Coping Strategy: Forgiveness

We see it all the time played out in movies and on television. Revenge or vengeance seems appropriate when it makes for a good story line. However, what does our hero always learn in the end? In the final act, when they’ve reached their target and it’s time to pay the piper, what does our hero do? In some cases, they exact their revenge. In others, they turn the offender over to the authorities so that justice might be served.

In any case, our hero learns a valuable lesson and we can too. It might not feel as satisfying at first, but eventually we see the light and hopefully realize that mercy plays an important role in healing. It’s just as important as justice.

You don’t have to be religious to understand the concept of forgiveness. In fact, the best explanation on forgiveness that I’ve read can be found in an article published by staff at the Mayo Clinic. The article is titled, Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness. 

There are many articles relating to the topic of forgiveness posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website. The article mentioned above provides a formula for reaching a state of compassion and understanding. I think the most meaningful statement in the article comes near the end under the header, What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?

Changing your offender’s behavior is not the point of forgiveness, paraphrasing what the article says. Rather, paraphrasing again, forgiveness is about changing your life and bringing YOU peace and happiness.

I think it’s worth repeating, but this time in my own words. Forgiveness is not something you do to someone else. You cannot expect your offender to change their actions because you decide to forgive them. Neither must you condone their actions, rather, in order for you to move forward and find peace you must let go of feelings of resentment and a need for reconciliation and simply forgive. It’s a process you do for yourself in order to find peace.

I heard a sermon this past weekend by a friend and neighbor, Patrick McGee, which inspired me to write this blog about forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness is the key to our own personal freedom.”

This follows right in line with the closing statement by Mayo Clinic Staff in the article referenced above. They reiterated, “Remember, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever the outcome, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.”

There is a film that my wife loves to watch every Christmas Eve as we stay up late wrapping gifts. It’s called, You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron and produced by Warner Brothers in 1998. It stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as book store competitors who unknowingly are email pen-pals. There’s a dialogue in the film where Meg Ryan’s character finally develops the courage to insult her rival, Tom Hanks. To this point in the movie she feels that if she could say the right thing at the right time and put her enemy in his place then she might feel better about herself, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself she immediately feels remorseful for being mean.

It’s so poignant and to the point that I’ll share it with you. I’m quoting from the writers of You’ve Got Mail.

Tom Hanks’ character, Joe Fox writes, “Do you ever feel you’ve become the worst version of yourself? That a Pandora’s box of all the secret, hateful parts-your arrogance, your spite, your condescension-has sprung open? Someone upsets you and instead of smiling and moving on, you zing them. ‘Hello, it’s Mr. Nasty,’ I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly responds, “No, I know what you mean, and I’m completely jealous! What happens to me when I’m provoked is that I get tongue-tied and my mind goes blank. Then I spend all night tossing and turning trying to figure out what I should have said.”

Later on in the movie, Kathleen Kelly is confronted by Joe Fox and she has a breakthrough. She easily insults him, but immediately regrets her behavior.

Just before the final act there is a turning point in their contentious relationship where Joe Fox talks about forgiveness which sends Kathleen Kelly on a personal journey of hope and peace and eventually, forgiveness.

I recommend the film. It’s a bit sappy, but it’s a great family film for the holidays and a great object lesson in forgiveness and healing.

In my closing remarks, I’d like to reiterate two points from the Mayo Clinic article, “You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.” Do yourself a favor and learn how to forgive and let go of resentment. Imagine a world where everyone forgives.

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Happy Pi Day

I couldn’t let this momentous day pass without saying something. Although my family isn’t big on pie, we are mathematically savvy. We’ve been looking forward to this day for some time.

My genius brother is a math major and brilliant at explaining abstract mathematical theories and concepts. He seems to have an answer for everything from religion to astrophysics that he can explain using topological dynamics. I’m very proud of him, but sometimes he speaks right over my head. I love you bro.

It just so happens that he had a birthday this week and is probably eating pie as we speak. Happy Pi Day/Birthday, Nick!

