Updates, August 1 and Swiss Ties

by Dr. S.D. Shanti (Editorial Note: It is late afternoon on August 1st in the time zone where I am writing, though the time stamp says August 2nd).

Dear Readers,

I hope that you, your family and friends are doing as well as one can under these present circumstances. The pandemic has arrived full-force in Arizona where I am presently based. My state made international news recently when it became one of the world’s leading COVID-19 hot spots, and the pandemic has affected many people in physical and financial ways.

My team and I have been working intensively behind the scenes responding to various public heath needs related to the pandemic. In the next few weeks, you will hear more about forthcoming projects, including a course for the public titled What is Public Health and Why Does it Matter?

This course will be available at no cost and will be published by an audio publisher in the United States. Also in the pipeline for the upcoming months are two books on mental health promotion: Your Mental Health Tool-Kit and How to Stay Sane in an Insane World.

As a result of the time demands associated with the above and other projects, I have had to temporarily reduce the frequency of blog posts.

August 1st in Switzerland

Today, August 1st, is the Swiss National Day, which marks the beginning of the country in 1291. Thus it feels timely, along with updates, to share with you the Swiss origins of Prescriptions for Hope and its current ties to Switzerland.

When people ask me where I am from, I reply that I am from three countries: India, the United States and Switzerland. I moved to Switzerland in my mid-thirties. Over time, I became a Swiss citizen and the country has become my home.

Swiss Origins and Current Ties

It was in Basel, Switzerland, in the Fall of 1997 that I learned about newly released data on mental health in The Global Burden of Disease, a report issued by the World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health. The report stated that by the year 2020 depression would be one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

That moment in 1997 was the start of a public health journey that initially began with the goal of advancing depression prevention worldwide, and soon expanded to include violence prevention as well. In the ensuing years, it was also in Basel, where the groundwork for my innovations was laid. There I discovered the power of combining psychology, public health and writing, and how this could help people.

My earliest steps were carried out with support from the Gebert-Rüf Foundation in Basel, and the University of Fribourg. Then, following incubation and development at Stanford University and other places in the United States, it is anchored again in Switzerland as we prepare for global scaling of the prevention work.

Prescriptions for Hope operates under the auspices of the Arco Foundation in Winterthur. The Arco Foundation, founded and led by Mr. Heinz Waech, is a “roof foundation,” or Dachstiftung as it is called in German. This structure offers smaller foundations, such as ours, the ability to operate with lower overhead costs in comparison to a conventional foundation, and still gives us full access to professional oversight and financial management.

Innovation in Public Health

When most people think of Switzerland, they typically envision mountains, cheese and chocolate. Banks, Swiss Army knives, yodelling and alphorns also come to mind.

However, for many of us working in public service, Switzerland is synonymous with humanitarian assistance, international cooperation and neutrality. It is also a country with one of the highest per capita rates of innovations. The country that gave the world the International Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions has also given us VELCRO®, the World Wide Web and the hang drum, among other things.

Violence and Depression: Parts of a Social Syndrome

Through my early stage research when searching for cost-effective ways of preventing depression and violence on a large scale, I arrived at a cluster of five elements that are inter-connected: poverty, illiteracy, violence, depression, and inequality.

Together they form a social syndrome, whereby one or more of these elements co-occur. As a result, these elements drag people into a vicious circle of despair and hopelessness.

The global data on violence and depression spurred me to develop new approaches to stopping this downward spiral, and replacing it instead, with a virtuous circle by creating healthier conditions in which people can grow and flourish.

The core of my innovations are contained in a document called A Blueprint for Hope. This document offers practical, cost-effective and research-based ways to create a world free of suicide and inter-personal violence (which affects one in every three women and one in every four children globally).

Growth in a Unique Environment

When I was nineteen years old, while living in the United States, somehow I just knew that my life’s work would involve serving people in poverty. By twenty-two, that knowledge had translated itself into a goal: that one day I would work in public health in Switzerland.

