Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dr. Arun Singh on His Remarkable Journey as an Immigrant to Become One of America's Preeminent Cardiac Surgeons

In this interview, Arun Singh, M.D. talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, Your Heart, My Hands: An Immigrant's Remarkable Journey to Become One of America's Preeminent Cardiac Surgeons.

“Every life matters, regardless or age, race, sex or religion. They all look the same underneath the drapes.” ~Arun Singh, M.D.

Dr. Arun Singh had no interest in becoming a doctor as a child, nor was he interested in becoming a surgeon while he was studying to become a doctor. He racks this up to having a rebellious nature, making him the kind of person who, when told he can’t do something, goes out and does it. He admits that he ran into a lot of trouble because of this behavior, but he would not have become the success he was without this attitude.

Dr. Arun admits that, as a child, he suffered from a lot of diseases, such as smallpox, chickenpox, malaria and hepatitis. When Dr. Arun was a six-year-old child, he broke his hand when he fell out of a tree after a monkey attacked him while both of them were reaching for the same guava. He and his mother needed to travel four hours and 150 miles to get medical help, and it still took two and a half years before he was able to use his hand again; and during that time, he was home schooled and thus missed out on those years of elementary schooling, as well as a lot of childhood activities. He did remember his father getting angry when the doctor said that the best they could expect was for Dr. Arun to be able to use his hand to feed himself, to which his father declared: “My son will be a doctor.”

Dr. Arun broke his hand again at age ten, while kite flying, which is a sport where the handler of one kite attempts to cut the strings of the kite of another handler. It was when his kite was cut, during a competition, that he fell into a ditch and injured his hand yet again. Dr. Arun remarks that there was no physical rehabilitation available, so his mother worked with an orthopedic surgeon so he could use his hand again, using bricks as weight resistance as well as hanging onto the protective rods of windows.

Dr. Arun admits that, because he was bored while he was out of school, and this led him into a lot of trouble, such as hopping on trains without buying tickets, go through back alleys and do everything a “bad kid” would do, except he didn’t pick pockets. Not surprisingly, when he got into high school, he had no friends and while he did pass high school he admits that he was still being a “bad kid.” He got into medical school at the age of 16 and couldn’t understand the lessons that were given. (He thought that that was because the other students were older than he was, but he would later find out, after he emigrated to the United States, that he was severely dyslexic.) Dr. Arun suffered from insomnia, so he used this to his advantage to read and re-read lessons over and over again until he got it.

Dr. Arun wound up at the bottom of the class after his first year of medical school, and it was then that his father suffered a massive stroke which would incapacitate him for the rest of his life. Dr. Arun was devastated, and the family lost their savings within weeks. It was while looking after his father that his mother told him: “I want you to grow up. I want you to take care of the family. You are the guardian of the family. Get up, look up and don’t give up.” Dr. Arun took on the challenge, as he admits he didn’t want to become a “beggar on the street” with a broken pan asking for change or food. He thus gave up sports and began looking after his family even as he went through medical school and graduated second out of 107 students at the age of 22.

Dr. Arun remarks that “nobody wants to leave their home,” but he knew that he wouldn’t be paid while he was being trained as a doctor, and money for the family was really short at that time, after which he wasn’t sure what kind of job he would have. He found an opportunity to go to the United States and train as a doctor in that country and be paid to boot. He spent almost all but twenty-five cents of the eight dollars he had in his pocket during the 36-hour flight from India to the United States for necessary expenses, and he remarks that, while he faced such challenges as racism, discrimination and feeling discouraged, he knew he could face up to whatever challenges would come his way.

One of the things that gave Dr. Arun culture shock was the difference between the state and nature of Indian and American hospitals. Dr. Arun remarks that Indian public hospitals aren’t the cleanest, describing an example of a putrid-smelling, twenty-foot square room holding 30 patients lying on metal cots in hundred-degree heat, with dogs running around along the walls as being an example of the kind of state in Indian public hospitals. Emergency rooms were in a similar state, with people coming in with, and dying from, malnutrition and infectious diseases, and this state of affairs was very different from those in American hospitals, where the hospitals were clean and people died from gunshot wounds.