In any case, celebration of today got me thinking about commemorations and anniversaries. After all, this is a red-letter day since we can carry Pi to a greater degree twice in one day, [3-14-15 at 9:26:53], Pi = 3.141592653. It’s a magical moment for all you math geeks out there. I’m proud to be part of this geekdom.

It’s days like today that bring people together. These moments can unify large groups of people all over the world. Even something as silly as eating a desert at the same time. I know people who don’t have access to pie who will go to great lengths to find a worthy alternative such as a cake to eat just so they don’t miss the opportunity.

Times like these nurture hope in my heart that humanity isn’t lost. Some people still possess that child-like attribute of wonder and excitement for the simple things in life. Be one of those people.

You have one more chance today to throw caution to the wind and forget your diet for your chance to join the rest of the world by eating pie at nine twenty-six and fifty-three seconds tonight. Or find a fun alternative.

Pie alternative

Banana Cream Pie Yoplait

Pie alternative

Pie alternative, fruit and coconut coffee creamer

Join me friends and raise a toast to Pi.

Bon appetit!

Honest As An Eight-Year-Old

I was cruizin’ down the freeway in my sporty red minivan when I heard the sweet young voice of my 8-year-old son from the back seat. He said, “Dad, why do they make cars go 120 [mph] when the speed limit is only 70 [mph]?”

I really had to think about how I was going to answer that honest question. I considered shooting back a question allowing him to think it through, but then I reconsidered. Instead I said, “You know what, Son, that is an awesome question. I bet we could talk for hours about that.”

Silence from his end confirmed that he was still waiting for an answer, so I said, “Sometimes you just need to go fast.”

Satisfied with that response, my little boy chuckled. We drove another 10 minutes in silence as I contemplated such a profound question. He enjoyed a movie on the overhead video screen which helped sustain the silence.

Please humor me while I throw down the thoughts that ran through my mind during those 10 minutes of silence.

My mind immediately conjured an idea of choice and accountability. Next, my thoughts landed on the concept of progress and innovation. Finally, I got stuck in a maze of paradigms until I eventually found my way to a conclusion that was both satisfying for me and totally relevant to my line of work.

Let’s think about my son’s honest question again as it relates to choice and accountability. Simply put, as a motorist, I have several choices as it pertains to speed. I can choose to travel slower than the posted speed limit, at the posted limit, or faster than the posted limit. If my vehicle only allows acceleration to 70 mph then my choices are narrowed. My accountability would be lessened as well because my option of breaking the speed limit would be eliminated. However, upon entering an area with a lower speed limit my choices would increase as would my accountability.

I next considered how the concept of accountability related to progress and innovation. It begs the question, if we never pushed our boundaries nor exceeded our limits would we find it difficult to blaze new trails and progress to something new and different? I believe that every choice has an associated consequence. Consequences may not always be desirable such as speeding tickets or failures, but lessons would also be lost in a world without choice.

The paradigm that finally released me from my driving trance was a thought about how humans are not honest with themselves. What I mean to say is that we often know the truth about something but the consequence is so frightening or embarrassing that we avoid dealing with it or tell ourselves that it isn’t true.

For example, imagine yourself walking along a sidewalk with very few people around. You step off the curb and twist your ankle causing you to fall to the street. Your ankle is sprained and your pain level is about a 10, 10 being the worst. A passerby rushes to your aid and asks you if you are alright. What is your initial response?

If you responded that you were fine, you are not alone. You also just lied to yourself and to that stranger. This example seems benign, however, consider the next few.

I see examples every day of how people suffer the ultimate consequence of not being honest with themselves. I see men die from heart attacks with half-eaten rolls of antacids in their pockets. I see people overdose on drugs who are checked into rehab centers. They tell themselves, “I don’t have a problem. I don’t need to see a doctor. It’s just a little heart burn,” or, “I’m not an addict, I can stop anytime I want.”

If only we were all as honest as an eight-year-old and could ask the simple questions perhaps we would avoid all the grown-up problems that get us into so much trouble.

