December 2020

Conflict, compromise, compassion; Better Arguments; Grieving a lost sister

In SAVVY, apply the three Cs to your family relationships, your clients and patients, or to your friends and neighborhood as well as bridging the political divide and the ongoing rancor.

In SKILLS, I highlight the dimensions and principles of the Better Arguments Project, a group with an initiative to heal America in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

In SOUL, two sisters’ relationship is severed prompted by the political divide and who voted for the “other side”. How about your family and friends?  Are you grieving over a fractured relationship?


I have been writing Tips and Topics for nearly 18 years.  I do it for you as well as for myself.  It helps me think through what I believe in clinical and treatment issues.  But it also helps me process the events of the day and issues confronting the greater society outside of behavioral health.

Last month I addressed solutions on bringing our country together after a bruising election season.  I am focusing on this one more time this month as I am still troubled by how fractured we are.

But the SAVVY and SKILLS tips this month apply across the realm of broken relationships to building bridges across disparate thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  So if you are tired of politics and the ongoing rancor, apply this month’s content to your family relationships; those of your clients and patients; or to your friends and neighborhood.  I think you will find solutions that have broad application.

Tip 1

Conflict can be helpful. Lack of conflict resolution is the problem

Whether it be an interdisciplinary team in a treatment program or a community made up of disparate world views, conflict is inevitable.  You can’t have people with varying life experiences, upbringings and cultural differences and not expect conflict and contrasting ideas. It is in the richness of diversity and resolution of conflict that even better solutions take form.

A contrasting viewpoint helps you clarify the shape of your perspective. If approached open-mindedly and open-heartedly, conflict and contrast sharpen your focus on who you are and what you want.

In the February 2007 edition of Tips and Topics, I proposed a conflict resolution policy to outline how everyone has the right and the obligation to voice their concens and then resolve any conflicts.

Tip 2

Compromise” is not a dirty word.  Consensus-building honors all opinions, but strives for solutions not standoffs; for coming together not falling apart.

In the September 2012 edition of Tips and Topics, I proposed a new political party called the “Compromise Party”.

The Compromise Party: 

  • “com-promises” with others to brainstorm on solutions believing that no one person or party holds all truth. 
  • That’s “com-promises” as in communicate, community, come together to promise solutions that consider all sides of a challenge. 
  • Com-promise that brings together the best ideas no matter where they come from, so long as the outcomes solve the problems.
  • We attack problems not people. 
  • We demonstrate for constructive collaboration; not criticize for destructive demonization. 

British comedian and activist Russell Brand hosts a podcast “Under the Skin”.  He recently interviewed actor and Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey who spoke out about political divisiveness and the need to “meet in the middle.” 

The answer, he says, is to “meet in the middle.”…… It’s free over here. There’s plenty of room. “Let’s get aggressively centric,” McConaughey emphasized.

In addition:

  • McConaughey called out the ‘illiberal left’ who “absolutely condescend, patronize and are arrogant towards the other 50 percent”.
  • He also criticized Hollywood figures and those on the “far left” who he says antagonize and belittle those with other beliefs.
  • McConaughey accused the left of missing opportunities to appeal to a broader audience when they alienate people with “gotcha” attacks.

Tip 3

Practice true compassion.  It is a process worth embracing.

  • “To be compassionate is to actively promote the other’s welfare, to give priority to the other’s needs.” (Miller, William R; Rollnick, Stephen (2013):  “Motivational Interviewing – Helping People Change” Third Edition, New York, NY. Guilford Press.p.20)
  • “The Latin root for the word compassion is pati, which means to suffer, and the prefix com– means with. Compassion, originating from compati, literally means to suffer with. The connection of suffering with another person brings compassion beyond sympathy into the realm of empathy.”
  • My own twist on “compassion”: com = with; passion = feeling strongly; active not passive; advocating for what you believe.  
  • By all means advocate for what you believe with passion.  But combine that with a commitment to conflict resolution and compromise and consensus.


