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Staff Editorials

Compassion. What does it look like to you?

    James Forbes, in a Ted Talk, discussed what compassion meant to his family of 10 growing up in the South. The talk is titled ‘Compassion at the dinner table.’ Google it. It’s worth your time.
    In the talk, Forbes laid out an old Southern family ritual from his North Carolina childhood. Every night at the dinner table when something significant had happened to any one of them (with 10 children you can imagine something was always going on) - everyone took five or 10 minutes to “make over” that person. That is, according to Forbes, the family made a fuss over the one who had been honored. “For when one is honored, all are honored.”
    During these family dinners where they learned to show compassion and support to each other, they also had to report on the people they had helped over the past week. Forbes said family dinners meant telling about the ones in their extended family or those sick and elderly neighbors they visited during the past week. According to his mother, “To be family is to care and share and to look out for one another.” They learned these things through the actions of visiting and being with each other, showing support, throughout the week.
    So every evening at the dinner table, Forbes was taught an essential lesson, perhaps without even recognizing it - compassion. Compassion for the people you live with, compassion for those in your family and community, and compassion for the elderly.
    All large religious traditions hold fast to the tenent of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” a.k.a. the Golden Rule. The Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Popular self-help books and research aimed at helping us be more joyful, often tout that the way to achieve it may not lie within yourself, but in your relationships at the dinner table (like the Forbes’ family) and interactions with others.
    A major component of compassion is giving back - being supportive when someone you know gets a promotion or is named Student of the Week. Compassionate people act on their kindness - with their words and actions - whether it be through volunteering or by being there to listen when someone needs you.
    “Compassion is a piece of vocabulary that could change us if we truly let it sink into the standards to which we hold ourselves and others, both in our private and in our civic spaces,” says journalist Krista Tippett who hosts the show On Being.
    Compassion can express itself through just being there, just showing up. Compassion is visible. When we see it, we recognize it and it changes the way we think about what is doable, what is possible.
    Compassion is the local husband and his wife who, a few months ago, took in a child whose family was living homeless in our community (yes, Pickens County has homeless people). They took her into their home, provided her with food and shelter and care. It seemed horrible at first, from the outside, to see her taken away from her family. But today, she is thriving thanks to a roof under which she gets a full night’s sleep, dentist visits to fill numerous cavities that went unchecked for years, and tutoring that is catching her up in school. That is compassion expressed in a very real way.
    Compassion is every volunteer who walks in the door at the local animal shelter to spend time with a helpless animal who needs love and kindness. Compassion is CARES and the Talking Rock Baptist church that both give out food no questions asked. Compassion is the Good Samaritan volunteer who stays later than she is scheduled in order to help make sure that patient has someone to sit with while they wait. Compassion is the many teachers in our community who are unsung heroes to so many children who need a  role model to look up to.
    So while compassion may be described by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.,” these people define compassion for us.

Nutrition Roulette

By Christie Pool
Staff writer
    I can’t take it anymore.
    There was a day not so long ago when fat made you fat and eating carbs would prevent you from losing weight. Now, fatty avocados are great for us, containing a “good” fat that we need, and a no-carb diet prevents you from losing weight.
    What? That’s not what we were told last year - or even last week.
    Nutrition is a maze. One day we hear coffee is bad for us then we hear it’s loaded with essential antioxidants and beneficial nutrients. And eggs? They used to have too much cholesterol and caused heart disease.  Now we’re told a whole egg is a nutritional powerhouse filled with all kinds of things we need to be healthy, and that all that nutrition comes in an inexpensive 77 calories. Why wouldn’t we eat them every day?
    Nutrition is confusing and, to be completely honest, exhausting. We all want to do the best for our bodies but the information filtering down to us - whether it be from WebMd or Khloe Kardashian - is ever changing. Khloe’s sister Kim leaves out all sugar and carbs but eats meat and dairy, while Khloe won’t touch dairy or red meat. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live in a world without cheese, so I’ll have to ax Khloe’s philosophy from my list of potential diets.
    Nutrition science and the food industry have been changing their minds about what Americans should eat for years. Low fat, no fat, low carb, high protein - and the likes of Dr. Oz doesn’t help. While he seemingly has good intentions, Dr. Oz. - just like a 24-hour news show - has a lot of time to fill on his television show. While his audience looks to him for advice on everything from supplements to diet trends, the content he presents is often contradictory. One day he may tell us we’ll lose weight and be healthy if we take certain supplements (think green tea  and caffeine supplements) then the next day tout the necessity of even more supplements like Forskolin, raspberry ketones and Yakon syrup, which he says is a “metabolism game-changer.”
    Really? By the end of a week filled with his shows, we'd all be throwing down a handful of supplements each day  expecting a miracle in a bottle.
    Personally, I think it would just be easier - and more fun - to eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch every night. I mean, the box says it’s filled with nutrients.
    Every day someone comes out with something  new - we can lose weight by eating rice cakes or we can be healthier eating an all kale diet. We get our information from media outlets who need a fun and exciting new story every day - or, ahem, weekly - to grab attention. Let’s face it, “Eat your fruits and veggies” isn’t as exciting as, “Blueberries new superfood.” The word ‘superfood’ is a good one for the age we are living in - a potential quick fix always gets our attention. We hear ‘superfood’ and think, “If I can eat that one thing every day I’ll live forever.”             But guess what? That won’t happen, just like a high protein, low carb, low fat diet won’t make us happy or immune to Alzheimer’s and a few supplements won’t magically burn away fat.
    Personally, I think I’ll just go back to author Michael Pollan’s advice from a decade ago: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
    Basically his premise is: Eat the stuff you find on the outside of your grocery aisles, eat nothing whose ingredient list is longer than Pinocchio’s nose after a day of fibbing, and certainly don’t ever eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
    And maybe a small bowl of ice cream every now and then. Vanilla, of course.