I envisioned a scenario that is not uncommon among people from other countries who end up as senior specialists in Geneva. After my time at Stanford, that goal did come true, in connection with the dental public health side of my life.

In Geneva, I had the opportunity to lead the public side of a multi-country public-private partnership and collaborate with colleagues at the World Health Organization. I even had the chance to speak at the UN during a World Health Assembly, in the setting seen on television news shows, where delegates from around the world sit with their country names in front of them.

But the calling I first heard in Basel in 1997, to advance depression and then violence prevention, never left me. I continued refining and improving the Blueprint for Hope and in the process also created Prescriptions for Hope. Like a slow-cooked dish with various spices that requires time to be ready, my body of work in violence prevention and depression prevention is now fully ready for implementation around the world.

The need for violence and depression prevention has always been great, but it has increased in magnitude due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, as a behavioral scientist and public health practitioner, I am grateful for the opportunities Switzerland has given me to develop innovations in public health. I am also grateful for the opportunity to grow my work there, in a unique environment that supports global collaboration, consensus building, and humanitarian assistance.

Happy Birthday Switzerland! And Thank You!

P.S. In case you are interested, below is an excerpt from a Swiss magazine published in 2005, where I was featured among a group they called “Swiss Who Innovate.” It’s in French and deals with one of my innovations. Due to time constraints I am unable to do the English translation now, but will do so as soon as possible if you are interested.

Rx 21 The How of Lasting Change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

Rx 20 discussed what are some of the things that must be done to correct structural inequalities. Yet, how can we come together to create change when people are polarized? This video offers a way for how people can come together and create lasting change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge.

Although I created this video in 2018 on the 90th birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers, the message is still relevant today. Mr. Rogers was an American television personality who achieved iconic status. He was the producer and host of the much-loved, long-running children’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which was widely viewed by children of all backgrounds in the United States.

Note: This video has been reviewed by Mr. Joe Negri, who played played Handy Man Negri on the show and by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford, who is also featured in the video in connection with his landmark work on how children learn aggression and violence through observation of others. Mr. Rogers was motivated to create a show for children because of the educational potential of television, and because he was unhappy about the extent of violence on television already present in the 1950’s.

Rx 20 Improve the Social Determinants of Health to Help Create Lasting Change

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

People are protesting and rioting. Companies are issuing statements about diversity and inclusion. Individuals and businesses are making donations to non-profit organizations that support African-American people. And social media is trending with people stating they are allies.

But what more can be can be done if we are to create lasting change? What more must be done to correct structural inequalities?

Some of the answers to this question include ensuring access to health care and good schools for everyone. It is also important to eliminate food deserts and make grocery stores accessible to all. These solutions can be grouped under a broad category known as social determinants of health. They are essential for ensuring good health for individuals, communities and nations.

Social Determinants of Health, Image from HealthyPeople.gov

This short video below, originally intended for persons in the health care professions, describes social determinants of health. However, the message is relevant to anyone who wants to address inequalities in society. Addressing the social determinants of health will improve health outcomes and quality of life for everyone. It is also one sure way to help reduce structural inequalities.

Improving living conditions is one of the keys to creating lasting change and overcoming inequality.

Guest Post: Why Does Pigment Dominate Pride in Our Shared Humanity?

By Dr. Philip Zimbardo, © 2020 Professor Emeritus, Stanford University and Past President of the American Psychological Association

Editorial Note: Professor Zimbardo is one of the most important psychologists of our time. He is an early stage supporter of my work in violence prevention and mental health promotion. We met in 2006 when I was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University. He immediately understood the scope of my work and is one of my most steadfast supporters. Please share his essay widely, as it offers important insights regarding matters of discrimination.

Why does it matter what the color of our skin is?

Why does it matter what the color of our eyes are?

Why does it matter what the color of our hair is?

