What are You at War With?
  It doesn’t take more that a casual perusal of the human race to see that being in conflict is a habitual, if not natural, part of the fabric of the human condition. It probably had to be; if we weren’t a race of fighters we wouldn’t have made it through our species’ early peril. In order to not be gobbled up by predatory animals we had to fight. In order to not be killed off by disease we had to learn about and implement disease prevention, another fight. The weather could take us out with a lengthy tsunami or an ill tempered hurricane so we needed to fight such events by implementing strategies to protect ourselves under those conditions. As we evolved into tribal culture we fought with each other and if we couldn’t defend ourselves we suffered the consequences. I think it’s pretty clear we’re not going to stop being fighters anytime soon, but perhaps we can be conscious of these energies and direct them to productive rather than destructive ends.

“I don’t have a part of myself that’s like that. I’m not a fighter at all”, is a common reaction to the aforementioned assertion. Indeed some of us are so far from the aggressive side of ourselves that we may not even know it’s there, but in my 25+ years of being a practicing shrink I’ve frequently observed the nicest, most polite and very submissive people turn into a match for Attila the Hun when their children were threatened or during divorce proceedings etc. Virtually all of us have a ‘fighter’ in us.

  This ‘warrior energy’ or whatever you want to call it isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact we may need it now more than ever, albeit with a different perspective and manner. We don’t need to engage in violence to use it, we can fight cruelty, poverty, injustice, unfairness, discrimination, intolerance, ignorance, environmental abuses, etc., etc., in non-violent formats. This is incredibly important right now because as our society moves forward and changes at an increasingly rapid pace the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in many individuals is awakened and spurred on by fear of what the ensuing change might bring. Resultingly, these folks will fight to keep the familiar, and the injustice, cruelty, discrimination, ignorance, unfairness and the like that go with it. Of course their battles will be dressed up with catchy slogans and misdirecting symbolism and the charge will be led by appealing pundits speaking in catchy sound bytes, but it’s nonetheless a fear based fight against change. Unless those of us who want our world to improve use our talents and ‘fight’ energies and take action to support forward moving beliefs and causes, we may be defeated by those who fight because of fear.

 We now have the technical know how to destroy the whole planet (at least the surface area) so obviously, on the macro level, we have to back off some from our war-like tendencies or we’re all screwed. Of course each of us have our own personal battles with our families, our waistlines, relationships etc., and sometimes those battles leave us with little or no time for anything else (like severe addiction or sickness). For those of you who aren’t in the folds of such personal crisis my question is: “What are you at war with?” What makes you angry enough to take action because what’s currently happening is intolerable and you’re willing to put some energy in to changing it?

 Our swords these days can be taking the time to sign a petition, speaking up a bit more than usual, making aware consumer choices, practicing informed voting, donating some time or money to a favored cause or whatever. If we take the time and spend some energy to fight for what’s important to us, in a manner that works for us, for just a few minutes a day we will be making an important and positive contribution. It certainly sounds corny and I’m sorry if I’ve come off like some sort of pushy cheerleader but a little bit of action from a lot of us can make a huge real difference. Go Team!!

Slack/2010

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Are You Smarter than You Think?

  You’re probably smarter than you think. Most people are. This doesn’t mean most make great decisions or achieve a lot, but that underlying ability is often there, waiting for the chance to come out and show what it can really do.

  When we’re kids a big part of our job is to push our agenda to see what works, what we can get away with and what leads to unpleasant consequences. It’s left to our folks to set limits for us so we don’t kill ourselves in the process. It’s not an easy job and no matter how great your parents were a lot of their messages came across as “you don’t know what you’re doing” and for the most part that was probably true.

  Societies ‘more primitive’ than ours usually have a ritual called ‘the rite of passage’. In this ritual a sub-adult can prove themselves competent and worthy of adult status, typically by performing a set of difficult and / or dangerous tasks successfully. This is followed by a ceremony where the sub-adult is ‘transformed’ into an adult and from then on out, to both themselves and their society, they are no longer some dumb ass kid but an adult worthy of respect.

  Aside from some ill advised drinking rituals our society does not have a defined marking place for us to shift gears from adolescence to adulthood. This can leave us with the lingering sense that on some level we’re still dumb ass kids.  

  Further, the road to any type of competency or wisdom is strewn with errors and mistakes, ask anyone whose achieved anything of significance. Mistakes are how we learn and grow. In spite of this a preponderance of people respond to any error as proof of hopeless incompetence. Even more sadly many of us do this to ourselves.

 To compound this, being able to logically think for one’s self, (and thus think one’s self out of conundrums like this), is not part of the required curriculum of any public education system currently operating in the United States. Clearly learning to think for one’s self is not important enough to be part of a general education in the opinions of the administrators who decide what kids need to be taught. 

                      You’re probably a lot smarter than you think.

Slack/2011

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Disasters: Doors to a Better Life?
  This may sound a bit Pollyanna (unrealistically positive), particularly if you’re currently enduring one of life’s bone crushingly hard phases, but its true: If we learn from the disasters we survive we can use what we’ve experienced as doors to a better way of life. Perhaps a lot better and possibly in ways we couldn’t have gotten to without the rough bits.

