Cultural Wind Jammer

I have the impression that some ways must be left behind, some mental habits must be abandoned, if we are not to clip the wings of progress. Even to science we must sometimes repeat Charon’s cry: By another way, by other ports, not here, you will find passage across the shore. In my role as teacher I hope to be able to show you other ways, if not other ports. — Giuseppe Vitali

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” — William James

Bill Thomas has been described as a Cultural Jammer: trying to change the American attitudes towards aging.

In 1991, Bill Thomas, having been an emergency room doctor, became the medical director of a nursing home in upstate New York. He found the place, as the Washington Post put it, “depressing, a repository for old people whose minds and bodies seemed dull and dispirited.”

Animals in a Nursing Home

So, what did Thomas do? The Washington Post explains:

“[Dr. Thomas] decided to transform the nursing home. Based on a hunch, he persuaded his staff to stock the facility with two dogs, four cats, several hens and rabbits, and 100 parakeets, along with hundreds of plants, a vegetable and flower garden, and a day-care.

“All those animals in a nursing home broke state law, but for Thomas and his staff, it was a revelation. Caring for the plants and animals restored residents’ spirits and autonomy; many started dressing themselves, leaving their rooms and eating again. The number of prescriptions fell to half of that of a control nursing home, particularly for drugs that treat agitation. Medication costs plummeted, and so did the death rate.

“He named the approach the Eden Alternative — based on the idea that a nursing home should be less like a hospital and more like a garden — and it was replicated in hundreds of institutions in Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia as well as in all 50 U.S. states (the animal restriction in New York was voted down).”

Dr. Bill Thomas, Inventor Rational, (born October 13, 1959) is an author, performer and international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare from upstate New York. In 2014, Thomas organized a 25-city “non-fiction” theatrical tour to launch his book “Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper and More Connected Life” and to promote the documentary film Alive Inside. He is the founder of The Eden Alternative, a philosophy and program that de-institutionalized nursing homes in all 50 states and worldwide over the past 20 years. A self-described “Nursing Home Abolitionist,” he is also creator of Green House Project, a radically new approach to long term care where nursing homes are torn down and replaced with small, home-like environments where people can live a full and interactive life. In 2005, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a five year $10 million grant that will result in the creation of Green House projects in all fifty states. As a professor at The Erickson School at UMBC, Thomas led development of the nation’s first emergency department designed for older adults. [Wikipedia, revised]

Inventors begin building gadgets and mechanisms as young children, and never really stop, though as adults they will turn their inventiveness to many kinds of organizations, social as well as mechanical. There aren’t many Inventors, say about two percent of the population, but they have great impact on our everyday lives. With their innovative, entrepreneurial spirit, Inventors are always on the lookout for a better way, always eyeing new projects, new enterprises, new processes. Always aiming to “build a better mousetrap.” Inventors are keenly pragmatic, and often become expert at devising the most effective means to accomplish their ends. They are the most reluctant of all the types to do things in a particular manner just because that’s the way they have been done. As a result, they often bring fresh, new approaches to their work and play. They are intensely curious and continuously probe for possibilities, especially when trying to solve complex problems. Inventors are filled with ideas, but value ideas only when they make possible actions and objects. Thus they see product design not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end, as a way of devising the prototype that works and that can be brought to market. Inventors are confident in their pragmatism, counting on their ability to find effective ways and means when they need them, rather than making a detailed blueprint in advance. A rough idea is all they need to feel ready to proceed into action. [Please Understand Me II]

“His genius was to recognize in the nursing-home situation a larger societal problem,” said ­Judah Ronch, dean of the Erickson School, who first met Thomas three decades ago. “He’s two, three, four steps ahead of most people, and they don’t necessarily see how to get there. He’s working on ways to get there, but he’s fighting an uphill battle, because people and society have very entrenched views of aging and what aging is about.”

Other Inventor Rationals include: Oliver SacksAtul GawandeLarry Page, Elaine MorganLynn MargulisElon MuskSteve Jobs, Joseph James Sylvester, Frances Crick,Paul AllenWerner Von Braun, Wolfgang PauliAbraham Lincoln, Mark TwainHedy Lamarr, Julius Sumner Miller, and Zhang Xin

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