Inspired by the Games

    Unless you’ve been in hibernation, you likely know the 2016 Summer Olympics are underway in Rio. Even folks who don’t normally watch sports watch some of the Games - likely a gymnastics, swimming or track and field event.
    But what is it about the summer Games that is so captivating? Is it that they come around only once every four years or that they boast sports we don’t typically see on  like synchronized diving and ping pong? Probably not.
    For many of us, it’s less about the actual competition and more about the stories behind the athletes.
    There are over 11,000 athletes participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics (554 of those from Team USA) and all of them have stories to tell. From archery to wrestling, these athletes have varied backgrounds, talents, and tales of sacrifice to make it to the top of their sport.
    Take USA Gymnast Gabby Douglas - the first black gymnast in Olympic history to become the Individual All-Around Champion and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. At a very young age she made the decision to leave her struggling, single mother, three siblings and grandmother to move across the country to train with top coaches. And the most decorated Olympian of all time - USA Swimmer Michael Phelps - overcame an early diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to go on to grab 23 Olympic medals (and counting). His dogged determination and will to persevere motivates the laziest among us. These are the stories that catch our attention.
    And there are others.
    Like the youngest Olympic athlete in Rio, Gaurika Singh, 13 years and 255 days, is a survivor of the earthquake that killed almost 9,000 people in Nepal in April, 2015. She was preparing to compete in the Nepalese national swimming championship in Kathmandu, when she was forced to take shelter under a table in a five-story office building fearing for her life.
    She didn’t get to compete that day - after the earthquake there was no pool left. But she pushed through, completing her training and ultimately making it to Rio.
    Like Singh, there are thousands of amazing teen athletes at these Games. And their stories inspire us to cheer as they try to make the podium.         One of the nine members of the Olympic Refugee Team saved 20 lives by pushing a boat filled with refugees for three hours. Swimmer Yusra Mardini was fleeing Syria along with her sister and 18 other people  a year ago when their dinghy began sinking in the Aegean Sea. Nobody on the boat could swim except Yusra and her sister. The two jumped into cold waters and pushed it for three hours, eventually making land.
    Seriously? Who wouldn’t love to see that girl win a gold medal?
    All the athletes’ determination to achieve the best they can outlines a way of life; a way of thinking. Their stories generate a sense of independence and character in our own lives.
    Like the ancient Greek epics that gave rise to heroes like Achilles and Hercules, our modern day Olympians inspire us to be more motivated in our own lives - at least for the two weeks we watch them.
    So for the remainder of the Games, sit back in front of the television and cheer on not only our American athletes, but those from around the world and let the narratives of their lives inspire us to work harder in school, at sports, or on our jobs. 

Brain regions I would like to see studied

By Dan Pool
Editor
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    In July, neuroscientists released a map of the brain showing nearly 100 previously unknown regions of what’s going on under the skull. Instead of one big blob in our heads, we have a bunch of smaller blobs that handle different thought processes, all squashed together.
    According to a New York Times article, scientists used scanners to see which areas were active during which kinds of thoughts.  They could identify how certain regions became “active during many different kinds of thought, ranging from decision-making to deception.”
    I am not sure what regions the scientists are looking at, but here are a few I think they should devote their research for better understanding.
Three Stooges Comedy Region:          Based on my independent research, most males have a fairly prominent area that gets extremely active when Larry, Moe and Curly start gouging each other’s eyes and putting hot irons on whichever Stooge bends over. But, conversely, my research shows that women who are married to the aforementioned subjects have a corresponding area that negatively reacts during Three Stooges films.
   
