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Mindfulness & The Battle to Claim Yoga: The Irony of the “Warrior Poses” November 28, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Religion, Yoga.
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Yoga’s exploding popularity as form of physical exercise and a meditative method for achieving greater life balance has ironically caused some of its participants to wage a verbal war over yoga’s origins.  The Hindu American Foundation initiated a “Take Back Yoga” campaign to increase awareness of yoga’s Hindu roots.  “In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

The campaign has gone viral and caused reaction (or perhaps in mindfulness terms, reactivity) throughout the yoga community at all levels.  In fact the New York Times reports that: “Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it.”

And… In June, the Indian government began digitizing ancient drawings that depict more than 4000 yoga poses, purportedly to discourage further yoga copyrights like Bikram Choudhury’s 2007 copyright for the 26 poses now known as Bikram yoga.

Wow, what happened to the concept of a collective consciousness and a mutual striving to eliminate suffering?  Perhaps America, as the land of entrepreneurial opportunity, happened to yoga.  Or perhaps the ongoing struggle within our melting pot to achieve a balance of the yearning for cultural respect and individuality alongside the inevitable assimilation and blending of various aspects of diverse cultures is at the root of the ‘Take Back Yoga” campaign.  Maybe the campaign would never have caused such a stir without the internet to serve as an available battleground.

Whatever the sociological and psychological underpinnings may be, hopefully the participants will soon pause, return to focus on the breath and transition from the warrior pose to engage in a restorative yoga experience.  Yoga is a gift, whatever its ancient origins may be, and living in the present moment may assist in alleviating suffering for all involved.

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Politics vs Humanity? Health Care and Fundamental Rights November 26, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Health care, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Interesting juxtaposition in the New York Times online afternoon update today…The update  contains an article described as Administration Is Bracing for Setbacks to Health Law, which adeptly describes the democratic forces at play as the constitutionality of requiring everyone to obtain health insurance under the Obama health care plan is being challenged in the courts by various opponents including state attorney generals and members of Congress. All parties seem to agree that regardless of what any specific judge decides at the district level, the issue will ultimately wind its way up to the Supreme Court. There is also debate as to the repercussions of a finding of unconstitutionally of that section of the bill. Would that doom the whole bill?  That’s not clear in the language of the bill. So, essentially we have a program proposed by the Executive Branch, passed by the Legislative Branch, now being challenged in the Judicial Branch by various parties that include representatives of the states. Great–Democracy in action, civics 101–this provision is not scheduled to go into effect for three years anyway. All is good….Or is it?

Scroll down on the New York Times list and one is  reminded that the underlying issue in this democratic “exercise” is the fundamental right to health care. What on this list  jars the memory? A video report entitled South Korea’s War on Dementia. Seems that the government there has realized that within 15 years, 20% of the population will be over 65 and despite the tradition of families caring for their own elderly, there will be an imbalance in the ratio of caretakers to those in need of care. So, the government has launched a war on dementia and is on a mission to increase awareness, build nursing homes and provide health care training to its society, including the youth.

It is a compelling piece and one that brought to mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948 as the world was still reeling from the inhumanity of the Holocaust and World War II. This document is still embraced by the United Nations as a reflection of rights to which all human beings are entitled. Article 25 states: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Article 25–laudatory goal or fundamental human right? Seems that given the fact that it was authored over 60 years ago, it remains both.  The juxtaposing of South Korea’s war on dementia with the ongoing battles in the United States over the health care system does not provide the ultimate answer as to how all people may obtain health care nor does it define society’s role in solving the dilemma.  However, it does highlight the underlying issue of humanity involved when one lives in a society in which socio-economic status may determine whether someone who is ill will have the opportunity to get well.