Here’s my plea to you. Ask the simple questions and don’t be afraid of the answers. Be honest with yourself.

Visit your primary care physician often. Health care is so important that even the Federal Government is involved in ensuring that every person is covered.

Slow down on the roadways. Please follow the posted speed limits and do not drive distracted. It pains me to watch the electronic freeway signs post days without roadway deaths. We have not reached more than 6 days without a roadway death in the state of Utah since the signs began reporting those numbers about a year ago. Remember, Zero Fatalities.

Finally, be nice to each other. It feels to me like we’ve become a society addicted to being rude. I attribute that attitude to the fact that everyone seems so disconnected. Unplug once in a while and join a team. Interact with other human beings face to face. Care for a pet. If you can’t love somebody or something else, then you will have a difficult time loving yourself.

If you don’t believe me, then trust my eight-year-old. He’s honest and he’s always happy.


Coping Strategy: Empathy

Have you ever passed somebody in an aisle at the supermarket and felt their sadness? Have you ever heard a mother call out their lost child’s name in a crowd and thought, “What can I do to help?” Did you instantly feel connected to that parent without knowing anything about them? Have you ever lost a loved one to death-expected or sudden? You’re not alone.

Forensic scientists are not a protected class of humans devoid life experiences. We wonder, we lose loved ones and we mourn.

Have you ever had a stranger attempt to console you with the words, “I know what you’re going through.” I imagine your thoughts are somewhat negative and skeptical even if you don’t express them aloud. Now imagine a close friend expressing similar condolences. Why were your friend’s words more comforting?

Both people, the good Samaritan and your friend, exhibited empathy, but your friend’s words were immediately authenticated by the nature of your relationship. The lesson here is that empathy can be a powerful coping strategy when used properly.

I believe that the power of empathy comes from a genuine connection that develops between two people. Empathy comes from a place within. It’s the capacity to put yourself in another’s place and understand their experience from their frame of reference.

There are nearly 7 billion people on this planet. Approximately 10% of the population lack empathy as characterized by Alexithymia. So what about the other 90%?

We are needy creatures. We seek approval. We need to feel connected. Admittedly, I feel a rush of adrenalin every time I receive a comment on a post or a like from a reader. My desire for your approval and the connection it affords us is the drug that sustains my habit.

How does this relate to forensics? It’s a delicate process for the forensic scientist to use empathy personally to cope with hard situations and then to put it away to perform logical tasks. The forensic scientist cannot allow emotion to overpower logic. In the business we call it dissociation, the process of switching from empathy to alexithymia. Speaking for myself, that process is automatic and switches back and forth as needed.

Some emotion is healthy and can be useful. Being able visualize another’s perspective can help recreate remote situations. For example, being able to see through the eyes of a killer can help investigators recreate a homicide scene. However, too much emotion can override logic and preclude awareness of simple facts due to overwhelming feelings of disgust and horror.

I recall a case where my empathetic feelings towards a victim were so strong that it took me several months to cope with the sadness that took over my thoughts. I couldn’t imagine that such a thing happened. The horrifying details haunted my mind until I successfully transcended the varying stages of grief and accepted the facts. We came together as a group and discussed the situation and expressed our feelings. We felt connected and stronger afterward.

There are groups of people who come together to make quilts for infants and toddlers at Primary Children’s Hospital. These people feel good about providing something kind and thoughtful to families, and the people they serve feel better knowing that someone else understands what they are going through.

I believe that human begins uniting in understanding is powerful. After all, what exudes empathy more than a room full of people who share similar stories and experiences? Festival of Trees is a great example of this. 


There is one week of the year when I allow my emotions to take over. It’s the week I attend Festival of Trees with my wife. We walk up and down the heavily adorned aisles enjoying the beautiful trees meticulously decorated by generous donors. This is when I allow myself to let go and cry as I read each tender story. I find it extremely therapeutic. This past Festival was undeniably difficult due to the fact that we recently lost a loved one. There were so many trees dedicated to children with reminiscent stories that it was hard to see through tear soaked eyes. But that was okay because I wasn’t the only one. Thousands of empathetic visitors flooded the halls of Sandy Expo Center each of them flooding their cheeks with tears.