Last month I highlighted the transformative work of Braver Angels, “a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.”

This month in SKILLS, I am focusing on the Better Arguments Project, “a national civic initiative created to help bridge divides – not by papering over those divides but by helping Americans have Better Arguments.”  

I have formatted information from the Better Arguments website into a Tips and Topics style.  But the content is all that of the Better Arguments Project.

Tip 1

Don’t let arguments drive us apart. Apply these three dimensions of a Better Argument to bring us together

Three Dimensions of Arguing Better

  • Historical Context

Today’s civic arguments are rooted in history. Arguments- being able to reckon with differences and forge joint solutions are critical to a healthy American civic life.

  • Emotional Intelligence

A Better Argument is one in which all participants use emotional intelligence, understanding why the other party is taking a certain stance, rather than immediately negating that party’s opinion.

  • Recognizing Power

In many spaces of civil discourse, participants do not enter as equals and participants reckon with imbalances. A Better Argument requires being honest about power.

Tip 2

Five principles of a Better Argument apply to any relationship conflict at home, work or the community

Five Principles of a Better Argument

1. Take Winning off the Table

Conventionally, parties enter an argument with a goal of winning, or at least reaching resolution. Instead, the goal of a Better Argument should be framed as the reinstitution of civility to build a common community.

2.  Prioritize Relationships and Listen Passionately

A Better Argument places relationships at the center, and requires that all parties are truly listening to one another. Participants should listen to learn, not to win.

3.  Pay Attention to Context

A Better Argument acknowledges culture. Understanding the presence of culture in any debate increases its accessibility. Better Arguments within a community should begin with specific questions relevant to that community.

4.  Embrace Vulnerability

In civic life today, many Americans only engage with circles that confirm their own worldviews. One major reason why this withdrawal occurs is because entering a space of argument means making yourself vulnerable.

5.  Make Room to Transform

A Better Argument is a transformational experience for all involved. Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the goal of a Better Argument becomes to change how we engage with one another in order to build a community.


Her sister has severed all family ties because my good friend voted for the “other side”.  This is a repeated story across the country.  Maybe this has happened in your family too, due to the political divide.

When my friend opened her sister’s email severing their relationship, she was initially angry, shocked, sad and confused – not unusual feelings considering the stages of grief. Half the country is working through stages of grief over the November 5, 2020 election results, including it would seem, President Trump.

It is a normal and necessary process that I hope we actually go through as a country.  If we don’t, we are going to have many more fractured families; and physical, mental and spiritual health problems in our communities.

My friend actually moved fairly quickly through her stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  She is more serene and centered than a week ago.

How is it with your family and friends?  How serene and centered are you?

I can tell you that these days, I am making sure I stick to my daily meditation practice.

November 2020

Braver Angels and coming together after the election; marriage counseling techniques to bridge the political divide; CHEMMites.

Welcome to the November edition of Tips and Topics.  For readers in the USA, may you have a safe, joyful and meaningful Thanksgiving whether you are together with your loved ones in person or online.

In SAVVY, I just learnt about a group called Braver Angels, an initiative to heal America in the aftermath of the 2020 election. I connect you to them in hopes you may be interested.

In SKILLS, I summarize techniques and tips based on marriage counseling skills that Braver Angels has found effective in bridging political gaps.  These skills apply across all conflicts to improve understanding and empathy.

In SOUL, I share WhatsApp texts with my longtime childhood friends in Australia when they asked me about the Presidential election.

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October 2020

Addiction – Disease? Willful misconduct? Harm Reduction?; How to be a child.

Welcome to the October edition of Tips and Topics.

In SAVVY, I answer two follow-up questions arising from last month’s edition. The first asks how addiction is compared to other health issues. The second asks about a Harm Reduction approach to addiction versus a “medical model”.

In SKILLS, I have excerpted learning points and comments from several readers who responded to the dialogue about “After a patient is discharged… is there a period of time that patients should have to wait before being readmitted to the clinic?”

