Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Overdue Update

So much is happening and I haven't posted on here in like 6 months! I need to do better at posting on my family advocacy activities on here.

In summary, I am currently working as the Director of Programs for the Ruth Institute, whose mission is to create a positive intellectual and social climate for marriage among young adults. I basically plan academic and advocacy conferences on issues facing the institution of marriage, including pornography addiction, cohabitation, divorce, same-sex marriage, individualism, soul-mate mentality, and hook-up culture to name a few. I also innovate programs to help students and young adults become involved in the issue, and become more articulate at making the case for marriage in the public square. It is my dream job. Well, my dream job is to be a wife and mother. But professionally speaking, it's pretty great to be able to make a living doing what I'm passionate about.

Check out the program I've been helping to develop. This is my baby. The concept anyway. The design is...lacking. (That's what you get when you can't afford a professional!) But the Emerging Leaders Program is awesome. I'm really excited about the prospect of being able to help young adults and students on college campuses be able to develop their skills to more effectively articulate a case for marriage in the public square. We have a Emerging Leaders Speakers' Bureau to help young adults have the opportunity to share their knowledge about specialty areas and have practice at public speaking and presenting. We have a Social Science Fellowship, where students (mostly graduate or law students) review academic articles or legal research and write about the information for the non-academic types. We also are beginning a Student and Campus Fellowship, where we fund student groups and initiatives on campus, to bring experts in to speak about topics related to marriage.

If you want to keep up with my activity and programming through Emerging Leaders, sign up for our newsletter! We only send it out every 4-6 weeks (if we're lucky!) so don't worry about being spammed too much. :) We also have an awesome blog, and FB page.

It is so rewarding to work with young adults who are committed to strengthening the institutions of marriage and family in society. The most rewarding part of my job is watching those who attend our conferences or become involved in our program catch on fire with the message and desire to make a difference. They are the Change the World generation, and they are already making waves.

Another project I'm involved in is Students for the Family. This is a kind of pseudo-continuation of Stand for the Family, the student group that I was President of during my first graduate degree. It is a group of graduate students, law students, and young professionals that want to duplicate the symposium that was held March 2010 at BYU.

This year we are again planning a large conference in Provo, UT, Oct 28-29th at the Provo Marriott Conference Center and Hotel. It is entitled Strengthening the Family: Engaging the Issues with Courage and Civility. We have all our speakers in place, the Call for Papers is turning out well, we are selecting student papers and projects for presentation, publication and prizes, and miracles happen daily in the planing. Which is a good things since none of the 11 of us on the Executive Planning Committee have the time or resources to devote to pulling off something as ambitious as this. But it's happening. It's so exciting. I hope you'll come!

In other good news, I will finally be leaving my alma matter, after 3 consecutive degrees. I will be graduating in December with a masters of marriage and family studies, and an MPA in non-profit management. While I'm sad to leave my university days behind me, I'm really looking forward to stepping into the world of family advocacy full-time as an employee of the Ruth Institute, and continue to work with and build relationships with organizations that are working for the family. There are so many good people involved in this work and it's exciting to be part of it.

If you ever want to know how to get involved or help, feel free to give me a call. In the world of non-profit and advocacy, the work is almost always accomplished through the kindness of volunteers. And there's always good work to be done! I'd start by checking out www.studentsforthefamily.org and signing up to be a volunteer. We're looking for those who can donate 1-2 hours a week for the next 6 weeks to help us advertise our conference in Provo.

Also heading out to Texas at the end of the month for events at Southern Methodist University and Baylor, and then to Princeton University at the beginning of November. Catch me if you can!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Some things I'm doing

I'm working for a really great organization now called the Ruth Institute, which is an educational project for the National Organization for Marriage. Aside from the fact that this is my dream job, I get to spend time creating and helping students create films that answer the question "Can love last a lifetime?".

This is some of what has resulted. I love it. Please vote on the videos you like best.

