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Monthly Archives: March 2014


UNDER-standing Weight Loss Frustration

By Mark Rullo

Weight management, particularly weight loss, is simple in that it is all about creating a caloric deficit by expending more calories than you eat. However simple does not mean easy.

One pound of fat is 3,500 calories. That is black and white and straight-forward science. Accumulate seven consecutive days of 500 calorie deficit and you will see a pound loss on the scale. The gray area is in calculating the respective deficit in this weight loss formula, which is based upon how we quantify both how many calories we consume and how many calories we expend.

As I have seen over the years, the biggest reason people struggle or get frustrated with counting calories to lose weight is that most either UNDER-calculate the calories they consume and/or OVER-calculate what they believe they have expended in calories.

In this article, I will expand on how individuals—despite honest attempts to log their food and count calories—UNDER-report what they consume and ultimately fail to see the desired results which causes them to quit in frustration.


The main reasons that individuals UNDER-report their caloric intake include:

  • Portion Distortion
  • Food Label Loop Holes
  • Accountability Accuracy of Nutritional Labels
  • BLT’s

Portion Distortion happens when individuals fail to eat the actual serving size they are reporting/logging. This typically occurs when people tend to “eye-ball” rather than actually weigh/measure what they eat.

Take my breakfast cereal, LIFE®, for example. One serving (¾ cup) is 160 calories with 4 ounces of skim milk. The box also states it has 12 total servings per box. If that is true, why do I only get 4 bowls of cereal per box?Simple, my serving is actually three servings or 480 calories. This is a 320 calorie UNDER-estimate if report only one bowl (serving). Make this error every day for breakfast and it becomes 2240 calories unaccounted for in one week. Because 3500 calories is one pound, this simple UNDER-reporting could either lead to .64 lbs of weight gain per week or erase 320 calories from any daily deficit you may have thought you created through monitoring your nutritional formula.

Also, the people around you can indirectly contribute to portion distortion. Just because your serving is smaller than others around you does not guarantee you have the correct serving size. You may feel good about yourself that you ordered the 12 ounce steak when all your friends ordered the “24 ouncer.” However, considering one serving is 4 ounces, that 12 ounce steak is still 3 servings.

Food Label Loop Holes exist because the FDA allows manufactures to list foods as FREE or Zero content if the serving size if less than 0.5 grams per serving.

PAM Spray for example lists zero calories per serving, so initially this seems like a perfect option for those looking to watch their caloric intake. This is possible because the serving size listed on the label is 0.27 grams, or 1/3 second of a spray. (I give them credit for describing the actual serving size as 1/3 of one second of a spray.) Get a stop watch out and actually try to time 1/3 of a second—not easy to do. So do not expect to do it the next time you use the spray.

If you are not aware, nutritional labels list ingredients by most abundant to least. The most abundant ingredient in PAM Spray is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. When you look at the caloric value of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one serving (1 tablespoon) is 120 calories.

Where did those calories go? They were always there; however the PAM serving size meets the requirement to allow them to state it as FREE or Zero. Providing this information is not intended to tell you not to use PAM, rather just to inform you. This way, you can be aware and account for the calories that, at the surface state zero, but in reality exist.

I use PAM Spray every time I cook to make clean up easier. I may not be spraying an entire tablespoon, but definitely at least ½ to ¾ of a tablespoon or 60-90 calories worth. To be safe, I round up to 100. So when I cook my eggs whites, at 25 calories per egg white, my 5-egg white break-fast is not 125 calories (5 x 25 calories); rather it is 225 calories to account for the PAM Spray. Eat these egg whites every day for breakfast and fail account for this loophole adds up to 700 calories being UNDER-reported.

Accountability of Accuracy of Nutrition Labels: Some states, such as New York are requiring that restaurants with three or more locations must list the nutrition facts of the food on their menus. On the surface, this sounds great for those looking to better manage their caloric nutritional formula. However, who is making sure what is listed is accurate? This same thought crossed the mind of a blogger who thought to randomly evaluate the accuracy of the nutrition information listed at 20 different restaurants. Of  the 20 different restaurants, 19 of them all UNDER-reported their caloric value by average 30%, with the worst case having an actual caloric value that was double what it listed. Believe it or not, that item was a “healthy Tofu Burger.”

