The Power of Stories to Foster Empathy

Research from Loris Vezzali, social psychologist, points to the power of storytelling, to fiction, in shaping attitudes. This NPR program features a recent study that Vezzali, et al, conducted to determine whether children who read Harry Potter novels change how they relate to stygmitized groups of people (disabled, immigrants, or “other”).

Recent research shows that extended contact via story reading is a powerful strategy to improve out-group attitudes. We conducted three studies to test whether extended contact through reading the popular best-selling books of Harry Potter improves attitudes toward stigmatized groups (immigrants, homosexuals, refu-gees). Results from one experimental intervention with elementary school children and from two cross-sectional studies with high school and university students (in Italy and United Kingdom) supported our main hypothesis. Identification with the main character (i.e., Harry Potter) and disidentification from the negativcharacter (i.e., Voldemort) moderated the effect. Perspective taking emerged as the process allowing attitude improvement. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed in the context of extended intergroup contact and social cognitive theory

Here’s the link to the NPR story below:

http://www.npr.org/2015/05/01/403474870/does-reading-harry-potter-have-an-effect-on-your-behavior

Loris Vezzali ResearchGate

National Parks: Citizen Library

Carlotta Walls LaNier

In the previous post I described my joy in visiting the Central High School National Historic Site which preserves and tells the story of desegregation in Little Rock, AK. There I bought two memoirs, one by Daisy Bates (The Long Shadow of Little Rock), the other by Carlotta Walls LaNier with Lisa Frazier Page (A Mighty Long Way). [*This link includes an interview with Mrs. LaNier and an excerpt from the first chapter, and links to purchase a copy of the memoir.]

Both memoirs brought me renewed appreciation for the personal struggles of individual Americans striving for their civil rights, and the importance of parents being involved in their children’s education. Reading both books rendered a deeper understanding of historical events through the lived experiences of my fellow Americans. The NPS Interpreter was also a powerful communicator who brought history to life–another important function of our National Parks.

On my current sojourn in Kentucky, I drove to Mammoth Park –another National Park site–preserving and interpreting one of the world’s great natural wonders. In 2016 it celebrated its 200th anniversary!

Stephen Bishop Portrait

In their gift store, I headed for the books section. There I found a historical novel by Roger Brucker, about Stephen Bishop, a famous and early explorer/guide at Mammoth Park (Grand, Gloomy, and Peculiar). Stephen was a slave at the time his owners assigned him the duty to serve as a guide at the privately owned wonder.  It was already a favorite travel destination for wealthy and local people. The associated hotel inn for guests owned slaves who cooked and cleaned for guests. Charlotte Brown was a slave working at the inn. It was there that she fell in love with Stephen Bishop. They would eventually marry.

The novel’s story is told through the voice of Charlotte Bishop. The narration is based in part on Charlotte’s real story. Historical documents and testimonies from people who met and knew Stephen and Charlotte guided the author in writing this delightful book. (I am about half way through.)

My point is this: if we do not know history, how can we navigate the future? Each of these National Parks sites, and the books I found there, provide citizens with living history. Our National Parks are repositories for learning and recalling great moments and individuals in history.

Thank God for Daisy Bates

Daisy Gatson Bates

Thursday morning I was blessed to join a tour group from Baltimore’s Civil Rights Movement at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They are teachers, leaders, and powerful women traveling the civil right trail — next stop Memphis at the National Civil Right Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.

Great women have made significant contributions to democratic societies. Daisy Bates is one of these women. As our talented NPS Interpreter stated today, “If it hadn’t been for Daisy, there would not have been a Little Rock Nine or desegregation as it unfolded in Little Rock.”

Central High School, Little Rock, AR

Daisy Bates was the President of the Arkansas NAACP at the time of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs the Board of Education which desegregated public schools in the U.S. Nine children were identified by the Little Rock School Board to integrate Central High School. At the time, Governor Orval Faubus was not supporting the federal mandate and called in the National Guard to keep out the black students. Daisy realized that the nine teenagers would need protection and help and she organized meetings and support to help them on the first and subsequent days of their trials and tribulations. This story, and the life of Daisy Bates, is chronicled in her memoir, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, which I am currently reading. The individual stories of the nine students are each dramatic and many are told in their memoirs. What white students did inside the school to the nine black students, following integration, and the teachers who turned their backs, is horrendous and rarely told. I highly recommend that you visit this national historic site to reset your compass on American history and the long struggle of all American people for fulfillment of basic rights. As we see today, that struggle if still in progress. But, looking back to such pillars of courage and decency as Daisy Bates gives me renewed hope for a future all of us can make happen together.

Spirits of the Mountains

Mt Humphreys at 12, 800 ft. in San Francisco Mts.

The spiritual nature of the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff was an awesome experience for me. The sight of these sacred mountains took me off guard when they first came into view, and indeed, were the focal point of the sky all the way to Holbook, Arizona. I can see why so many first nations hold these mountains in such reverence, when from anywhere for hundreds of miles the shimmering white peaks are a beacon of light and orientation. The Hopi believe the Kachina spirits live at the top of the peak. Looking at this forested hillside on the way up the mountain to Snowbowl, I can almost feel the spirits there.