It can be rewarding to meet people who have survived the thing you’re going through. It gives you hope that you can do the same.

Other good examples come from suicide prevention groups such as NAMI, AFSP, and USPC. These groups are primarily composed of suicide survivors, researchers and community members. Joining forces with like-minded people who share the same passions makes for a strong coalition. Understanding the mind of a person contemplating suicide aids in helping them and at the same time helps the survivor cope with the loss of a loved one to suicide. Sometimes simply talking with somebody who went through what you’re going through brings about understanding. Understanding your situation is crucial to coping. Empathy helps you gain that understanding.

As a child I enjoyed watching Saturday morning cartoons. They would broadcast inspirational commercial bits between shows which were often delivered by the cartoon that had just ended. The most memorable for me was GI Joes giving advice about something pertinent like healthy nutrition and following it up by saying, “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.”

The other half of the battle is caring enough about yourself or the person with whom you are empathizing to do something. Anything difficult and worthwhile requires an effort. In my opinion, feeling sorry for yourself or for someone else isn’t expressing true empathy. I equate empathy with charity. Empathy as a coping mechanism requires action. Do something good for somebody else and together you’ll both feel better.



Mid-camp Results

Hello friends. As promised, I’m here to report my mid-camp results. Now that I have results for the first 4 weeks of Biggest Loser Camp I will begin tracking my activities including food intake and exercise. We will be able to track my progress for the next 4 weeks in order to determine if simply accounting for food and activity will improve results. This is in response to my previous post wherein I suggested an experiment to support what our trainer, Jennifer Cottam, has instructed us to do from the beginning which is to track our diet and exercise.

I’ll give you my beginning measurements and then compare those to my Week 4 mid-camp measurements courtesy of Tanita Body Composition Analyzer.

                                        Week 1             Week 4                Progress

Weight                           162.4lb              158.6lbs                  -3.8lbs

BMI                                 26.2                   25.6                          -0.6

FAT%                              21.1%               19.6%                      -1.5%

Impedance                     474 Ohms        466 Ohms                 -8 Ohms

Fat Mass                         34.2lbs             31.0lbs                      -3.2lbs

Fat Free Mass                128.2lbs           127.6lbs                    -0.6lbs

Total Body Water           93.8lbs             93.4lbs                      -0.4lbs

What does it all mean? Let’s start at the top and work down.

First of all let’s discuss weight and BMI. The scale shows that I lost 3.8lbs over the 4 week period. Using the formula, weight (kg)/height (m)^2, we arrive at 25.6. If you don’t want to convert to metric units from English units you can use the following formula: weight (lb)/(height (in) x height (in)) x 703 = BMI. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people. It is not a perfect method but can be considered and easy-to-perform alternative of screening compared to underwater weighing and x-ray absorptiometry. Normal BMI range for adults is 18.5 to 24.9. Anything above 30 BMI is considered obese and will lead to health problems.

Next we see Fat% reduction by 1.5%.  This is not a calculation of fat mass lost but rather the percentage of total body weight that is fat. We’ll discuss fat mass and fat-free mass later on.

Impedance is probably the number that gets overlooked the most because it’s not very intuitive. It seems like something that an electrical engineer should know and not really something a nutritionist should worry about. I like this topic, however, because it makes sense to me. Long ago as an undergrad I declared electrical engineering as my major. This was two years before discovering a passion for biology and emergency medicine. The great thing about electricity and biology is that they intertwine.

All living organisms require energy to survive. The beauty of electricity or energy is the fact that it cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. That’s explained in the First Law of Thermodynamics. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, once the potential energy locked in carbohydrates is converted into kinetic energy used for movement by an organism, the organism will get no more until energy is input again. In the process of using energy to move about, some will be lost as heat-a process referred to as entropy, which is a measure of disorder. Because the cells in a biological organism are not disordered they have low entropy. The flow of energy maintains order and life.