BLT’s are your “Bites, Licks and Tastes” that we fail to account for. Don’t think BLT’s can have an impact? How many make a peanut butter sandwich and actually measure the serving size? Not many, I would assume. Of the few who actually do measure, I would assume it is common that they scrape and lick the remaining peanut butter after spreading it on the sandwich. At 190 calories per serving, that could be an easy 35- 50 calories. What else do you “Bite, Lick or Taste” that is not being accounted for?

These are why most who struggle with weight loss have a hard time accepting they are eating too much and cannot buy into the “it’s a calorie in vs. calories out” thing.

Understanding these variables in managing your weight loss program is not a one-day or one-week process of logging food. This is why here at My Fitness Kitchen®, we highly recommend that our weight loss clients minimally commit to eight weeks of food monitoring to best comprehend this process. That will ultimately allow food intake to be built around YOUR FOOD, on YOUR TERMS for YOUR RESULTS. Once this caloric formula is mastered, individuals can continue down the nutritional funnel to accelerate even greater results; however, to focus on anything before your caloric formula is in-line is wasting time, energy and money.

The bottom line is that failure to recognize these potential errors of UNDER-reporting can sabotage any weight loss program, create frustration and ultimately cause individuals to give up on their weight loss goals.

For more information, please feel free to consult with any of the fitness professionals at My Fitness Kitchen®. Additionally, as an on-going thank you to the Laurel Mountain Post and its readers, mention this article for a FREE, no obligation, personalized, metabolic nutritional formula and fitness program that will leverage the “Hierarchy of Fat Loss.” If you are serious about achieving a body transformation goal, then you need a program; as any goal without a plan is really only a wish!

As an added incentive for people new to My Fitness Kitchen®, by mentioning this Laurel Mountain Post article and after meeting with one of My Fitness Kitchen’s Fitness Professionals for a private consult as offered above, you will receive $50 “Kitchen Cash” to be used toward any program or service at My Fitness Kitchen®, as a courtesy of the Laurel Mountain Post.


“Be” Attitudes: Blessed or Blessing?

By Rev. Cindy Parker

I haven’t decided if I love preaching the lectionary readings or I hate it –let’s say I have mixed emotions. It certainly keeps one honest. I certainly wouldn’t have picked this passage to preach on. Sharing that honesty with you, I’m going to admit something:

I don’t really like the Beatitudes*: probably because I don’t think we really understand them.

What is Jesus saying here? To this huge crowd who has followed him from Galilee?

Is he giving them advice? Telling them how to love their lives?

And when we hear Jesus’ words today “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

How many of us hear a command “Be a peacemaker!”

And we think, Jesus wants us to work for peace. OK I can do that. It’s not a bad thing to desire peace and work for justice, so we try and we try and try and we find out it’s not so easy, in fact it’s really difficult to not to judge others, or hunger and thirst for righteousness all the time, or be meek or to mourn . . .

And here’s the other thing that bugs me: how many of us think we have to be successful in order to be blessed?

And the other beatitudes are more about attitude. As one scholar said, “emotions are a hard thing to dial up on command.”

“Hey you, quit being satisfied with your life! Don’t you know you’re supposed to be poor in spirit?” “what are you so happy about?”Don’t you remember that Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted?

That’s why I don’t like the Beatitudes: people get them all mixed up.

How many of you were taught that, or heard the Sermon on the Mount preached that way . . . if you are poor in spirit, that’s good, because yours is the kingdom of heaven? Don’t worry about your grief, God will comfort you. You are special if you are meek, because you will inherit the earth . . .

Read The Message translation:

3You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4 You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8 You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12 Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

In this translation I think it is easier to see how Jesus is demonstrating once again that God regularly and relentlessly shows up just where we least expect God to be in order to give to us freely what we cannot earn or achieve: blessedness.

In this sermon I don’t think Jesus is offering us a recipe for success: he is not offering the keys to happiness and he is NOT offering a roadmap to having your best life now.

