Friday, January 23, 2009

Unnatural Causes: Is inequality making us sick?

We all know that Seattle is an educated city and very progressive in its priorities, but last night I had the opportunity to witness the benefit of these demographics personally.

In 2008, California Newsreel produced a seven-part documentary called: Unnatural Causes...Is Inequality Making Us Sick? Last night, I joined about 30 people at Gilda's Club on Capitol Hill to view the documentary and participate in a dialogue session facilitated by a Public Health Educator Consultant from King County.

According to The Seattle Local Health Guide's overview, the documentary: "Goes beyond the traditional causes of poor health and takes a look at the relationship of housing, income, stress, discrimination, racism and policies that can affect life expectancy." The facts are startling.

The U.S. ranks far below other developed nations in terms of life expectancy, and in our country today, there is a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

Since the 1970s, researchers have been able to prove a direct correlation between how social influences affect disease. For example, how a lower grade of employment (or unemployment) relates to a higher rate of not only heart disease and diabetes but all causes of death. People 'at the top' are healthier. According to the documentary, more than 70 percent of affluent people-making more than 80k/year-report greater overall health as opposed to the 37 percent who make 20k/year.

There are social gradients that affect health everywhere. The documentary cited the fact that college graduates live approximately 2.5 years longer than high school graduates. Although your life expectancy shouldn't be determined by the resources available to you, there is this underlying idea that how one can control his/her destiny ultimately leads to how healthy they become.

This correlation is supported by stress research. We all know that stress is a helpful bodily response. Stress raises cortisol levels which in the short-term can enhance immune function, increase energy and provide motivation. The natural response is for the response to occur when called upon, but then shut off when it is unneeded. When cortisol levels remain high for long periods of time (for some, entire lifetimes), however, people suffer from all kinds of issues including chronic fatigue, weight gain, impaired immune function and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

It's all about control. When people have the power to create an optimal environment for themselves they are able to build a sense of security that leads to better health. A perfect example of this is my life today. I am very fortunate to be able to live in a safe neighborhood just outside of downtown. I feel comfortable jogging outdoors in the morning, walking to the farmers market and going alone to the neighborhood library. How would my health be affected if I was afraid to leave my home, if I only had access to convenience stores (due to lack of public transportation and inappropriate city zoning) and fast food restaurants, and I couldn't access information?

The city is currently focused on policy. At the end of the documentary, I asked the King County Public Health representative how Seattle and the county handle the balance between implementing social justice through policy changes and empowering individuals to make a difference in their own situations. The response was a description of how the growing focus in this area is on policy change. There is a need to break the link between wealth and health by providing childcare, access to recreation, emergency preparedness in vulnerable populations, appropriate housing and transportation. People need to realize out of self-interest that if I live in a just society I'll benefit too.

There's a national program called Place Matters and a call for volunteers to facilitate these types of dialogue discussions in our communities. I hope to share this information with my neighborhood. Are you ready Queen Anne?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

After the Event: PRSA Panel Discussion

This morning I attended the Puget Sound PRSA seminar "Back to the Basics: Job hunting strategies in a tough economy" at The Seattle Times. It was a session made for me, and I was pleased to learn about the best approaches from both a tactical and an ideological approach. 

As a PRSA programing committee volunteer, I had the pleasure of welcoming the group and introducing the panelists:

Judith Cushman, president of Judith Cushman & Associates, told attendees how to crack the HR system through narrow casting, strengthening our stories and focusing on time. She was able to provide advice for seekers in the market today. 

Mark Tranter, partner of CFO Selections, told attendees to build and brand and develop a philosophy. He also reminded us that we should network by "giving to get"--or always asking others how you can help them. He was able to focus our attention on how to manage networking for future success. 

According to Mr. Tranter's handout, "61 percent of new positions are found by networking".  Communicators are a tight group. Today, as I found myself catching up with a new friend from last week's Save the News event and a different contact from October's PRSA South Sound group event, I felt great that I'm starting to have a new network here. I am glad to see that slowly but surely I'm breaking 'the freeze' and making connections in Seattle. It feels good.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Save the News Event

To me, the title chosen for a new initiative taking place in Seattle has two meanings: 1. It could refer to the fact that there is no such thing as bad news.  Meaning, if it exists then it is good for us. 2. It could mean that it's awful if we don't have any news.  

