April 28, 2009

Problems serve a purpose

Posted in Between Us column, Spirituality at 4:48 pm by dinaheng

I hate gnats.  I’m sure they serve a purpose in Nature and the world’s ecosystem, but I can’t wait until they leave my house.

Lately, these tiny pests have been buzzing around my head no matter what I try to do to get rid of them. At first, I just noticed one every now and then when I sat at my computer to work. Then, I started seeing one in the kitchen.  A couple in the living room. 

Since I take the garbage out every night, I figure the critters are coming from a houseplant. I traced the culprit to two sources — a planter of orchids that someone sent me a few months ago, and two plants that I repotted recently, using the same overly moist soil because I was too lazy to go back to the store to get another bag of dirt.  To combat the gnats, I sprayed everything. But the bugs keep coming.

Funny how most problems in life are like that. We procrastinate dealing with them. We think they may go away if we ignore them. We hate cutting negative things out of our lives, even though we know we should, and end up creating more problems in the long run.

Problems, though, are really opportunities for growth in disguise. We can initiate that growth, or we can wait for life to initiate something for us, which is not always pleasant to deal with. Growth means learning new things, embracing change and letting go of things in the past that no longer serve us.

Letting go of the past doesn’t mean ignoring its lessons. It just means releasing what no longer works, and giving away anything that prevents new, positive experiences. 

We have the opportunity to do this every day in some form or other. I often remind myself to let go of impatience. I’m forever trying to set aside judgmental thoughts. Some days, the best I can do is take outdated stuff out of my closet to give away. Even then, half the time I end up putting something back before it makes it to Goodwill.

That’s how Congress tends to write legislation. Lawmakers start out with language that changes something for the better, then those who disagree start putting in words to keep things the way they were. The push me-pull you act of compromise seldom gets the job done, yet we tend to applaud whatever progress is made, simply because something has changed.

I guess we all just grow in fits and spurts. Part of us wants to change our lives for the better, and part of us fears that change will… well, require us to change. The great thing, though, is that Life is always changing, whether we want it to or not. We can worry about what’s coming, or we can trust that the best is always unfolding.

That’s how I’m looking at this recession. Yes, half my 401(k) has disappeared, but I absolutely believe that I’ll always have what I need. Because what I need has less to do with money than with love, peace of mind, and happiness.

The economy is only in trouble because we live in a world that believes more in lack than limitless opportunity, more in finite resources than infinite good.  

Having fewer dollars to play with is giving most of us greater appreciation for what we do have. Perhaps that’s the gift that problems give us. I’m grateful for my health, for my friends and family, and for the roof over my head.  Even if I have to share it with a few gnats.

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April 23, 2009

Healing happens in many ways…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Health at 3:49 am by dinaheng

Every year, Dr. Tri Dinh, an ob/gyn cancer specialist at Houston’s Methodist Hospital, journeys to Vietnam to help teach Vietnamese nurses and physicians how to treat women who might not receive such medical care otherwise. It is a volunteer journey he makes in memory of his father and to give back to the country he left behind.

Dinh was born in South Vietnam, where his father Dr. Tung Dinh was director of the only modern hospital in Da Nang. As the Vietnam War raged around them, Dinh’s father would treat nearly 200 injured people a day, performing surgery with an American surgical team that flew in to help in 1963. 

After working days at the hospital, Tung Dinh would go home, where he had set up a gynecology clinic on the ground floor of his house, and worked with his wife (a nurse) to treat indigent women who had nowhere else to go. 

Tri Dinh, who was 9 at the time, saw his father work with foreign governments and medical societies like the Swiss Red Cross, Maltheser of Germany and the United States Public Health Service to build a surgical ward, a pediatric unit, and other things as part of his dream for a post-war international hospital.

This month marks the 34th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and while the war may be a distant memory to some, Tri Dinh vividly remembers his father sending his family to  Saigon, where one son was studying, in order to stay behind to care for his patients. 

“One brother and I left with our grandparents on a plane on March 26,” remembers Tri Dinh. “On the 27th, there were no more commercial planes, so my mother and 4-year-old sister left by running onto a troop transport. My father had helped so many people, including Americans, that we knew he was marked by the new regime.”