We read the gospel to hear the GOOD NEWS. Not to get good advice. The Messiah speaks to this crowd, speaks to us about a new kingdom –this kingdom of heaven being near.

And in this new kingdom things are different! So different that what you thought you knew is turned upside down and inside out!

“The meek inherit the earth, those who are mourn are comforted.

This is NOT a command to be meek or mournful, instead it is a PROMISE – that those who are already meek and mournful, those who work for peace, or hunger and thirst for righteousness, will find their faith honored in a world beyond this one.

How many of us have asked, or screamed at God, “What do you want me to do, God? What do you want me to do?”

Our Old Testament lesson reminds us, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humble before the Lord.”

Like the Beatitudes, this is not a list of requirements, but a reminder of what we become when we are in that close trusting relationship with God. That is why Jesus chooses the word blessed.

Blessed times nine.

Nine times Jesus uses this word-BLESSED to remind us, to remind you that you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are. You are a child of God: you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences.

Blessing is something that can’t be pursued, but can only be received as a gift. We are worthy of blessing, for God has created us and called us, each and every one of us!

So I’d like to bless you now:

Thank you for your faithfulness, and may God bless your life and the way you share the GOOD NEWS this month and always, so that you may be renewed and take delight in the calling you have received.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? ” -Robert Browning

By Rev. Majorie Rivera

This is, by all means, my favorite quote by any writer or poet, ever. The original poem, Andrea Del Sarto was penned to honor the great technical painter of the same name. His work was admired by many, and yet the most common critique of the painter’s work was that he lacked ambition, or soul. In the poem, Browning was speaking to the part in all of us that exists in mediocrity. He was calling us out. Browning was saying that even if you are a great technical “anything”, whether that be a painter, a sculptor, a poet, a pianist, a mother, a doctor, anything… if you don’t aspire to be better than your actual skill set, you will never achieve greatness. You can perform any task with great technicality, but not greatness. When Browning says “what’s a heaven for?” he means inspiration is what makes the difference between having technical skill and using the universe’s great capacity to inspire within us, something that is greater than the human capacity.

It is implied within the word “heaven”, that Browning saw God as his muse. To me, when someone does something with love/God/universe, the difference is palpable, taste-able, sense-able. When anything is done with love, the impossible becomes possible, the limited becomes unlimited and the finite becomes infinite. Heaven houses the infinite, the unlimited, the possible, and from what all reports indicate, love. That’s what heaven is for— Love. Love is the driving and motivating force of the universe. Love trumps all other emotions. It loosens blocks, it primes the pump for other wonderful states of being, such as joy, harmony, reverence for life, peace and creativity. Love enhances every possible endeavor, strive to do things holding love in your heart as your inspiration.

Hobby of a Lifetime: Laurel Mountain Post Contributor Bob Stutzman Releases New Book About the History of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road

By Cathi Gerhard

The ghosts of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road can still be felt, but barely seen, as we drive through the gorge (also known as Sleepy Hollow) on Route 30 between Latrobe and Ligonier. Route 30 east was the original road, with two-way traffic. What we now know as Route 30 west was once the path of the rail road, hauling freight in and out of the valley. Travel time between the two towns was cut down from four hours to 40 minutes, spawning the growth of eastern Westmoreland County – which soon became known as Pennsylvania’s mountain playground.

But by August 1952, after sustaining years of losses, this short-line rail era came to an end. Local author and historian Bob Stutzman was just a young boy then.

“I remember sitting around the dinner table,” he recalled from his childhood in Ligonier, “and my father was talking about how to supply his business without the railroad. He owned a Rawleigh Products franchise and didn’t trust the trucking industry, so he ended up buying his own trailer to make the trip to Chester where he could pick up his products.”

The rail road of his parents’ world became a lifelong hobby for Stutzman, who began collecting memorabilia in earnest about 20 years ago –after his children left for college.

“My brother-in-law, Bill McCullough, has already been collecting casually for several years,” Stutzman explained. “We began a quest together to collect photographs, analyze material and verify locations. Ebay was our greatest resource!”

To commemorate the railroad’s 50th anniversary in 2002, the two men put together a powerpoint presentation of their collection (which had grown from 100 to over 1000) and presented it at the Ligonier Valley Library to a standing room only crowd of over 200.