Lean to the Left, Lean to the Right…Stand Up, Sit Down, Is It Really a First Amendment Fight? — NPR v Juan Williams October 24, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Racial Discrimination, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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The U.S. Constitution provides freedom of speech and press….that is found in the First Amendment.  Our freedoms to feel and think, regardless of whether we speak, are innate and have been described by philosophers as aspects of our natural rights as human beings. Juan Williams, a self described Black journalist and civil rights advocate, shared his feelings of a “moment of  anxiety” when boarding an airplane, post 9/11, along side Muslim individuals who are dressed in traditional Muslim clothing.  Williams expressed these views on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News where Williams is a paid contributor.  Williams has also warned about the potential of this type of fear to create unwarranted bigotry against Muslims.  National Public Radio, (NPR), who employed Williams as a news analyst, promptly fired Williams stating that there is no place in analyzing the news for  a reporter’s opinion as it undermines credibility.

Williams was immediately offered a large contract by Fox News as the backlash against NPR for the firing continues….Interesting to ponder whether if the situation had been reversed–if Williams had made the comment on NPR as a guest contributor while an employee of Fox–whether this would even be much of  a news item. Williams was not reporting a news event.  He was expressing a personal anxiety that  has become especially inflammatory in light of recent controversies in the news concerning the building of a mosque near ground zero and the threatened burning of the Koran on 9/11.

Whether his statement, which he has since explained was made to highlight the need to pause and become aware of ones feelings to achieve a rational tolerance for others and avoid bigotry, is inappropriate journalism, an overreaction by a hypersensitive left-wing news organization or just a reflection of the reality of post 9/11 tension in society is the subject of the current debate.  It begs the question of what is the responsibility  and appropriate role of those participating in the 24 hour cable news cycle phenomena?

Clearly, the First Amendment allows Williams to share his anxiety and permits everyone else to criticize his decision to make his feelings public.  NPR’s termination of Williams and Fox’s offer of a new contract are likewise permissible expressions of disapproval and support.

The question remains what is the most appropriate manner and forum in which to discuss the realities of undeniable post 9/11 tensions that linger in our country?  Do we talk “around” the underlying reality of these tensions in debating the ground zero mosque?  Do we remove irrational prejudice and bigotry in our society by  claiming that it is illegal, socially unacceptable and ignoring an analysis of its roots?  The answers to these questions vary based upon to whom the questions are posed.  Juan Williams believes that in revealing his own visceral fear and identifying it as a cause for concern, he was contributing to a discussion in which he hoped acknowledgement and exposure of human nature might alert us to the potential for unwarranted discrimination arising from this type of fear. Others believe that as a high-profile figure, his statement reinforced and condoned anti-Muslim sentiment in our country.  The answers depend upon a person’s particular orientation and perspective.  However, more important than the answers, is the debate concerning the questions and the freedom of speech that permits the conversation to continue.

Please Ask, Do Tell: The Senate And Gays in the Military September 23, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Gays in the Military, Immigration, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Another case of democracy in action. (Or is that inaction?)  The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of allowing gays in the military only if no one knows that they are gay has been the subject of controversy since it was instituted 17 years ago.  It is estimated that at least 65,000 “uncover” gay individuals continue to serve our country.  However, gay soldiers continue to be expelled from the military when their sexual preference is discovered at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to train their replacements.   In fact, it has been reported that approximately 1,000 individuals per year are dismissed from the military based upon homosexuality and at least 13,000 have been terminated from military service since the policy went into effect.

The resolution of this issue by a policy change which would allow gays to openly serve in the military is supported by President Obama who called for the change in his State of the Union address.  Mr. Gates, the Secretary of Defense, is supporting the repeal of the policy and  the House of Representatives passed an amendment in May which calls for the repeal of the policy.  On September 9th, a Federal Court in California deemed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy to be unconstitutional.

Okay, so seems like we have all three branches of government in agreement…Well, not quite all three branches….The Congress is not united on the issue.  The House of Representatives passed an amendment, but the Senate has failed to do so.  Actually, the Senate failed to debate and pass the entire Pentagon bill for the first time in 48 years.   It seems that the problem was more of a political battle over what other amendments were going to be attached to the bill, just before the November elections, rather than  the actual issue of gays in the military.

