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Tyranny Prevention

May 24, 2017 1 comment
Keynote: Timothy Snyder

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
Keynote: Timothy Snyder. CC BY-SA 2.0

Yale University’s Levin Professor of History Timothy Snyder has written a manifesto for democracy titled On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017). This little volume (128 pages, 6” x 4.5”) packs a wallop. Although he never names anyone as his focal tyrant wannabe, the reader knows that this book is a call for individual action to prevent the inevitable consequence of inaction in the face of power grabbing.

As one action that I will take in response to his words, I have summarized his 20 admonitions for those of you who do not relish reading. That said, I strongly urge you 1) to read this little book, and 2) to find your own way of preventing tyranny. Together, we can.

The bolded introductory statements are Professor Snyder’s wording. The defining examples are my wording, including a couple of his examples.

  1. Do not obey in advance. “Anticipatory obedience” occurs when eager followers desirous of pleasing the leader initiate acts they imagine the leader would encourage, as in the SS killings in 1938 Germany before being commanded to do so.
  2. Defend institutions. Advocate for organizations that are important to you: EPA, NEA…
  3. Beware the one-party state. Fight for the integrity of the electoral process—stand up against efforts to gerrymander districts. Hurrah for yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling against two gerrymandered districts in my home state of North Carolina!
  4. Take responsibility for the face of the world. Czechs wanting nothing to do with Communism posted signs such as “Workers of the world, unite!” thinking authorities would leave them alone, assuming they were of a Communist leaning. Didn’t work. Remove or otherwise eliminate signs or symbols of hate or intolerance.
  5. Remember professional ethnics. Professional associations can make stronger statements than can individuals—while it may be difficult for one lawyer or one doctor to resist a malevolent force, they may appeal to their colleagues to provide ethical force in large numbers. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, one woman couldn’t stop war, but when all women threatened their men with abstinence, war was rethought!
  6. Be wary of paramilitaries. In a democracy, only the acknowledged governments (local, state, federal) have the right to police.
  7. Be reflective if you must be armed. If you must carry a firearm, maintain the personal authority to say “No!” to its use as a tool of unjust oppression.
  8. Stand out. Without Winston Churchill’s emergence, England may well have languished. He stood out, and up, to Hitler. Similarly, Gandhi, MLK Jr., and Sally Yates have stood out/up/alone.
  9. Be kind to our language. Tyrants repeat misused words until followers reify them. Resist by keeping your public language fresh and accurate. “The American people” is not the same thing as “my fan base.” Read great novels for ideas on how to speak truth to power.
  10. Believe in truth. No declamation without verification. Insist on knowing sources. Demand verifiable evidence. Check with the fact checkers. Protect the fact checkers. E. O. Wilson in Consilience posits that it is not politics and religion that divides us, but rather cultures that do not respect evidence.

    tyranny.jpg

    Mother with her Dead Son. Kathe Kollwitz. 1993. Berlin. (A memorial to the victims of tyranny.) CC BY 2.0.