Starting up his practice was also challenging for Dr. Arun, as he had to deal with his wife being ill and with the challenges of raising children, but he retained his focus. He admits that his wife and his mother were two of the greatest influences in his life, and he was “devastated” when his mother passed on in 2007, due to a heart attack, particularly as he couldn’t return immediately for her cremation and interment.

Dr. Arun notes that he might be perceived as unemotional, but that most surgeons follow the truism of: “Control your emotion, or emotion will control you.” He states that surgeons, when they perform surgeries, have “tunnel vision” to get the job done, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t be touched or affected. The reality, Dr. Arun notes, is that he didn’t save everyone he operated on, and that he carries the pain and burden of the loss of those he didn’t save. One such patient was a patient whom he first operated on while the latter was a baby, a mere few months old, and whom he operated on again at age seven. That patient died on the operating table, and Dr. Arun was so upset by that, that he and his wife decided to not have any more children after that.

Dr. Arun also points out the ethical and legal quandaries he faces with some patients who need to be operated on, such as those who have no medical insurance, those whom, if they are operated on, will create a financial loss for the hospital, or those who have AIDS.

Dr. Arun remarks that the story in Your Heart, My Hands is an immigrant’s story as well as an American story, and that he isn’t the only one with this kind of story, one where, despite all challenges and failures, one can succeed and overcome whatever obstacles come one’s way if one is focused and works hard.

Purchase from Amazon: Your Heart, My Hands: An Immigrant's Remarkable Journey to Become One of America's Preeminent Cardiac Surgeons by Arun Singh, M.D.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Dr. David A. Salomon on The Seven Deadly Sins and Their Influence in Society from the Middle Ages to the Modern World

In this interview, Dr. David A. Salomon talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, The Seven Deadly Sins: How Sin Influenced the West from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era.

“Our buying into anything that is technological and fast has gotten in the way of our ability to engage in reflection and contemplation, which are important parts of human existence.” ~Dr. David A. Salomon

As a Jewish child, sin was more of a generic concept than anything else, as it was part and parcel of his religious education. It was only when he was in college that he encountered the “seven deadly sins,” and he delved into it as part of his work on doing research on Christianity and religion, particularly in the Middle Ages and the English renaissance. He is presently involved in a research project comparing the concept of “the self” as proposed by St. Augustine in comparison with that same concept as proposed by Carl Jung, noting that, starting from around the 20th century, people have shifted from looking at sin as a religious concept to looking at it from a more secular concept.

The Seven Deadly Sins sprang from a year of research and another year of writing it out. Dr. Salomon originally didn’t intend to write the book, but the seed of the book began when the editor of a previous book he had written gave him a list of subjects for possible books that they were looking for. One of the subjects was a history of sin, and while Dr. Salomon originally said “no,” he changed his mind after re-reading a scene of St. Augustine’s Confessions.

The “Seven Deadly Sins” was actually codified, as a concept, by Pope Gregory the Great in the 4th century and was based on previous lists of sins which go back centuries before. The seven deadly sins are (in no particular order):

  1. Pride - thinking that one is bigger than one actually is
  2. Lust - excess desire
  3. Anger - excessive feelings of anger
  4. Avarice - greed
  5. Envy - (like wanting a possession of someone else)
  6. Gluttony - excess eating
  7. Sloth - laziness

Dr. Salomon points out that the seven deadly sins are actually excessive behaviors, such as gluttony being excessive eating and drinking, as people do need to eat and drink to survive. He remarks that the definitions of the sins haven’t changed, but the context by which people regard these. Dr. Salomon points out the sin of gluttony in the context of excessive input of anything into one’s body, which would include being overloaded with data and being glued to electronics for a great amount of time.