In other words, the failure of the bill to pass seems to be largely a result of the legislative process. For example, The Dream Act, that would allow illegal immigrant children a pathway to citizenship, was going to be attached to the bill and therefore voting for the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy would also be a vote for The Dream Act. Different issue and perhaps one upon which some Senators did not want to cast a vote.   And apparently there were  proposed amendments that were going to be excluded from the bill to the discontent of some Senators.   Additionally, there was a provision providing for over 400 million dollars for construction of  an extra engine for an F-35 strike fighter.  That provision might have been passed by the Senate, but if it was included, President Obama was poised to veto bill as the White House believes that it is an unnecessary expenditure.

It gets even more complicated if you go through all the moving parts of this bill and analyze the various November election concerns, but the point is that the politics of the legislative process is what often stymies progress.  Consensus becomes difficult at best and impossible at times because of a process that bundles unrelated issues into one package.  So, for now, the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has been stalled in the Senate along with the Dream Act to the frustration of the both the gay rights and immigration reform advocates.   Perhaps we should all “please ask and do tell” the Senate to reconsider its “packaging process” to more effectively play its  role in  resolving issues of concern to all of us–We the People–their constituents.

The Dollars and Sense of Criminal Justice: Missouri Provides Its Judges With the Cost of Incarceration September 19, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Criminal law, Law, Ethics & Society, U.S. Constitution.
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Should the fact that it costs about a half million dollars to incarcerate a convicted felon for 30 years be a consideration for the sentencing judge?  Or should it be an issue to be raised by defense counsel at a sentencing hearing?  What about the fact that an individual convicted of robbery could be sentenced to intensive probation at a cost of $9,000.00, but the designated incarceration will cost  the state $50,000.00?

Criminal activity and the resulting prosecution and incarceration in our country costs billions of dollars a year. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in June, 2010: that “the United States currently incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world. In 2008, over 2.3 million Americans were in prison or jail, and one of every 48 working-age men was behind bars. These rates are not just far above those of the rest of the world, they are also substantially higher than our own long-standing historical experience. The financial costs of our corrections policies are staggering. In 2008, federal, state, and local governments spent about $75 billion on corrections, the large majority of which was spent on incarceration.”

The Missouri Sentencing Commission is providing its judges with the cost of incarceration as additional information that may be considered when imposing a sentence.  The cost to society of releasing criminals as a result of shorter sentences or probation may be balanced against the literal cost of sending these people to prison.

It is a cost benefit analysis that ultimately has overall cost to society as its focus.   The question for some, is whether this type of calculation is appropriate in the criminal justice system.  Is it a necessary reality check or is the value of punishing criminal behavior priceless?  Are certain types of crime worth the punishment while others not so much?  The judgement is ours to render.

Really, Can’t We All Just Get Along? Or Does Relocation of a Mosque “Trump” National Burn a Koran Day? September 9, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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So, this week while Rodney King plans to wed one of the jurors in his case, Donald attempts to “Trump” a small town pastor by  placing a losing bet on the purchase of the  building near ground zero in which the controversial Islamic center is planned.  Meanwhile,  the President of Indonesia is imploring President Obama to keep the pastor from burning Korans on Saturday, September 11th, and the Secretary of Defense is on the phone attempting to persuade the pastor not to burn the Korans.  Wait–it gets better–the pastor calls off the burning based upon a message from God which indicates that the Islamic center is moving its location.  Problem is that God apparently forgot to mention the deal to the folks planning to build the center because they are not moving it despite the pastor’s message from God and Donald Trump’s offer to pay the main investor 6 million dollars (a 25% immediate return on investment). Now the pastor is reconsidering and may  still burn the Korans.