Agreeing with both statements, I found myself chatting with fired-up bloggers and journalists last night at Odd Fellows Cafe on Capitol Hill.  I went out of curiosity after hearing Monica Guzman speak at an IABC event on Tuesday, but stayed for the energy and enthusiasm that came from being involved at the start of something significant.  

I'm not sure what will result from the conversation last night.  Perhaps a Town Hall meeting, maybe a march to save the P-I... in any case, I'm anxious to see what happens as we watch traditional media die. 

Just as the No News is Bad News Web site says, there are details still yet to be determined.  As I learn about them, I'll share here.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

After the Event: Learning about the future of the written word

I attended IABC Seattle's Morning Manager event this morning at Waggener Edstrom. The topic on the future of the written word was very pertinent given the recent Seattle P-I announcement. Four panelists spoke to the future of blogging, print newspapers, books, and sustainability in all three areas.  

Monica Guzman was introduced as the first 'all digital' reporter to work for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  She maintains this blog for the paper and offered attendees perspectives on her position, the difference between journalists and bloggers and how the two interact.  

Jim Vesely, the Seattle Times editorial page editor, followed with great opinions on who the information gatekeepers were/are and how readers use blogs and online outlets as a self-identifying tool. He argued that blogging has a strength in it's immediacy but we need to be aware of the tool's foundation.

Kim Ricketts, the founder of Book Events, described the book industry under turmoil and the impossible truth that book stores and publishers can no longer control where and in what form people get text.

Andrea Gates Sanford, principal of Watchdog Graphics Production, taught that sustainability is not about the green but rather is a method for getting current economic needs met while working to maintain a good quality of life for future generations.  She shared that people have become accustomed to cheap computing, but acquisition, maintenance and disposal are issues to be noticed.

So, what did I learn?

Before the panel even began, I was speaking with someone who noted that the loss of journalism is a loss of democracy.  At first I didn't agree, given the fact that now, more than I've ever noticed before, people really are 'professional communicators' working to get information to the people they care about.  Later, Ms. Gates Sanford articulated what I had been thinking: that it's about a 'loss of medium, not a loss of message'. By the end of the presentation, however, I realized that investigative journalists, these 'smart people' do provide a foundation for everything we normal people write about online.  Mr. Vesely correctly pointed out that very few bloggers or Tweets come from someone uncovering news on their own, oftentimes what we write about is a reaction to what we've read from a credited source.  Maybe our democracy will suffer after all.

I learned about the importance of medium today.  Ms. Ricketts drew attention to a successful bookstore in San Francisco where prominently displayed in the center of the store is a computer kiosk with on the homepage. She mentioned that books will become a luxury item and most material we will download when we need it.  

I learned about the journalist's new job description today.  According to Ms. Guzman, journalists in the past would hold on to articles until they were complete and perfect.  People today won't wait that long.  Whereas in the past there would have been time to wait for quotes and interviews, the online audience today would rather accept a portion of a story with a 'to be continued...' notice and a follow up post than wait for the finished product.  In the same way, online audiences, she said, are more forgiving with accuracy.  The reason being, if a writer is constantly making factual errors and asking for forgiveness, eventually trust will be lost and the writer will be gone anyway.   

The audience was concerned about the public becoming less informed by online outlets. I am guilty of reading what I want and skipping over less interesting content myself. I think of this discussion as the argument for a liberal arts education vs. going to a technical school.  Liberal arts degrees take more time, cost more money and some classes aren't always as interesting. A technical degree is applicable now, focuses on what you want to learn, and is quicker to obtain. Graduating from a liberal arts university meant I had to sit in quantitative reasoning even though I wanted to be in my campaigns class.  In the same way, reading print material forces me to at least skim different opinions, headlines or advertisements. Print media forces me to broaden my perspectives the way my favorite site or writer may not.   