More and more people began asking for copies of prints, so Stutzman decided to start working on a book that could be sold at the museum to raise money for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association. After more research, and some help from friends, Stutzman’s new book tells us the whole story and brings the lost images back to life . . .

To provide his sons with an opportunity to create a new business, Judge Thomas Mellon agreed in August 1877 to invest in a short line railroad that would connect Ligonier to the Pennsylvania Railroad in Latrobe. Four months later, the Ligonier Valley Rail Road (LVRR), a 10.6-mile-long line, was completed and began transporting passengers and freight between Ligonier and Latrobe. The viable transportation the LVRR provided to Pittsburgh markets immediately spurred lumber and quarry industries in Ligonier Valley and later coal mining and coke production. Also, to increase ridership, Judge Mellon built Idlewild Park on 350 acres near Ligonier in 1878. By its end in 1952, the LVRR had hauled more than 30 million tons of freight out of the valley. Equally impressive, because of the popularity of Idlewild Park and the growing tourism in Ligonier Valley, nine million passengers rode LVRR’s rails over its 75 years of operation. Mellon’s short line railroad stimulated an economic boom in Ligonier Valley and propelled it into the 20th century.

Highlights of The Ligonier Valley Rail Road include:

  • The original Idlewild station, the oldest Ligonier Valley Rail road structure remaining today. It now serves as a hospitality center for visiting groups at the park and as a museum.
  • Images of Ligonier landmarks, such as the school ‘s administration building on West Main Street and the original Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church.
  • A chapter regarding the tragic 1912 railroad accident that killed 24 passengers and crew-men.
  • Robert D. Stutzman, a Ligonier native who developed a keen interest in the history of Ligonier Valley, is co-founder of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association, serving eight years as an officer and seven years as editor of The Liggie, a publication he originated for the Friends of the LVRR. In December 2012, he retired as the editor and as a member of the board of directors to write this book.

He is an active member of Christ United Church of Christ in Latrobe, and a member of the Greater Latrobe Community Chorus. Stutzman also attended Ligonier High School and the University of Pittsburgh, and served in the United States Air Force. Retired from Timken-Latrobe Steel as the manager of the Special Products Division, he is married with two daughters and several grandchildren.


Come On, Get Happy!

By Cathi Gerhard

When is the last time you laughed out loud? Typing LOL in a text message does not count. Did that joy require a lot of money or elaborate planning to achieve – or did it come from something simple and ordinary? Most often, the happiest moments of my own life have come from the unplanned and inexpensive.

I have received small gifts such as Hello Kitty socks, barley sugar lollipops, a Mickey Mouse Back scratcher, and an orange gerber daisy – all of those stand out in my memory much more than some of the big ones.

I would love to have a new car this year, but I am still very comfortable in my old SUV, despite its dents and broken air conditioning. Together we have traveled to many places, the best of those found off the main roads. Those spur of the moment detours have led me to great food, new friends, and beautiful views.

Some of the best scenery is located right at home, on my farm. We have worked hard to plant thriving vegetable gardens and bright patches of blooms. Our favorite restaurant is our back patio on a summer evening, where there are two ways to enjoy a glass of wine. Sometimes I pour the bottle into a fancy glass; other nights, any old cup will do – it’s just so nice to slow down and have a drink.

My perspective drives my happiness, and that takes practice in a world driven by constant consumption. The need to have things distracts us from what we already have around us. We hardly ever enjoy the moment because we’re already planing the next one. While riding this train of thought, we certainly don’t have enough time to notice the needs of anyone else.

How can we expect people to be nice to one another, when we can’t even be kind to ourselves? We need to stop the “modern” world for a bit, and take a few steps away from those chaotic tracks. That’s where all the happy, little things live.

My husband loves to watch the birds and the weather moving across the sky. I like to play with the cats or just sit with them awhile and share their peaceful zen. My favorite cup of coffee is the first one of the day, straight from the pot – certainly not the second or the big, expensive one in town. Nothing says joy quite like listening to a baby laugh (that’s why there are so many videos on YouTube, along with all those funny cats). I tend to measure my days by those moments of small, but exquisite joy.

