LATEST POST: The American Dream is Human Rights

The following is an article by Fayezeh Haji Hassan which was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette February 5, 2017.
Ms. Hassan graduated from Duquesne University School of Law in June 2017.

The American Dream is human rights

I have lived in chaos where there is no rule of law. Please, Americans, do not turn us away

I am a woman, a Muslim and an Iranian immigrant living in Pittsburgh. My family was forced to flee to Afghanistan and live under the Taliban because of the constant death threats my father received from the Iranian government for defending religious minority groups.

The Taliban forbade women from going to school; this was the most traumatic experience of my life because all I wanted to do was to study. I escaped the death threats of one dictator regime in Iran to endure the death of my dreams under another one in Afghanistan. But it did not stop me. I opened a home school in our neighborhood and taught younger girls.

This is my last year of law school at Duquesne University, and I know I have answered my life’s call. I have lived in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt. I am in America studying law because of the human rights violations I have experienced. I came here to equip myself with the best tools to help people at home. When I say home, I do not mean Iran. I mean any place —  I love every country that I have lived in — that needs my help and any child who is experiencing what I have experienced.

I learned early on that rights are not always given; sometimes rights must be taken. Now I am shifting gears. When I came here seven years ago, I did not believe my human-rights education would be needed in the United States. Now, I am planning to stay, to defend what is mine, and what is ours.

The new immigration ban on Muslim-majority countries has generated worldwide anxiety and stress. It has compelled me to understand the culture, values and mindset of my new home. Therefore, I subscribed to President Donald Trump’s Facebook page and have spent hours reading the comments to understand why people support this immigration ban. Here is what I have observed:

• This is a political game for many people, but it is not for those of us affected. I have not seen my family for seven years. I have gone through the long process of immigration, and I still do not even have my green card. I feel that most people who support this ban lack empathy. Some may feel that this is “their country” and that security should be a priority, but what is going on now has resulted in the reverse. I am not a religious person, but I cherish my Muslim identity more today than I ever have in my life.

• Some Americans are scared; it is an irrational phobia and not a valid fear. The New York Times recently published a list describing the long years and daunting security clearances that refugees must go through to get into the United States. It is extreme vetting. A similar process is in place to get a visa. The promise of the Trump campaign was to eliminate illegal immigration, but now the legal process has been targeted. Why? Perhaps because it is easy; supporters of the immigration ban want some kind of action, and they are getting some. They do not care whether it is right or wrong, effective or ineffective.

• Some people point out that, so far, this is a temporary ban. The lack of empathy behind such words makes my heart ache. If these people have an airline flight delayed, even once, they will make a big fuss. Refugees and immigrants have complied with endless procedures, paid their fees and waited with bated breath on every legal step. When they are on the edge of being granted admission to the United States, they are turned away by the stroke of a pen. The effect of this, I promise, is not temporary.

• The United States is my utopia. I came here to learn, to live and to prosper. I am not going to let anyone ruin it for me, so I will stay to fight to make sure we keep this country the way the U.S. Constitution defines it: a beacon of hope and dedicated to the rule of law. I have seen the worst chaos from the absence of the rule of law, and I will try my best to prevent it from happening here.

• The American Dream is human rights. This is a bold statement, but it is the brand that has been sold to the rest of the world, and it is the responsibility of the United States to uphold it. It is the American Dream that gives the United States the power to invade, to sanction, to lead and to draw talent from all around the world. America is the land of immigrants, and we, today’s immigrants, are not giving up on our human rights.

Muslim immigrants are a bridge between the United States and much of the world. And it is not an easy place to be. Do not embarrass us, please. I hate the fact that, when I defend America, I often hear, “You defend the country that discriminates against you for your religion and your country of birth!” Anyone can possess the American Dream, but not every dreamer is brave enough to follow it through.

It takes courage to leave your country, your family, your friends, and to go to a new country where the language is foreign, to start from zero, to work hard, and harder and harder, to see your dreams come true.

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Finding Calm when Integrating Work and Life

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

Clarissa Rayward’s article “Why Work Life Balance Didn’t Bring Me Happiness (And It Probably Won’t Work For You!),” offers some tips on finding calm when trying to integrate work and life:

“When it comes to our thoughts, the key is to be present wherever you are. We spend so much of our time worrying about the past or focused on tomorrow when instead we need to focus on today. …By training your mind to slow down, to see the good in any situation and to be focused on whatever it is you are doing right now, you can create a sense of calm even in the most chaotic moments in life.