I imagine if I submitted this storyline to any movie producer or director, I would be laughed out of their offices for proposing such an unfathomable plot.  Before leaving I would attempt to persuade them that this is a story about America–Freedom of speech, religion, the right to assemble, etc, etc, etc.  Donald Trump is making his offer as a resident of New York and a citizen of the United States, a patriot in a capitalist country (or is that a capitalist in a patriotic country?),  in an attempt to end the strife over the Ground Zero Mosque Issue.  The whole world is watching as our President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and yes, even Sara Palin, have come together  in agreement that it is a bad idea to burn Korans even if it is  constitutionally justifiable ( and even though they don’t all agree on whether the ground zero mosque should be built).

Having still failed in my attempt to “sell” the story to Hollywood, I might finally concede that truth is stranger than fiction….And sometimes life becomes so crazy that it appears that the only solution is to ask everyone to pause, breathe and remember that beneath our religious beliefs, political preferences, ethnic and cultural differences we are all, first and foremost, members of one race–the human race.  In that regard a little respect, humility and sensitivity would go a long way.

Burning the Koran: The Frightening Reach of the Internet and The First Amendment September 8, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Religion, U.S. Constitution.
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Pastor Terry Jones, the pastor of a church with 50 members, is planning a national burning of the Koran day to commemorate September 11th.  He lives in Gainesville, Florida and in another era Jones’ hostile rhetoric might have been only a local community problem.  However, introduce Facebook and the reach of the internet and Jones has created an international controversy with people not only cheering and abhorring the event, but also fearing for their lives in foreign countries.

Jones, who holsters a gun on his hip, is aware of pleas from Christians who live as far away as Indonesia and Afghanistan and are afraid of the repercussions of the burning the Koran.  However, Jones appears to be stubborn in his determination to spread his word of the evil infiltration of Islam into our country.  All of this fervor despite the fact that Jones acknowledges that he has never read the Koran and only knows what the Bible says.

One insightful observer has commented that Terry Jones has “hijacked Christianity” much as Al Qaeda “hijacked Islam.” So why are Gainesville officials allowing Mr Jones to proceed?  Terry Jones’ actions are blanketed in First Amendment protection–The U.S. Supreme Court has held that both the burning of the American flag and the Ku Klux Klan’s cross burning is a form of  protected speech unless it is done with intent to specifically intimidate another individual.

Our democracy allows Jones to initiate National Burn a Koran Day and also supports the right of the people planning to assemble to protest Jones’ event.  Again, one has to wonder whether the Founding Fathers  might have been a bit more specific in their thinking if they could have envisioned the Internet and the international ripples that Facebook enables.  And we should note once again that just because someone is afforded Constitutional rights does not necessarily speak to the wisdom of exercising those rights, insensitively, at the expense of others.

As a person whose ancestors were murdered at Auschwitz, I cannot help but connect the burning of books to Nazi Germany. “Book burnings by German college students preceded Kristallnacht and proved 19th century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine’s prediction. “Where they burns books they will eventually burn people.””

While I am always cautious  when invoking a Nazi analogy and clearly distinguish Nazi inhumanity as government action rather than the ranting of an individual citizen empowered with freedom of expression,  I am sure that I am not alone in having that guttural reaction.  Obviously, the burning of any books, and especially a sacred book, is a powerful statement and that is why Jones is planning his bonfire.

And while our country tolerates a wide range of freedom of expression, what we do not legally tolerate and should not socially tolerate is abject discrimination.  The fact that we have honest dialogue and exchange of varying viewpoints is undeniably an admirable, precious feature of our government.  The fact that we currently are having a debate about the “Muslim issue” in our country is alarming beyond expression and should be  frightening to anyone who  respects not only the right of  freedom of religion, but also the basic right to be free. Period. Pure and simple.

Dream or Nightmare? Glenn Beck Standing in Martin Luther King’s “Spot” at the Lincoln Memorial August 29, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Religion.
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Martin Luther King uttered his famous “I had a dream” speech 47 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial.  ‘Wonder what he would have thought of Glenn Beck’s religious revival as an anniversary celebration….? Glenn Beck says the timing is just a coincidence or divine providence.  He started planning a political rally about a year ago, but at some point realized that there was a need for a religious taking back of America.