It’s said Walt Whitman once wrote, “Rate the beauty of the simple things. You can make beautiful poetry on little things, but we can not row against ourselves. That transforms life into hell.”

I like to think that heaven is found on earth in every living thing doing its part in the natural world. Humans can laugh out loud and other creatures can’t. We have five senses to see, hear, touch, taste and feel –  how often do we actually take some time to use them all at once?

I wish that our stories in the Laurel Mountain Post could come alive and jump off the pages for you. We do our best to help you imagine more than the simple ink on paper can. Time is spent picking out photos and other artwork, on writing creative headlines, and meeting new people with stories to tell. And we enjoy every minute of it. As the other, more famous Whitman quote* now says again, “the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

*(“O Me! O Life!” By Walt Whitman)

Are We A Culture of Bullies?

By Megan Fuller

Incidents of bullying are in the news fairly regularly and many, maybe most, schools are instituting anti-bullying programs. I asked some middle school students if they had anything to say about bullying. This small prompt initiated stories of one incident after another.  I was told that of the children who are bullied, many are bullied almost constantly throughout the school day; before and after school, in the hallway between classes, and during lunch. Just listening to these stories made me feel beaten down and depressed. As a society we certainly do not condone the tragic results of bullying; a young girl jumping in front of a train, young men bringing guns to school to kill their nemesis.   If we don’t condone the results, it stands to reason that we should not condone the behavior.

Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as:

[U]nwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. 

In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:

  • An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

If bullying is unacceptable behavior within our culture, and by this definition it is, why is it so prevalent?

Anthropologists have studied bullying in a variety of ways; origins, cross-culturally, typology, in the media or online. Each tactic reveals different information about bullying, adds to our knowledge base, and has practical applications. Scientifically, it is important to look at bullying from as many angles and from as many disciplines as possible so that policy makers have a solid base of research from which to draw and aren’t just left making capricious decisions based on nothing.

Hogan Sherrow, Professor of Anthropology at Ohio University, has a great blog post on ScientificAmerican.com in which he outlines the origins of bullying.  As his reason for doing such research he states, “[w]ithout the deep understanding the origins of a behavior provide, efforts to prevent bullying will continue to fail.” In Sherrow’s research he uses a definition of bullying similar to the one provided above adding that “intimidation is the goal, and bullying can happen in a one-on-one or group basis.” He looks to establish whether bullying is singularly American or if it is found in other cultures. Review of the literature shows that “bullying is ubiquitous across human cultures.” The next question Sherrow seeks to answer is if bullying is unique to humans.  He finds “there is ample evidence that many other animals, including other primates, engage in bullying-like behaviors.” Often within primate society intimidation and aggression are used to enforce group behavior or to establish dominance and ensure reproductive success. Sherrow concludes, “[t]he tendency to bully, or coerce, others is natural and deeply rooted in our evolutionary history…” and that “addressing bullying through culturally based social programs” will not serve to eliminate bullying.  Knowing that bullying is biological rather than cultural we can already answer the titular question.  No, we are not a culture of bullies—we are a species of bullies.

Humans, however, are not just biological beings. An overlay of culture informs our behavior of biological functions from the way we groom ourselves to the way we go to the bathroom. A study, partly funded by the World Health Organization, looked at bullying and its effect on the health of victims across 28 European and North American countries. The authors found “[t]he proportion of students being bullied varied enormously across countries. The lowest prevalence was observed among girls in Sweden (6.3%), the highest among boys in Lithuania (41.4%).” Results such as these indicate that, although we are a species of bullies, culture influences the amount of bullying that goes on and most likely the types of bullying as well.