Birches and Pines on Mt. Humphreys on the way up to Snowbowl.

Supporting Youth in Climate Change

My novel, Threshold, was written over a ten-year period due to a period of care-giving for my father. I decided to revise the original story from one in the distant future to a more immediate story. Climate science improved over that period, and I realized that what we do now was the focus I needed.

In the new draft, two teenagers emerged that were not in the earlier draft. I believe my concerns for young people and years of teaching middle school and high school students in the Southwest resulted in three characters I love: Daniel  – Junior Docent at the Desert Museum; Luna – emerging youth leader of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and Enrique – a troubled youth with a brave heart.

The story lines follow my conviction that we all play a part in the development of young people in our lives. We may even play a key role by just doing simple things like showing up with a platter of burritos (Mrs Carillo, Enrique’s neighbor), or offering a  kind word at a particularly potent time (Harold Liebowitz with Daniel). Often, it is helping your child by letting them struggle (Luna’s mother). Youth need encouragement in ways that fit them.

They also need adults to clear the path by breaking down social and economic barriers that keep real talents from blooming or dying on the vine from poverty and hopelessness (Congressman Ramirez with his community). And some youths who have lost a parent or suffered an equally dramatic blow, just need us to be around dependably until they can get back on their feet (Ed and Carla for Daniel).

With the uncertainty of climate change, what can each of us do to empower and support the kids in our lives? What skills do they need, what can we change or strengthen while we are here that will enable them as they meet their future?

If it means changing a way of life, using different forms of transportation, giving up some of our sacred cows, will we be willing to do so for them, and all the children who follow? Read Threshold to learn what the adults in Daniel, Luna, and Enrique’s lives do to help them make a bright future.

Youth who are empowered and making change:

Changemakers High School

Our Children’s Trust

 

 

This September of Our Lives

Petroglyph
Petroglyph

My cultural heritage is one of linearity. Americans progress, move forward, dream of the future and its possibilities. Yet, this conceptualization of time is not shared by many cultures on earth.

Now, some westerners are reconsidering whether time is linear. Einstein demonstrated that space and time bend at certain velocities of light. Physicists document the structure of the universe as part of “parallel universes.” It might be possible one day to travel in a worm hole to other times, future or past.

In Threshold, Luna Lopez, a Tohono O’odham youth, is learning basket-making from an elder. She discovers the recurring pattern of a maze on her teacher’s baskets and queries what it means. Rather than tell her outright, Mrs. Romero tells an old Pima story. Luna is left to interpret it in her own life.

As the narrative unfolds, Luna recognizes circularity in things around her: seasons, natural history of trees and plants, and her own circulation system. She begins to intuit that the “man in the maze” is about her inner life.

Does time bend each September allowing us to return to it, to perhaps increase our understanding? If so, let us approach it with reverence.

 

 

Why My Characters’ Zip Code Matters

Teenager_Boy_clip_art_mediumEnrique, a youth living in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood, begins his life with “the cards” stacked against realization of his dreams. Caught in a web of drug traffickers who recruit disadvantaged youth in his barrio, he navigates each day as one in a war zone with the goal to survive between sun up and sun down. Yet like each of us, he has innate potential that, under supporting circumstances, can change his life.

On the back stoop in the alleyway, he lit a cigarette, drawing deeply, breathing out a cloud, letting the afternoon sun warm his chest and arms. His thoughts turned to friends who had joined Bloods Southwest. He decided to talk to Pepe tomorrow at school. Then he went back inside to do his math homework. At least he could work numbers with no problem. He liked that math was governed by rules that never changed, and when he sought answers, he could always work them out.                                                ~ Threshold (2016), Fireship Press, Tucson, AZ

Research shows that a person’s zip code predicts how healthy they will be, how long they may live, what degree they may earn in school, and the size of their pay check. Your zip code can predict your chance of being obese, asthmatic, a drug addict or alcoholic, whether your baby is likely to be born prematurely or with a disability — and even how likely it is that you will live past age 5.

Where you live is a powerful determinant of your life outcomes. What’s more, your zip code may determine how resilient you can be as climate change advances.

How can we end this terrible injustice? Read Threshold to learn how characters find solutions.

 

Tucson – My Military Life

Tucson became my home from 1999 to 2008, but I had been a resident in the Old Pueblo when I was just a babe. Dad (Major E. B. Feathers at the time) was stationed at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. I was 2 years old when we moved there. I remember photos of my mother, sister and me in sundresses and sandals in front of a house with a large shaded porch, cacti and sand.

Little did I know that I would one day return to Tucson as an adult. When I was just getting started in life, I had an early encounter with the desert by falling into an Opuntia (prickly pear). Mom recalled she was pulling needles out of my arms and legs for a month.

Charles Lindbergh dedicates Davis Monthan Field: September 23, 1927

In 1925, Tucson’s City Council purchased 1,280 acres of land southeast of town to relocate the city’s municipal airport. Unknown at that time this new site would become the nucleus of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Six years earlier Tucson had the proud distinction of opening the first municipal-owned airport in the nation. Located four miles south of the city on Nogales Highway, the present day location of the Rodeo Grounds, the 82.64 acres was designated Tucson Municipal Flying Field after several name changes. Following years of stalled negotiations with the War Department, city planners elected to purchase the larger site and transfer airport operations in hopes that the military would reconsider establishing an aviation branch in Tucson.

