WavyGravyAtWoodstockI’ve been thinking a lot about Hugh Nanton Romney Jr., better known as Wavy Gravy, these days. Last year there were specials and movies and articles about the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. One of the issues in setting up the concert was security. Many wanted to go with the standard police style security. Nelson Rockefeller thought about sending in the National Guard as the crowd began to gather. Fortunately, he was talked out of it. I think that would have been catastrophic. We know how he handled Attica. If you don’t, read Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood In the Water. Rockefeller orchestrated a massacre. And thank goodness the organizers didn’t make the mistakes of Altamont. They went with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm.

Rather than a police force, the commune organized a “Please Force.” They used talking and caring rather than confrontation. As in the Dao De Jing, softness overcomes hardness. When we feel threatened, we can fight or flee. If we are overwhelmed, our polyvagal system kicks in and we may dissociate or faint. But there is that other possible response – tend and befriend. That is what Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm did. There was no violence. As Republican Max Yasgur (who owned the land where the event took place) said, “A half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!”

These days, police forces are militarized and equipped with lots of military equipment meant for warfare just begging to be used against our own civilian population, and disproportionately against people of color – people who for centuries have been traumatized by violence perpetrated against them. That culture of violence is carried on in the stories of our country and in the epigenetic framework of our bodies. We could not criticize the Nazis in the 1930s for their treatment of Jews because they just brought up the US treatment of black people and red people and brown people and yellow people, but especially black people particularly in the South. Lee Camp gives an idea of what police do and how we got here in this article.

A lot of police got into the job to help people, and they do a good job. But many also got into it to satisfy their own egos by having power to control others. There is also a long history, especially in the South, of an overlap of Klan and police. I have written before about our police training being biased to getting false confessions. Our policing is also biased towards confrontation and control by force. “Leaders” with their own issues of ego, control and cowardice (for example, hiding behind a bought diagnosis to avoid the draft) demand harsh justice while at the same time appealing to Christians. Really? What became of “a soft answer turns away wrath?” “Turn the other cheek.” “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The virus of bullying infects not just the politicians and the police, but our foreign policy as well. People at weddings, at hospitals, and on breaks at work are killed and are just called collateral damage. Do you really think we will lessen a threat of terrorism by committing terror? What was the American reaction to 9-11? We have increased our “shock and awe” strikes and have been at war ever since. It is a never-ending cycle.

The cycle will never end until our national psyche changes, until white people quit supporting the rich and powerful who use war and domination and bullying as an economic tool to increase their riches at the expense of everyone else, including their white enablers. The white enablers are the historical descendants of those who fought for the plantation owners to maintain slavery, though their lives improved when slavery ceased to exist. And they fought unions and still oppose unions though they have reaped the benefits of unions. I wonder just how long people can be fooled? Forever?

So, I think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force. The Peace and Love crew was going to change the world. But murders took their toll in the 1960s. JFK, MLK, RFK, Malcolm, Medger Evers, Fred Hampton, Herbert Lee, William Lewis Moore, Louis Allen, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, James Reed, Viola Liuzzo, Jonathan Daniels, Sammy Younge, Jr., Vernon Dahmer, Robert W. Spike, Wharlest Jackson, and more were all murdered during that decade. A list of people around the world who have been assassinated for their work advocating human rights can be found here. Who from that generation took office? The Clintons, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Trump, McConnell, etc. The current leadership in Washington is too busy lining the pockets of themselves and their corporate buddies (a legal version of looting that is far greater than anything in the streets) to even see a civil rights issue. In the midst of the current turmoil, the party that calls itself Republican (but is really a new Dixiecrat Party thanks to Atwater, Buchanan, Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan – Atwater spells it out here) uses the fight strategy – as long as they don’t get their hands dirty and take risks by doing the actual fighting. They just channel their inner Bull Conner. Even Nelson Rockefeller would be appalled. And the ministers? These days it is Graham, Falwell, and Robertson and the like who preach the opposite of the Beatitudes and compassion. I wonder if they would have called Jesus a thug when He turned over the tables of the money changers. Would they call Him a thug if He turned over their tables of money today? How would Jesus react if a “leader” had police tear gas and remove people from in front of a church to enable a self-serving propaganda photo op? Meanwhile armed white people march on state capitols and take over public lands and are met with peace and discretion and are never called thugs, while Native Americans protecting their lands and water are. Do we live in the land of Newspeak? And I wonder if the political ancestor of today’s right-wing politicians and preachers, Jefferson Davis, called the women of Richmond thugs during the bread riots. If you want to know how the language and the landscape has changed to where something that was mainstream prior to 1980 is now considered radical leftist, watch Heather Cox Richardson in this interview concerning her book, How the South Won the Civil War. At the end she talks about how to change the language back.