I love the video of the 94(!) year-old couple. If you know anyone (18-30) that would be willing to make a short film around this issue, please let me know. The contest ends in 10 days and cash prizes will be rewarded for 1st ($2000) 2nd ($1500) and 3rd ($1000) place. Considering there's only about 10 entries...you have a pretty good chance.

Next, I LOVE this site. I love creating cultural artifacts that support marriage. I think that's part of the way we will make progress in cultural change; by creating things. Especially media and art. They are powerful.

And I love this graphic representation of the report on marriage in America today. Take a look.

Marriage in America

Monday, November 22, 2010

Third Annual Love and Fidelity Network Conference: Princeton, NJ

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Love and Fidelity Network's 3rd Annual Intercollegiate Conference on Marriage, Family, and Sexual Integrity. It was fantastic.

I love conferences. When people ask me what I want to do when I grow up, I say I want to change the world by restoring a marriage culture.

When they ask me how, I say through conferences.

Academic and family advocacy conferences are much more than a dissemination of information, although they are effective at that. They are much more than a gathering of academic experts and student leaders that are committed to change the world, although they are that as well.

The most important aspect of conferences, in my opinion, is that Conferences create community. They bring together people from every background and experience, and create a common experience. And for a few precious hours, we are pulled out of our too-busy-to-make-time-for-important-things life, and spend time with others who are committed to the same ideals we are. And the power of community and shared-vision is endless. The effects are long-lasting and, I am convinced, will change the world with the ideas, thoughts, and momentum they instigate.

Together we revel in and cling to our "outdated" ideas about the importance of marriage and family to society, and the centrality of sexual integrity to the flourishing of the human family. And this creates a great momentum, a ripple effect that will reverberate throughout individual lives, schools, and generations. Welcome to the marriage movement.

The marriage movement is a youth movement. I just read a pessimistic pole today about how nearly 40% of Americans say marriage is becoming obsolete. Among the demographic of 18-29 year-olds, the percentage shoots up to 44%. But guess what. That means that a majority of young adults think that marriage is important! (Why don't those newsflashes make the headlines?).

I am convinced that it is our generation of young adults that will make or brake the upcoming decisions about marriage in American. We are coming of age now, determined to change the world, and ready to act. Well, if you're waiting for an invitation, consider this it. It is up to us. It is on our shoulders to change the world. And we can. One life at a time.

Some highlights from the Love and Fidelity Conference:

Jason Carroll, a professor at BYU (and one of my thesis committee members) spoke on the need for friendship as the foundation for romantic relationships. He pointed out that we no longer live in a culture that postures for marriage, but rather a divorce-preparation culture. He emphasized that marriage is a formative institution wherein individuals best learn and grow, not the capstone of personal development. He touched on the need for the development of friendship and restraint of sexual behavior to form healthy relationships.

Christine Kim (my supervisor at the Heritage Foundation) presented a slew of findings on the decline of marriage in society, and other demographic trends, such as contraceptive use, and marriage rates among different educational demographics.

Dr. Donald Hilton, neuroscientist at University of Texas, spoke about the science of pornography addiction, and how it is undermining masculinity and men's achievement levels in society.

My favorite new addition this year was the student break-out sessions, where student leaders were able to share their experience with campus advocacy, along with their challenges and successes. This proved to be extremely motivating to hear from other peers. While the bar for involvement and impact was set high by leaders like Alisa Rogers and Casey Gleave, students also felt empowered to go forward and follow in their foot steps.

Of course my hero, Robert George, just popped in for a quick impromptu 20-minute lecture about the importance of gathering and standing up against wrong ideas. I love these people. I am so grateful for the strength they provide, and the shoulders for us to stand on.

If you would like recordings of any of these sessions, stay tuned, as most were recorded by the Love and Fidelity Network.

Thanks again for a wonderful venue and opportunity for learning, mentoring, and friendship.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Importance of Gathering

In other breaking news, I'll be going out to the East Coast again this week to attend an advocacy conference and check in with the Heritage Foundation and the Institute for American Values.