“In those moments where you can feel your thoughts racing out of control, when you are distracted, stressed or worried just stop, be still and take 3 long slow breaths. As you do, focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, count slowly in your mind and relax.

“When it comes to our actions, we need to be aware of just how we are using our time. We all have exactly the same number of minutes, hours and days in a week but we can all choose how to use them. Thanks to our online, connected world there are more and more mental distractions available than ever before. …Work out what your ‘big rocks’ are in life and make sure you give them priority – sometimes this means saying ‘no’.

“Be aware of how you are spending your time – if you say ‘yes’ to something you are saying ‘no’ to something else so be clear on the things that you want in your life – take control of them and make them your priority. Something in your life will always be pulling you in one direction or another. …Let your energy and concentration go where it needs to go, whatever the day. Don’t worry about whether the time you are spending in the different aspects of your life is ‘balanced’ or not.

“Try letting go of ‘balance’ and instead aim for ‘now’. If you just do whatever you need to do right now to clear your mind, and to be present you will start to feel a sense of calm even when things are chaotic. Life is one whole continuum and you are one whole person with many different interests, responsibilities, passions and goals. The problems with then trying to get a sense of ‘balance’, evenness or equality between the different aspects of our lives is simply that – our lives are not even, they are not balanced and so we are setting ourselves up to fail by trying to make them so.”

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The Hedonic Treadmill

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains excerpts from The Positive Psychology Program, The Hedonic Treadmill-Are We Forever Chasing Rainbows? (Sep 5, 2016).

The Hedonic Treadmill is the theory that proposes we return to a certain level of happiness, regardless of what happens to us. The concept was first published in 1971 by psychologists Brickman and Campbell. During the 70’s the concept was known as hedonic adaptation, but twenty years later, Michael Eysenck likened the theory to that of a treadmill –a more modern and understandable example.

Happiness Set Point
Science has shown that circumstances don’t account for the major part of our happiness. The Happiness Set Point refers to the genetically determined predisposition for happiness that is responsible for about 50% of the differences between you and anyone else. Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says:

“1. If you struggle with a low set point, meaning, you tend to gravitate towards sadness or depression, don’t be so hard on yourself, to an extent you’re dealing with a stacked deck.
2. Still 50%, as high at it is, is not 100%, so there’s plenty of leeway for improvement. Your actions, thoughts and attitudes account for 40% of your happiness, which is quite significant.”

According to the theory of the Hedonic Treadmill, regardless of what happens to someone, their level of happiness will return to their baseline after the event. This means that if you get married, get a promotion, lose a job, or suffer an accident, after a certain period of time you are likely to return to your set point.

There will be an initial spike in happiness or sadness after the event. However, as time goes on, the feeling of whatever emotion was brought on by said event, will start to dissipate, habituation will kick in, and eventually you will be back at the level of happiness you were at before the event.

If you are a person who experiences an abundance of positive events in a spaced out, but relatively short period of time, then the constant influx of happiness may lead you to believe that your general happiness has increased, BUT that’s not what the research says.

More recent research challenges the idea that adaptation is inevitable and shows that adaption processes may vary across events, individuals, and even within people over time. This research is even starting to reveal that change in our baseline level of happiness is possible, our baseline is positive and not neutral and that we have multiple set points that might move in opposite directions.

How to Become Happier
Tal Ben Shahar is a writer in the field of positive psychology. He suggests different tips for amplifying our level of happiness:

  1. Give permission to be human: accept our emotions, even fear, sadness, anxiety. Rejecting them leads to frustration.
  2. Simplify: we need to do less. Focus on one thing at a time, eliminate multitasks.
  3. Find meaning and pleasure: engage in goals we want to achieve versus what we feel obligated to do, spend two hours per week with our hobbies, spend time with our loved ones, etc.
  4. Focus on the positive, on what works well for us, and be grateful. Write 5 things every day before you sleep that you are grateful for, even seemingly minuscule things like the smile of a stranger, the sound of birds chirping, and so on.
  5. Increase the effort you put into your relationships. Go on a date with your wife or your husband or spend more time speaking to your children.
  6. Be mindful of the mind-body connection: Exercise, practice mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.

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Tech Training to Meet Client Expectations

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following is an excerpt from Jason Krause, Tech training helps lawyers meet client expectations, ABA Journal (Aug 1, 2016).

The Legal Technology Core Competencies Certification Coalition, or LTC4, has created a certification program around lawyers’ use of technology. The organization argues that rapid technological changes, alternative fee models and increasing scrutiny from clients are putting pressure on attorneys to prove their worth.