For the past 400 and more years in America, black people and indigenous people have been on the receiving end of violence. When demonstrations are peaceful, too often police meet them with firehoses, mace, tear gas, attack dogs, night sticks and sometimes gunfire. And white folks pontificate against the violence and call those on the receiving end of violence “thugs” and judge them harshly. Like Pontius Pilate, they wash their hands of responsibility. I wonder where the empathy is. How would you act if you and people who look like you had been treated that way for centuries? I get irritated when white folks decry “identity politics.” The founders made all politics identity by definition when they only gave rights to people like themselves in the Constitution – white (with a very narrow definition of white) males over the age of 21 who owned property, with people of color who were owned counting as property. Anyone without that identity has had to bitterly fight to get even a semblance of the rights enjoyed and taken for granted by the privileged. I think white guys who condescend towards “identity politics” dismissing it as “political correctness” are just clueless. They are like the fish who has no concept of water – until they are taken out of the water.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know that if you really do believe in the teachings of Jesus, if you study trauma and how to work with folks with trauma, if you study neuroscience, if you study cultural change, you might come to think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force as embodiments of how things can be done in a peaceful and positive way. That will be difficult. It asks those with power and their enablers to treat all with respect and dignity and to have equal justice and to share that power. It doesn’t appear they have the principles or the integrity or emotional maturity or the courage to do that at this point. But hopefully, all are capable of redemption. I hope it happens soon, for now it is starting to feel like Berlin in the mid 1930s. We need a Please Force. We need people with empathy, maturity, compassion, integrity, and decency everywhere.

Russian-ship

Zhuangzi said that the sage can walk through fire and not get burned and through water and not get wet. There is a similar passage in Isaiah 43:2 – “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” How do we accomplish the ability to get through difficult times and be resilient? There are a couple of books that can help.

Coaching for Resilience: A Practical Guide to using Positive Psychology, by Adrienne Green and John Humphrey

The authors of Coaching for Resilience are the founding directors of Nice Work Consulting, Ltd. which specializes in workplace psychology and workplace wellbeing. Green, a psychotherapist, also authored Out Of The Blue: A Practical Guide To Overcoming And Preventing Depression. Both authors are based in the United Kingdom. Coaching for Resilience is an expanded and detailed guide based on workshops Green and Humphrey give on building resilience. Their goal is to help people manage stress so that they do not become overwhelmed and become physically and emotionally unwell. The authors see high stress and low resilience as a vicious circle, and this book helps one to get out of that vicious circle and does so with a series of thoughtful exercise based on what they call “the seven keys.”

The book is divided into two parts with each part having exercises and case studies that allow you to personalize and come up with your own way of learning to manage stress. There are also directives for reflection and specific ideas to pay attention to in each chapter to help you with the process of learning to manage and redefine how you cope with stress. Part one gives the background on what resilience and stress are, the neuroscience of the relationship of resilience and stress, the effects of stress, and why the strategies that we typically use to cope may not work so well. The neuroscience is explained in clear understandable language. Part one lays the groundwork for helping you to understand and define what is causing you problems with stress and resilience.

Part two covers their “seven keys” in detail. Key one is the need people have to be liked and/or to be in control. These needs are the underlying causes of stress. Those who need to be liked may use passivity as a communication style. Those with a need for control may use aggression as a style, while those with both needs may use passive aggression, which the authors see as the most problematic of the three styles.

Each key builds upon the prior key. For example, the second key is to live your values. They help you to determine your values, and then give you exercises to help you determine if you are actually living those values by using a continuum of whether an activity is important or not important and whether it is urgent or not urgent. The third key is that you have a right to determine your own life. Exercises, case studies and reflections teach you empathic assertiveness to help you take charge of yourself.

The subsequent keys are: change is the only constant, life is difficult and that is okay, attitude makes all the difference, and live in the present. In each section, you look at your life as you are living it and decide how you would like to change it to cope better. For example, people typically see change as either dangerous or as an opportunity. The authors use cognitive behavioral techniques to help you build self-confidence and change your self-talk to increase your coping skills. They also address challenging yourself in ways to improve your chances of functioning in a flow state by practicing mindfulness.

Despite the book’s relatively short length, it should not be thought of as a quick read. The authors include many exercises and opportunities for reflection and growth throughout the book in a structured step-by-step way. This is a workbook, and the fact that it is based on workshops the authors have given is a strength. You know as you work through the exercises that the authors have developed and refined these in their teaching. The authors also give examples from their own lives of times when it was a struggle to stay with the keys. What they teach here is realistic. It is an excellent book for getting to know yourself, how you manage stress, and how to improve your coping skills so that they become a way of life do that your life is one of resilience.

Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney

Since the publication of the first edition of this book in 2012, both authors have had to put their research on resilience into practice in their own lives. Dennis Charney lost his father, and Charney himself was shot with a shotgun last year while leaving a deli in New York City by a disgruntled former employee. After five days in intensive care, he faced an arduous rehabilitation. Both of Steven Southwick’s parents died, his sister had colon cancer, and his very athletic brother’s leg was amputated, and his recovery was difficult as well. In researching this book, the authors spoke with Special Forces instructors, veterans who had suffered in POW camps in Hanoi, people who survived the World Trade Center attack of 9-11, individuals who had been raped and almost killed, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, who had lost limbs to land mines, who had survived refugee camps in the Sudan, who overcame congenital birth defects, and more. They also did an extensive literature review on resilience – what it is, what are important factors in resilience, and how to be more resilient in your life.

Resilience is a complex topic. The authors came up with what they call “resilience factors” based on their interviews with resilient people but concede that the list is not comprehensive in what gives us the strength and ability to come back. The factors are the ones that were “most often the ones described as crucial and even life-saving.” The factors are realistic optimism, facing fear, a moral compass, religion and spirituality, social support, resilient role models, physical fitness, brain fitness, cognitive and emotional flexibility, and meaning and purpose in life.

Southwick and Charney look at a multitude of influences on resilience including neuroscience, epigenetics and genetics, physiology, and environment. They also put these into the context of the United States and our vulnerability in terms of resilience. Our overall lack of physical fitness, our disconnectedness with each other, and other factors are sometimes framed as a national security weakness. According to their research, about “75% of Americans age 17 – 24 are no longer eligible to join the military.” The most common reasons are poor physical fitness, not graduating high school and a criminal record. Our all-volunteer military comes from an ever-smaller cross-section of the US.