But with the help of a former patient, the doctor and three other fugitives slipped offshore at night onto a rickety barge. With bombs falling all around them, the three were finally rescued by an American military patrol, and taken to Saigon. After a journey to Guam, with nothing but the clothes on their back, the family was sent  to Camp Pendleton in San Diego with tens of thousands of other Vietnam refugees, then to Galveston, Texas.

Tung Dinh went back to residency training so that he could practice in the United States, while his wife worked as a waitress to feed the family. “I didn’t speak a word of English, and restarted third grade,” Tri Dinh says. “I got beat up on a regular basis because I was the Asian kid. My father rode to work on a bicycle because we had no car. We were on food stamps for nearly a year until my father started getting some income.”

Tung Dinh went on to become a professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and his three sons become physicians as well. His daughter got her Ph.D. in public health. He encouraged his children to learn about their cultural roots and give back to their native country. It was Tri Dinh who took his father’s example to heart.

In 1999, Tri Dinh persuaded two colleagues to go with him to Da Nang, where they taught a continuing education module to Vietnamese doctors in the hospital where his father had been the director. It was the first time Tri Dinh had been back to Vietnam since he left at 9 years old. 

In 2003, Tung Dinh, a non-smoker, died of lung cancer. He had written several medical books, and the family used the money from those to start a fund that paid for Vietnamese physicians to go to Galveston for three months and rotate in with other UTMB medical residents for training. That program ended in 2006, and the money now pays for efforts to train Vietnamese doctors on how to treat cervical cancer in women.

Now, Tri Dinh goes to Vietnam every year to work with nurses and physicians in his father’s Da Nang hospital, persuading a physician colleague or two to also donate two weeks out of their practice and pay for their own trips.

“This last year, we screened 500 women for cervical cancer in four and a half clinic days, and then taught local providers how to do it with a low tech method,” Dinh says. “It’s part of the way I was brought up. There’s a strong understanding that there’s a duty and responsibility to give back. 

“Here in the United States, if I’m not here, there’s someone else to pick up the slack and help a patient. That’s not so in Vietnam. We were blessed to be able to come over here, go through a humble start, and finish college. Now it’s time to give back.”

Who designed the electric car?

Posted in Business at 3:42 am by dinaheng

Car designer Bob Boniface has run the prototype for the Chevy Volt through the company’s wind tunnel 600 times now, and each time he comes up with a different tweak to cut just a little more wind resistance from it. The Volt is one of G.M.’s most important cars in years since it’s designed to run completely on electricity. 

To read the rest of this Portfolio.com story, click here.

Economy an equal opportunity offender

Posted in Diversity, Employment, Television at 3:36 am by dinaheng

The economy has become an equal-opportunity offender, cutting budgets and personnel across industries nationwide.

When it comes to TV, that has meant fewer advertising dollars and tighter programming development. When it comes to the recession’s effect on diversity in Hollywood, well … people would rather not talk about it.

To read this Television Week column, click here.

April 16, 2009

Climbing the career ladder…

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Employment at 1:38 am by dinaheng

A dear friend of mine recently received a promotion at work. She shared her excitement about getting the job, then said a part of her was scared that she wasn’t really ready for the move.

She said that even though she knows she’s a smart and strong leader, “I still have these feelings of self-doubt.”

I told her to join the club. I don’t think there’s a woman alive who’s climbing the career ladder with any degree of success who doesn’t get those same feelings.

The question is not whether we have self-doubt, but whether we can move forward regardless of the doubt.  Most of the women leaders I admire are not only smart and strong, they’re caring human beings who aren’t afraid to connect with the people they work with. They’re able to create meaningful relationships above, below and sideways in their companies, organizations or social circles.

Self-doubt seems to come naturally to women because we’re taught to have it from childhood. We learn it from our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, television shows, movies, you name it — society is programmed to tell women that “You are not enough.” 

But that is not true. Who we are is always enough, just because we’re alive. This  also applies, by the way, to men, who tend to define their self-worth by the work they do even more than women.

No matter how high we move at work, some form of stress is going to come with the success. Part of accepting advancement means being okay with the discomfort while you’re learning new things.  We have to risk in order to learn and grow, and that means letting go of any notions of being perfect, or “ready.” We’re never ready.  We just have to have faith, and take the leap.