Broad Training
The organization offers its members learning plans and certification in nine broad, generic areas, including managing documents and emails, and collaborating with others. It also offers more specific learning plans that cover topics such as time and billing, and reports and exhibits.

“We know that firms offer training and classes for their people; but most people, especially attorneys who bill their time will often skip or walk out of the class,” says Bonnie Beuth, board chairman for LTC4.

LTC4 says its core competencies are not specific to any particular products or software packages, but are designed to provide a broad level of technical knowledge.

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The Mindful Lawyer

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains an excerpt from Robert Zeglovitch, The Mindful Lawyer, GPSolo Magazine (Oct/Nov 2006). (View Article)

The idea that lawyers would be drawn to the practice of meditation may seem counter-intuitive, but I have learned through personal experience that lawyers have a natural affinity for it.

A number of factors inherent in law practice make mindfulness and meditation particularly well suited to lawyers:

  • Lawyers suffer from stress-related health conditions at an alarmingly high rate. We are two to three times more likely to become depressed or chemically dependent than the average adult. Cultivating a habit with proven links to the reduction of the negative effects of stress makes good sense. Lawyers need to take a more proactive interest in their own health.
  • Lawyers are highly goal oriented. We measure ourselves. Sometimes relentlessly. Mindfulness goes beyond success and failure. Meditation practice has no expectations of outcome; the goal is simply to be. The process itself is the goal: being fully present regardless of daily experience. Lawyers can benefit from regularly setting aside a mind consumed by winning and losing.
  • Lawyers are driven by time. We are chronically on deadline and overbooked. We record our time in fractions of an hour in order to establish our incomes. Mindfulness meditation affords an opportunity to experience time in a completely different, non-linear way. When consciousness rests in the present moment, our sense of time can drop away.
  • Lawyers tend to be judgmental. Although this is a necessary skill in our profession, it can be corrosive when turned on ourselves or others. Mindfulness meditation encourages the cultivation of a deep acceptance of things as they are, instead of our habitual judgment of our experience. This does not mean that the mindful lawyer stops being a zealous and effective advocate—many famous Zen masters were renowned for their ferocious presence. The practice of loosening judgment’s hold can help develop qualities that are diminished or have been neglected: wisdom, tolerance, and compassion.
  • Lawyers are trained to think their way out of problems. Our ability to construct compelling arguments is a wonderful skill, but not all of our problems can be solved by thinking and arguing. Mindfulness mediation draws on innate awareness that is prior to thinking and language.

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Enjoy What You’re Doing

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains an excerpt from Harrison Barnes, You Need to Enjoy What You Are Doing, (Jul 19, 2016).

One of the greatest lessons you can ever learn is that you shouldn’t be doing anything you don’t enjoy. You should enjoy getting up for your job each day. You should like the work you do and be so interested in it you think about it at night. You should like the people around you and should never do anything you don’t truly love and enjoy. There is nothing wrong with suffering though certain classes when you’re in school and there’s nothing wrong with doing certain types of grunt work; however, you really shouldn’t be doing something you do not enjoy.

Nothing good ever happens and nothing good will ever come to you when you’re doing tasks and jobs that don’t interest you. So many people go through their lives doing things they don’t enjoy. This is totally unnecessary.

Regardless of how stupid you think what you enjoy doing is, the chances are you can make a very good living doing it if you really get passionate about it.

You shouldn’t be doing anything that you don’t enjoy. Nothing good ever happens and nothing good will ever come to you when you are doing tasks and jobs that do not interest you. Spend your working time doing something that lights your fire. Additionally, do work where you feel welcome and among people who are like you. When you do this, your life will begin to change.

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Doing Something Creative Can Boost Your Mood

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains excerpts from Jill Suttie, Doing Something Creative Can Boost Your Well-Being, Great Good Berkely (Mar 21, 2017).

Researchers have found that people report feeling happy and energized when they are doing something creative, and that being in a positive mood goes hand in hand with creative thinking.

Tamlin Conner, a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, along with two American researchers, analyzed surveys from over 650 young adults who had filled out daily online diaries for 13 days. The questions asked such things as how much time they’d spent in creative endeavors each day, about their well-being, their levels of positive emotion, negative emotion, and what the researchers called “flourishing” (an overall sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, and social connection in their lives).

The results showed that people who were more engaged in creative activities than usual on one day reported increased positive emotion and flourishing the next day, while negative emotions didn’t change. However, the reverse did not seem to occur.

Conner said of the results, “Research often yields complex, murky, or weak findings. But these patterns were strong and straightforward: Doing creative things today predicts improvements in well-being tomorrow. Full stop.”