  11. Investigate. Develop a nose for sniffing out fake news. Turn a deaf ear to blatant misstatements (“My program is the best possible that could ever be conceived.”) and correct them when and where possible. Before passing along a suspect, outlandish tidbit that stretches reason, check it out on snopes.com. Inform yourself—don’t shy away from reading a longer article when you suspect it has helpful information. Be one of the (hopefully increasing) well-informed electorate. Don’t just follow sources that confirm your biases. Conservatives must watch channels other than Fox News, and Liberals must watch other channels than MSNBC. I intentionally follow Al Jazeera on my iPhone. And the BBC. Look beyond your backyard/border.
  12. Make eye contact and small talk. It is easy to look friends in the eye and chat them up. It typically takes more effort to look strangers in the eye—particular those different from us—and make friendly small talk. Catching the eye of a potentially downtrodden person—or even someone who is visually different than you—and chatting briefly with them will make their day (better) and leave them less fearful.
  13. Practice corporeal politics. Get your bod and brain out into the world and make friends and connections beyond your private circle. On the other hand…
  14. Establish a private life. Protect your privacy and that of others by securing your computer and supporting organizations that advocate for human rights.
  15. Contribute to good causes. Support two or more organizations that advocate for a civil society—dollars add up, so don’t hold back because you could only make a small contribution! Think of autopay of a dollar a month to your good cause(s) as an inoculation against tyranny. When a million others join you, we have budgeted for tyranny prevention.
  16. Learn from peers in other countries. Keep your passport active, maintain relations around the world, and establish new ones. In the worst case, you may need a new home.
  17. Listen for dangerous words. Tyrants are extremists who are under the illusion that they are mainstream—that everyone values their agenda, and they use alarming words to cajole the masses into huddling into their fold: “so-and-so is a liar, so don’t listen to them—listen only to me,” “these are extreme times, so embrace my extreme methods,” “terrorists threaten our democracy, so bear with me as I suspend your liberty to stamp them out,” “emergency conditions require extraordinary responses powers,” “such-and-such is a total failure, so you must embrace my replacement for it,” “circumstances require that we make exceptions to the law,” or “Deutschland über alles.” Prefer “America and Germany and all their co-inhabitants of Mother Earth and the Cosmos.”
  18. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Founding father James Madison identified emergencies as the primary hotbed for tyrants—authoritarians emerge to manage terrorism and exact the price of personal freedoms in return. Their mantra: “I’ll keep you safe if you do all that I say.”
  19. Be a patriot. Pay your taxes. Support our military. Vote. Volunteer. Support our news organizations. Decry bad leaders at home and around the world. Support the values that our country espouses—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
  20. Be as courageous as you can. Be prepared to be demeaned, to be fired, to be imprisoned, or even to die, by insisting on the rule of law and the separation of powers.

Adrift, But Not Sinking

December 16, 2016 Leave a comment

Retirement stunned my psychiatrist friend.

rowboat-adrift-jeff-marks

Rowboat Adrift, Jeff Marks, 2010. CC BY 2.0

Accustomed to being a provider, teacher, administrator, and therapist, he was suddenly adrift. It was as though the sails, oars, and motor that had energized his boat had disappeared. He didn’t know what to do with himself. “Who am I?” he asked daily, hoping for an answer. “What is my purpose?” “How do I fit in?”

I have heard his earnest lament during lunches over the past several years. At last I have caught the universal implications of Mark’s three questions. They are like a proof from my high school geometry days: Given (Who am I?), To Prove (What is my purpose?), and Proof (How do I fit in?) Similarly, they are like construction plans: raw materials (Who am I?), plans (What is my purpose?), and nailing it all together (How do I fit in?).

These three questions form a catechism for personal change. Not just retirement leaves people adrift. Divorce, moving one’s household, caring for a disabled family member, changing cities or countries, changing jobs, marriage, having a baby(ies)… After every such change, I suggest we would benefit from asking ourselves early on how the answers to these three questions are different. Here is a guide to addressing the three issues in the catechism for change, for finding new energy and direction for your boat—adrift after a major change.

  1. Who am I now? Fortunately, even under major, cataclysmic change, the answer to this question doesn’t change appreciably. We are our personality traits—sociable or solitary, casual or perfectionistic, skeptical or trusting. They are strongly based on genetics and are resistant to change. We are our mental abilities—verbal skill, visual/spatial skill, auditory acuity, kinesthetic prowess, strong (or weak) memory, critical thinking, creativity—and they don’t change. We are our values—spirituality, power, relationships, and they are not changed easily. We are our physical characteristics—allergies, hand-eye coordination, motion sickness proneness, and they seldom change. We are our memories—from growing up, from college days, from former jobs, from military service, from our travels and vacations, and those memories don’t change—we just add to them. So the answer to Mark’s first question is the easiest: Who am I? I am essentially who I’ve always been. Whether my change is retirement, divorce, or moving to Canada, I maintain my traits, abilities, values, physical characteristics, and memories. Change cannot take those away from me. But the answer to the next two questions can change immensely.
  2. What is my purpose now? This soul-searching question is about one’s goals, and goals can change dramatically when one’s life undergoes major change. In divorce, the former goal of building a quality relationship changes to building a strong sense of self, and then to perhaps finding a new partner. In retirement, the former goal of providing for my family changes to something else, perhaps something self-indulgent (I want to write a novel!) or socially beneficial (like volunteering at a school, hospital, or homeless shelter). We set new goals to express our changing purpose following major change. Goals for health, learning, spirituality, family. Stephen Covey called such goal-setting “sharpening the saw.”
  3. How do I fit in? This is the question about execution: What do I do with myself? It is about roles. Based on who I am and what my new purpose is, what roles do I need to play in order to be true to myself and to accomplish my goals? Teacher, grandparent, volunteer, scientist, friend, mechanic, tinkerer, chef, storyteller, housecleaner, musician, artist, writer, comedian, scholar, discussion group leader, soldier, politician, social activist, hobbyist, gardener, counselor, lover, organizer, consultant, manager, researcher, athlete, entertainer. Some of my roles will continue regardless of how my life changes (musician, chef, scholar), while other roles can come to a dramatic end with some kinds of change (spouse, at death of a partner; manager, at retirement; gardener, at a move to the inner city), and roles can be thrust upon us as the result of change (parent, upon the birth of a child; soldier, upon an act of war; health activist, upon suffering one’s first heart attack).