The impact of the list being put together, according to Dr. Salomon, was that the Roman Catholic Church was able to use the sins as a way to control people’s behavior. It was only during the Reformation and after the Renaissance, with the invention of the printing press which made the Bible available to a larger audience, rather than merely to members of the Church, that people began to make decisions for themselves, based on what they had read. This has moved the conversation of responsibility for behavior to the individual, which became the norm in the 20th century.

Dr. Salomon remarks that, under the present context, the sins can be viewed from a spiritual, rather than a religious, sense, so that an individual can take sin into consideration without necessarily belonging to a religion. This movement is more prevalent in the Western world than anywhere else, and stands in stark contrast to the way sin was viewed as a “black and white” issue in the Middle Ages. This opens up the context of individual interpretation, which Dr. Salomon remarks could be potentially dangerous in society, and has created an atmosphere where assessing what is right and what is wrong is more difficult.

Dr. Salomon notes that there is presently a split in attitudes where the Western and Eastern cultures are concerned. Western people look externally for assessment and approval, as can be seen by the concept in Christianity, Judaism and Islam as looking to God as an external force. Eastern people have more of a sense that God resides within an individual, which leads to reflection about one’s own behavior rather than looking to an external standard. He notes that Eastern traditions do have their own lists of sins which are different from the seven deadly sins, and that these are looked at differently compared to how sin is regarded in Western traditions.

Dr. Salomon notes that a lot of Westerners might believe in the concept of sin, but they can’t really define what sin is, as it has become more personal and less communal. Sin, Dr. Salomon noted, was originally about committing an act which was a violation of the covenant made between God and man, and that that developed into a violation of a covenant made amongst people where acceptable behavior is concerned. He notes that actually writing out a full history of sin would take more books, and that nowadays, behavior is being re-categorized, with the example given being the #MeToo movement.

For Dr. Salomon, the impact that technology is having on sinful behavior was one of the most interesting aspects he encountered while writing the book, and he includes references to how technology negatively influences people’s lives. According to him, technology is presently getting the way of our humanity and of how we relate to each other, which he believes Gregory would include as a sin if the kind of technology presently available was present during his day.

Purchase from Amazon: 
The Seven Deadly Sins: How Sin Influenced the West from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era by Dr. David A. Salomon

Friday, May 10, 2019

Isaac Prilleltensky on the Science Behind Laughter for Change, a Better Life, and Well-Being

In this interview, Isaac Prilleltensky talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his The Laughing Guide book series written with Ora Prilleltensky.

“Learning is an active endeavor.” ~Isaac Prilleltensky

Isaac Prilleltensky is presently the Vice-Provost for Institutional Culture at the University of Miami, and he took a sabbatical between assuming his present position and his previous position, the Dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami, to write out the Laughing Guide series with his wife, Ora Prilleltensky. His involvement with, and use of, humor has evolved over the course of time, developing from when he was asked to write speeches for certain celebrations to when he began using humor in his own profession. He and his wife, began a humor-based online research project to help people become happier and healthier. It was then that he began writing funny short stories and began having these published in newspapers and magazines, and it was from then that the trilogy series developed.

The series combines humor with science and aims to enable people to have healthier and happier lives. The book sprang from Isaac’s realization that he most likely had enough original material for a book, which he and his wife (whom he refers to as his “secret weapon,” because of she not only is a psychologist - one whom Isaac admits is probably better than he is - but is also “super knowledgeable”) wrote out. The publisher who reviewed the initial book said that it needed to be split into two, which they did, and it was while they were working on the second book that Isaac realized that the second book was getting too big, so he split that book into two, resulting in the present trilogy.