Each chapter has an extensive list of references, so you can do further research if you like. The research is impressive and comprehensive. The stories are what really stick with me. If you need role models for resilience, this book has an abundance of them. There are famous people like James Stockdale who was the ranking officer as a prisoner in Hanoi and Bob Woodruff of ABC news who suffered a traumatic brain injury covering the war in Iraq. There is Jerry White who lost a leg to a landmine in 1984 while hiking in Israel. His struggle to recover eventually led to his winning a Nobel Peace prize along with Ken Rutherford for their work with the Landmine Survivors Network. Just the stories of the strength and resilience of the people interviewed is worth the read. The people are amazing and inspirational. And the stories of how they were able to recover is insightful and thoughtful and always respectful of the struggle. The authors write with both critical thinking and open hearts.

I am happy to have this resource. Over the years I have worked with people who suffered repeated hospitalizations in psychiatric facilities, who were repeatedly incarcerated, and who suffered physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. I have worked with those who have struggled with severe physical injury and illness, and who were in combat in the armed forces. I have always been impressed by the resilience of not just those who were able to thrive, as the folks interviewed in this book, but also those who somehow got up each day and survived despite living in systems and environments stacked against them. I can share this valuable resource with them.

There are two appendices to the book. One is on posttraumatic stress disorder. In pondering the section, I came to realize that there is a high probability that two of the people I was very close to as a child most likely had some degree of PTSD, one from war and one from childhood trauma. This book is enlightening on many levels.

The other is on community resiliency. All too often we are complacent and don’t plan ahead or do what is needed to be prepared for the crises in our lives that sooner or later come to be. This book is an excellent resource to help us all become more resilient in our lives. The final story is of a small teenaged boy in a track race in the Special Olympics. The young boy’s attitude and his words will leave you with a smile and feeling moved and inspired. A young girl, also in the race, pointed out to him that, “You came in last.” “Tha, tha, that’s okay,” he stuttered as he faced the girl and looked her in the eye. “I came in.”

 

Schuyler April 2011

I’ve had sleep issues since I was a kid. Maybe it was from staying up late listening to my transistor radio. I had to hear the latest Beatles stories from George Harrison’s sister on WBZ late at night. Or listen to the latest music on WLS late in the evening. At night time you could pick up AM stations from far away. Or maybe it was from staying up late on the weekends to watch movies till the stations went off the air. I was perpetually jet lagged without travelling. But both my parents had sleep problems so maybe I just come by it naturally. I’ve always thought there was something special about 3 AM whether I experienced that time because I hadn’t gone to sleep yet or because I had gotten up not long before that.

I have adjusted to a regular sleep pattern thanks to my dog, Schuyler, over the last year of her life. She no longer had full control of her bodily functions and had to be out by about 5 AM to try to be sure she did her business outside. I also carried her up and down the stairs to her yard. I am grateful to her for giving me structure. I do wish she had not gone through that misery during her last months. But she was always good natured about it, and let us know when it was time, and we were there with her to the end. I want to have the emotional intelligence of my dogs.

These days I still carry her legacy and go to bed and get up at the same time every day, but I may wake up extra early and maybe get back to sleep or not. Or on some occasions I may have trouble getting to sleep. I have a very active and talkative brain sometimes. Some nights both happen – fall asleep around midnight and wake up at 2. No worries. I have more flexibility these days. I remembered a friend who was a dairy farmer who would get up at 3 to take care of the cows. Then he would go back to bed for a few hours. That schedule works well, and I get to snuggle up on the couch with my dogs. Leo drapes across me like a weighted blanket, and Annie snores a steady rhythm. Both are very soothing.

The odd sleep pattern has always been conducive to odd dreams. I was dreaming in surround sound, technicolor and 3-D before I knew what all those terms meant. When I was a kid, I would sometimes have the exact same dream a year apart. When I started to look forward to the reruns, they stopped. I remember one that involved a tiger and the South Central Fair in Chase City. My favorites are flying dreams, but they are a rarity. What is really odd are all the time and geospatial jumps and anomalies. A couple of nights ago, I was watching a person drive along a country road in their car and park by a field. There were woods behind him, and the open field in front of him was apparently a golf course. He was to the left. To the right was a doctor’s office waiting room with lots of people in rows of chairs with a check-in window and a door to the left of the window leading to a hallway of all the offices. When the golfer teed off, all the people in the waiting room instinctively leaned to their right and covered their heads. I don’t know where the ball landed because there was a bounce to somewhere else and it had unquestioned continuity. During a nap this morning, I dreamed we were cleaning out a closet and found an old catalogue. I was so happy! I was hoping it was a Sears-Roebuck or a J. C. Penny Christmas catalogue. I really looked forward to those when I was a kid. I could spend hours looking at all the toys and decorations and amazing things in them. The online world of commerce just doesn’t have that same magic. And sometimes we even made the 70-mile drive to get to the real stores! Like the catalogues, the stores don’t exist anymore, either.