This is the time of year that many people take time to be introspective. That is the spirit of the New Year’s Resolution. That is the spirit of the Jewish high holy days, when they figuratively open the book of life on Rosh Hashanah, reflect on questions such as Mark’s catechism, and then close the book of life on Yom Kippur. For me, that time is between Christmas and New Year’s—a time of self-evaluation and personal accounting. What if we committed to beginning a journal in which we revisit Mark’s catechism both once a year and after a major change? That would certainly make for an interesting autobiography. I think I will begin a new file on my computer after finishing this draft, and I will enter an unending, recurring appointment in my Outlook calendar for December 26-31 of every year to update my answers to Mark’s three soul-searching questions.

Oh, one more thing. Mark has answered his questions and is comfortable in his new skin. Who he is hasn’t changed—outgoing intellect with a passion for people. His overarching purpose remains the same: to make the world a better place, with some attendant subgoals that are new. What has changed is how he fits in. His roles as gardener, musician, husband, parent, grandparent, and scholar have continued in retirement, but he has added volunteer, homeowner advocate, mentor to young’uns like me, and great grandparent.

When Mark read this draft, he shared some of his earlier answers to these questions. When he was a child, older brother was (in his judgment) smarter; younger sister, more beautiful. So Mark evolved his goal into being the responsible one of the family—he calls it being “Goody Two-shoes.” He would get up at dawn and work in the garden while his siblings slept in. In high school, his purpose was to “be a good student.” Goals and roles both can change upon experiencing a major life change. He recalled with a smile his niece’s glee at learning she had a new baby sister: “I’m not the baby anymore!” Indeed.

How Do Religion and Politics Mix?

February 24, 2016 1 comment

An Imam, a Rabbi, and a Ronin were sitting on the bimah. Their host asked each to comment on this question: What is the line between religion and politics?

In a country that officially embraces the separation of church and state, the audience of mostly Jews and Christians at Temple Beth El in Charlotte, North Carolina, were eager to hear their views. This was the kickoff session of a six-part series on religion and politics. You judge whether the answers by the Muslim, Jew, and Buddhist had more, or less, in common.

KABUL, 24 June 2015 Ð AfghanÕs future leaders Ð the young men and women of one of KabulÕs college.

Afghan’s future leaders–the young men and women of one of Kabul’s colleges. June 24, 2015; UNAMA/Fardin Waezi.    CC BY-NC 2.0

The Imam strummed a welcome chord when he pronounced that he who says he should have power is not who should be in power. Only those whom others say should be in power should rule. In the current crush of egos courting voters in the 2016 U. S. presidential elections, the Imam’s words are discordant with the rush of “Me, me, me” on screen, stage, and town halls. The Imam would ask: But whom do the people say should serve? Elizabeth Warren? Michael Bloomberg? Nikki Haley? Jesse Jackson? Rupert Murdoch? Joe Biden? Jon Stewart? Mitt Romney? Alec Baldwin? The Imam seemed to suggest that we need a nomination process based on the masses’ identification of who should lead, and then ask the nominees to campaign appropriately. This reminds me of Shakespeare’s “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night, II,v) The Imam would seem to urge the latter—that the people should press their desired leaders into service—no more teaching, lawyering, or banking for you: time to lead your country. The role of religion in politics, then, would be to assist the people in identifying right leaders and encouraging them to serve.