 Your disaster might be a random chance disaster, like a falling brick or some unexpected (and undeserved) disease. It could be a disaster of your own making, like a cell phone jabbering auto accident or a last second decision to go ‘all in’. Often it’s a combination of both; sure he was charming, intelligent and oh so attractive but you didn’t let yourself see his snaky signals of showing up late, being secretive about his past and you forgave him faster than the blink of an eye when he told you he had an STD after you had sex.

 Whatever the cause, when disaster strikes all the grief stages show up; denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. We’ll do our ‘laps’ with them, in our own personal style, until the reactive emotion subsides & we start putting the pieces back together. If we’re going to turn this disaster into a doorway to a better, more informed, wiser life, we’re going to have to look at what happened as honestly as possible, while not expecting ourselves to be perfect, wallowing in self pity or finding a goat to scape. We need to strive to understand what happened from a non-judgmental (it’s not good or bad, this is just what happened) perspective and ask ourselves what this pain filled experience has taught us. Take your time, this is a big event; give yourself all the space you need to process it properly. Writing things out from all sorts of perspectives can help and can offer other angles to process your experience from. Be wary of the counsel of friends. They may be well intended and sometimes wise but my experience has been that much better results are achieved when this type of journey is held in a more personal light.

 Disasters big and small befall all of us and even really, really good people aren’t excluded. If you learn from your disasters and open a door, you’ve taken a bad situation and made something good come out of it. I can’t think of a better way to deal with it, can you?       

 Slack // 2011

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 Are you Living Laterally?
  Living laterally is moving through life without pressing forward into new territories or doing unfamiliar things. It’s a life style of mostly doing the same thing, day in and day out. Think back to when you were in grade school …. a huge part of life was about learning and acquiring new skills, it was a hurried movement forward. Pretty much the same in High School and if you went to collage more there, but what’s happened since?

 The move to careers and families certainly takes lots of time and effort, and can easily overshadow our own growth and development. Without the structure of school, moving forward can come to a halt …. and we don’t even notice it. Some of us have careers that push us forward, sometimes circumstance will push learning upon us, avocations (serious hobbies) can certainly fuel the growth continuum but a lot of us get caught in the comfy trap of lateral living and just doing the usual.

 There’s certainly not a lot of social cue’s to encourage increased self-awareness. In fact a lot of us consider continuing development to be a huge waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. To take 5 minutes to reflect on what you experienced in your day can be mind bending and had for the time toll of a long traffic light. Spending 10 minutes reading something interesting from an unusual source can add vigor to one’s step and spark to one’s conversation. Connecting new dots is inherently a lot more interesting than connecting the old ones again.

 And it’s fun. Remember all those ‘learning is fun’ type books you had as a kid? Not all of them lied! Some really were a laugh and got their message across in a sticky way. Their illustrations and lighthearted manner made it easier for a lot of us to learn phonics, language rules and lots of other things; I know my multiplication tables went down more easily with a few funny pictures. However, much of school was a boring drag and many of us associate learning with boredom, judge-mentality and a lots of other negatives. It doesn’t have to be that way. Lose that association!

 If we seek out things that aren’t ‘the usual’, be it books, movies, classes, websites, music or whatever and we then really think about what they’re communicating to us and how they do or don’t reflect our lives and experiences, etc., we’re continuing to grow. Personal evolution is a lot more stimulating and enjoyable than living laterally, which sooner or later ends up being laps of the same thing over & over & over & over. And we don’t have to approach our individual development with the pressurized, grade obsessed urgency of our school days, which makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Slack/2011

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How do You Measure Up?
  When you ask the question, “How have you been feeling lately?” most people initially respond with a report on the state of matters at work, how things are going at home or their appraisal of the world at large …. and they’re usually dissatisfied. If you restate the question and prompt them to be more personal, what follows is generally a set of ratings about how they feel they are performing at work and at home, and more often than not these ratings are comparative to others or a ‘standard’ they hold themselves to. These comparative ratings are usually automatic; they haven’t been consciously chosen but have been adopted because of education, observation and experience. They’re like the software package that came with the computer, and this software has a huge influence on how we see ourselves and the world.

  Step back from yourself for a moment and think about what comprises the internal model of who you’re supposed to be: How do you compare with this model? Would you weigh less? Would you be richer? Would everybody love you? Would you be famous? Now ask yourself if you really think these things are important: Are they part of your idea of a life well lived? Are they realistic? Are you in agreement with the values implicit in this model? If you don’t like the answers you find, you can change your expectation set to one that is realistic and agrees with your values. Sure it’s easier said than done but having an aware and self generated set of expectations can do a lot to increase your satisfaction with yourself and your life, in a very short time.