In grad school I learned that people who saw Freud had Freudian dreams and those who saw Jung had Jungian dreams. I came to the conclusion that dreams were just the firings of neurons that acted sort of like rebooting your computer so it works better. When we don’t sleep and dream, our brains don’t work well. Maybe some dreams are the products of random neuronal firing or maybe the product of some obscure thing during the day you may or may not have even noticed. But some dreams are very memorable. My mother’s side of the family have what is sometimes referred to in the hills as “the sight.” They could see and know things they didn’t have access to. My mother’s last conversation before she died was with someone sitting in the corner of her hospital room that only she could see. Her lungs were giving out and she was on a bipap machine, so her words were inaudible. Her mother visited me in a dream to say goodbye back in 1971 on a Sunday morning. It turned out that she died at the same time she came to me in that dream.

Sometimes dreams can give us chances we don’t have in our waking lives. As a friend of mine used to say, “Sleep sweet.”

Grand Canyon 004

We are emotion driven beings. All animals are. We seek safety by our nature and react to whatever enhances or threatens safety. Emotions are contagious, just like a virus or bacteria. We can pay forward kindness. We can engender anger. Anger can be seen as a secondary emotion. It kicks in when we are feeling helpless or threatened or in some kind of danger. Anger gets our adrenalin and cortisol going so that we can fight back or run away and have some sense of control of our fate. Our alarm system acts quickly. It has to. When our species was young and we were in danger of being a bigger animal’s dinner, speed of recognizing danger and reacting was paramount for survival. We are still wired that way. It can be hard to control that anger. Often wrath is not met with soft answers, and cheeks are not turned.

We can work on that with focused attention and meditation and mindfulness – anything that tends to get the hot emotional part of ourselves more connected to our cold rational thinking part of ourselves. Cold cognition is slow and takes a lot of energy compared to the almost instantaneous reactive part. Rationality loses out in the heat of the moment.

Those who are constantly angry and abusive and are bullies typically are afraid and insecure. Or they are good showmen who are instilling fear to manipulate others, to get power and usually money, too. They may be pundits in the various media, elected people, preachers, abusive significant others or just ourselves in those moments when we feel the need to be in control or to feel better than someone or something else. At least we are not those people. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

So when you see someone ridiculing others whether from a press conference, a pulpit, or in social media, remember the words of Dan Pearce in Single Dad Laughing – “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” We can learn from the Zhuangzi that when you realize the interconnectedness of all things and that you are part of an infinite whole, you don’t intentionally do harm. To do so is to harm yourself.

It is especially easy to do harm these days of social media as pointed out in a Science Focus article by Amy Fleming called “Why social media makes us so angry, and what you can do about it.” Anonymity makes it easier to do harm. Years ago our local newspaper started a page called “The Last Word.” It is a page where people can call in or email in whatever they think about something regardless of how informed or uninformed they may be. And it is all anonymous.  It was Twitter before there was a Twitter, though the editors apparently do moderate it to a degree. The comments take up the whole back page and sometimes another page as well. I usually don’t read it. If you can’t put your name to it, keep it to yourself. When I do look at it, it has a lot of the character of Twitter. There was a study years ago monitoring whether people pay for the coffee in an office breakroom. People were more likely to pay when there was a picture of eyes watching them posted on the wall. When we realize everything is all connected, we know there are eyes of a sort always watching, for whatever we do will flow out for better or worse like the ripples from a stone thrown into a pond. The stone metaphor is a good one. When we feel the need to perform the deed of throwing stones, let us only do so when we are without sin ourselves as Jesus said, for we are known by our deeds and our works. Be well and safe in these times.

The old and the new - carbon and solar power.

A  review of Bowen Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families, by Michael E. Kerr

I first came across Bowen family therapy around 1980 in graduate school when we studied a trio of therapy theories and methods – Bowen, Minuchin, and Satir. At the time I was working at a state psychiatric hospital and the lead psychologists would periodically travel to D.C. to study with Bowen and come back and tell us beginners all about it. I have been a believer in systems theory ever since and was delighted to come across Michael Kerr’s update to Bowen.

Kerr was both a student and a colleague of Bowen beginning in the 1960s. Bowen required that one look at one’s own family history in terms of systems, and genograms are the tool for doing this. Kerr includes genograms in the families he explores in this book, so you have an idea of how to do one. I find them very helpful in looking for patterns, but I also found they could get fairly complex in nontraditional families and when people didn’t have much information on prior generations. Still, you could find relationship patterns of the interplay of over functioning and under functioning in the triangles of family members.

We are a species that look for patterns and usually that takes the construct of cause and effect. Systems is not linear cause and effect. It is more of a process dance among the participants and plays out over generations. Kerr gives us many examples of this dance in exploring the dynamics of several families including Theodore Kaczynski, Gary Gilmore, Adam Lanza and John Nash. There is even a look at President James Madison’s family, which is quite interesting. Public functioning and private functioning can be quite different. He also delves deeply into his own family relationships, particularly with his mother and with his brother who was diagnosed schizophrenic and who eventually committed suicide. Throughout, Kerr approaches and examines these relationships with compassion.

At least to some degree we are all looking for safety and to care for those we love. This can lead to patterns of overfunctioning and underfunctioning. These become “a problem if chronic anxiety intensifies the emotional reactivity (overly sympathetic, overly caring, overly controlling) and drives the relationship interaction.” The anxiety distorts one’s perception of self and others. I like the Bowen definition of maturity, “People who assume responsibility for themselves, do not distance from others if they are distressed, and do not anxiously intrude and try to control others are whole or mature people.”