Conner and her colleagues, however, wonder why these results occurred. Could it be that creative activity that begins one day –such as a crafting project—continues on the next day, and that’s why well-being goes up on day two? Even after controlling for this possibility in the analyses, the researchers found that people who were more creative on just one day still experienced more flourishing and positive emotions like energy, enthusiasm, and excitement the next day. This led Conner to conclude that engaging in small daily acts of creativity may influence overall well-being rather than simply making us feel good in the moment.

“We can add creativity to the list of ‘actionable things’ people can do to take charge of their well-being.”

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TED Talks to Save You Time at Work

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

Videos and descriptions from

For all those days you’ve ever checked the clock and thought, “Where did the last hour go?” These talks share helpful hacks for stealing back a few seconds, minutes or even hours from your busy workday.

10 top time-saving tech tips
Tech columnist David Pogue shares 10 simple, clever tips for computer, web, smartphone and camera users. And yes, you may know a few of these already — but there’s probably at least one you don’t.

How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings
An epidemic of bad, inefficient, overcrowded meetings is plaguing the world’s businesses — and making workers miserable. David Grady has some ideas on how to stop it.

Got a meeting? Take a walk
Nilofer Merchant suggests a small idea that just might have a big impact on your life and health: Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it into a “walking meeting” — and let ideas flow while you walk and talk.

Why work doesn’t happen at work
Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn’t a good place to do it. He calls out the two main offenders (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make the workplace actually work.

Forget multitasking, try monotasking
People don’t just cook anymore — they’re cooking, texting, talking on the phone, watching YouTube and uploading photos of the awesome meal they just made. Designer Paolo Cardini questions the efficiency of our multitasking world and makes the case for — gasp — “monotasking.”

Your body language shapes who you are
Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. (Note: Some of the findings presented in this talk have been referenced in an ongoing debate among social scientists about robustness and reproducibility. Read Amy Cuddy’s response under “Learn more” below.)

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Keep Technology from Disrupting Happiness

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains excerpts from Kira M. Newman, How to Keep Technology from Disrupting Your Happiness, Greater Good Berkeley, (Apr 13, 2017).

Technology can bring happiness, but if we are not careful, it can also bring anxiety, stress, and frustration. Amy Blankson, author of the book, The Future of Happiness: 5 Modern Strategies for Balancing Productivity and Well-Being in the Digital Era, has deemed our back-and-forth emotions with technology as an “attitude problem”. She says, “As tech advances and we accept these changes without pause, I worry that maybe our happiness is getting left behind, moving further down the priority list.”

To help get our happiness back regarding technology, Blankson argues that we should pause and become more self-aware. We should set intentional goals for our technological interactions. “That way, we’ll cultivate more connection and productivity—and less stress and loneliness—in our digital lives.”

The average American turns their phone on 46 times per day, and only sometimes during those times are we using it for something useful –such as looking up a restaurant, using Google Maps, or setting an alarm. However, Blankson says, “I encourage you to avoid the road of the tech doomsday-sayers, because I don’t see that it is truly possible for us to eliminate technology and I don’t think we should have to eliminate technology to find happiness.”

For example, many tech users say that email has improved their relationships with their family and friends. Many people have even met someone online and later connected with them in person –some of those people are now married or engaged.

In her book, Blankson gives some tips on how to use technology in ways to avoid stress. She recommends checking email, social media, and news just three times a day. She cites research that suggests that people who check these things less frequently become less stressed and in turn sleep better, experience deeper social connections, and live more meaningful lives.

She also suggests putting down our phones and laptops at certain times and using them at others. For example, Blankson encourages families to share moments of gratitude on Facebook or Instagram, and even recommends some apps to help us become more giving and empathic.

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Functional Fixedness

Posted by Editor Kristi Heidel

The following contains an excerpt from Tony McCaffrey, Innovation Relies on the Obscure: A Key to Overcoming the Classic Problem of Functional Fixedness, 23(3) Psychological Science 215-218 (March 2012). (View Study)

Sometimes we get stuck in a rut and can’t seem to solve a problem because we are too busy focusing on a specific idea or object. This is known as functional fixedness.

To help break functional fixedness a psychologist from the University of Massachusetts, Tony McCaffrey, developed a Generic-Parts-Technique, in which there are two questions we can ask ourselves:

  1. Can the problem be broken down more?
  2. Does the new, generic description imply a use?

These questions can help break the problem down causing the mind to look at its components, instead of the whole picture.

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