Wow, the First Amendment’s promise of free speech is in full force–-that’s a good thing–-But what about the part of the same Amendment that assures not only freedom of religion, but separation of church and state?  It’s a little frightening to see a call to reclaim America as a religious state.  Especially when the folks funding the Tea Party are extraordinarily wealthy big business types who have their own agendas.  (See Frank Rich’s column on the Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party here)

So, is Glenn Beck’s rally, America at its finest or democracy at its scariest?  Democracy is still the best system that we have devised to allow for individual freedom and liberty, but sometimes one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research—A Democratic Hot Potato August 28, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Stem Cell Research.
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A game of hot potato among the three branches of government describes the ongoing struggle to use embryonic stem cell research to attempt to find a cure for paralysis and  diseases such as Parkinson’s, ALS, and juvenile diabetes.

Judge Royce Lamberth’s order enjoining the use of embryonic stem cells in federally financed research stunned the scientific community this week. “Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Health Institutes, told reporters Tuesday in a telephone briefing that he was “shocked” by the ruling and that “this decision has the potential to do serious damage to one of the most promising areas of biomedical research. It comes just at the time when we were really gaining momentum.”

The ongoing research is being conducted in accordance with both the Bush administration’s executive order and the Obama administration’s expansion of that order which is reflected in the current National Institute of Health (NIH) regulations.  Essentially, the regulations permit embryonic stem cell research as long as the embryos were created with private funding and the donors consent to the use of the embryos for research.

Embryos are generally available from the surplus at fertility clinics.   Individuals who are attempting in vitro fertilization often have lab-cultivated embryos remaining if the in vitro fertilization is successful in an early attempt.  If not used for research, the embryos will be discarded.

Anti-abortion groups oppose the use of these embryos as the destruction of life.  However, these embryos will be destroyed regardless, so proponents of the research point to the myriad of diseases and suffering that may be alleviated if the research is permitted.  Interestingly, the opponents in this debate are somewhat fluid as evidenced by various conservatives recognizing the distinction between embryonic stem cell research and abortion when one of the targeted diseases strikes a loved one.

So what are the rules of hot potato in this emotionally charged democratic game?

Let’s break it down.  Voters elect their representatives to Congress.  Congress then passes legislation, in this case the Dickey-Wicker Amendment mandating that federal funding not be used for research involving the destruction of embryos.  The President is charged with executing the law.  In executing the law, the President often delegates the details to an administrative agency, in this case NIH, to draft regulations consistent with Congressional legislation.   During the creation of these regulations, the public is offered the opportunity to comment.  (NIH received over 12,000 comments on these regulations.)  The agency is required to consider the comments and publish final regulations.

An agency’s final regulations may be challenged in court if there is a viable argument that the agency exceeded its authority.   In this case, Christian groups and researchers using adult stem cells, and vying for the same federal funding dollars as the embryonic cell research groups, filed suit.  The complaint alleges that the NIH regulations exceed the agency’s authority because Congress has clearly spoken on the issue of embryonic stem cell research–no federal funding for any research that destroys or discards an embryo.  When Congress unambiguously declares its intent, then the agency may not interpret, but only execute that intent. Judge Lamberth concluded that Congress has spoken without ambiguity and therefore the regulations go beyond the intent of the law. The case will continue to wind its way through the judicial system or Congress has the prerogative to change the law.

“Scientists said the ruling, which came as a surprise to many in the field, highlights the danger of having medical research policy that is subject to the whims of the judicial system.

Michael West, CEO of Embryonic Sciences, Inc. and adjunct professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley likens this kind of ruling to playing “political football” with medical research and says he is “ashamed of our government.”