Simply stated, muscles work on electrical impulses from nerves. They move by transferring ions across barriers much like a battery. Muscles are inherently conductive. In contrast, skin and adipose are inherently resistant to electricity as their primary functions include protection and insulation. Impedance refers to the body’s inherent nature to resist electrical current. The correlation between impedance and fat mass can be drawn as a relationship between the amount of fat (natural insulator) in your body compared to the amount of muscle (natural conductor) in your body.

That’s probably more than you cared to know about impedance, but it’s important to know that it has meaning and could be a useful tool when combined with all the other measurements from the body composition analyzer.

Fat mass and Fat free mass should add up to equal your body’s total weight. These measurements separate the weight of your fat and the aggregate weight of everything else including muscle, bone, water, and your internal organs. Your organs comprise about 10-20% of your total weight. Having eviscerated thousands of organs in my career I can verify that the total weight of organs including intestines in a healthy adult can weigh anywhere from 15 to 20lbs. The weight of your skeleton can be estimated the same way. Your bones weigh about 15% of your total body weight.

Finally, Total body water is exactly what is implied by its title. This is the weight of all the water in your body. This big number shouldn’t be surprising given the fact that we are composed of 50-70% water.

Now to the fun part. Let’s review my stats and see if everything measures up.

My total weight at mid-camp was 158.6lbs. My fat mass and fat-free mass were 31lbs and 127.6lbs respectively. They equal 158.6lb. So far so good. Now, when I divide my fat mass by my total weight I get 0.19546. That indeed matches the Fat % number, 19.6%, provided by Tanita. Compared to my Week 1 weigh-in numbers there was a reduction in fat by 3.2lbs or 1.5% overall. These numbers suggest a reduction in Impedance and in fact we do see a reduction in resistance to an electrical current by 8 Ohms. This reduction in Impedance should correlate to an increase in muscle mass.

If I estimate the weight of my organs at 15lbs and my bones at 20lbs, then I can approximate my skeletal muscle mass at around 61.6lbs. This number isn’t perfect, however, because we have to consider my total body water weight. Unfortunately, we are limited by using only one method of measuring body composition. We can’t accurately account for water weight because water is essentially in every cell of our bodies, but I hope this was fun exercise in interpreting results from the Tanita Body Composition Analyzer.

TBF-300 Body Composition Analyzer

The Tanita Body Composition Analyzer requires the user to input age, height, gender, body type and estimated weight of clothing. The user must remove shoes and socks and step onto the platform. Bare feet must be in contact with the electrodes on the platform while measurements are  taken. After weight stabilizes, impedance is measured. After measurements are taken all other data is calculated and reported.

TBF scaleTBF platform

The print out reports the following information: (This was my initial analysis at the beginning of the Biggest Loser Camp.)

Body Type: Standard (In comparison, an athletic body type is defined by TANITA as a person involved in physical activity for at least 10 hours per week with a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute.)

Gender: Male

Age: 36

Height: 5ft 6in (1.66 meters)

Weight: 162.4lb (73.66kg)

BMI: 26.2 (Body Mass Index is a height to weight ratio depicted by the formula: kg/m^2)

FAT%: 21.1% (The percentage of total body weight that is fat.)

BMR: 7020 kJ, 1678 kcal (Basal Metabolic Rate represents the total energy expended by the body to maintain normal functions at rest. It is proportional to fat-free mass.)

Impedance: 474 ohms (Impedance reflects the body’s inherent resistance to an electrical current. Muscle acts as a conductor of electrical current, adipose tissue acts as a resistor. Normal range for the human body is 300-1000 ohms. Men tend to have lower resistance due to larger muscles.)

Fat Mass: 34.2lb (Total weight of fat in the body.)

FFM: 128.2lb (Also referred to as lean body mass it is a function of height, weight, age, and resistance. Formula: FFM = Weight – (Weight/FAT%))

TBW: 93.8lb (Total Body Water is the amount of water retained in the body. TBW is said to comprise 50-70% of total body weight.)