Anxiety and differentiation of self are the two main variables in the theory. Anxiety itself is not a psychiatric disorder in Bowen theory and all living things have some degree of anxiety. Anxiety is evolutionary and becomes a problem when it is overly active. Kerr writes, “What psychiatry textbooks term anxiety disorders are but one of myriad symptomatic manifestations of overly active evolutionary ancient anxiety systems.” We see in some of the families examined that when anxiety becomes overly active, for example a parent becoming excessively worried and protective of a child, what one seeks to prevent many times happens. When we become enmeshed in a relationship, we can lose our “differentiated self.” Kerr does an excellent job of explaining differentiated self, which he says is the most misunderstood of the eight concepts in Bowen’s theory. You can read further about the eight concepts here.

Kerr points out how Bowen adds a framework to Skinner’s behaviorism and to cognitive behavioral theory. You look at the behaviors in the contexts of the relationship system. Our behaviors feed back on each other.

Kerr includes a chapter on societal emotional process which was once called societal regression. Human culture has always been susceptible to this, but I think it would be especially helpful today if as a culture we become more aware of this process. Progression and regression occur all the time in cultures driven by both emotional and psychological processes. Emotions drive our behavior and heightened chronic anxiety can drive us to dysfunction. Kerr even suggests that with our vulnerability to emotional triggering and irrational thinking that our species be renamed from Homo sapiens (wise man) to Homo dysrationalis. Kerr looks at the housing bubble and financial crisis of 2009 as an example and for ways that we could improve functioning.

I found the chapter on unidisease especially intriguing. Kerr suggests including this in Bowen theory. The chapter begins with a quote from Peter Libby’s “Inflammation and Atherosclerosis: A Translational Tale” – “We all study the same disease.” Kerr suggests that “the core of the symptom-generating forces is the subcortical emotional system.” Internalized anxiety shows up in mental and physical symptoms, while externalized symptoms show up socially in behaviors like substance abuse.

There is also a chapter on spirituality, supernatural phenomena, belief systems, and mind-body interaction. Kerr includes a quote from Bowen’s 1987 address to the conference “Implications of Bowen Theory for Catholic Theology.” Kerr includes the quote because he feels it gives an aspect of differentiation that is often left out when talking about or trying to understand differentiation. Bowen said, “A major quality in the differentiation of self is complete selflessness in which doing for others replaces personal selfish goals. Jesus Christ has been a model for total selflessness.” I wonder how embracing that concept, which is present in many other religions and philosophies, would affect the level of anxiety in our current culture.

I highly recommend this book. It is a welcome addition to works on Bowen theory, family therapy, and systems theory. If you have never studied Bowen before, this is a good book to begin your study. It draws from a broad realm of research, is clearly written and will make you see the world, your family and yourself in a different way if you are not familiar with systems. And even if you are, its depth will give you more perspective. Even with studying Bowen all those years ago and following the concepts of systems, reading this gave me a deeper understanding of my own family relationships.

Bowen Theory’s Secrets: Revealing the Hidden Life of Families, by Michael E. Kerr

DSC_0068I came along at a good time. Just before senior year of high school all dress codes were dropped, and rules were lessened. Just before freshman year of college, all the freshman wearing of duck caps and the badgering of freshman by upper classmen were dropped, visitation restrictions among the dorms by the opposite sex was dropped, and FERPA took effect. We had to sign permission slips for parents to get our grades, and even the grading system changed. The F was dropped for a No Credit grade. D’s were dropped as well so anything below a C didn’t count towards graduation. And again, there were no dress codes. If you showed up for class, that was cool, but that was not required either. I have a friend who attended the first day of an econ class and didn’t show up again until the final and got the highest grade in the class. (These days he is not even sure he showed up for that first class.) There were few supportive services to speak of, orientation for new students was fairly minimal – we helped each other out. When the counseling center, then called the center for psychological services, tried to put a coffee machine in the waiting room, a vice president put the kibosh on that as unneeded and unwanted coddling of students. But the drinking age was 18 and there was a bar on campus that served beer for a quarter and unlimited servings and there was usually a live band and dancing two or three nights a week.

Now there is an army of supportive folks and orientation has an elaborate ritual designed to let new folks know they belong. The ADA has increased access, and there are a lot more opportunities for learning both on and off campus including abroad. And these days no one has to pass a swimming test to graduate.

But there are also more rules. On the plus side, if you have a concern for someone who is not showing up, you can report it to the dean of students who follows up. I was in a discussion yesterday about class attendance. How many absences are allowed over the semester? How do you decide what is excused? What counts as tardy, how many minutes can one be late? How many tardies count as an absence.?

I was taken back to days of working in groups that had folks referred by a probation office that covered people with drunk driving and drug possession convictions. There were lots of rules, especially about attendance. No late arrivals allowed, and no excused absences unless there was a doctor’s note or a documented death in the immediate family. I remember one counselor who was a stickler. I remember one person showed up for that counselor’s group (early) but came to the wrong building, so I walked the person over and vouched they were there on time, but we got to the group less than two minutes late (by the counselor’s watch). So the person was sent back to court which involved the possibility of jail. Meanwhile, the stickler was notorious for showing up for trainings at least ten minutes late and would not come in quietly. The arrival was announced loudly regardless of what the CPR or behavior management presenter was doing, and the presenter was usually me. No verbal intervention ever changed that behavior. Too bad jail wasn’t an option. Maybe there would have been an empathy increase. But I doubt it. One problem with rules is that too often those who cling to them don’t apply them to themselves. Power brings privilege, unfortunately.