Construction at the new site was completed in late 1927, and on September 23 of the same year, Charles Lindbergh, who months earlier crossed the Atlantic in the “Spirit of St. Louis”, formally dedicated the site in honor of Lieutenants Samuel H. Davis and Oscar Monthan, two Tucson aviators whom died in separate plane crashes after World War I. The city shared another proud moment with the opening; Davis-Monthan Field immediately became the largest municipal-owned airport in the nation.

Military presence at the new Davis-Monthan Field began October 6, 1927 when Staff Sergeant Dewey Simpson transferred the military aircraft refueling and service operations from the old municipal airport. He also brought something very unique with him, a log book that was signed by the field’s patrons. Early aviation greats such as Foulois, Arnold, Spaatz, Vandenberg, Earhart, and Doolittle took the liberty of signing the registry as a record of service. (Currently the Registry is on display at DM’s Base Operations). With only two military personnel assigned to the field, negotiations between the War Department and Tucson would remain at a stand-still until 1940.

My Dad was stationed at Davis Monthan AFB in 1947. He had just rejoined the USAF after it formed from the Army Air Corps after WWII ended. Dad flew B-29s in the Air Force. Davis Monthan AFB began its revival after the war as a location for the successful Super Fortress (B-29 Bomber). The very dry air provided an ideal location to store the Superfortress,  and other air craft accumulated during the 2nd World War in the desert.

In another amazing connection with Tucson, the daughter of Dad’s co-pilot was instrumental in locating the Z-49–the B-29 my father and her father had flown 35 missions over Tokyo from their base in Saipan. It was found in an aircraft graveyard in the desert. The Z-49 was restored and is now on exhibition at March AFB in California:

Z-49 March Air Museum, CA
Z-49 March Air Museum, CA

The B-29 was dubbed the Three Feathers, originally complete with three nudes on clouds following the pilots’ tradition of painting sexy women on the nose of their aircraft. The Three Feathers had a prestigious life. Read its history here.

Dad talked about flying in the desert. The pilots rose very early to beat the heat, and then cruised above the desert with a view that stretched for hundreds of miles. He recalled the heat and the electricity on the metal and how it gave them all a huge bolt of energy whenever they touched metal on a very hot, crackling dry day.

We soon left for Los Angeles where Dad studied meteorology, a fateful study which later sent him to Fletcher’s Ice Island T-3, a floating iceberg in the Baltic Sea. He was part of a global study, for his team it specifically encompassed ice flows in the arctic.  I was 14 when Dad was featured in Time Magazine after being attacked by a polar bear on T-3. Now in 2016, my first book (Threshold) includes a polar bear–in Carla Conners’ nightmare. I think all this qualifies as the circularity of a life’s path.

 

 

 

 

 

Every Kid in a Park: Connecting 4th graders with National Parks

Every Kid in a Park recognizes the role of national parks as a premier provider of place-based education. U.S. Virgin Islands National Park offers a variety of natural and cultural curriculum-based educational opportunities, including field trips and park ranger visits to classrooms. The website www.nps.gov/teachers contains lesson plans and content on more than 125 subjects, ranging from archaeology to biology to Constitutional law.

“Every Kid in a Park recognizes the role of national parks as a premier provider of place-based education. U.S. Virgin Islands National Park offers a variety of natural and cultural curriculum-based educational opportunities, including field trips and park ranger visits to classrooms. The website www.nps.gov/teachers contains lesson plans and content on more than 125 subjects, ranging from archaeology to biology to Constitutional law.” ~ Department of the Interior News Release

I believe that exposing children to nature, even if its more time in the yard or local parks, and with an adult mentor who shows them a sense of wonder, is the most important education for young people in this new century.

FOR GIRLS: TRAILBLAZING WOMEN LEAVING THEIR MARK AT THE INTERIOR

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~ Rachel Carson in A Sense of Wonder

 

A world made whole

Low Tide on a Spring DayFrom my earliest memory, I have loved being in nature. I frolicked in the out of doors, savoring every second I could:

rolled down a hill with gravity pulling me faster and faster, out of control; jumped into a fragrant pile of leaves trusting it would cushion me;

plunged into a pool when the air popped with heat; shushed down a quiet, snow covered slope toward a tiny chalet, smoke twirling above its chimney;

rocketed a backhand, uncoiling the power of my body to propel a fuzzy ball on an accelerating arc to my opponent’s feet.

These are the gifts of being alive on Earth, this magnificent creation.

Only here can I be carried away by the scent of orange blossoms; only here can I gaze into the blue mirror of a lake at mountain peaks and passing clouds.

I come away from digital kingdoms that replicate at exponential speed; I come away to a world made whole, and wholly holy.

For years I sensed Earth’s wholeness, whenever I remembered and returned.

For years I pursued knowledge to understand why it was that way.

And then, I just accepted the world was made whole.

And now, I realize I was, too.