I'm extremely excited to attend the 3rd Annual Love and Fidelity Network Conference on Sexuality, Integrity and the University this week, with some of the most famous Stand for the Family advocates joining me.

I'll be attending the conference in beautiful Princeton University in new Jersey, and blogging on ideas and updates from there.

Stay tuned for more information!

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Human Longing for Belonging

Well, so much for my aspirations of having regular posts on this blog. But it will happen. The storm is still gathering.

However, I want write a quick post on attachment theory, and the human longing for belonging.

I feel strongly that human beings are more interconnected and interrelated than most people will probably ever comprehend. We are not independent creatures. For some reason, I see and feel this need in the world with great clarity.

This is probably the principle that I feel the most strongly about: We need each other, in specific ways. Every man needs a wife. Every woman needs a husband. Parents need children. And every child needs parents. This is the universal pattern for human flourishing.

In addition, I feel we have a special stewardship for each other, especially those whom our lives happen to intersect with. I just re-read one of my favorite religious quotes on the importance of human relationships.

Neal A Maxwell says, "Each of us has circles of friendships, and within those lie the portion of the human family whom God has given us to love, to serve, and to learn from. You and I may call these intersectings "coincidence." This word is understandable for mortals to use, but coincidence is not an appropriate word to describe the workings of an omniscient God. He does not do things by "coincidence" but instead by "divine design."

While I believe this religiously, more and more scientific evidence is also beginning to recognize the tangible need for human beings to be loved, and connected to one another in physical space and time.

What is interesting is where human beings turn for substitutes, when they lack the meaningful and permanent relationships of healthy families and marriages. Human beings always need community and family; it's just a matter of where they seek to find these connections.

I think in many instances, corporate culture and relationships have mimicked and replaced a family culture. The government tries to step in as the proverbial mother and father of every child. School teachers are expected to be substitute parents.

My friend and colleague, Ryan Messmore, crafted an artful piece on this.

But in many instances, I think we just end up being alone. In our Western culture, we use the pseudonym, "independent" to describe this state. If we feel lonely in our independence, we are seen as weak. However, scientifically speaking, just the opposite is true.

The book, Bowling Alone, by Robert Putnam, Loneliness by John Cacioppo and William Patrick have fueled my thoughts on this, along with a 30-year longitudinal study of the impact of attachment disorder in the book "The Development of the Person" by Alan Sroufe and colleagues.

Based on John T. Cacioppo’s research at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, the physiological and psychological effects of chronic perceived loneliness on health and functioning are severe.

Relying on brain imaging, analysis of blood pressure, immune response, stress hormones, behavior, and even gene expression, Cacioppo’s research shows that human beings are meant to be intertwined and interdependent to achieve human flourishing.

In evolutionary psychology, the desire to be connected to others and to a community is a primal instinct of safety and protection. Loneliness creates a defensive social cognition framework, wherein an individual feels constantly threatened or insecure, not being connected to or embedded in a community. This releases constant stress hormones (cortisol) that accelerates aging and weakens the immune system significantly over time. Being separated from the pack is a serious danger, often resulting in death be predators.

In real time, the release of stress hormones when an individual is not connected to a community or family impacts and impedes human functioning in almost every way.

Chronic loneliness predicts the progression of Alzheimer's disease, and can actually impair the DNA transcription process in the immune system.

Loneliness impairs the ability of the brain to function and maintain focus and attention. Even temporary experiences of loneliness predict significantly worse performance in reading accuracy, logical reasoning, and problem solving perseverance.

With one scientific finding after another, Loneliness makes a compelling scientific case that the culture of Individualism creates isolation and a disconnect that humans are not hard-wired to handle.

It's almost as if we are supposed to be rooted in a fundamental pack of relationships that keep us safe, both physically and emotionally.

If only the government or corporations could figure out a way to do some social engineering and channel our interactions into those kinds of relationships...

Hope you caught my deep sarcasm on that.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I'm getting married....soon.

I know I promised you a continuing post on Stand for the Family and all that...but I want to interrupt this regularly scheduled boring program for something more interesting.