  Being a shrink for the last 25+ years, a lot of my job has been helping people feel better about themselves. Being generally happy really is a win-win situation as happy people tend to not only be more satisfied with life, they’re more fun to be around, perform better at work, get sick less, live longer, etc., etc. Making your internal model a personally meaningful and realistic set of parameters is a surprisingly easy bit of work that can have vividly positive results. The main problem is remembering your new model and not getting back into old, habit based automatic reaction patterns.

  Remembering new patterns is a huge issue when it comes to changing one’s life, and the easier the technique, even if it is very powerful, the easier it is to forget. Some find journaling a big help, others get into a regime of daily self reflection and mentally go over their new patterns per diem. My personal favorite is to find a painting or knick-knack for around the house that reminds me of the new ‘thought habit’ I’m working on so I don’t forget it and wind up sleepwalking back into the old way. It only takes about twenty consecutive repetitions of a new pattern, either behavioral or mental, to create a new habit pattern.

     That’s not a lot to ask to be happier and more genuinely you.

Slack/2011
 
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Finding Content in a World of Hype

  In the July/August 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine the lead story’s topic is how Steve Jobs led Apple Computers to enormous success. Author Farhad Manjoo distilled the principal actions he took into seven maxims, one of those being the cliché “everything is marketing”.

 That phrase stuck like a commercial jingle and pushed a new level of awareness rudely into my face. Driving from work the road side signs pulled at me as the radio extolled the tasty virtues of Burger Kings new ‘Bourbon Burger’. At home the newspaper pushed its slanted perspectives at me like my mother in law trying to sneakily manipulate me into agreeing with some sort of uber family nonsense. The TV literally sang and danced about the products that would certainly turn my life into a show tune, filled with improbably attractive, sexually suggestive (and a bit on the thin side) love interests. My computer home page offered no relief as it simmered and bubbled with pop up windows and embedded ads, even my cyber-social network Facebook was awash with ads and suggestions. Yuk.

 Because of that cliché I realized that part of my mind has automatically been occupied avoiding these seductive messages and has been on an unconscious quest for content: A battle to keep my mind my own and filled with the real stuff of life, not the suggestive fluff that’s constantly shoveled at us. Most of us do this ‘hype filtering’ quite consciously in our work or with the special interests we have. I write frequently on the subject of dealing with manipulative people (Two Legged Snakes) and their techniques and I glean the fact from the fluff aggressively in that realm. But what I’m talking about in this blog is a quieter, more subtle war. I believe many of us use our Reticular Activating System, (the part of our brain that determines what we need to be aware of), to determine what might lead to connections that are likely to be content rich. Like an immune system that works to keep out the hype this ‘programming’ looks for friends who are genuine and interesting, songs that have guts and books that tell the truth. Articles, movies, TV shows and social groups are sought that are honest and intelligent and leave you glad you spent the time with them. Perhaps that’s what a lot of us are ‘hunting and gathering’ these days: Content; reality, quality, truthfulness and humanity.

  I’m optimistic that I’m not alone when it comes to this quest for authenticity. Currently my favorite TV shows is Lie to Me, where Tim Roth deftly portrays an eccentric psychologist who is expert in determining who is telling the truth. It’s a very content heavy show that delves into many of the dilemmas we all face, from managing our relationships to finding our best individual paths and so forth. While it’s far from perfect and occasionally dips into the typical story line topics and devices of the day, generally there’s a lot more depth and honesty than you get from most programs and it’s growing and very dedicated audience is perhaps proof that many of us are on a similar hunt for content and are fighting the good fight against the fluff majore.
 
Slack/2011
 
 
Are You Post Sheep?
 A while back I responded to a blog about manipulation in film by Mihai Stoian, (
http://www.mihaistoian.net/hollywood-manipulates-through-movies). He made some good points so I added my voice to the discussion, supporting identifying manipulations and being aware of them as a good and often pleasant way to avoid their influence. Mihai replied in a very gracious manner and implied that most people need more protection than simple awareness and self analysis, without some other source to lead them, life would be too much. It seems to me that this perspective views most people as sheep that need to be told what to do.

 The Bible contains many analogies regarding Shepard’s and their flocks that make the same implication; people aren’t smart enough to think for themselves. Well, I don’t agree, I think that most people have the ability to think for themselves. To get good at it we all need to work at it and we’ll need some education about thinking logically and not being tricked by simple forms of manipulative argument. We also need to be honest with ourselves and it’s of course wise to seek the council of respected others but I believe most of us are capable of making good decisions on our own. Sure they’ll be mistakes but that’s how we learn. Miles Davis (American Musician 1926-91) says it best: “Do not fear mistakes … there are none”.  

 Perhaps in the past, for society to survive we did need to do a Shepard / flock thing. We may have done ourselves in if we hadn’t. However now it seems the leadership caste (& I’m not talking about the Obama administration) has become the child that needs leading and we need to think for ourselves at a more complete level than ever before.

 Every generation has its challenges and perhaps one of ours is to assert ourselves as thinking, aware individuals. Whether it’s a political party, a gang of skinhead punk’s with white laces on their boot’s or a revered leader, do you need to follow a doctrine, group or charismatic individual ….. or are you post sheep?
 
Slack/2011