The Daoists felt that too many rules just encouraged rule breaking. Rather than rules, they and other classical Chinese philosophers looked to establish the model at the top (the king) who set the example that was followed as the norm. De, or virtue, and ren, or humaneness, were the norms for the junzi (literally the son of the prince – a noble moral man, not a nobleman) who had those qualities. If you did not embody de and ren, you were not a junzi. It is very basic. You treat yourself, others, and the world around you with decency, respect and compassion. Whether as a teacher or a therapist, I have always tried to work with the person or persons in front of me rather than trying to fit them into some mold or label. We work with and teach each other. Those who rant against regulations typically don’t also follow the qualities of de and ren of the junzi. They follow the increase my profit, my sense of freedom, I-Me-Mine, everyone else and the world we live in be damned model which is so prevalent these days that the health of our world is collapsing. You want fewer rules? Stop being selfish and short sighted and take responsibility for who you are in this world and whether you treat others as you would want yourself and those you love treated. If you’re a billionaire, don’t do food drives for your employees. Pay them a decent wage. Consider the possible consequences of your actions out to seven generations. I had a couple of clients over the years who were young and came from wealth and privilege. When asked their goal, the response of both was, “I want to stop being an asshole.” Too bad that goal is not contagious.

So I have a difficult time with the rules of attendance. People can show up diligently and still not be there. I remember one person who was beyond the number of officially allowed absences. We talked and I learned what the person was going through, and we figured out how they could meet their responsibilities for the class. That student’s reflection paper was one of the best.

I remember John Wooden writing that one of his regrets was kicking a kid off the basketball team back when Wooden was a high school coach. He caught the kid smoking a cigarette – a violation of the rules. The boy lost his chance at a scholarship and missed out on college. As what is legal is not always ethical, what is strict rule compliance is not always what is kind or even productive. And it can have counterproductive results. Thank goodness the rule abiding Wehrmacht abided by the chain of command rules at Normandy and got a late start. The Allies were allowed leeway and improvisation saved the day.

We are wired to seek safety. When we feel safe, we see more possibilities, and we become more creative. We become kinder, more compassionate, caring, respectful people. When we are overcome by fear, we get tunnel vision in every sense of the word. We go with what we know. We hide behind rules that may no longer even be relevant. We become more short-sighted, meaner, and cruel. If we want to make the world a better place, we need to increase feelings of safety, which is difficult to do. Fear is powerful and is at the core of evolutionary survival. We pay more attention to what can hurt us.

I always think of the principles of taijiquan. Softness overcomes hardness. Flexibility overcomes rigidity. Yield to overcome. Despite what feels like rigidity in rules, my old school is putting a great emphasis on positive psychology these days. Produce an environment where people can be creative and see possibilities and that we are part of something greater than ourselves. As Barbara Frederickson says, “Positive emotions transform us.” Rules and their flexible (but not arbitrary and capricious) enforcement need to be a part of that transformation process. Our student affairs staff kickoff included the work of Martin Seligman and Frederickson. You can see and hear some of Frederickson’s ideas below. Now that get-together was truly energizing! I hope I can instill in students the ideals of Kongfuzi to learn for the sake of and the love of learning, not to impress someone else, and to advance the common welfare of all, not just the self.

 

Jamesown

A display at Jamestown

A few years ago, I reviewed a book called “An End to Murder: A Criminologist’s View of Violence Throughout History,” by Colin and Damon Wilson. It was Colin’s last book and was completed by his son, Damon. Damon noted that life is actually getting safer these days. You are much less likely to be killed by your fellow man than you were centuries ago or even just a few decades ago. He cited theories for that. Among them were the removal of lead from gasoline and other products and a “good apple” theory. He was much more optimistic than our pundits and politicians. He did address terrorism and mass murder as well as our treatment of the environment and the short- and long-term consequences of that treatment.

Here in Virginia we have had mass murders in recent years from Virginia Tech to Virginia Beach. It seems that perhaps the Wilsons might be wrong. But I read an article in the Washington Post today about nearby Jamestown, and Europeans were committing mass murder in what would become the US even then. So what is the answer?

We proclaim that rights are god given or are natural rights. Maybe so, but how does that play out in the world. Rights end up being what those in power proclaim for themselves and for whomever and whatever they deem worthy. In the beginning, those who set up the US government deemed white males with property who were older than 21 were worthy. People of color were deemed savages and worthy of slavery or removal and genocide. The definition of white was also narrow and didn’t include southern and eastern Europeans. They would get white status much later when folks like Walter Plecker were worried that those of color were out reproducing whites, since they incorrectly saw race as biological rather than the social construct that it is, their logic is faulty on their own terms.

A right that is heatedly debated today is the second amendment. There have been restrictions over the years – machine guns during the days of Al Capone and mail order guns after the assassination of John F. Kennedy for instance. There was even a restriction on semi-automatic weapons for a time, but that was allowed to lapse during the administration of G. W. Bush, and any attempt to revive it is met with emotions that one would expect if the earth were about to end. What was okay 20 years ago is now a sign of the apocalypse. The fear of change is so great that the CDC is banned from studying gun violence and MDs cannot ask about guns at home. Having a gun is a sacrosanct right. Well, except in the 1960s when the Black Panther Party in California started to open carry for self-defense. Gun rights Republicans quickly made amends to sacred rights to change that situation. So, change can happen.

When the second amendment was written, guns were black powder muzzle loaders. To commit mass murder with those weapons you needed a mass of people firing, like at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. There was also the militia part of the constitution. Colonists were not happy with their treatment by the British Army, and there was a mistrust of the military. The original intention, despite what Scalia spun, was for those with rights and those they deemed worthy, to have guns and to train so that they would not need a big military industrial complex. It worked well for killing Native Americans and keeping Africans enslaved, but when it came to the War of 1812, we found we needed a standing army. Even then, it was kept small. It wasn’t until modern times that we give over half of our budget to the military – a time when the “big wars” are over.

