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The Big Answer


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Refrigerator Rights

a book by Will Miller and Glenn Sparks

(our site's book review)

Miller and Sparks see the core emotional problem facing people these days as “a pervasive personal detachment and aloofness from other people.” They want us to restore refrigerator rights. By this they mean the closeness—physical and emotional—to family, friends, and neighbors. Miller says that when he took the needed steps to get close to people again, his stress levels went down.

It’s Miller’s (and Sparks') opinion that people overinvest in marriage relationships, hoping they will fill all their emotional needs. By expecting too much we wreck or cripple the relationship—which can carry over into screwing up parent-child relationships as well. “We're not made to live this way,” the authors say. We’re social animals.

People overinvest in marriage relationships, hoping they will fill all their emotional needs, but they won't so people have affairs or turn to drugs, alcohol, workaholism, overeating, gambling or hypermaterialism
People overinvest in marriage relationships, hoping they will fill all their emotional needs, but they won't so people have affairs or turn to drugs, alcohol, workaholism, overeating, gambling or hypermaterialism


putting all ones eggs in a single basket consistently wrecks relationships
Putting all ones eggs in a single basket consistently wrecks relationships

Philip Slater calls this putting of all ones eggs in a single basket “steep-gradient of nurturance.” Steep-gradient nurturance is caregiving in which mothers are faced with exclusive nurturing of young, forming an unnatural obsessive dependency and generating ideas that in the future one will be unhappy until one marries that “one special someone” who will fill all ones needs. It never works out this way, of course, so divorce, misery, depression are often the result, and it rarely occurs to those nurtured this way that it is their childhood nurturing pattern of exclusive nurturing—not their mate—that failed them! (See Slater's Earthwalk.)

Depression
Depression


Feeling Good is a great book to empower the treating of depression as well as ridding oneself of negative thoughts and emotions resulting mostly from parenting errors
Feeling Good is a great book to empower the treating of depression as well as ridding oneself of negative thoughts and emotions resulting mostly from parenting errors

Win-lose relationships are poor relationships. Win-win relationships (the ideal type for couples as well as in parenting) are not that usual in our culture. Win-lose is the norm, and it's the steep-gradient-nurturing approach that predisposes us toward this win-lose phenomenon more than anything. The flat-gradient-nurturance-based family tradition (multiple caregiving) has been and is the custom of choice in a majority of cultures, past and present, as both Dr. Ronald P. Rohner and George Peter Murdock have demonstrated. In 1986’s The Warmth Dimension, Rohner showed that when the nurturance alternatives and the flatness of the gradient of nurturance increases (i.e., more caregivers), the positive outcomes go up dramatically. George Peter Murdock, who told us decades ago that only in a small minority of societies do nuclear families stand alone (isolated). In the great majority of societies (140 out of 187 at the time, which is 75 percent) for which sample data is available, nuclear families are in village-like clusters (microcommunities)—sometimes very MC-like clusters, and they utilize proximity for convenient resource sharing, helping, joint efforts—especially shared childcare.

What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped

As the book correctly notes, exclusive relationships without social support networks are unhealthy and lead to people feeling trapped, and then divorce or abandonment happens. They reiterate what the social scientists have been saying: flat-gradient-nurturance-based family tradition (multiple caregiving) is the norm, and it produces the healthiest, calmest people and the healthiest relationships.

Slater also tells us that our traditions, values, and beliefs regarding individualism each contribute to our continual frustration of our inherent desire for community and engagement. Steep-gradient nurturance creates this excessive individualism obsession.

The authors say that too many rely on pharmaceutical drugs (like antidepressants) alone or psychotherapy as a substitute for family ties. And too many rely on TV or other media, drug abuse including alcohol, recreational addictions, and other distractions to stave off loneliness.

All too many rely on TV as an escape or a feel-good drug
All too many rely on TV as an escape or a feel-good drug

They assert that many people relocate to get away from their families who make them feel trapped. But while they still believe that leaving their own family was a good thing, they usually don’t create a new “family” so they are alone or have very few close relationships.

They also say that it’s easier to begin the process of becoming emotionally connected through the anonymity of the Internet than to kick off a deeper relationship with nearby people.

Many shy people have started having friends for the first time because of Facebook, so this is very helpful to them, psychologically. Miller and Sparks call these weak ties, and, for the most part, they are just that—but a few are strong. They feel the strong ties experienced on the Net are with people one already had strong ties with, like family and f2f friends. They say the homebound, the chronically ill, and those living in remote areas can get a life-changing experience from the Net, but the rest of us often are wasting time with weak online friendships when we’d be better off relating to people nearby.

We take issue with that idea, not because people are better off relating online—they're not—but because people nearby (neighbors) are randomly selected and not very likely to have much in common with each other. Online one learns about people and only spends cyber-time with people whom one has a good connection with and lots in common with. The Internet empowers people to find others one is compatible with. The neighborhood often has few or no interesting people who are near the same age and whom you feel compatible with—it’s a random assortment of people.

On Facebook, can you imagine just randomly looking through zillions of profiles of people most of whom are the wrong age or speak a different language or are otherwise incompatible? No, you find others more like you in interests, age, etc. Most neighborhoods have few such people, so people have to drive or cycle several miles to get to friends, which costs time and money. People like to relate to their friends after curfew, or before getting out of bed, and the Net allows all this—conveniently. You can see how cyber-relationships are felt to be easier and better than f2f ones, especially for teens. Teens can and do relate to several people they're very compatible with simultaneously, using chat, email, text, and IMing in a multitasking frenzy. Nothing remotely like this can or will be offered by a teen’s neighbors!

