
The seventh principle is a mindset habit of doing things now instead of putting things off to later. This goes back to the goal orientation they carry with them.
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His eighth principle is that the successful engage in what he calls rich thinking. By that he means positive thinking and making use of positive visualization. They carry with their thinking a thankful attitude about their lives.
The ninth rich principle is the habit of being a saver. He mentions that the successful pay themselves first. I would differ in this from a Christian viewpoint, I believe the concept of the tithe in giving back to my church and charities that help the poor. That always comes first to my mind. Yet at the same time I agree with him that to be successful there needs to be a saving and investment mindset.
His final tenth principle is the habit of controlling thoughts and emotions. Thomas states, “They use the following technique when faced with a difficult situation that presents itself: ‘Think , Evaluate, and React’”.(65). Too many run into trouble by having that backwards – react, evaluate and by then it is too late to think as the damage is already done.
Will Thomas Corley’s book make you rich? Maybe yes maybe no. I do believe by following the guiding principles he has researched, you will be definitely moving more towards a Living More Than OK life. In the book he adds tips and ideas that go along with each of the principles. The book shows that it is more helpful to learn from the rich their habits instead of hating them out of jealousy.
Reflection: Which of the 10 habit principles are you strongest in? Which of the habit principles do you need to work on to improve?