Some argue that guns are necessary to protect you from the government. At some point along the way, “we the people” became the “you the enemy.” We became entrenched in tribes and if our tribe wasn’t in power, it was bad. The Wilsons could argue that tribalism is less than what it once was. People of different races, religions, creeds, sizes, colors, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, political parties, and all the other labels we put on ourselves and others, actually do get along these days, or at least co-exist nonviolently, and do not go to war on the whim of a monarch.

But it does all come down to power and culture. Pundits and politicians feed on if it bleeds it leads. We are emotional beings and fear might just be the most powerful emotion. In this culture you increase your power and your wealth at the expense of others. We express violence in culturally prescribed ways. I remember that the same day Sandy Hook happened, there was an attack in a school in China on the same number of people. The difference was that in China, the weapon was a knife. No one died. The culturally prescribed way in this culture is with a gun. Colin Wilson wrote many years ago about the evolution of violence in the US and traced it to a particular part of England. It especially took hold in the slave holding south (slavery is inherently violent) and became our honor culture. If you dishonor me, I get back at you, and it only matters if I feel slighted, for that gives me just cause to act. He even traced violence in northern cities to neighborhoods with large populations of southerners who had migrated there.

Yes, we need to do something about guns. We also need to look at ourselves and our culture. What kind of country do we want for ourselves and those who come after us? There is a universal maxim that has been around for a very long time and has been taught by everyone from Confucius to Kant to Jesus. Treat others as you would want to be treated, and don’t do to others that which you would not want done to yourself and to those you love. Remember that we are all in this together. That includes all people including people from other countries and people with less wealth and different religions and all the rest. It includes the world we live in and are a part of. To fall back on “It’s my right” is to sound as a spoiled child. As Samuel Johnson said about patriotism, it may be the last refuge of a scoundrel. With rights come responsibility. Does this right you cling to dogmatically include treating others with compassion, kindness, and respect? Does it include responsibility? What do you do for these, the least of my brothers and sisters? I always have liked the approach of solution focused therapy. As soon as you label something a problem, it gets worse. Instead, seek what you would like to happen. Suppose you go to sleep tonight and while you are asleep, a miracle happens and the problem you have is somehow remedied, but you don’t know that happened because you were asleep. How would the world be different? What would this culture look like? How would people treat each other and the world around them? What would our cultural rules, values, and norms be? Then you would ask yourself to rate on a scale of one to ten where we are now with one being nowhere near where we want to be and ten is we are there. Then we ask what we would need to do to move up even just half a point and get lots of detail. Just how will we change? What will be in that process? How will we do it? How do we adapt? How do we treat each other regardless of where they are from and where they live and what they believe? How do we treat all living things and the planet and the universe? And then you ask, again on a scale of one to ten, how much effort are you willing to put into making that change. One is to hope and pray it happens, and ten is to do whatever you need to. You need to rate yourself at least about a seven for change to have a chance of coming about. I have also found over the years that those who give a ten rating tend not to follow through.

Unfortunately, it is that need (sometimes demand) to feel respected as right, that honor culture, that supreme need to save face coupled with exceptionalism, constructed tribalism, and lack of humility and grace that makes coming to a consensus almost impossible. We are holding out hopes for the young to bring the solutions. But whatever happened to that peace and love generation that was going to save the world? The powerful have a vested interest in keeping things as they are. There is money to be made in the world of pundits and their media platforms of ratings and clicks. Money to be made in moving wealth in an upward direction and only declaring there is a class war when someone attempts to mitigate that flow. Odd that a country that so many call Christian forget that the apostles in Acts sold their possessions and gave the proceeds to others according to need. Negotiation will be difficult and a never-ending process, but that has always been so. Those with power and wealth tend to want to keep that and blind themselves and try to blind others as to the long-term consequences of a culture of greed and lacking in kindness. Native people encouraged looking out to seven generations considering the consequences of our actions. How foresighted are we these days? What effort are we willing to make? What do we need to start doing to make positive changes, what do we need to stop doing, and what do we need to continue doing? What kind of world do we want for ourselves now and for those who come after us?

John-Wooden

John Wooden

There are three styles of coaching. There are coaches who really don’t do much. You don’t hear a lot about them because they don’t last very long. There are coaches who lead by fear, manipulation and intimidation and call it motivation. They throw tantrums, chairs and the occasional punch. Winning is the only thing. Losing is a disgrace. You do hear about them. Then there are the coaches who teach and do so with compassion and respect. It is the development of the person and the person’s skills and maturity that is important. You learn from both winning and losing. In Chinese philosophy, they are developing de, or virtue. You also hear about these coaches.

John Wooden was a remarkable basketball coach. I remember in one of his books on coaching he wrote that he never told his players to go out and win. He wanted them to do their best. He was proud of them when they played their best and still lost a game. He was upset with them if they won but didn’t do the best they could.