Desirable Range: (These numbers are specific to each user.)

Fat%: 8-20%

Fat Mass: 11.2-32.0lb

My goal by the end of the Biggest Loser Camp is to reduce my FAT% to 18% or less. On Wednesday’s mid-camp weigh-in I’m hoping that my FAT% is 20% or less.

Scientific Diet (not the name of a pet food company)

I’m going to perform a scientific experiment for the second half of Cottonwood Height’s Biggest Loser Camp. This experiment comes from the fact that I’ve seen little progress during the first half of the competition and I’ve worked very hard, or at least I think I have. Our mid-camp weigh-in is this Wednesday and so far I’ve only lost 2.4 pounds which is less than a pound a week. Although those results are not terrible, I still want to see if I can improve my progress with simple observation and accounting. I’ll call it my scientific diet.

The experiment I’m proposing was inspired by a thought expressed in my previous post titled Addicted to Losing. I would like to test the theory stated in that post that overall health of an individual is composed of two components that are directly related: physical fitness and psychological well-being.

Question: Can I affect one component of my overall health without directly affecting the other? More specifically, if I improve my physical fitness by the end of the Biggest Loser Competition, THEN will I automatically be happier?

In order to measure physical fitness I’ll compare my weigh-in results from the beginning of the Biggest Loser Camp to my results at the end of the camp. The instrument used by Cottonwood Heights Rec Center is the TBF-300 Body Composition Analyzer made by Tanita. The analyzer reports body composition by measuring and computing total weight, impedance, fat mass, fat-free mass, water weight, body fat %, BMR, and BMI, (based on height and age input.) I’ll explain these terms in an immediate subsequent post titled TBF-300 Body Composition Analyzer.

Beginning Wednesday, Feb. 19 I’ll use an app named My Fitness Pal to maintain a daily food intake and exercise diary. Up to this point in the competition I have not accounted for food or exercise. It is my opinion that the lack of accounting is responsible for my tedious progress. I’ve monitored the food I’ve eaten and I’ve exercised 3 to 4 times a week, but I have not taken an account of calories in and calories burned. My Fitness Pal will help me do just that.

Tracking psychological well-being could prove a little more difficult. I’ll have to consider my mood at this moment as base line and begin tracking daily encounters with other people as a sort of pulse to my well-being over the course of the next 4 weeks. Initially I’ll record each encounter and personal interaction throughout the day. All positive interactions will be counted in the good mood column and all neutral or negative interactions will be recorded in the bad mood column. My thought is that if I’m truly in a good mood then my attitude should be genuine and infectious enough to elicit a good mood in another person thus promoting a positive interaction. I’ll work from the assumption that as others read my body language and make judgments accordingly they will mimic my mood in response. In conjunction, I’ll consider recording hugs and handshakes. I won’t count sympathy hugs or professional greetings, but rather symbols of positive personal connections like back slaps and knuckle taps. Likewise, negative gestures will receive points in the bad mood column.

Another important aspect of mental well-being relates to sleep patterns. I’ll track my sleep patterns such as uninterrupted sleep versus insomnia. I’ll include dreams where appropriate. (This part should be entertaining.) I might even ask Max to depict some of my dreams as Max Art cartoons for your enjoyment. Bad dreams or no dreams (due to insomnia) will be counted in the bad mood column and all other dreams will infer uninterrupted sleep and will be counted in the good mood column. This is the simplest way to score them since dreams are subject to personal interpretation and may or may not occur regardless of duration of sleep.

I’ll chart my daily progress and report to you once a week for the next 5 weeks. My goal is to win first place at Cottonwood Heights Biggest Loser camp AND to be happy. These two things should go hand-in-hand. If I end up winning the contest and find myself anxious and miserable then I’ll have to reconsider my theory that physical fitness and emotional well-being are directly linked, OR consider that there is something else in my life thwarting my happiness.

Ultimately, I hope to improve my overall progress simply by monitoring and recording my efforts.

Wish me luck.