Thank you, IABC, for a fascinating morning.  Let me know if you ever need a volunteer!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Picking Preferences

I think I've learned a lot about my personal preferences by being out of my element the past few years.  I guess the ability to choose a new way of doing things provides me the perfect platform for deciding what I prefer.

My question is: Do you have to find yourself in a new environment to feel compelled to change? People talk about how difficult it is to break habits, but I wonder if preferences are the same.  I'm thinking of preferences in daily life, like college students who redefine their image freshman year or professionals who relocate for greater growth opportunities.

For example, my church in Ohio encouraged hospitality by asking all members to change seats every week to accommodate guests and facilitate new relationships.  For nearly 20 years, not only did I sit in the same side of the church, but I sat in the same row and the same chair.  This little 'hospitable action' was asking a lot.  When I found a church in Seattle, however, it wasn't about my preference for the right side or second row, I went to a completely different place and even tried the balcony... that is... until I started to establish a favorite pew.  The past few weeks I've been making a new preference here!

Here are some others:

Sorry clothesline, I tried line-drying in Armenia and will always prefer the dryer.

Sorry elliptical machine, the treadmill wins my exercise time.

Sorry plastic bag, reusable is much more durable.

Sorry rainy weather, I thrive in a sunny environment.

But wait!  I could see these preferences changing with a change in my environment.  I could skip the dryer if I had a little breeze, I would use the elliptical if I had sore knees, I would grab plastic if I forgot my canvas bag and I could easily prefer rain if there weren't this unemployment lag. Sorry about the rhyme.  

So, my conclusion is that we change when we're forced out of our comfort zone.  We learn faster, work harder and live better when we're motivated by some kind of environmental change.

Am I right? 

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Quarterly Review

I realized that yesterday was the three month anniversary of my move out to the coast.  In three short months, Seattle has given me several positive experiences.  In addition, I have gained:

An intense fear of moss
It's everywhere!

A new favorite color
This city is green!

A caffeine addiction

So many cafes I can't pick a favorite.

A disregard for traffic laws

What side of the street is this anyway?

A sense of humor

I can't imagine UW gets much use out of this enormous sundial.

More patience

When a boat's gotta go a boat's gotta go.

A strong sense of hope
The city sure seems to think I can do it!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Three Words

I learn a lot about social media and current events through blogs.  One person in particular, Chris Brogan does an excellent job of teaching through examples and providing additional resources online.  His blog entry from January 1 was helpful as he differentiated between setting resolutions and setting three word goals for the new year.  

Brogan wrote, "Think of how you want to be successful in 2009.  Then, thy to think in even broader terms.  Extrapolate on the broader terms, and find one word to hang the idea on."  

So he follows up by explaining his words for this year- equip, armies, needles- and how they apply to the goals he has set for 2009.  

Despite my 2006 and 2007 resolution successes, I failed miserably with my 2008 goal to take a daily multivitamin.  Plus, when it was all over and the ball had dropped, I wouldn't have been that much better off because of that measly resolution.  I tend to eat a balanced diet.  

So, I have three words for you, 2009.  They are: cross. catalog. carrot.  Don't mind the alliteration.  

Cross represents my idea of finding a stronger faith this year by daily reading of the Bible in chronological order.  I wanted to use my Bible in a Year book to set a devotional habit years ago, but I always seemed to fail by the time I got to Exodus.  This year the cross will remind me of both this goal towards a more faithful lifestyle as well as a motivation to connect with the church community in my neighborhood.   

Catalog is the goal to organize my free time towards the future by studying for the GRE.  It is a goal to improve my vocabulary and quantitative reasoning skills with the hope of finding professional development opportunities.  

Carrot is for cooking.  Chris Brogan has nothing on my mom, who constantly challenges and inspires me to improve my life regardless of what day of the year it is.  This idea for a nutrition goal comes from her resolution to try a new recipe each week.  I will use my carrot motivation to help remind me that learning to cook using fresh foods will not only help me avoid the multivitamin fiasco of 2008, but also help me improve my hosting capabilities.  I would like to have more 'cross' people over this year.

I'm rather visual so the idea of having words that I could easily associate with images seemed like a great way for me to remember the goals.  

What are your 2009 words?