If you work for a company and you’re concerned about not knowing enough to do well at the next level, don’t be.  If you have a smart boss, he or she knows where you are in your skill set.  Part of giving someone a new job means giving the person an opportunity, and the challenge, to stretch and grow.  

You’re going to make mistakes, so just accept that, and learn from them.

If your feelings of self-doubt trouble you enough to keep you awake at nights, find a good therapist and figure out why. Years ago, I had a wonderful therapist who helped me work out several issues.  Sometimes, these doubts surface when we’re in the midst of  success because they’re a sign that we’re ready to look more deeply at the causes and deal with them.  Only you can know whether this is the case.

Martha Mayhood Mertz, a real estate entrepreneur and founder of ATHENA International, a non-profit organization that supports, develops and honors women leaders, has written a self-published book titled “Becoming ATHENA…Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership.” 

The book is part auto-biography, part research and part stories about women leaders who embody the ATHENA Leadership Model, which includes the ability to live authentically, learn constantly, advocate fiercely, act courageously, foster collaboration, build relationships, give back and celebrate the journey.

Mertz writes, “Much in life — perhaps most of life — is beyond our power to control. But what we can control is how we live into things: what we risk, whom we embrace, how we celebrate.”

Her words express my belief as well, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m honored to be one of the women profiled in her book. 

We live in a time where women’s leadership is on the rise, and no one embodies this more to me than our First Lady Michelle Obama. She has captured the world’s attention  with her intelligence, poise and grace, and is an inspiration to women in particular.

On her recent trip to London, she stopped at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language School, where girls are encouraged to “learn without limits,” and spoke to the students, many of whom also belong to ethnic minority groups.

“Nothing in my life’s path would have predicted that I’d be standing here as the first African American first lady of the United States of America,” she said. “You, too…can control your own destiny. You too can realize your dreams, and then your job is to reach back and to help someone just like you do the same thing.”

When we learn to do that, self-doubt will no longer be with us.

April 9, 2009

Milestones in the mouth…

Posted in Between Us column, Health at 3:48 am by dinaheng

My nieces and nephews, most of whom are under the age of 8, all have sweet tooths. Fortunately, their parents make them brush religiously, promising them rewards for preventing cavities from the Tooth Fairy if they’re good.

On a recent visit, I noticed that the bristles on a few of the kids’ toothbrushes were getting frayed, so went looking for replacements. I thought the only difference in brushes would be color and price, but discovered there are actually different shapes and types of bristles for different age groups, even for babies as young as four months old.

“You want to start taking care of teeth at the sign of the first tooth,” says Laura Jana, M.D., an Omaha, Neb. pediatrician and author of “Heading Home with Your Newborn” (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005). “It’s a common misperception that the baby teeth don’t count. Teeth are connected through the gums to the brain and sinus. If you get an infection in a tooth, it’s easy for bacteria in the mouth to get in the bloodstream if there’s damage to the gums.”

Baby teeth are the place holders for adult teeth, and the roots of baby teeth can often be in contact with the new teeth coming in. 

“One of my children has never had a cavity or any issues, but the way the roots of her baby teeth were rubbing against her neighboring adult teeth was a problem,” Jana says. “She had to get two teeth pulled so that the adult teeth would come in straight, and so that the roots wouldn’t be damaged.”

The pediatrician recommends that a child’s first dental visit be no later than the first year, with or without teeth, or within six months after the first tooth appears.

It’s funny how important milestones in the mouth can be. We marvel over a “baby’s first tooth,” celebrating the fact that a child will soon be able to eat solid foods (and stop waking us up for nightly bottles or breast-feeding).  

When we’ve lost our baby teeth, we can’t wait for the permanent ones to fill in the gaps that everybody calls “so cute.” When we get braces, we can’t wait for them to come off because we think they make our smiles look ugly. When we’re older, there’s nothing more beautiful than the adult teeth we’ve lost.

“Enjoy the taste of the food you’re eating now,” my mother says. “With dentures, it just doesn’t taste the same.”

Or, as my eight-year-old niece Emily puts it, “Did you know some people have fake teeth?  Open your mouth. I want to see if you have any.”

She didn’t find any dentures, so shared, “It’s good to have real teeth.”