Last weekend, when I was in DC at the Values Voter Summit, my co-worker Rachel and I got to staff the Heritage booth for a few hours on a Friday morning. Of course, being the marriage and society nut that I am, rather than recruiting new Heritage members, I ended up having long conversations about the marriage movement and educating the rising generation on the public goods of marriage, and sending most patrons to the National Organization for Marriage and the Ruth Institute booth across the way. I'm sure Heritage appreciated that. But they know. Pretty much anyone who knows me becomes a casualty to one of these conversations about marriage and society if I've known you for longer than about...one day.

So I'm talking to one of the Heritage interns at our booth about the cultural impact on the way we view marriage. He's 22 years old, just graduated in Guitar Performance, and is working in the Strategic Planning department as an intern for a semester. He's asking me questions about marriage and society and what I think is important and fanning the flames of my verboseness with the kinds of questions I love to hear.

Then he says, "These things are good for me to know because I'm getting married soon." I say, "Oh, congratulations! Are you engaged then?" to which he replies, "No."


Cricket, Cricket.

No further explanation followed. The implication was that he wasn't even dating anyone currently. To which I reply (after awkward silence), "Oh yeah, I'm getting married too. So is Rachel. In fact we're all getting married soon! Yay!"

In case you're wondering, no, none of us is dating anyone.

After we all had a good laugh about it, I began to think that, in all seriousness, that is probably the most optimistic and correct attitude I've heard about marriage in a long time from a single twenty-something in my generation.
And probably one of the best ways to create a marriage culture by talking about marriage as important and present in our lives, even when we are not married.

We don't study about, talk about, think about, read about, research about, and care about marriage only because it is imminent in our lives, or even because it is our life or our spouse or children that we care about. We care because it is the future. And we must all care, as if our lives depended on it, because in fact they do. Marriage is the future. Without it, our society and nation will decline and ultimately die.

At the Heritage Foundation, for one of the projects I work on I've had the privilege of working with Robert Rector studying demographic trends of marriage, child bearing, and drudging up statistics and reports from the US Census Bureau. This has been fascinating research, not because I enjoy digging through archives of data. But because it is enlightening to see the trends of how Americans marry and mate in the US over the last 100 years.

Pay attention because what I'm about to say is really important. When the Census Bureau started taking record, the unwed (back then it was called illegitimate) birth rate was about 3%. That means 97% of all children were born to a married mother and father. The unwed birth rate in America in 2009 is over 40%. For African Americans the rate is 72.5% and for Hispanics it is 52.5%. That means that of all the children born in the United States, only 60% are now born to married parents.

Children born to unwed or single parents are significantly more likely to be born into poverty, struggle in education, become incarcerated, struggle emotionally and inter-personally, and experience a reduced quality of life compared to their peers.

In social science, gallons of ink have been spilt and trees worth of paper have filled books about the negative outcomes of a child raised without both a biological mother and father in a married household. Now I understand there are many extenuating circumstances and many unpreventable situations that are out of control, and single parents do the best job that they can. But this is bigger than individual and personal circumstances. This is a sociological and demographic trend that is becoming the norm. We must not confuse compassion for the exception and tragic circumstance with embracing it as the ideal. It is time to recognize this as a damaging social trend.

I know these are strong words, but the research I have done on marriage, attachment, and child outcomes has caused me to feel that having a child outside of marriage and without a committed mother and father is near unto a form of child abuse. The chances that child has of having the same kind of success in life as a peer from an intact family are very slim. The collapse of marriage casts a long shadow on the next generation and I feel, even more than a massive debt and financial disaster, that this behavior is mortgaging our children's future. I don't believe we have the right to do this to the next generation.

This last week, the new poverty numbers for America came out as well. 17.3% of Americans are living in poverty (for a single person, less than $10k per year, for a family of 4 less than $22k per year). That is 1 in every 7 persons in America. What is worse, children make up the largest demographic in this group. Now 1 in 5 children in America is considered living in poverty. This is not just due to the recession. The bulk of these children live with unwed and single parents.