The Rabbi took a different approach, addressing not so much who should serve, but how religion should behave towards those who do serve. “Speak truth to power,” she urged. That is the role of religion. Hold leaders accountable, and do not let them obfuscate fact with fiction. Where the people have great need, and their leaders discount those needs, religionists should hold the leaders to their tacit contract: Keep your eyes on what the people need and do not lose your focus. Do not let ego, fame, power, or the desire to be reelected distract you from compassion for the poor and ill-treated and the need of the electorate to be educated and safe.

The Ronin eschewed the issue of who should serve and how they might be identified, but he did expand on the Rabbi’s plea to speak truth to power. However, the Buddhist leader urged a different style for speaking the truth: It was not so much about calling out a leader’s lies, deceptions, and mistakes, but rather holding a mirror to them so that leaders might discover, and own up to, their distractions from what is right. How? Said the Ronin: It is better that I ask more questions than that I give more answers. Thus, the task of religion is to have dialog, Socrates-like, with our political leaders, such that the people may see their leaders’ ability to withstand the scrutiny of thoughtful interaction, or even interrogation.

To me, the three religious leaders focused not on the dividing line between religion and politics, but on the responsibility of religionists towards politicians. Get the right people to serve, guide them through thoughtful questions, and call them to task when gentle dialog is not enough.

A Modest Proposal

December 23, 2015 1 comment

In 1729, Jonathan Swift brought attention to the plight of Ireland’s starving poor by ironically suggesting the children be fattened and served up to the rich.

My modest proposal today employs no irony. Rather, I address a serious issue by suggesting a small, effortless, non-resource-consuming, incremental change.

The serious issue: Carbon emissions. The suggestion: Cut your engines when idling unless at a stop light or in stop-and-go traffic.

It was Friday, December 2, 2011. Jane and I were standing alongside the bellman just outside the main entrance to Tokyo’s Shinjuku Hilton. We were waiting for our host and Japanese partner, Nori Furuya, to fetch us and be off for our day of meetings. An immense, airport-bound bus with rear-view windows the size of parking lots pulled up. Then something happened I had never before witnessed, nor ever expected: The driver cut Shinto gatehis engines. Silence. No fumes. We were struck by his apparent courtesy.

Later, riding Tokyo’s maze to Nori’s office, I shared this epiphany with our host and asked if it were commonplace. He said, “Oh, yes. It is core to the Shinto world view. We hold great respect for the earth. To leave one’s fossil-fueled engine idling unnecessarily and spewing fumes onto Mother Earth is like relieving your bladder on your mother’s living room carpet. It is disrespectful.”

Ever since that time, I have cut my engines when stopped and not in traffic. When I swing around to the portico of our office building at 5 o’clock this afternoon to pick up Jane, if she is not standing there, I will come to a stop and cut my engine. Last week, waiting for her to return from Providence, R.I., and parked in the cell phone lot at Charlotte’s airport, I read from my iPad with the engine off. I uncomfortably noticed that over half the other cars in the cell phone lot were parked and idling, unnecessarily contaminating Mother Earth. I felt an urge to circulate and knock on windows, suggesting they show respect and cut their engines. It was a mild evening—no need for air conditioning of any kind. This morning, wondering what I would blog about this week, I parked in the rear of our office building and made my way to work. I passed a car that was idling, its driver primping in the mirror in preparation for her encounter with society, her tailpipe pumping trash while she applied her mask. Again, I wanted to knock on her window and request she attend to her tailpipe emissions. And, again, I resisted being the Mother Earth emissionspolice.

But, I had my blog topic! Please join me in this sign of respect and cut your engines when not in traffic and stopped. Give Mother Earth this gift for the holidays, and for her lifetime, which is in danger of foreshortening lest we do our part.

For my Big Five friends:

  • If you’re feeling more N+, do it because your conscience tells you to.
  • If you’re feeling more N-, do it because logic entails it.
  • If you’re feeling more E+, do it because you want to set a good example.
  • If you’re feeling more E-, do it because you love the quiet and pure air.
  • If you’re feeling more O+, do it because you are intrigued by the idea and the broad global impact.
  • If you’re feeling more O-, do it because you want to preserve what has been entrusted to you.
  • If you’re feeling more A+, do it because I told you to.
  • If you’re feeling more A-, do it because you want to be better at reducing your carbon footprint than the rest of us.
  • If you’re feeling more C+, do it because it will move us towards a more perfect universe.
  • If you’re feeling more C-, do it spontaneously.

