What are You At War With?

Posted in continued learning, enjoyable living, quest for content, relationships, staying alive, trust, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 10, 2010 by dredslack

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 eaten 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!!

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The Subtle Music of Manipulative People

Posted in continued learning, enjoyable living, relationships, staying alive, trust, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2010 by dredslack

 Each of us has a particular style of speaking. Not just our language, accent and word choice but our tones, tone emphasis, cadence and dynamic (volume & intensity) range. If we listen for all these factors when trying to understand another’s statements the communication becomes more than simple text, it becomes a music with rhythms, melodies and time signatures (cadence and speed). 

 People who would manipulate us have a particular type of music in their language that if we discern, we can see as a warning flag and possibly avoid a painful consequence. Most manipulators first work to gain their victims trust so they can exert influence over their decisions and choices. To get their potential victim to feel ‘in sync’ with them (and thus liable to trust) they will not only mimic tastes, values and perspectives but also facets of speech such as cadence or dynamic range, etc. If the manipulator sounds like the person they’re working on, they’re more likely to be trusted by the person unaware. 

 For those of us who are aware, we have the opportunity not only to just observe but to throw out ‘false positives’ and see if they reveal a snaky ‘tell’ by being followed. For example if we exhibit a strong interest in animal welfare and our possibly manipulative person also ‘reveals’ a similar interest, a ‘building trust by matching’ dynamic may be afoot. Similarly, if we use hesitations (pausing for a second or two in the middle of a sentence) or make our main points with a staccato (sharp, almost jarring) style and we notice a bit of those unusual traits cropping up in a possible manipulator’s language, a subtle yet potentially destructive person may be showing themselves. Particularly if the effect is predominate. Snakes like to work quickly and will sometimes ‘ham it up’ in an attempt to speed the trust process. Thankfully that just makes them easier to see. 

 I worked ‘in house’ helping drug addicts overcome their addictions for years, and that afforded me the opportunity to see this effect over and over again. During the early part of their stay many patients would desperately argue that they needed this or that medication for a plethora of rationale (drug seeking behavior). Their perspectives and vocal music would shift to match mine (and the other councilors) at an almost unbelievable pace while they were trying to get what they wanted. The psychopathy temporarily caused by their withdrawal / addiction provided a resplendent example of why it’s important to listen to the music. Whether it’s subtle or screaming, it has a lot to say.

How Do You Measure Up?

Posted in continued learning, enjoyable living, quest for content, relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 27, 2010 by dredslack

  “How have you been feeling about yourself lately?” When you ask this question most folks initially give a report on how things are going at work, how things are going at home and how they feel the state of the world is going …. and they’re usually dissatisfied because what they think should be happening isn’t. If you restate the question and prompt them to be more personal what follows is often a set of ratings as to how they feel they are performing at work and at home, and more often than not this rating is comparative to others or a ‘standard’ they hold themselves to. These ratings and comparisons are usually ‘automatic’, meaning they haven’t been consciously chosen but have been adopted because of education, observation and experience. 

  For most, this personally generated basis of self-esteem isn’t a choice but a matter of happenstance. If brought up with a different set of cultural / experiential circumstances a different set of standards would apply. This is important because our drive towards a positive self-esteem guides our behavior powerfully. If we’re driving to locations we don’t really want to go to we may end up somewhere we have no interest in being, feeling adrift and unsatisfied. 

  Step back from yourself for a moment and ask yourself what comprises the internal model of what you’re supposed to be. Write it down or draw it out if that helps, take your time. How do you compare with this model of your ideal self? 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 human life well lived? Are they realistic? Are you in agreement with the values implicit in this model? If not change it to one that agrees with your values and is realistic and again feel free to write it or draw it out. 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 the internal model of what you’re supposed to be 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 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 cool painting or knick-knack for around the house that reminds me of the new ‘thought habit’ I’m working on. It only takes about twenty repetitions of a new pattern, either behavioral or mental, to create a new habit pattern. That’s not a lot to be a bit happier and a bit more you.

Are You Living Laterally?

Posted in continued learning, enjoyable living, quest for content, relationships, staying alive with tags , , , , on August 12, 2010 by dredslack

 Living laterally is moving through life without pressing forward into new territories or doing unfamiliar things. It’s a life style of pretty much 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 & 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? 

