Sunday, October 28, 2018

self-defense monkeys

warning: unde-rcaffeinated and poorly organized thoughts to follow

Lob a criticism my direction and once I get over myself (human nature is to bristle), I try to take a breath and pick at the critical words for truth I can use to improve my teaching, business, or how I engage people in general.

Sometimes criticism just doesn't bear merit. The physical distancing and therefore, physical and emotional safety found in attacking folks across the spectrum of the inter webs has created a medium for the Other forms of expression criticism represents:

"...criticism is an easy form of ego defense. We don’t criticize because we disagree with a behavior or

or criticism is- (summarized from multiple various articles on criticism published electronically by professionals in psychology and sociology)

- a need to feel powerful
- a reaction when our beliefs or anything we value is threatened
- jealousy
- a need for attention (great way to get it when we attack other people because humans love to stop and watch collisions of any kind)
- boredom
- entitlement
- when feeling criticized directly or indirectly, we bite back
- when we've been reprimanded (because taking responsibility isn't a lot of fun and criticizing the messenger IS)

There's more, but this is the collapsed list.

Why write about what so many people have already written? I've been trying to figure it out because it looks like such a waste of time - and it is a robust trend both in social media in general, and in the self-defense world specifically.

Post any material on self-defense and someone is going to go after you. The attacks are typically devoid of value-add information. Statements tend to distill into variations of "don't learn from this person/school/style, they'll get you killed. Find a good (fill in the blank with a style that reflects the writer's preferred training method) and you'll be safe".

I got curious about why criticism is so abundant in the self-defense world and based on the research on criticism in general, I looks like we criticize out of:
threatened beliefs
and possibly too from jealousy & boredom

The other motivations for criticism are probably peppered throughout the realm of the self-defense industry, those just seem to be the highlights.

I've done it. Hate to admit it, but I have. I've seen a video of a self-defense action and have disagreed with it and felt like it was somehow necessary to add my voice to the clamor. Mostly when the info has been posted in a discussion group - to my recollection I haven't done so in just a general public electronic environment.

I think the self-defense world can add another explanation/motivation to the list: self-defense is a particularly emotional topic. This means our limbic system, what we affectionately call the monkey brain - is running the show. Our logic centers are snoozing while our internal 5 year olds party.

So then, why is it that self-defense is such an emotionally charged topic? Violence is as old as our species. Older actually, it's inherent to the physical universe. It's pretty straightforward but we get really torqued up about it.

For many folks, violence is a particularly personal reality. Violence is the reality shattering Alice's Looking Glass and scattered across the floor. Among the jagged shards of glass lie our expectations of safety, security and in a way...entitlement. Entitlement that it will never happen to me - or someone we love - or some ideal we hold as tantamount to, bad things won't happen to good people.

And so violence threatens it all. Our fears, our loyalties, our beliefs, our boredom, our values, and our entitlement.  Our need to feel powerful is interrupted and if we have trained in martial arts or self-defense of any kind - we want desperately to believe in the unicorn, the magical elixir of safety.

It doesn't exist. And that's OKAY. It never has, really. In western middle class cultures, humans live more safely on a day-to-day basis than perhaps at any other time in history. We feel like we all own unicorns. MORE safely. More. It's a comparative. There's less safe and increases in safety than what many folks currently experience and somehow, the comparative falls invisible.

Being alive means being at-risk. 

Back to the point. I have seen self-defense advise I disagree with. Telling women to pee on themselves to avoid being raped, for example. I will continue to disagree with it, vehemently most likely. I am also going to try and remember that most people who offer self-defense advise are making at least a small effort toward helping someone else. And although the advise may be ill-gotten, the motivation is worth acknowledging.

Friday, September 28, 2018

on witch-hunts, fear, and terrifying compliments

I've never cared for the label "feminist". Personal glitch. I get that most people would say the shoe fits- I think I don't like it because in my mind it reflects something extreme and extremism rarely comes to a good outcome. With all the Kavanuagh drama right now - I'm noticing something eerily familiar...hang tight...this is a long ass post.

I'm hearing men I consider pretty good humans share that from here forward - they help no woman with whom they are not personally familiar or share DNA strands. It's not worth the risk of having their lives destroyed in the new men-are-pervs witch hunt.

The abused become the abuser. That was also thrown into the conversation and they are not wrong. I won't speak to the ethics of decisions to withdraw support. Such a decision is deeply personal.

