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I am deeply troubled by the recent tragedy in Roseburg and recent atrocities in Yemen and Afghanistan, so I want to share with you ways that I have been exploring for responding to horror without becoming numb to its significance.

I am learning to implement a technology by which you too may sustain yourself while also acting effectively in a tragic world.

First consider how we commonly respond to news of a horrible event.

When I heard of Thursday’s Umpqua massacre I felt a cold weakness in the middle of my chest.

Shortly after I stood before a class of first-year students, some of whom I knew were from Roseburg, all of whom reminded me of the dear people we had just lost.

It seemed apparent to me that they did not yet know what had just happened and I struggled with a sense of unreality as I reached for something meaningful to say.

After that class I wept.

Perhaps you also have physical reactions to awful news.

Next I did what many parents do when we hear of a disaster; call our children just to make sure they are ok.

Then come a series of predicable messages from predictable sources.

People start sharing rumors and reports as if possessing the latest bit of information can impact the gravity of the incident.

Leaders hold press conferences and send email denouncing and consoling.

Some people immediately seize the shock of the moment to advance or defend their political and personal agendas, often in ways that increase the harm.

Then comes a barrage of angry and speculative verbiage about who to blame.

Experts weigh in with analyses, statistics and opinions.

That evening people with gather with candles, put personal items at the site of the harm and set up memorial scholarships, every detail shared by constant repetition through many media.

Then we go on about our business in wait for the next appalling event.

In our present age all of this reaction happens with blinding speed and tends to race past the reality of the moment, as if the attendant information and spectacle is more significant than the event itself.

This set of reactions may be called a “viral cycle” because the activity builds on itself and has a predictable path as social phenomena.cue_routine_reward.fw

Do you recognize the parts of this viral cycle and most important, your roles in it? Do you have characteristic reactions to news of a horrible occurrence?

If you do, and I think that we all do, then there is a habitual pattern in you that guides your reactions automatically.

What concerns me about these habitual patterns is that they typically leave us individually and collectively in a negative mental state and with a sense of impotence about effecting any change for the better.

When there is nothing that we can do about suffering except feel bad, it is natural to seek emotional distance and I suspect that much of transpires in the social viral cycle are various ways of gaining that distance.

Yet we really can do something to make things better in the face of horror and it starts with our remarkable ability to modify our own habits.

There are techniques – a technology – for changing our own habits. By using those techniques we can teach ourselves to react with care and kindness in the face of horror.

This capability matters because increasing care and kindness in the world is the effective means to preventing future tragedies and because acting with care and kindness sustains your self when the worst happens.

Here is how you may modify your gut reactions to tragedy (and any other habits that you want to change).

Learn the technique of habit modification such as that developed in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (2014) by Charles Duhigg. the_power_of_habit

In Duhigg’s analysis every habit consists of a cognitive/behavioral loop in which a cue triggers a routine which elicits a reward.

Think of the cue as an event that happens to us, the routine as a behavior pattern that we perform in response to the cue, and the reward as a perception that the routine was successful.

Habits are self-reinforcing and habit change is most effective when we associate the cue and reward with a different routine.

When we learn of a horrific event it is a cue that triggers routines (such as those listed above) which reward us by reducing negative feelings.

Following this analysis of habits, the effective means to changing your reactions to shocking events is to associate the cue (horrible events) and the reward (feeling less badly) with a new routine (patterns of action).

A routine that is relevant to the cue of horrible events is to increase your feelings of care and expressions of kindness

I am serious that expressing kindness from a feeling of care provides an effective counter to shock and frustration

Treating others with kindness from care through words and actions will change how you feel.

I’ll not suggest how to be caringly kind because in order to effect personal change those feelings and behaviors must be uniquely yours.

I will show how to develop those feelings and behaviors for yourself.

Step 1: Every day for two weeks practice caring kindness for yourself and turn them into a habit.

You already know how to be mean to yourself and maybe have a strong inner critic.

Now add to that self-judgment an inner advocate that throughout the day acknowledges positively you for simple accomplishments and voices value for you as a person.

In second week scan the news for a horrific tragedy, it won’t take long, and when you find it make yourself aware that the fact that you care about it is reason enough to be kind to yourself (just some inner kind words are enough).

Step 2: Every day for two weeks practice caring kindness for others.

People are all round you so opportunities for care and kindness abound.

Start with people whom you know and tell them what you value about them, then expand into kindness to strangers.

Repeat the news-scan activity in step 1, this time responding to tragedy by increasing your caring kindness to others.

Step 3: Every day for two weeks practice caring kindness for people whom you dislike or who irritate you.

Caring for enemies may be as simple as wishing them well in your mind instead of wishing them harm; i.e. that they suffer the same as they cause.

Replace signals of irritation (scowls, gestures and words) with quiet patience until you are practiced enough to muster a smile.

Repeat the news-scan activity in steps 1 and 2, this time responding to the tragedy by increasing your caring kindness to people who irritate you.

Now put the three steps together so that you perform all of them at least once per day and please note that in order to work you need to make this a practice in action, not merely a thought.