Professor Burlingame, on atasteof anthropology blog, writes that in the United States “[t]he basic impetus for bullying lies in dealing with difference” and “in gaining power through the subjugation of others.” Because children see intolerance and stratified power relationships in everyday American life, Professor Burlingame points out, they are apt to create the same sorts of relationships in school. Of course, school is only one place where young people congregate—children are also spending plenty of time online using social media and gaming. Relationships in the cyber-community mirror those in the real world, except in the virtual world there is a significant lack of adult supervision. Resident Anthro points out in his blog post “The Culture of Bullying” that in online gaming “[w]hen someone is mocked for low skill, a poor k/d spread, or an ‘inability’ to perform well … they are being bullied.” He goes on with his analysis saying, “[i]t’s the ‘Jones’ effect. When you see someone doing something you want to be a part of it, and when people aren’t encouraging online the only people you hear are those who are bullying… This creates a culture of bullying in online gaming.”

Since the only way to eliminate bullying from the gene pool would be to round up all the bullies and sterilize (or kill) them before they had children—a kind of Big Brotherish solution—we, as a society, need to figure out a cultural way to help ameliorate the problem. Within the articles referenced previously are ideas to help minimize the impacts of bullying.  The authors of the cross-cultural study suggest that, “[t]he most important tool for diminishing bullying is addressing the school environment. It is recommended that the problem be highlighted for teachers and pupils by special work sessions, and that it be made harder to actually perform the behavior by increasing inspection in breaks and at other occasions, when bullying is likely to occur.” They also suggest letting the children define what is socially acceptable for the group. Professor Burlingame also endorses classroom intervention. She points out that “[d]ifference doesn’t have to be seen as threatening on any level” and that “reinforcing that no one way is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for everyone can be done at every grade level” and in all classroom subjects. “The goal of this kind of lesson is to support diversity while maintaining respect for, and pride in, one’s own cultural traditions and practices.” Lessons in diversity can teach both acceptance and empathy—giving students the ability to see the world from other people’s perspective. In an online gaming atmosphere, Resident Anthro feels the best option to deal with bullying is to, “put down my controller and turn my system off.” He reminds gamers to “check ourselves at the controller and remember that, just because you’re anonymous doesn’t mean that your actions are meaningless.”

Just this brief review of the literature available online has certainly added to my personal knowledge base regarding bullying but it also leaves me with further questions. Even though aggression is no longer necessary to find the best mate, does bullying still have a function? How does bullying correlate to behaviors in adulthood? How does bullying correlate to other biologically based behaviors? Answers to these questions may already exist in the literature as the research I’ve  done is far from exhaustive. I am certainly interested in hearing from readers regarding any research of which they are aware and how it compares or contrasts with what has been presented here. My hope is that this is just the beginning of a conversation.

Kindness Is the Greatest Wisdom

By Megan Fuller & Cathi Gerhard

Because we live on opposite sides of the US, we use the internet to keep in touch since our days as college roommates over 20 years ago. Most mornings we check in via Facebook or Skype over a cup of coffee to discuss life, love, like-minded politics and our work together on the Laurel Mountain Post. Oftentimes we share stories we find online, and in February we were so moved by one we decided to research and write an article on the subject.

On February 2, a Michigan mother created a secret Facebook page for her son. She introduced it to the world by posting:

“I am Colin’s mom, I created this page for my amazing, wonderful, challenging son who is about to turn 11 on March 9th. Because of Colin’s disabilities, social skills are not easy for him, and he often acts out in school, and the other kids don’t like him. So when I asked him if he wanted a party for his birthday, he said there wasn’t a point because he has no friends. He eats lunch alone in the office everyday because no one will let him sit with them, and rather than force someone to be unhappy with his presence, he sits alone in the office. So I thought, if I could create a page where people could send him positive thoughts and encouraging words, that would be better than any birthday party. Please join me in making my very original son feel special on his day.”

We are both mothers, and our sons are in high school. We have spent many empathy-filled mornings talking about their struggles in school and varied experiences with bullies. This story from Michigan really got to us, and we decided to devote a portion of this issue to various aspects of disrepect and bullying.

Bullies play a role in some oft-told tales in my family. To begin with, my father beat up the campus bully during his freshman year at Penn State –then hitchhiked home because he decided that college and the hostile, discouraging environment there was not for him. My father never returned to school, and never got the agricultural degree he wanted. He detested seeing others beaten down, and he championed underdogs his whole life.