Several decades ago, I was a newly minted therapist when laws were passed establishing "mandatory reporters" in child abuse cases and programs were being developed to teach children it was okay to tell someone. I was responsible for educating faculty and administrators on the procedures for reporting and how to know if an incident might be reportable. Part of that inservice was also about how administrators were forbidden from blocking reporting by their staff...because that happened. And even with the training, it still happened.

I remember vividly sitting in a principal's office mediating between a teacher and the principal while the principal dressed-down the teacher for calling in a suspected abuse case after the principal had expressly directed her to keep out of it. There was a conversation about how a school policy couldn't supersede the law ... it didn't go well.

Children who were being neglected or wounded at home were getting the intervention they deserved. It was a good thing with a dark underbelly. Parents who opted for the family bed movement were accused of sexual abuse. Women who believed in nursing their children to the age of 2 ... were reported for sexual abuse. Single parent's with latch-key kids were reported for neglect. Sometimes it was true - sometimes it wasn't. Once accused though, always accused. Parents innocent of the accusations often moved to new towns - new schools. It was the only way they could get away from the glares and whispers.

Savvy tweens learned they could cry "child-abuse" and parents terrified of the public proverbial beheadings would back off of punishments for misbehavior. Female and male teachers alike stopped comforting distraught children, refusing to hold even a 5 year-old's hand while walking to the nurse's office with a playground injury.

Out of fear, we abandoned one another.

Across eras of change, this is what we do.

When it is finally acceptable to speak up to abuses of the past, we also learn we can weaponize the power to accuse. We've been doing this long before the literal witch-hunts of the 15th century. I have no idea what the solution is - and I have no idea whether this is relevant to the Kavanaugh drama.

Humans have been doing this for hundreds of years and I suspect we will continue to swing to extremes and then eventually figure out how to find the midline of our bell curves.

In this moment, in this movement I have an idea or two. My thoughts are generated as the mother of men and as a...feminist. We start by remembering we are fucking in this together. This thing called humanity is tribal by design. Most of humanity would die in total isolation. The majority of the species no longer needs tribe to hunt in bands, nomadically move our villages with the seasons.

We need each other in different ways now that technology satisfies ancestral needs. Some of us will do heinous things to other's in the tribe. We get to acknowledge it. Speak to it. Address it. Punish it. We get to remember too, we are accountable to what we create. Humans who accept responsibility for   only our collective success and deny accountability for our failings meet the clinical benchmarks for narcissism and at minimum, a degree of sociopathology.

When we swing to these extremes we are culturally narcissistic. Have yet to observe that producing valuable outcomes.

If women have been the target for assault, harassment and abuse then we must ALL do something about it.  Women supporting one another involves more than picketing together or marching on Washington. It includes supporting and celebrating success rather than getting vicious with envy. It means mentoring women rising up with new talent, rather than being the matriarchal pillars holding up the glass ceilings.

It also means taking responsibility for our bodies and our rights. Speak up and out? Absolutely. But if this is ALL we do?? Then we stand accused of Frederick Douglass' words from the 1850s. If we want Freedom without taking responsibility for the work and struggle required then we want the harvest without plowing the fields and we want the ocean without it's waves and storms and we want rain but keep the lightening and thunder to yourself, thank-you.

Transforming a culture doesn't work that way. The work that seems to be shunned right now is the work women might be doing for ourselves. This social shift we seek isn't going to happen solely by accusation, trial and punishment. If we don't want to be targeted for sexual violence - in addition to better punishment and more cultural support for our accusations - we need to become hard targets. We need to be generally considered a bad choice for sexual violence but not out of fear of witch-hunts...out of an expectation that I am equipped to stop you before you ever get started.

Everything in the media right now is about the consequence of sexual violence. The focus on the university campuses is to teach what giving and getting consent looks like. This isn't bad or wrong. It's just incomplete.

Recently, I met a man in his early twenties who is an accomplished martial artist and a generally lovely human being. In conversation on a break from training he remarked "you're terrifying". He meant that as a compliment and I took it as one. His remark came from respect, not fear.

If could gift one thing to our society right now, it would for women to be respected in this manner. I can't wave a wand and unilaterally make that happen (which is probably a really good one needs to give me a working wand).  I will; however, be at stake for what I can influence, what I can support, what I can mentor. I will be wrong many times along the way; of that I am certain.

And may the gods be so willing - I will not let fear choose for me.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Ikea's Brilliant Common Ground (part 1)

I'm partial to Ikea. Mostly because I just like the field trip down memory lane. Growing up around my Swedish grandfather and the traditions my mom carried down into our family, there is a wisp of familiarity walking through an Ikea universe (can't really call it a store...).