The books’ approach is a mix of humor and science, and Isaac points out that people learn better when they do so in an environment where humor is present, as they become more creative, their defenses are lowered and they solve problems better. Isaac points to the substantial body of research on positive emotions - which is what humor falls under - which indicates that positive emotions create a positive spiral of positivity. The lack of feeling defensive helps out, as people who are so involved don’t need to worry about coming across as inferior, thus freeing up mental energy; and the freer one feels, the smarter one becomes, creating connections amongst things that one would have not made in another environment. Laughter also releases endorphins, which means that humor links the psychological with the physiological.

Isaac also points out research which indicates that the best way to learn is to be open-minded - broadening one’s horizons - which requires one to suspend judgement on the way the world is, which removes one’s own biases and enables one to see things differently. He also notes research where humor can reduce the intensity of pain felt by individuals as well as their allergic reactions, as laughter boosts the immune system. He remarks on the active components which members and participants in laughing groups get, namely:
  1. positive emotions;
  2. positive physiological reactions induced by laughter, as laughing is a form of physical exercise; and
  3. the social element of creating affiliative bonds - a social glue that binds people together.
Isaac remarks that a precondition for doing such things as doing one’s work well or for reaching higher levels of excellence is psychological safety.  Research conducted on psychological safety in organizations indicates that, in organizations where people feel afraid or threatened interpersonally, organizations don’t function as well as an organization where psychological safety is present. He then points out that the best way for kids to learn is in a classroom where psychological safety is present, an environment where they can have fun and learn through active engagement by problem solving, rather than rote, threats and punishment. (Learning quote)

Change, Isaac remarks, isn’t always drastic, dramatic or traumatic, but can be doable, gradual and feasible. He advocates the “small win” strategy, where one breaks down one’s ultimate goal into small goals they can feel good about and which are achievable, and he notes that this is just one of several scientific-based methods for managing change. Another method is to anticipate barriers and create backup plans, as a way to implement what one intends, and gives an example in his life where he and his wife reduced their sugar and meat intake. As a summary, Isaac remarks that change is doable when it is done gradually, when barriers are anticipated, to reinforce new behaviors and to get social support from the people around oneself. “Change is a team effort,” he adds, and notes that change can be accomplished if it is demystified, so that it is doable, viable and gradual.

Isaac notes that humor is one tool for one to look at one’s present life, and that, if one can laugh at oneself, then that is the first step in changing oneself, so that one can then explore what is and what isn’t going well in one’s life. Creating a better life, Isaac says, starts with examining one’s life, one’s relationships and one’s surroundings, as the environment one lives in, and the people around oneself are vital to creating the better life one desires. “The environment, the people around us,” he notes, “can make us exceedingly happy or thoroughly miserable.”

Where the books are concerned, Isaac notes that these enable readers to explore various ways to lead happy and healthy lives, as there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to living a happy life, since different people have different desires. He also recommends that people become good listeners as, by doing so, one can create long-term positive relationships.

Purchase from Amazon: The Laughing Guide book series by Isaac Prilleltensky.

The Laughing Guide to Well-Being: Using Humor and Science to Become Happier and Healthier

The Laughing Guide to Change: Using Humor and Science to Master Your Behavior, Emotions, and Thoughts

The Laughing Guide to a Better Life: Using Humor and Science to Improve Yourself, Your Relationships and Your Surroundings

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Gerald Robinson on the Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons | Education for Liberation

In this interview, Gerald Robinson talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book,  Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons.

“Identify a program in your community that has an open-arms approach to people like you.” ~Gerald Robinson

The Center for Advancing Opportunity is a research initiative based in Washington, D.C., which was created to identify various avenues to strengthen people’s educational knowledge and entrepreneurship, as well as investing money in scholars to create a solution to why so many people do not graduate high school on time or, if they do, they need remediation.

On a personal level, Gerald’s involvement with the justice system began in the mid-1980s, when he involved himself with young men who were at risk of going to jail. The genesis of the book began with the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, when Gerald connected with colleagues, one of whom became the co-editor of Education for Liberation, and spoke to them about criminal justice reform not being a partisan issue. The book sprang from an effort to reach out to people in all walks of life, including people who were incarcerated, correctional officers, people who work in think tanks, entrepreneurs and scholars, with the book thus springing out of the research and conversations so conducted.