Like all things in life, we usually don’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone. So to help your kids keep their teeth real, here are some reminders from Dr. Jana:

* Limit sugary drinks and sweets, in favor of healthy snacks and meals;

* Make brushing fun and get kids used to brushing “before the age of defiance, which comes between 18 months and two,” she suggests;

* Starting at age two, begin using fluoridated toothpaste to help prevent decay, and

* As children grow, make sure the toothbrush matches what’s in their mouth — baby-soft bristles for under age two, soft or extra soft bristles up to age seven, and a brush with varying bristle textures for children who have a mixture of baby teeth, permanent teeth and gaps.

Hoping to make brushing fun, I decided to send my nieces and one nephew an assortment of Oral-B Disney princesses, Tigger & Pooh, and Baby Einstein toothbrushes. Okay, they probably would have preferred toys, but hey, this Tooth Fairy has real teeth.

April 2, 2009

Star light, star bright…

Posted in Between Us column at 3:21 am by dinaheng

Dr. E.C. Krupp has spent his life following the stars.

The director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles walks through the building’s exhibition area downstairs, pointing out samples of meteorites, the Apollo Moon rock, information about the planets, solar system, and more.

“The upstairs exhibits represent how we’ve dealt with astronomy from the surface of the Earth,” explains Krupp, an astronomer and internationally recognized expert on ancient, prehistoric and traditional astronomy. “Now, space exploration has changed everything. Downstairs, we have the largest astronomical picture in the world. It’s a section of the sky that shows more than a million and a half objects, yet it’s no more than one-thousandth of the sky.”

This month marks the beginning of the International Year of Astronomy, commemorating 400 years since Galileo first turned a telescope to the sky. What does this mean?  Walk through the Observatory’s “Cosmic Connection” exhibit, and you’ll get an inkling.

The exhibit, which captures the imagination with a 175 foot long ribbon of celestial jewelry, is a timeline starting 13.7 billion years ago with The Big Bang, showing that 10.2 billion years after that event, life begins to form on Earth. From that point to today, it’s a relatively short span of time during which dinosaurs die, humans begin to walk and talk, and then blast off the planet to explore the stars.

“Astronomy alters the way we look at ourselves and the world around us,” Krupp says. “It propelled us to go into space. Space propelled us to look back at the Earth. We’re now thinking about this island we live on. 

“The real function of astronomy is altering people’s perceptions, which can then alter behavior. We are a species that created chemicals that could damage the ozone layer, and then take action to repair it. That’s different than life on Earth when the dinosaurs were here. “

Krupp has visited more than 1,850 ancient astronomical sites around the world, looking at the connection between human beings and the stars.

“I was intrigued by the ideas of people in antiquity mastering knowledge I didn’t think was in their grasp,” Krupp says. “Our ancestors didn’t lose touch with the sky. We did.”

That is so true. How many of us live in places where it’s so dark outside at night that you can  look up at the heavens, and truly see the stars in all their glory? How long has it been since we marveled at a man setting foot on the Moon, rather than wondering why we’re spending money on building the International Space Station?

We’ve monetized our dreams, looking down at our problems, rather than up for inspiration and answers. We’ve placed ourselves at the center of the galaxy, forgetting that we are but a tiny speck in God’s infinite universe.

As the narrator of a recent Planetarium show, “Centered In the Universe,” notes, “Earth is the only place where we know of conscious beings asking who are we, how did we get here, and why is the world the way it is?”

Perhaps if we spent more time pondering those questions, we’d be able to make greater headway in cleaning up the messes we’ve created on this Earth. 

Griffith Observatory was the vision of Col. Griffith J. Griffith, an immigrant from Wales who made his living as a journalist and mining adviser before garnering a fortune in Mexican silver mines and California real estate. He donated the land for Griffith Park to the City of Los Angeles, and bequeathed the money to build a public observatory on it to educate and inspire all those who looked up at the night sky.

Krupp likes to say the Griffith Observatory telescope is the most powerful telescope in the world because more people have looked through it than any other telescope on the planet. 

“My favorite thing is watching someone the first time they see Saturn through the telescope,” Krupp says. “The jaw drops, you hear a gasp, and invariably, the person draws away from the telescope… and smiles. That effect is valuable and worthy.”