Sunday, September 6, 2015


     When you go into major supermarket, most shelves are arranged according to a “Plan-O-Gram” which is a lay-out. Positions of “influence” on each shelf facing – meaning those from which the highest volume of products are sold, usually at “child eye level” from the shopping cart – are sold to the highest bidding company. Usually these positions are purchased as part of an ad campaign. Kids and parents see an ad on TV, then “lo and behold” when they go into the store, there is the product so the kids ask, cry, demand them; parents buy them.
     The same is true for other sections of the store: frozen foods, breads, chips, soda, etc. – positioning is significant for behavior.  It’s called “Choice Architecture” and manipulating its factors is the backbone of advertising.
     And, it goes further. Choice Architecture, based on outcomes to choices someone else wishes you to make, are a factor in many, many things in our lives which you take for granted: video production, product design, internet, city planning (zoning), heroin accessibility, voting districts (gerrymandering), my family’s history, a legal system which enforces laws of privilege, grocery retail, military, food products, health care, genetics, casino gaming, cancer, dating and environmentalism – not to mention architecture from which it draws its name.
     Unfortunately, forces and groups are our “Choice Architects” and we live with the choices which they design for us and with the eventual results of the choices they have made for us. Many times our choices make them rich, so they are happy.

     Let’s presume that your “lower self” is the one in the shopping cart which your “higher self” is pushing through the Choice Architecture Complex 1, 2 or 3, or more of your life.
     Is our life only to be lived as “a chooser” (opposite of “decider” as George W. Bush once said) for our limited, pre-ordained options offered by the architects? When Totalitarianism arises, you see that choices are extremely narrowed to options offered only by the State-run enterprises. Fascism only offers options to industries who do the State’s bidding and carry out contracts granted by the State. In these examples, the domination is powerful, but it does not last forever. Dominating capitalistic economic “Choice Architecture”, which we saw in the early 1800s, has the same flaw.
     You may think that whichever of these systems you live under can or will not change. Consumers, cities and states may feel powerless now. Life, however, is based on spiritual / physical cycles. Things can, and do, change. Regularly. It’s part of the cycle. Things grow, mature, decline and change.
When things get most fixed, most intense then a phenomena called “antimony” occurs. When a factor – or form of domination of one kind or another - reaches its “maximum” - it will collapse back into its opposite. This is when a revolution happens, or laws are changed to bring other ideals into play such as competition or freedom. Many examples of antimony are in nature, and in society.
     An “oil boom” with accelerating prices, great demand, extreme capitalistic greed, etc. will lead to an “oil bust” because of some factor perhaps unrelated. I remember Dallas, Texas in the 80s where I saw the bumper sticker: “Oh, Lord! Give me another Oil Boom – I promise I won’t piss it away!”
     How many stories are there of highly successful people who have lost it all for one reason or another (internal or external)?  How many men who I have taught in our local jail recount tales of great lives, happy families – which they have lost, one way or another, through addiction?
Antimony - good, or the bad, will collapse into its opposite. That’s an eventual factor in Choice Architecture. Even genocide will be overcome by the world’s conscience.

It is possible to re-model your life, contemplate the choices you assume you must make. Re-think the decisions and examine the architecture behind the choice which led to your choice. There are choices between the big retailers and the small. There are major brands and local. What is offered on television and local theatre.
Do not misunderstand!  Mall and local may not be best.There is not one way of being which is better or protects you! Perhaps the best surgeon at the largest hospital in your half of the country, with years of experience, in exactly your critical illness, is exactly what you need to save your life. But, Choice Architecture might be telling you that the regional hospital has been “voted best” by local residents.  O-k-a-a-y.
The point is, we should study the Choice Architecture around us. Learn why you are making your decision. You create the Plan-O-Gram for your life.  Oh, and by the way, you may decide you choose to change yourself so that the old Plan-O-Gram doesn’t apply and you decide an entirely new set of choices are required. Maybe choices less about the material world and more about values and ideals – spiritual components. Believe me, that is possible, too.

© Copyright 2015, Jean w. Yeager
All Rights Reserved

TH3 SIMPLE QUESTIONS: Slice Open Everyday Life
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Friday, September 4, 2015


Dear Readers -
Sorry to break the form of the blog but
I wanted to share this with you.
“A Call To Arms on a Vermont’s Heroin Epidemic” – NEW YORK TIMES, February 27,2014
The New Face of Heroin”  ROLLING STONE, April 3, 2014