Gerald notes that writing a book is a labor of love, and for him it was a matter of finding the right people to essentially write out the various chapters. The book focuses on the role of education in the criminal justice system, and that those who have taken education while incarcerated took up adult basic education, adult secondary education, vocational training and post-secondary courses. The second issue the book speaks of is the reintegration of formerly incarcerated people in society, and the third is essentially the point that education matters.

Gerald notes that 2.3 million Americans are presently incarcerated, most of whom are in state prisons, most of whom did not finish high school and 95% of whom will eventually leave prison. The attitude of individual states differ, with some states making those who are incarcerated and who do not have a high school diploma enter educational courses so they could get their high school diploma. Gerald notes that there are some 650,000 people who are released from incarceration every year, so the question is how these people will be reintegrated into society. He also notes that the United States imprisons more people, per capita, than any other nation in the Western world and cites that less transparent nations, such as China, could very well have a greater rate of imprisonment, but this isn’t officially recorded.

As an example of the kind of challenges former prisoners face when re-integrating into society, Gerald gives the example of someone who was released after 26 years. The individual has a government ID who received $200 - enough money to leave the prison and go to a transition house - and Gerald notes that the sum given can be higher or lower than that. Once at a transition house, the individual needs to find a job, and some states and counties have such transitional housing, while others do not. Transitional housing can also be offered by non-profit organizations or communities, and some organizations, such as those experienced by an author of a chapter of the book, help people not only find jobs but also offer a daily paycheck. Reconnecting with family is also another challenge, and Gerald gives the example of incarcerated women who have not seen their children for years.

Gerald refers to ex-prisoners being branded with “the scarlet letter F,” for “felon,” and gave the example of a former prisoner who, although presently a successful entrepreneur, found it difficult to get his business started once people realized he was a felon. Gerald acknowledges the Pavlovian response of backing away from someone whom one suddenly realizes was a felon is natural and needs to be worked through, and notes that, for such serious crimes as rape, drug dependency, elderly abuse and child molestation, there are limitations to the kind of jobs that former felons can apply for.

According to Gerald, ongoing studies indicate that around four dollars are returned to society for every dollar spent on educating incarcerated people, and that the rate of people being re-imprisoned is only around 7%, compared to “double digits” for state and national figures for those who didn’t receive such education. Other studies indicate that education does have an impact on the lives of those incarcerated, such as bringing up the individual’s sense of self-worth, as well as on society in general, and Gerald also brings up the rigor and methodology of the studies undertaken, which he notes can also be improved to come up with better solutions and implementation. He also notes that, for the correctional officers, there is an increased factor of safety, as there is a decrease in the number of those referred to such correctional methods as isolation when an educational program is implemented.

Gerald notes that the questions that also needs to be posed are “when,” “how” and “why,” because educational programs don’t result in 100% success, with some people still undertaking violent activity even while taking up an educational program. He notes that internal and external variables also come into play and notes that more can be done, pointing out a law that has affected federal prisons, whereas most prisoners aren’t in federal facilities. Gerald also remarks that the present conversation about the role of prisons in American society is moving away from punitive punishment towards rehabilitating those who are incarcerated. He also remarks that there should be more coordination so that those who have been released from prison should know where to go once they are released, and that those who help such individuals should be the ones to make the first move to ensure that former felons get the support they need.

Gerald notes that his support for education within the prison system is the same as his support for education for all human beings. He also remarks that his support for education for incarcerated individuals doesn’t mean he supports taking money away from those who aren’t, and that those who have been victimized likewise deserve “a place at the table” when speaking on the issue of education in prisons.

Purchase from Amazon:  Education for Liberation: The Politics of Promise and Reform Inside and Beyond America’s Prisons by Gerald Robinson