The Hair/Kardashian Revulsion Area – Scientists will undoubtedly discover that almost everyone has a very large chunk of our grey matter that produces instant disgust when we encounter a strange hair in any food we are eating. Even the most slobbish person immediately recoils when they find a strand of hair in a milkshake they already drank most of.
    But my theory is in about half the population, the Kardashian family, including Bruce Jenner or whatever his name is now, produces the exact same reaction. The hair and Kardashian revulsion zone must be linked.
   
Sports Relaxation Zone – Some people immediately have a deep sense of well-being and calm when sporting events are being shown on television. I predict this brain area naturally attaches to others that crave beer and fried pork skins. Other people, however react harshly to the effects produced in this region, offering that people blessed with abnormally large sports relaxation brain areas, should mow the grass or walk the dogs or get in bed earlier.

Posterior Perception Region – This area conflicts with the vision and spatial recognition abilities in many people, typically females, that gives them a distorted perception of the proportion of different body areas, so they are unable to determine whether their butt looks big or not. Most males, conversely, lack this zone entirely and regardless of what the mirror shows believe “that looks damn good.”

15-Minute Lapse Region – It is my theory that some people have a brain region that automatically stalls for about 15 minutes whenever they hear any phrase like “almost time to go,” thus producing subjects who have no control over their tardiness – despite the fact they were told an hour ago to get ready.

Eye-roll Lethargy Region – Particularly with younger subjects, there must be a bona-fide section of the mind that causes the subject to become listless and roll their eyes when anyone suggests something that might be beneficial, fun or they might find interesting.

    I hope my suggestions to the world of neuroscience will be given the respect they deserve as all the topics above have important implications for the future of our species.

Innovating our working class into tough corner

    People who are looking for restoration of the American economy under a new administration will likely be disappointed. It’s not fully accurate to use the word “problem” to identify one key cause of our financial tension and strife for it seems the term “progress” is also  applicable. To put it simply,  increased efficiency often equals fewer employees. American businesses have been successful at cutting costs by cutting manpower.
    A perfect example of this business innovation was evident last week with the sale of the five-year-old online Dollar Shave Company for $1billion.
    A quick look at the history of that company as detailed in a recent New York Times Deal Professor column shows exactly why our economy is in a major transition, not just a simple recession.
    This online company started with a simple idea - ship razors to guys who had blades as dull as garden hoes, but yet never remembered to buy a new razor when they went out. Nothing novel in that concept.
    They started with a very clever, mostly homemade, ad on YouTube, about 5 years ago. “Within 24 hours, the new business had more than 12,000 orders, more than it could handle. The ad went on to get over 20 million views and rocket Dollar Shave Club to over $240 million in revenue,” according to the NY Times article.
    The little company has gone on to capture eight percent of the total razor market in less than half a decade and now has 3 million subscribers. They now offer other personal care products.
    They are clearly a great American success story for investors who made a 20 to 1 return on them. But the dark-side is they only employed 190 people at the time of their $1 billion sale. They contract with a Kentucky location for shipping to customers and the razors are made in South Korea.
    They don’t deal with local drug/grocery stores. They don’t have anyone to deliver their razors to Pickens stores. No one is making extra cash stocking these razors on Main Street store shelves nor putting themselves through college ringing up the sale of these razors (when a guy actually remembered he needed one). They don’t contribute local SPLOST dollars through the sale of their products at our grocery stores.  Nobody blue collar can get a job making the razors in America and nobody white collar can get a job managing the production team.
    Modern business is filled with examples like this. Amazon built a retail empire and its performance has rewarded anyone who purchased their stock but how many small bookstores did they put out of business? How many people now buy their clothes, music or sporting goods exclusively online?
    Evidence of this increasing efficiency and decreasing wages can be found by noting that the stock market has chugged along much better than expected over the past five years. The market performance has been much more robust than stagnant wage growth. If you looked at solely at the Dow Jones, you’d not understand why middle class America is fretting over the economic future.
    We are not faulting or blaming anyone for this trend of innovation over jobs. No one is guilty of anything other than figuring out how to make business more productive. People shouldn’t be held back from having great ideas, cutting costs and trouncing existing companies.
    When Unilever pays out $1 billion to the Dollar Shave Club, a small handful of people will profit tremendously [more power to them, wish we had that idea]. 
    But, this is the scary part, the billion dollar company only employed one-third the number of people as our Pickens school system. And that is scary – how can anyone create jobs on a national scale with this type of economic transition underway?