“These roadblocks and delays could well mean the unnecessary suffering or death of a fellow human being some day in the future. We should not allow political differences to encroach on our moral duty to alleviate human suffering when it is in our power to do so,” he adds.” (See ABC report here)

Roger Clemens Throws a Destructive Curve Ball…And Other Matters of Deception, Ethics and Mindfulness August 24, 2010

Posted by legalethicsemporium in Law, Ethics & Society, Mindfulness, sports.
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Perhaps we should add boomerang pitch to the baseball accomplishments of Roger Clemens.  What is the boomerang pitch?  It is a pitch that is thrown VOLUNTARILY despite the fact that it is destined to return and hit the pitcher upside the head.  Roger Clemens has been indicted for perjury after voluntarily  testifying before Congress and adamantly denying that he used illegal performance enhancing drugs.  The reaction of the public has ranged from shock, awe and disgust to calls for forgiveness based upon Clemens’ notable contributions to baseball and a suggestion that he is being singled out for prosecution because of his celebrity.  (That’s a new twist on the analysis of celebrity status and its impact on prosecution….)

We could easily dismiss that argument except that it seems to be a current cultural theme.   Huh?  Well, there has been much speculation and analysis about why Rod Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois, was only found guilty on 1 of the 24 criminal counts against him that involved allegations and an abundance of evidence of  dishonesty, fraud and an attempt to sell the Senate seat left vacant by President Obama’s election.  Apparently, some of the jurors just thought that Blagojevich was being “singled out” by the government for activities that are just typical political behavior.

Clemens and Blagojevich maintain that they are not lying–-In fact, Clemens’ attorney has recently defended Clemens with a questionable “doesn’t make sense that he would lie” argument and Blagojevich is spending time at  a Comic Convention, appearing on talk shows and claiming that his political future is not over.   While the final “jury” is not in on these two, their denials are reminiscent of the deceptions perpetrated by the likes  of John Edwards, Mark Sanford, and Elliot Spitzer, just to name a few.

What’s the problem?  Is it a “simple” matter of ethics and morality?  There certainly has been a call for more ethics and character education in schools. And the media and criminal justice system seems to have sharpened the focus on ethics violations in recent years.  The problem is not simply one of ethics–-Surely, most of these people who stumbled and the many others who we all know, but do not have the notoriety to make “the news” with their missteps,  knew right from wrong.  In fact, unless there is a developmental mishap, we all develop a conscience by about the age of six years old.

So, what’s the problem?   The problem is a lack of mindfulness.  What’s that? Mindfulness has to do with an individual’s conscious awareness in the moment.  We  teach a course in Professional Responsibility and Mindfulness at the University of Miami School of Law. When  students were asked on the opening day of class to define mindfulness, they offered descriptive words and phrases such as: awareness, overcoming animal instincts, deliberate action, finding work/life balance , considering the effects of your actions.

Scott Rogers, the founder of the Institute for Mindfulness, who co-teaches the course provides the students not only with an understanding of the concept of mindfulness, but also with the underpinnings of the neuroscience that explains decision-making and what occurs when we impulsively react as opposed to thoughtfully respond.

It is a complicated topic about which much has been written, but it is a simple concept for the purposes of our discussion today.  The bottom line is that we should be teaching not only ethics, but also mindfulness.  It is important to teach children moral lessons, but if you do not give them the tools to understand how to apply these lessons, then the instruction is incomplete.  Why not teach children from a young age how our minds function, how emotion influences decisions and actions, and how to be aware of their own feelings and reactions.? Why not continue this education every year along with math and english?  (And, by the way, it’s not too late to teach the adult population—Neuroscience confirms that we are able to continually learn, expand and change our brains.) Just imagine a world in which most people existed in a conscious state of awareness most of the time.

Maybe Clemens and Blagojevich and all of the other ethical “missteppers” in our midst were aware, considered their primal impulses, the effects of their actions  and took deliberate, conscious action.  Maybe the earth is flat.  Maybe it’s time to teach mindfulness along with the orbiting earth.

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