You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” John Wooden

There are schools with excellent academic traditions that struggle with the external definition of excelling in big time athletics. Perhaps the school has never won a football championship or even made it to the NCAA D1 basketball tournament. Students may be charged large fees to support programs at least partly because alumni want to stay at what they consider to be a high level. I think that sometimes after graduation, people lose sight of what was meaningful for most of the students. Instead they want to be able to brag like the big powers – the ones who are great farm teams for the pro leagues and whose players may not have to necessarily meet standards other students do, who are not paid for the sports they play, and are fungible. That is a generalization, but there is a long history of NCAA sanctions on programs (who were caught), stories of players whose lives don’t turn out so well who were given passes instead of responsibility and respect, etc. The emphasis on winning can easily cause us to lose the focus of teaching and instilling character and virtue. And most programs outside the power conferences lose money on the “big time” sports. A school needs to have as many sports opportunities as possible for students to ensure a well-rounded education. There are advantages to D3. Schools need to be more concerned with who they are and what they provide to their students rather than how they are judged by others on the bowl game and tournament stage.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden

I would encourage schools to be concerned with the process more than the outcome. What are our priorities for all our students? What values do we want to be known for? When you focus on winning as the outcome, you almost inevitably encourage cheating. That is true not just in sports but in anything, for example, Enron. The culture there pretty much guaranteed that decent people would do illegal and unethical things to get ahead and stay in the game.

“If there’s anything you could point out where I was a little different, it was the fact that I never mentioned winning.” – John Wooden

The focus on winning is an external motivation. Those who don’t burn out and who have a love for something (a sport or any other skill) tend to be more internally motivated. You want to get better at what you do. You run your own race, not someone else’s, and the outcome takes care of itself. To focus on the external is to invite burnout and to lessen cooperation. When little children are allowed to come up with games on their own, they tend to be cooperative and egalitarian. We develop a sense of fairness early. But when adults become involved, competitiveness and hierarchies start to dominate, and it can get ugly rather quickly.

So what should a school’s mission be?

“In the end, it’s about the teaching, and what I always loved about coaching was the practices. Not the games, not the tournaments, not the alumni stuff. But teaching the players during practice was what coaching was all about to me.” – John Wooden

jing symbolIn working with folks with substance use issues for over 40 years, the serenity prayer was always central part of recovery. And it is useful for all folks regardless of what an issue might be. We change what we can, accept with grace what we can’t change, and ask for the wisdom to know the difference. We don’t beat our heads against walls, real or imagined. We just live in this moment with a sense of curiosity and what it can teach us.

In Chinese arts such as calligraphy, taijiquan, and qigong, we practice jing, or quiet mind. Jing is a primary principle of taijiquan. You can call it inner peace or serenity or calm or any similar label. When you are in that state, there are no words. And in Chinese philosophy, it is not something you can force. You just flow into it – wu wei. I love the Chinese character for quiet. Chinese characters tell stories and the one for quiet brings the sense of letting go home. It is a two part character. The left part is word for a beautiful blue sky – the kind of blue I associate with the deep blue sky in New Mexico. The right part of the character is the word for dispute or fight between or disagreement among people. When put together, the character says to let go of arguments and disagreements and gaze at the beautiful blue sky. Let your heart-mind, your xin, be quiet, calm and peaceful. Suvana Lin writes in her book on Chinese calligraphy of the Chinese proverb, “Jing yi xiu shen.” Quiet thoughts heal the body. Close your eyes and flow, and let go, and find peace in the beauty of the blue sky. In the words of the Navajo proverb, may you walk in beauty.

Milky Way

The free lecture on the Great Courses site last month was David Kyle Johnson of King’s College discussing science fiction as philosophy – is time travel possible. He looked at various popular works such as Quantum Leap, Back to the Future, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and others and talked about whether physics would allow for the time travel method used. The one he found closest to science was the movie “Interstellar.” He also mentioned H. G. Wells’s book The Time Machine, but not a couple of modern novels and their feasibility. I am thinking of two science fiction works that are also counterfactual histories – Harry Turtledove’s Guns of the South and Lightning, by Dean Koontz. In Guns of the South, white South Africans travel back to save Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederacy by supplying them with AK-47s and other technology. Koontz has time traveling Nazis. Both are interesting reads with their own travel adaptations for travel and the time line.

I think the fascination with time travel is often a desire to change the past and perhaps to see what the future holds. We can also learn by speculating on what might have been had something, even something small, occurred differently – chaos theory in history. We can’t do those double-blind experiments in life to see which path is the best. Every moment, every choice, every action, is a crossing of our own personal Rubicon. Interstellar took care not to have those paradoxes that vex the idea of time travel, like the grandfather paradox. What if you go back in time and do something (like killing your grandfather or some other ancestor) which prevents you from being born. In that case you are not born and can’t go back in time and prevent your birth so then you are born then go back in time and prevent your birth, but then… You are caught in an unending time loop. In physics, theoretically time can go both forwards and backwards, but we experience time in a linear fashion. I think the Canadian series Continuum had issues like this, like having two of the same person in the same place and time. But if there are time travelers from the future, they would have at some point visited us in our present, but there is no evidence of this (at least that we can perceive) so that would lead one to believe that travel backwards doesn’t happen at some point from the future. As for visiting the future, how do you travel to a place that doesn’t exist yet?

I think of time travel as more of a transcendental experience, like Joseph Campbell talked about in the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers a few decades back. (Media does allow us to travel back in a virtual way.) He said that the life everlasting in the Coptic experience was not necessarily going to some supernatural place but experiencing eternity in the moment. It is that mindful place of feeling at one with everything and with all time. You are that everchanging stardust that always has been and always will be.

I do like the speculation of counterfactual history and science fiction. You get an idea of just how fragile a moment is and how there are almost infinite possibilities in each and every one. My favorite Star Trek series was Deep Space 9, and my favorite captain was Sisko. At the end, he explained human’s experience of linear time to the Prophets.

 

 

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