I base this formula upon the psycho-spiritual technologies developed and taught by Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Śāntideva, King and Gandhi among other luminaries.

I believe that using the technology of habit modification to transform your feelings of hurt and frustration into actionable change will benefit you because the resulting patterns of behavior make you more effective and positive in dealing with tragedy.

I also believe that this practice will contribute to preventing some horrific events because as the practice of care and kindness grows – by you joining it – the people who potentially cause harm will encounter care and kindness.

The killers at Umpqua, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Northern Illinois and so many others expressed their perceptions of social isolation as a partial motive for the horror they inflicted.meditation-651411_640

If a potential killer experiences even momentary kindness from strangers, their path of destruction may be altered.

We have the technology to change ourselves, our actions and the people around us.

You and I are not helpless in the face of horror and tragedy as long as we have the will to become the change that we want to see in the world.


Oregon State University Support Resources

OSU has resources for students, staff, and faculty for addressing grief and stress.  The centers of these resources is:


Student Health Services


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Thanks to the following individuals who contributed to this essay.

– Jennifer Knaus


It is a familiar scenario. You make it to class a few minutes late and squeeze into a middle-of-the-row seat.

Because it is an exam review you brought your laptop to follow along with the slides and notes.

Your laptop boots up, which is when you realize that the battery charge is down to 27%.

Briefly you consider heading home and back to bed, but then you remember the tips in the Dr. Tech article about how to converse power and the day is saved.

This is that article.

There are immediate-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies for maximizing battery-life on your laptop. Implement the medium and long term strategies and you may never need the short-term emergency measures.

Long-term strategies include upgrading your hard drive and adding RAM.

Conventional hard drives are mechanical spinning magnetic disks that store data.

HHDs, as the mechanical drives are called, take lots of power to run the motor alone.

Solid State Drives are called SSD and do not have motors but use flash memory and take significantly less battery power to run than HHDs.

Solid State Drives cost roughly $200 to $500 depending on the storage size in gigabytes.

Add the cost of having the upgrade done, including your data copied to the new SSD.

Consider also consider adding Random Access Memory (RAM) to your laptop to take data demands off of the hard drive.

RAM chips are relatively inexpensive and you can probably double your laptop RAM for under $100.

There may already be slots for extra RAM in your laptop, but unless you know your way around the insides of a computer this is a task best left to a professional.helpdesk_map

Start by visiting the Computer Walk Up Help Desk on the main floor of the Valley Library where there is a laptop clinic with smart people who can test your machine and advise on ways to improve it.

Medium-term strategies for reducing the power drain on your laptop include removing malware and getting a back-up battery solution.

Malware is malicious software that sneakily installs itself to wreak untold havoc, the least of which by using up precious electrons from your battery.

The OSU Computer Help desk recommends Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware to remove unwanted programs that you probably do not even know are on your machine.

Both of these anti-malware programs have free versions and are available at the Information Services Computer Help Documents.

Both programs have pro versions for about $30 each; the advantage of which is being able to schedule regular malware sweeps and detect malware downloads in real time.

Do you remember when Vice-President Dick Cheney was worried that someone would hack into his pacemaker?

He probably had back-up battery and so should you, for your laptop.

You can buy a replacement battery for your laptop and keep it charged and on hand, but it is easier to use a portable external power source.

battery-306298__180There are many low-cost portable power packs available; your concern is to make sure it has sufficient charge to last for several hours and will attach to the power adapter for your laptop, as well as being small enough to ensure that you will take it with you.

You can find portable external power source units that will keep your laptop alive for at least a few hours for about $50 to $150.

There are even solar charger options.

The OSU Beaver Store has portable external power sources and is a great source of information especially about Macintosh laptops.

Immediate strategies for reducing power consumption include changing your laptop’s power options, disabling unneeded services and closing unneeded applications.

In an urgent race against battery drain you should activate your laptop’s power saving options.

On Windows 7 and 8: >Control panel >Power options >Power Saver.

On Macintosh: >Apple icon >System Preferences >Energy Saver.

These measures will dim the monitor and put unused services to sleep.

Next disable services that you do not need such as Bluetooth, location and Airport (Mac); if you do not need wireless, turn it off, as it is a power hog.

If ever there was a time to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, an hour to go on 15% battery life is one such; turn off all applications and processes except for those you absolutely need at the moment.

Computers adapt to our demands for convenience by automatically loading many programs when we boot up; you may be surprised to find how many programs you are running in the background.

On Windows 7 and 8: >Ctrl+Alt+Delete >Task Manager >Applications >End Task.

On Macintosh: >Spotlight >Activity Monitor > Select App >Quit Process.

The important point is for you to take a bit of time to familiarize yourself with220px-Lightning3 the relevant power managing and using features of your laptop.

It will not do to miss the lecture that you are eager to record by spending the whole period messing with your computer; get to know the basics of laptop power.

In the next decade we will have wireless electricity (which Nikola Telsa announced in 1891) and our devices will always be charged without ever being plugged in; for now, and then too, we all need to learn how to intelligently manage what we have.


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