However, having said that, we also agree with Miller’s and Sparks' attachment to face-to-face relationships as being better in many ways. Reading body language and hearing voice tones and inflections is important. Touching others is important. Teens are starting to lose their f2f relationship skills since they get little practice, so this further disposes them to cyber-relationship exclusivity. The bottom line on the whole community subject is here: Why Do We Need Communities?.

Most importantly, child nurturing factors in here. Parents and teens need to feel and be part of a close family in which all those needing nurturing get it when they need it. It is not good for teens to be uninvolved with family nurturing issues, nor is it good for parents to be too busy to care for their young so they foist the task onto babysitters or uncaring daycare workers. We understand the need to work and put bread on the table, but parents need to take part in childcare as much as possible.

Many parents let the TV babysit their kids. This is NOT a nurturing situation. This situation does NOT fill needs.
Many parents let the TV babysit their kids. This is NOT a nurturing situation. This situation does NOT fill needs.

The problem, of course, is that in normal family scenes there are too few resources to handle the needed childcare. And the person doing it is too often tired, crabby, stressed out, busy, distracted, or ill. Normal family childcare quite often fails to furnish the kid or kids with a caring person in the right shape and mood to do good childcare. So bad childcare happens, or simple maintenance (“let the TV babysit him”). This is NOT a nurturing situation. This situation does NOT fill needs. This subpar situation sends the kid a clear message that s/he is NOT highly valued.

Bad, non-need-filling, non-nurturing childcare is bad for kids and bad for the family, and yet it happens in most families some of the time and some families most or all of the time.

The children in 8 percent of child care settings receive hardly any positive caregiving
The children in 8 percent of child care settings receive hardly any positive caregiving

Looking at the results of the massive National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study (1991-2001):

· children in 9 percent of child care settings receive a lot of positive caregiving.
· children in 30 percent of child care settings receive a fair amount of positive caregiving.
· children in 53 percent of child care settings receive some positive caregiving.
· children in 8 percent of child care settings receive hardly any positive caregiving.

So the kids in 53 percent of childcare settings receive some positive caregiving in nonmaternal childcare settings, meaning they often do not get it. How does this compare to maternal care? In a study: “Maternal versus nonmaternal care and seven domains of children's development,” a series of meta-analyses was conducted on findings from 59 studies to examine the linkage between maternal versus nonmaternal care, 7 indices of child behavior, and 10 potential moderators. Results indicate that children receiving nonmaternal care do not differ from children receiving maternal care on any of the 7 indices. Moms do no better or worse than daycare scenes.

Childcare at a center
Childcare at a center

As we've said, bad, non-need-filling, non-nurturing childcare is bad for kids and bad for the family, and yet it happens in most families some of the time and some families most or all of the time, regardless of who does the childcare. Lack of social resources is leading to subpar care for the majority of kids, just as it is leading to all the problems Miller and Sparks bemoan.

The authors' solution: “While we may become separated from our family of origin, we still need fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces. We need to rebuild our lost families by forging connections with other people who can step into those roles.” Correct—if our old family is a pain in the tail, we make a new one. See Householders Living with Unrelated Adults.

We say start an MC (microcommunity).

Miller and Sparks say that the people to fill our new family’s roles are all around us if we just look. They are “coworkers, members of your church or club, people you see at the PTA, or neighbors.” This, unfortunately, takes us right back to the random collection issue we already handled above. They advise us also to find normal people. They advise us also to find healthy people. As a therapist, teacher, and chaplain, all of which Miller is, this makes sense. But there's a hitch: Normal has 2 meanings: “usual,” and “physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.” Unless you see the world through rose colored glasses like Pollyanna, you know the usual, average person you meet is not physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy—many are none of these. A small percent (15?) seem healthy at first but further investigation often sees through the front they were putting on and now you're likely down to 5%. Of these, when you start trying to draw close, many will think you're coming on to them and hit the exit. Many are too busy. Many are not interested. If you're lucky you're now down to somewhere between 0.1% and 1%.

Rose colored glasses are needed when we see that the average person we meet is not physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy
Rose colored glasses are needed when we see that the average person we meet is not physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy

So we see why so many people like the Internet for filtering through various “friends” and getting close to only special ones. These may not end up as any healthier than the f2f people you’ve encountered, but contrast slowly—over years—whittling down the hundreds of people you encounter f2f until there is one or two left. One wants to get to know you better and the other is leaving to move to NYC in a week.

In a small fraction of that time, the online friend seeker has whittled 400 friends down to 10 “keepers.” And he did it anytime, day or night, at his convenience, without having to go to meetings, alienate neighbors, or go to clubs or churches he wasn’t really wanting to go to. Techno-teens and young adults these days seem to have an instinct for efficiency, as well as multitasking. But older adults have learned a lot from them, and although they're not multitasking as much, many are whittling their own pile of friends down to a few relationships that mean a lot to them.

In short, Miller’s and Sparks' method is best for people who like most anybody they meet and wish to associate with a lot of them, but it’s weak for most “normal” people that are much fussier and choosier. Life’s too short—way too short!

Miller’s and Sparks' method is best for people who like most anybody they meet and wish to associate with a lot of them, but it’s weak for most “normal” people that are much fussier and choosier
Miller’s and Sparks' method is best for people who like most anybody they meet and wish to associate with a lot of them, but it’s weak for most “normal” people that are much fussier and choosier

But their overall idea is flawless and insightful: form a close-knit support network and value relationships above materialism and status symbols and distractions like TV and entertainment of all kinds. Kudos to Miller and Sparks!

We say start an MC by first using the search function on this site called MC Matching and if there aren’t many registrants yet make sure you join and get your friends to join also, and then once the database fills up a little contact the filtered population of people who are also looking to start an MC. See why they'd want to and why you’d want to: See Why Register for an MC?. Remenber: those who never sign up will NEVER have an MC!

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match