In SOUL, I reflect on how children are focused on fun, joy, laughter and full self expression. Then we adults gradually suppress that spontaneity only to devote time, money and energy in personal development workshops to rediscover and reawaken that “inner child”.

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September 2020

Stump the Shrink and how long to ban readmission for a discharged patient; indoor plants make me happy and healthy

In SAVVY, SKILLS and STUMP THE SHRINK, follow my thinking process as I ponder how to respond to a nurse practitioner’s question about how long should a program make a discharged client wait before readmitting them – 30 days, a year or what?

In SOUL, I discovered that plants and nature are good for us in almost every way you can think about. My indoor plants are not only fun to see grow and develop, but they are good for my health.

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August 2020

The ASAM Criteria – Tips on assessment and treatment; 18 months since I lost my wife and Ricky Gervais’ “After Life”

In SAVVY and SKILLS, assessment and treatment tips for the six assessment dimensions of the ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) Criteria.

In SOUL, it is 18 months since I lost my wife. Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series “After Life” got me thinking about grief and a host of other related human interests (and it entertained).

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July 2020

What to do about COVID-19 uncertainty, anxiety and “caution fatigue”; Roman poet, Ovid’s advice

Welcome to the July edition of Tips and Topics.

In SAVVY, Gretchen Rubin, author of “The Happiness Project: Happier at Home and Better than Before” gives tips on what to do about all the uncertainty we are experiencing with COVID-19.

In SKILLS, Jamie Ducharme, Staff Writer at Time Magazine, summarizes tips for fighting “caution fatigue” from Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

In SOUL, Gretchen Rubin gives one last piece of advice on how to handle the uncertainty and anxiety over COVID-19 and quotes Ovid: “Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.)”

June 2020

“Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes” experiment; Iowa Dept. of Corrections training; if you aren’t black..; being present; James Taylor’s song

Welcome to the June edition of Tips and Topics. This edition is focused on an important, game-changing time in USA history.

In SAVVY, I share an experiment from 1970 that changed the attitudes of 3rd graders. The Iowa Dept. of Corrections had a training that was equally illuminating. It’s worth taking 53 minutes of your time to watch. I also highlight three areas of life that black people experience that I have never thought of; and I bet you haven’t either if you are a white person.

In SKILLS, three of my colleagues and friends share their thoughts on what to do and where to start as we rethink race relations; re-imagine policing practices; and search our own attitudes and actions.

In SOUL, I share where I am beginning to commit to change.  Also listen to a classic song from the 1949 musical, South Pacific, refreshed and re-recorded by James Taylor.

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May 2020

“Quarantine fatigue”; fear and Law of Attraction; use it or lose it.

Welcome to the May edition of Tips and Topics. We’re not ready to move on from COVID-19 yet, as much as it would be wonderful to get back to “business as usual”.

In SAVVY, the focus is on “quarantine fatigue”. The HIV epidemic has lessons that can help shape where we go with COVID-19.

In SKILLS, fear attracts more fear.  Daily stress and worry plagues a majority of Americans (60%). Shifting our focus away from what pulls us down, can help us get through COVID-19.  But don’t forget to wash your hands.

In SOUL, the blinds in my lakeview room reminded me to use it or lose it.

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April 2020

Bill Gates on pandemics; smiles and songs; how I read the news now

In SAVVY, Bill Gates’s 8 minutes TED talk could have saved thousands of lives and trillions of dollars if we had listened to him. As we think of opening the USA up again, will we listen now? 

In SKILLS, SMILES, SONGS I share some of my favorite coronavirus related humor and music. 

In SOUL AND SHARING SOLUTIONS, I pass by news items that leave me angry and less empathetic. Is there anyone out there wanting to come together to find solutions to our shared common challenges?

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March 2020

March Problem Gambling Awareness Month; Language of Recovery; No need to panic

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January 2020

Frustrations, frustrations – what kind are they and what to do; visioning a new year and decade

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