A child that is born to an unwed parent is 8 times more likely to live in poverty for a substantial amount of time, and be dependent on government programs, compared to a child born to a married household. Now while my colleague is stronger in his words I'm not naive enough to think that these relationships are strictly causal or that there's not a broad chain of events and circumstances that lead to child outcomes and parent situations. But I also do not think I'm being overly-optimistic to say that the most effective tool we have in strengthening our nation, the next generation, and reducing national poverty, is marriage. We must do better.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Impossible Dream- Part 1

I've felt for some time, that I need a concise way of explaining to others what it is that I "do" and what I feel passionately about. I'm kind of a "marriage and society nut" and spend a lot of my time thinking and talking about the influence of culture on our relationships. I often meet people that resonate with the ideas or beliefs I express, but can't quite understand what exactly one would "do" about those ideas, let alone how one could make the pursuit of ideas a full-time endeavor.

First, for those of you who browse blogs for leisurely entertainment, I apologize in advance for the agitation I will cause you with this series of posts. But I will try to make this as painless as possible, while providing basic understanding for the moderately curious. And promise more brief and entertaining posts in the future. Maybe.

As a primer, I'm in business school now, gleaning some non-profit management skills in a more formal way than the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants method I've been using the last couple of years. As a result, every day I meet someone who wants to hear my elevator pitch. What are you doing, why are you here, and where are you going in 30 seconds or less. That's what we do in business. We build the corporation of me, and market ourselves to others in quick and easy soundbites. We use easily understandable buzz words, power phrases, and articulate a simple professional action plan while evaluating what we want from them or they want from us. And then, we get the job.

Well, I think I'm sort of a loose bolt in the cogs of that business machine and generally an agitation to everyone. But I'm still giving a good faith effort at conformity and one day dream to have a neatly polished pitch that will return smiles, understanding, and beaming pride from family and friends. Unfortunately, I think I'd have more of a chance at that working for McDonald's than doing social entrepreneurial, non-profit advocacy. But for the sake of the sanity of my family, friends, and those who have a vested interest in knowing what exactly I'm doing with my life, and making sure I'm not a vagrant and menace to society, I want to take a shot at articulating what it is that I (and those who associate with me and my activities) stand for, and what we do about it.

My professional purpose is to help create and strengthen a national marriage-culture in our society. This is accomplished through 1) educating others about the public goods of lifelong, companionate, heterosexual marriage in society, 2) articulating a case for marriage in the public square and 3) facilitating the desire of others to more effectively engage others in the public square on these issues.

Before I go any further, it is important to note here that I am not on an "anti-gay crusade". I cannot express how much I despise that kind of association, especially because I have so many close friends and loved ones who identify as gay, whom I love and respect their inherent human dignity and real, lived experience. I do not agree that their lifestyle is optimal for society, but believing in lifelong, heterosexual, companionate marriage does not mean that I am either hateful or denigrating toward homosexuals. These are two separate spheres. I know very little about gender identity issues, and have no professional experience or grounding on which to speak about the nature of same-sex attraction. I do have education and experience in studying social trends and social issues surrounding marriage. And I do know that the institution of marriage itself deserves further examination long before we start having conversations about why marriage doesn't include two individuals of the same gender.

For me the study of the institution of marriage in our society and gay rights are two totally distinct issues. The fact that they are now intertwined reflects the lack of understanding about what a "social institution" is in the first place. I seek to understand, educate, and advocate about the institution of marriage in society as a naturally-occurring and pre-political institution. Not make the case for why homosexuals don't deserve to be loved or why gays are evil. I will leave such serious dialogues and moral judgments about homosexuality to those who are better qualified in such issues (and I submit that that is not very many people on earth who have the qualifications to make such sweeping statements).

I stand for something, not against it. We strengthen and maintain marriage as the fundamental foundation for society, not destroy and denigrate gays. This is a supportive and building endeavor, and I refuse to allow current cultural debates and assumptions to dictate that it must be a defensive and destructive tirade.

How it all began....to be continued.