These are each external characteristics that vary widely among people from different nations.

Should any of them matter more than our intelligence, our morality, our compassion, or our wonder and delight at our common human nature?

This question obviously contrasts the core of our Inner Being with physical elements of our external being, that are used too often, and wrongly, as social constructions of our self-worth.

Our list could readily be expanded to include what differences does our height or weight matter, or size of our nose really matter?

All of these facial and bodily characteristics mattered very much to the Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, in his vision of Germany as the perfect Aryan nation, filled with blue-eyed blondes with petite noses! Those external features were characteristic of Nazis as the superior race who had the right to dominate and destroy everyone in every nation that was inferior to those in his Third Reich. Nazi propaganda visualized these mythical perfect Hitler youth as contrasted with dark skin, big nosed Jews—as the enemy—to be destroyed.

————

April 4, 1968: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered by a white gunman in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots of protest rock America. Chicago’s Mayor Daly orders police to “shoot to kill.”

April 5, 1968:  Mrs. Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade elementary school teacher in the farming town of Riceville, Iowa, population of about 850, all white, all Christian, is preparing her class exercise on Brotherhood. She plans to focus on the plight of Native Americans. But changes her mind and her lesson as she reflects on the significance of Rev. King’s murder. She wonders how she could teach her beloved 28 students to experience personally the power of arbitrary discrimination. Mrs. Elliott choose “eye color” as her demonic device.

She informs the class that she has just learned that brown-eyed people are inferior to blue-eyed people and gives a number of examples to validate that distinction.  Then she adds action consequences, such as brown-eyed children have to wear collars, to be put on by their classmates with blue eyes, so they will be more distinguishable. They are forced to sit at desks in the back of the class, and they must also not go to lunch until the blue-eyed, superior children have finished.

Amazingly, these children who had grown up knowing each other very well from earlier classes and family contacts, immediately began to be hostile toward their now “inferior” buddies and playmates. They abused them with derogatory accusations and in physical confrontations. “It was the worst day in my life”, a crying Brown Eye girl proclaimed.

But it got better for her the next day when Mrs. Elliott explained that she had made a mistake; that it was blue eyes who were inferior and brown eyes who were superior.

Did the suffering of the brown eyes on the previous day create a tolerance for their blue-eyed buddies? NOT AT ALL!

Arbitrary discrimination reared its ugliness as they immediately gave what they had gotten—angry abuse at classmates who now were clearly inferior and deserved to be punished for having the wrong eye color.

Mrs. Elliott’s brilliant demonstration of the ease and rapidity of arbitrary discrimination inflicting all in its sphere of influence –

like our current Covid-19 Pandemic is inflicting millions globally with its deadly new virus—

is even more significant now in 2020 than it was nearly 40 years ago.

Please view the powerful documentary of this class exercise in prejudice, A Class Divided, on PBS.Org, a Frontline drama.

All links are included in the post below.

An updated postscript.

Immediately after I became aware of her powerful social psychological experiment, I invited Jane to share her brilliant insights with my Stanford University students and faculty.

Jane Elliott has gone on in her new career as “Discrimination Awareness Warden” with adults from various backgrounds and careers. She demonstrates the ease and rapidity with which discrimination dominates common sense based on any random arbitrary physical characteristic, such as if you can curl your tongue or not. Those who can are the Superior Class, those who can’t obviously belong to the Inferior Class.

To see more about this now 87 year- old dynamo in action view her via these following links.

Here Jane Elliott is talking with Jimmy Fallon recently

(note her sweatshirt proclaiming:

“GOD CREATED ONE RACE, THE HUMAN RACE”)

All links are included in the post below.

And check out a recent Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes experiment Jane did in Britain.

All links are included in the post below.

And here is a powerful documentary about her life’s mission.

All links are included in the post below.

Thanks for your caring concern now and forever more in our uncertain future.

Ciao,

Dr.Z.