But howsoever you are feeling, do it. Cut your engine. And have a rejuvenative holiday!

May the Force Be With You, But Do Your Homework

December 16, 2015 Leave a comment

The Force will be unleashed on a hungry public this Friday. Popcorn and slushies will fertilize the minds of moviegoers eager to digest the wisdom of the Jedi warriors. Or, if not to digest wisdom, perhaps to accompany sheer entertainment.

How many times have we jocularly tossed “May the Force be with you” to friends and family? Such empowering valedictions are a (usually) well-meant attempt to boost the energy and sharpen the focus of loved ones embarking on a challenge.

Peace!

ShalomYoda

As-Salamu Alaykum

Khuda Hafiz

Namaste

Om

My prayers are with you

Insha’Allah

Blessings upon you

The urge to pray or otherwise lubricate the channels to ease the journey of those close to us is universal.

NPR talk show host Diane Rhem once asked her guest, former President Jimmy Carter, to describe his prayer life while in the White House. After Carter affirmed daily and frequent prayer while president, Ms. Rhem followed up with “Were your prayers answered?” With a sheepish grin (I’m sure) that could only be imagined by radio listeners, the peanut farmer quickly responded with “Yes, all my prayers were answered. But, you must understand that sometimes the answer was “No”!”
Prayers for self and others can only hurt if they become an excuse to slack camel tiedoff. Hope must be accompanied by effort. The Sufi master: “Trust Allah, but tether your camel first.” Or, more crudely, Frank Loesser put it to song in 1942 in response to Pearl Harbor attacks with “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” Every sign of the cross preceding a foul shot must be accompanied by hours of practice. Prayer isn’t enough—there’s work to be done. But for many, prayer is an unseen partner that makes the work more standable.

Making the Most of What Willpower You Have

December 9, 2015 1 comment

Our capacity to pay attention varies along a continuum from highly effortful to totally effortless. Effortful attention is like when you must read the instructions for a new piece of computer software. For most of us, this requires highly focused concentration that entails the marshaling of all of our mental resources. As such, much energy is consumed by our brain. This results in a decrease of glucose—the brain’s fuel. After an episode of effortful attention, it is difficult to continue with another episode of effortful attention—we simply don’t have the energy for it. In one study, persons who solved a difficult math problem were then given the choice between a healthy (celery and carrot sticks) and an unhealthy (chocolate chip cookies). Those who had worked on the math problem were more likely to pick the unhealthy snack, while the control group that had not dealt with the math problem were more likely to resist the unhealthy snack in favor of the celery and carrots. It just requires more mental energy to resist sweets.

It is best to follow effortful attention with non-effortful attention for a while before returning to effortful attention. And even better, have a snack after effortful attention. Studies have shown that having a healthy snack (i.e., not sugary and non-banana and pbnutritious) can restore our capacity for effortful attention by replenishing our glucose supply.

These activities require significant mental effort:

  • Resisting something you like (like chocolate chip cookies)
  • Doing something unfamiliar/novel (like studying instructions for new software)
  • Doing something you don’t like (take your pick!)

These activities require little or no mental effort:

  • Resisting something you don’t like (for me, wrapping presents—I’m not really a Scrooge—I just don’t like wrapping things, so I procrastinate)
  • Doing something that is familiar (scrapbooking)

Willpower is the capacity to engage in effortful attention. Florida State University social psychologist Roy Baumeister, in his 2011 book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, has pulled together the relevant research on what it takes to make the most of one’s capacity for will power. These are among his findings:

  • Take frequent breaks and snacks.
  • Keep in good shape–sleep, exercise, diet healthily.
  • Remove unwanted distractions.
  • Practice with relevant distractions, as in football offenses who practice listening to their quarterback’s signals with blaring loudspeakers in the background to simulate antagonistic crowds of 75,000 fans at away games.
  • Use library study carrels.
  • Avoid unnecessary multi-tasking.
  • Install distractions or obstacles from bad choices, as in the kids in Walter Mischel’s experiments who resisted eating a proffered marshmallow by entertaining themselves with a game or other diversion, just so they wouldn’t have to think about not eating the marshmallow.
  • Declare your intentions publicly, to associates, family, and other stakeholders or observers.
  • Negotiate for appropriate absence of interruptions, as in communicating with your work team or family that you are going to close your door for two hours to work on a project, and to solicit their cooperation—I’ve done this kind of thing by burning a candle and wearing a baseball cap at my computer to signal that I’d prefer not being disturbed.
  • According to the Zeigarnik Effect, unfinished earlier projects cause intrusive thoughts when we attempt to work on subsequent ones, as in “I should really be working on the patio rather than writing this book.” Having a plan for unfinished business reduces and sometimes eliminates intrusive thoughts about that unfinished business that interferes with current priorities.
  • Eliminate boredom increasing your challenges and/or handicapping yourself, and eliminate frustration by increasing or skills and personal resources and/or reducing your degree of challenge. Read Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow (1990) for further explanation. Also see my chapter on the flow concept in Howard (2013).
  • Have a partner for support and monitoring.Cat and Dogs
  • Join a support group, real (face-to-face) or virtual (Internet).
  • Understand and practice Mindfulness (start with meditation training—read Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct, in which she treats the pervasive positive influence of meditation/mindfulness).
  • Understand the importance of practice and repetition in establishing new habits or patterns.
  • Three most common ways of battling a bad habit:
    • Vigilant monitoring (e.g., Seinfeld’s calendar app, inspired by Jerry Seinfeld’s actual practice of having a year-long calendar on one large page on his wall, then marking a big X every day that he executes his good habit—as in writing for at least 30 minutes—and then enjoying the chain of Xs and only breaking the chain when major obstacles occur—e.g., sickness)
    • Creating distractions or constraints from irresistible cues (Ulysses’ being bound to mast)
    • Changing the situation (e.g., going to library where there’s no refrigerator)

Being in the field of personality assessment, we are certainly aware that some personalities lend themselves to these practices more naturally than others. However, these practices are habits, and habits are learnable by everyone. We must simply pick the habits that feel the most natural.

Change of Life, Change of Personality

August 26, 2015 2 comments

I frequently get this question, for which I’ve had no convincing data to respond: Do personality trait levels change as the result of menopause? I’ve decided to look for an answer. In a recent survey of the published research literature, I found no information. So, in lieu of answers from the known literature, I turned to my database. The U.S. norm group for our WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ personality assessment contains a balanced sample of 1,200 working adults. A detailed description of this norm group is available in our professional manual (available by ordering from info@centacs.com).

Within our sample, we have 167 females in the 32-40 age bracket, as compared with 79 in the 51-60 bracket. I compared their scores on the 23 subtraits of the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ to determine whether they increased, decreased, or stayed the same over this range.

I found that 15 of the 23 traits changed over this transitional range for females, with eight traits showing no change. The largest change was a decrease in ambition, with an effect size of .37. Effect size is a way of describing how great the difference between two averages is, based on the variability or consistency of individual scores—if everyone scores similarly, then small differences can have a large effect, but if everyone’s scores are all over the place, then you must have a larger difference in means in order to have a large effect size—around .2 is a small effect, around .5 a moderate effect, and .8 or over is a large effect. So, .37 is considered a moderate effect, but by no means large. In everyday language, it means that there is a moderate tendency for some females to show less interest in achievement after the change of life. However, it is highly likely that women who were driven to high achievement before the change maintain their achievement level after the change, and that the decrease among females is to be found among the less ambitious or driven, who would likely tend to drop off somewhat. Here are the 15 traits that showed moderate to small changes, from greatest change to least change for women:

  • Ambition/drive decreased, with an effect size of .38midlife
  • Perfectionism decreased, .37
  • Concentration increased, .34
  • Activity level decreased, .27
  • Reserve increased, .25
  • Interest in others’ needs decreased, .21
  • Trust increased, .21
  • Tact decreased, .21
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict increased, .16
  • Attention to detail increased, .15
  • Organization decreased, .14
  • Imagination decreased, .13
  • Change tolerance decreased, .11
  • Resilience decreased (needing more time to rebound from a crisis), .10
  • Worry/anxiety increased, .09

I would be interested in your observations on these changes. Here are mine:

  • None of the changes are large, so no sweeping generalizations are possible.
  • Yes, some females exhibit changes over the time before, during, and after menopause, but such changes are not inevitable for every female, nor are they necessarily permanent if or when they occur.
  • I would like to find a way to analyze the data to determine which females undergo these changes. For example, I suspect that females who are already at an extreme are likely to stay there, whereas persons not so extreme are the ones who account for most of the movement. A strong neatnik is less likely to back off her neatnikness that a more moderate neatnik.
  • The stereotypical perception that menopause results in major changes in mood or behavior is not justified for females as a group—based upon our full-time working women sample. However, some individuals may exhibit major changes. More likely than not, the mood swings that some women (especially those more prone to the negative emotions, such as anxiety and anger) experience during this transition are temporary, with the typical female returning to the same set points for traits that were exhibited prior to menopause.
  • If a woman’s traits are at different levels after menopause, then it is likely that the changes would be found among these 14 traits. But for the vast majority of women, don’t expect trait changes as the result of menopause. You are justified in expecting temporary states, just as you can expect temporary states among men.
  • We do not if the causes of these changes are menopause, the normal effects of aging, or something else. All we can say is that they follow menopause.

For your information and consideration, here are the eight traits that did not change:

  • Temper/anger/intensity
  • Optimism/interpretation of events
  • Warmth
  • Sociability
  • Tendency for taking charge
  • Comfort with Complexity
  • Humility
  • Methodicalness

Meanwhile, what’s going on with the guys? I thought it only fair to take a look at the men over this same time span. I conducted an identical analysis with the 179 men in our balanced norm group in the 32-40 age group, and the 87 men in our 51-60 group—all full-time working men. As with other studies, males show more extremes than females—larger effect sizes but fewer changes in trait levels. Here is how the males changed over the same period as the females, listed from largest change to smallest, as measured by effect size:

  • Reserve increased, as it did with females, but with twice the effect size, .43
  • Warmth decreased, .34 (no change in the females)
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict also increased, and with twice the effect size, .32
  • Interest in others’ needs increased, opposite from the females’ decrease, and with a similar effect size, .26
  • Imagination decreased, as with the females, but with twice the effect size, .26
  • Tendency to take charge decreased, .24 (no change in the females)
  • Sociability decreased, .19 (no change in the females)
  • Activity level increased , .19 (decreased among the females)
  • Ambition/drive decreased, as with females, but with only half the effect size, .18
  • Humility decreased somewhat, .18 (no change in the females)
  • Tolerance for change decreased, .17, similar to the females

What do I make of these comparisons?

  • Males and females changed similarly on five traits: more reserved/less vocal, less likely to embrace conflict, less active imaginations, decreased ambition, and less welcoming of change
  • Males changed in four areas while females showed stability: less warmth and sociability, decreased tendency to take charge, and somewhat more pride
  • Females changed in eight areas where males showed stability: perfectionism decreased, concentration increased, trust increased, tact decreased, attention to detail increased, organization decreased, resilience decreased, and worry increased.
  • Males and females diverged on two traits: females showed a greater priority on their own needs, while males showed greater interest in others’ needs; additionally females showed a decline in activity level, while males showed a small rise.
  • Males and females remained stable as a group on only four traits: temper/anger, optimism, comfort with complexity, and methodicalness.
  • Women, known for their tendency to be more relationship-oriented, exhibited stability in that arena, while men showed decreased warmth, sociability, assertiveness, conflict engagement, and tendency to take charge, suggesting a decreased interest in maintaining quality relationships on the part of some men.
  • Men known for their ambition and self-absorption, showed a movement away from self—more interest in others’ needs, decreased tendency to embrace conflict and more likely to be agreeable, less outspoken/more reserved, decreased bossiness/tendency to take charge, and decreased ambition. Some have called this the “grandpa effect”—goin’ fishin’ with the grandkids more preferable to some than steppin’ out with an adult partner.

Admittedly this is a cross-sectional and not a longitudinal study, and a longitudinal study would be preferred. However, these findings suggest that we should try to find longitudinal data that confirm or challenge these modest changes. My lesson from this brief analysis is that most peoples’ trait levels—male and female—are the same after midlife as before, that a few show decreases or increases, that during the transition some people exhibit temporary states that dissipate, and that, in general most people remain at the same trait level throughout adulthood.