 Most of us move on to careers and families and that certainly takes time & effort, but what happened to our growth and development as human beings? Without the structure of school, what new aspects of life have you moved forward with? Some of us have careers that push us forward in ways, sometimes circumstance will push learning upon us, avocations can certainly fuel the growth continuum but I think a lot of us get caught in the comfy trap of lateral living and just kinda getting by. 

 There’s certainly not a lot of social cue’s to encourage increased self awareness or to develop our awareness at all. In fact I think a lot of us consider continuing self development to be a huge waste of time and a painful pain in the ass. I couldn’t disagree more. To take 5 minutes to reflect on what you experienced in your day can be mind bending and can be had for the time toll of a long traffic light. Spending 10 minutes reading something of a ‘moving forward’ nature can add surprising vigor to one’s step and one’s conversation. Connecting new dots is inherently a lot more interesting than connecting the old ones again. 

 And it’s fun. Moving forward is enjoyable and it doesn’t have to be a pain in the arse. Remember all those ‘learning is fun’ type books you had as a kid? Not all of them lied, (though many did), some really were a laugh. Their illustrations and lighthearted manner made it easier to learn phonics, language rules and lots of other things; I know my multiplication tables went down more easily. So much of school was a boring drag that many of us associate learning with boredom and judge mentality and a lot of other negative things. It doesn’t have to be that way.

 If we seek out things that aren’t ‘the usual’ be it books or movies or classes or websites or music or whatever and we think about them & give ourselves a bit of time for self reflection, particularly where our personal relationships are concerned, we’ve got a moving forward lifestyle going on. A continuation of our growth and personal evolution that’s 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 pressing, grade obsessed urgency of our school days, which makes it all that much more enjoyable.

Are You Smarter than You Think?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 4, 2010 by dredslack

  You’re probably smarter than you think. Most people are. This doesn’t mean most folks 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 and what doesn’t work, what we can get away with and what leads to unpleasant consequences. That’s one of the ways we learn how the world works and what’s best for us to do. 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. A lot of their message comes across as “you don’t know what you’re doing” and for the most part that’s probably quite 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 leaves many of us with the lingering sense we’re still dumb ass kids. 

  To compound this being able to critically, logically think for one’s self is not part of the curriculum (required classes) of any public education system currently in the United States. Clearly learning to think for one’s self is not important enough to be part of a general education. It’s not important. 

  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.

                     You’re probably a lot smarter than you think.

Are You Post Sheep?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by dredslack

 I recently 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?

Finding Content in a World of Hype

Posted in quest for content, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2010 by dredslack

                                    Finding Content in a world of Hype 

  In the latest issue (July/August 2010) of Fast Company magazine the lead story is about how Steve Jobs built Apple Computers to be what is now the second largest company in the nation. Author Farhad Manjoo distills the principal actions that led to this success into seven maxims, one of those being the cliché “everything is marketing”. 

 That phrase stuck with me like a commercial jingle and pushed me up to a new level of self awareness. Driving from work the road side signs pulled at me as the radio extolled the virtues of Burger Kings new ‘Bourbon Burger’. At home the newspaper pushed its slanted perspectives like my mother in law trying to sneakily manipulate me into agreeing with some sort of tea party 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 via Facebook was awash with ads and suggestions. 

 Because of that cliché I became aware that much of my mind has automatically been occupied avoiding these seductive messages and has embarked 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 in our faces. 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, but this is a quieter, more subtle war. I think a lot of us have thought patterns that try to determine what might lead to connections that aren’t hype and sophistry and that have some reality to them, a humanness and relevancy that’s interesting to hear about and connect with. Like an immune system that works to keep out the hype this ‘programming’ looks for songs that have guts or books that (really) tell the truth. Articles, movies or TV shows are sought that are honest and intelligent and leave you glad you spent the time rather than wanting that time back. Perhaps that’s what a lot of us are ‘hunting and gathering’ these days: Content; reality, truthfulness and humanity, cared for facets of our experience that aren’t just widgets to make a dollar. 

  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. There’s a lot more depth and honesty than you get from most programs and it’s growing and very dedicated audience (and ad density) is a small sample of proof that many of us are on a similar hunt for content and are fighting a good fight against the fluff majore.

 If you’ve noticed a similar ‘hunt for content’ operating in your life please leave a comment.  Thanks!

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