                In February 2014, the New York Times and regional television news channels unofficially dubbed Rutland, Vermont (my hometown) the “heroin capital” of the U.S.  Like many areas, loss of jobs, bad economic times, and other social factors, made our area easy prey to dealers. This was not news to us who were residents of Rutland, but we were shocked to learn how bad it really was. We were naïve and “asleep”.
My son who moved in with my wife and I that February asked me if I knew what was really going on with frequent, short stops by cars at my neighbor’s house. I had to admit I didn’t know.”  My, son, who had joined us after his own “rough patch” at age 29 who lived for months in a ghetto in Florida, informed me that it was a good bet that the boy next door was selling drugs. I was stunned.
                Within a year, the community reacted to this apparent epidemic and began a large-scale effort of police, city policy wonks (housing), everyday citizens, business people and mental-health workers to attempt to change the dynamics within the community. A project “Vision” was launched which is underway today and. I have been a volunteer in this effort since it was launched. Everyone has been encouraged to get involved in any way. 

                We moved to Vermont from Michigan a number of years ago. When I lived in Michigan, I taught an 8-week introduction Steiner’s “Six Supplementary Exercises” to inmates in maximum security prisons. In April 2015, I proposed to offer this program at our local jail in Rutland, the Marble Valley Correctional Institution (MVCI).  I use the pamphlet, “Self Development In The Penitentiary” by Fred Janney, Board Chair of the Anthroposophic Prison Outreach (APO) program sponsored by the Anthroposophical Society in America.
                This time I was to incorporate material from David Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. Kahneman put important scientific research “wheels” under Steiner’s exercises in that Kahneman articulated two systems within the human psyche: System 1 (S1) an “automatic system” for thinking, feeling, and willing. S1 is our automatic “set-up” practices about which we are casual. And, research identified System 2 (S2) an “effortful” system by which we challenge our in-built, automatic system. Steiner’s exercises are all about moving from S1 behavior to S2.
Steiner offers something Kahneman doesn’t - specific exercises for S2 thinking, S2 intentions, and S2 feelings, S2 openness, S2 positivity. The exercises represent the kind of an “architecture” which actually gives inmates meaningful experiences of change which in being different – no matter how briefly. The six exercises are like spokes on a wheel which revolve around a central hub of personal integrity – a subject of much conversation – how to have a chance to change and rebuild a life.
The architecture was identified by the late John Davy many years ago when he compared the six exercises to Kűbler-Ross’ steps to recovery in Death and Dying:  denial requires new thinking, anger is a rebellion of the will, bargaining requires equanimity, depression is healed with positivity, acceptance needs openness and hope comes from harmony. Certainly, the men incarcerated will go through these steps at some time, consciously or not.
                Jail is different from prison. In prison men are incarcerated for years. In jail, weeks or months.I had 25 inmates over the 8 weeks. Five of those completed all eight weeks and were given “certificate” of completion which may have value in their parole process.  The ages were as young as 20s and as old as 50s. Most crimes were non-violent.
                The weeks were:
(1) Introductions / Overview, “Rules Of The Road”,
(2) Control of Thinking – practice in concentration, focused thinking, overcoming “flighty” thoughts, distraction and finding an undisturbed period.
(3) Control of Intentions – mastery of impulses, regularity, accomplishment.
(4) Control of Feelings – tolerance, forbearance, equilibrium and equanimity.
(5) Positivity – looking for the good, the true, and the beautiful in each situation. (The guys said to me, “Are you kidding, Jean? We’re in JAIL!” So, I replied: “Okay – what’s your option? Look for the bad (evil), the false and the ugly? Lots of that around here. Your choice.)
(6) Open mindedness – the ability to not let the past dictate the future, staying flexible, meeting other minds.
(7) Harmony / Balance – repetition of exercises.
(8) Maintenance - Creating choice architecture which eliminates S1.
                The weekly sessions became opportunities for men to discuss the experience of incarceration and how to make choices to improve their experiences – inside and out of jail. Shared problem solving emerged regarding all sorts of issues: recovery, dysfunctional family dynamics (“That teenager just pushes my buttons!) and internal jail pressures were handled within Steiner’s framework.
                Following the 8-weeks, I conduced a follow-on 4-weeks of “Communication Skills” which added listening, questioning, and presentation skill building. Written evaluations of the 8-week program were provided to Jail Administration and we intend to repeat the program on an ongoing basis.
                I encourage each of you to get involved where you live. By teaching these very simple exercises, we get to practice them again and again, and some of us (me) need that. Are they really “supplementary”? “Supplementary” to what? These ARE the exercises.
-          Jean Yeager. Rutland, Vermont
THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, Daniel Kahneman, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, NY, 2011
SIX STEPS IN SELF-DEVELOPMENT The Supplementary Exercises, Rudolf Steiner, Selected by Ates Baydur, Rudolf Steiner Press, 2010
HOPE EVOLUTION AND CHANGE, John Davy, Hawthorne Press, 1990