Most likely inspired by my father’s legendary reputation, I also beat up the campus bully when I was in fourth grade. After months of watching him pick on my best friend, I finally decided to stop it for good by putting him down with flying fists on the playground. The adults in charge must have felt he deserved it because they all turned a blind eye. I’m not proud of my violent response, but at times it seems the only way to get through. The fight ended the abuse, but I doubt the bully really learned his lesson. Fear and pain stopped him, not compassion. Sadly, mankind usually goes to war too quickly, often before all other means of discourse and empathy have been explored.

The art of war has always used bullying as a tactic: divide and con-quer. It’s a method of distraction used in politics and corporate America as well: keep us fighting each other, and we will never join together to rise above. Just how much are we really fighting one another? Let’s take a closer, more scientific look . . .

A 13-year-old from Virginia, Viraj Puri, developed a blog and software application to track online bullying in the United States: bullyvention.com. Using keywords to track and analyze online conversations, social media posts, etc., the system scores and ranks regions to assign an index of colors on the US map. On any given day, one can go to this site and see a “heat map” (more info on page 8) showing the varying concentrations of bullying across the country. We tested this map by plugging in various dates. Every single time, the map showed a terrible red cloud of hate over our region: northeastern America, with Pennsylvania at its heart. We were shocked, having believed that larger, more urban areas would have the greater “disadvantage” of a hateful population due to the averages of demographics alone. Or how about the stereotypical south, which still hasn’t overcome its history of multi-racial prejudice? Just what is making us so angry, combative and unsympathetic?

Unfortunately, we have no answers, only more stories to tell. There are lots of things that target masses of hate these days: illness, money, politics, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. The tragic consequence of this hatred is often suicide. So it could be said that bullying is the initial stage of genocide (the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) reports that 38,364 suicides occurred in 2010 (12 deaths for every 100,000 people), making it the 10th leading cause of death in the US. In that year, it could be said that someone died every 13.7 minutes from despair.

What’s the solution? Perhaps actress Ellen Page, in her address at the Time to Thrive conference on February 14, offered the the best advice:

“. . . this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another,” Page said. “If we took just five minutes to recognize each other’s beauty, instead of attacking each other for our differences. That’s not hard. It’s really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives.”

The inaugural conference was sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (hrc.org), America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. However, they offer and support a universal message of hope and equality for all who are bullied, mistreated or rejected.

Another campaign launched last month was Operation Nice February, sponsored by actress Amy Poehler on her website, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Change the World by Being Yourself (amysmartgirls.com):

“Here at Smart Girls, we believe the internet can unite us rather than divide us. This February, help us spread the love by keeping the web factual and friendly. Before sending a hurtful or snarky remark into the world, think about how it would feel if someone wrote it about you. Fact check what you read before sharing. Make positive contributions rather than negative ones. Be part of the niceness.”

Kindness is the greatest wisdom, and that’s exactly what Poehler is trying to encourage every month through Smart Girls with a variety of initiatives, resources, videos, tweets and links: “When you learn about the lives of others, the world gets a little smaller and maybe even a little better.”

When we first learned about Colin and his mother’s Facebook page, it started a conversation. How many times had our own sons felt the same way? Too many, and we have always felt helpless – our maternal grief giving way to frustration and anger over things well beyond our control. That discussion led to the planning of this Laurel Mountain Post issue and its collection of related articles. We were and continue to be inspired by Colin’s mom, and her courage to do something about it.

“One month ago I had what I thought was a silly idea to create a Facebook page as a surprise for my son’s birthday,” she explained. “A month later, and far beyond the 50 friends I thought this page would get, we’re over 2 million, and this has become something larger than I ever expected. This crazy, silly, miraculous page has become a community.”

We invite our readers to become a part of this community, sharing a parent’s love and your own messages of hope around the world.

For more information on this subject, please visit the following:

Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls amysmartgirls.com, info@amysmartgirls.com

American Society for Suicide Prevention afsp.org, 1-888-333-AFSP (2377)
If you are in crisis, call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

How to Stop Cyber Bullying bullyvention.com

The Human Rights Campaign hrc.org, (202) 628-4160

Time to Thrive Conference
visit the LaurelMountainPost.com for the full transcript of Ellen Page’s address.

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