This article about the decidedly Swedish export brings us lessons digging deeper than space management and do-it-yourself flat pack frustration.

It's a lesson in conflict management. Just in case you think that too academic a term - remember conflict management is also violence prevention. While the news is chattering about the one year anniversary of Charlottesville, the solutions can be found in a distinctly culturally marked export doing well in Europe, the Americas and Asia.

It's simple. Maybe so simple the human's desire to complicate issues so our ego driven monkey-brain can pat itself on the back doesn't understand the solution:

Know who you are. Preserve your culture (should you choose). Adapt a little to facilitate acceptance and collaboration.

Problem solved. Yes. I believe it is that simple. The Ikea lesson looks like this;

Opening a store in India? Cool. Make the cafeteria substantially larger because it's a family outing and they are gonna do this with the cousins and grandparents. And in India, families like to hang-out when they lunch. Weather's a wee bit different than in the U.S. or Europe so all that untreated pine is gonna turn to mush. Make less of the pine stuff and more of humidity-proof materials. Did we mention meals are a family event? Sell more sets of stackable stools for when the guests arrive.

What if you're in China? Balconies, baby, balconies. Showrooms need to show balconies because families have them. Southern China's balconies are used differently than Northern China so...adapt the showroom depending on where the big blue building sets up residence.

Now let's apply this to Far Right and Antifa debates. Or Kill the Monuments v. Preserve History.

The linchpin in conflict management is common ground. Find It. Work with it. Monuments in Charlottesville are either a visage of oppression or of history. Why not both? Because, well, they are both. If I want the monuments gone I am asking for an aspect of history to be openly and clearly acknowledged. If want them to stay? Same goal.

Yes. Ideology becomes a territorial marker over which I can play monkey and throw poo. Us v Them. It feels good to belong to something that feels super important. Want to be all about upending oppression? Donate your time and your efforts where oppression still exists. Volunteer in the community centers of impoverished neighborhoods. Join Teach for America and work in inner-city schools lacking funding for basic supplies. Don't have the time? Means you may have the money. Donate that.

Don't have the time or the money to spare? You have a voice. Speak to solutions that reach for resolution spring boarding from common ground.

A friend of mine, Randy King, recently posted a simple statement about free speech. You believe in it or you don't. Meaning if you believe in it than the NeoNazi's get to pass out their pamphlets just as freely as the petitions demanding the destruction of Civil War era monuments. It's a hard truth because we don't like it. Prejudice and violence based on race, heritage, religion, gender identity...'good folk' know it's wrong.

Oh. But then there's this. Good folk 100 years ago new it was wrong for same-sex folk to marry, only the depraved believed otherwise. My how times have changed ....  only they haven't. We're just dividing ourselves over different cultural markers.

Sometimes common ground can be damned hard to find. But it's there. And sometimes Frederick Dougglass is right too. Sometimes power concedes nothing without a struggle and sometimes that struggle requires blows aka violent action. But if it's reached that point, somewhere back up the historical timeline we had forgotten ourselves and when the collective surrenders it's power sometimes taking it back is gonna' be a bitch.

And hope burns eternal: if the inherent power of all human creatures is on the table for all to see then Collective A is unlikely to surrender itself in the first place. And should the fear of Different cause Collective B to cross the boundary, B will meet notable resistance. Power is like that. Stick a pin in an outlet and...

In self-defense we teach people how to be a High Risk -Low Reward Target. It's an invitation to power. If there's a room full of High Risk - Low Reward folk, the potential for a Charlottesville (in that room) drops. It drops because everyone there knows everyone else there is equally capable of devastating action and frankly, we just wanted to have a beer.

Ikea is a powerhouse in the retail universe. It can go to "foreign" places with it's cultural identity in tact, places where it's blonde-haired, blue-eyed stereotype is a distinct Other. And it is successful in collaboration anyway.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

old stories and easy habits collide

"you certainly seem like someone with many possible outcomes" 

a quote from the Netflix series version of Anne of Green Gables. Yes, I am unashamed and watching it. I'd forgotten how much I loved the story and how, in it's own interesting way it tells the tale of resilience.

The quote is from an elderly woman spoken to Anne (if you don't know the story do a quick google search) who is roughly 13 and decidedly uncooperative where the social mores are concerned.

The point to the conversation was basically: you go, girl!

Hardships and judgment for this encouragement fully recognized, the stately elder-woman offers the pronouncement anyway. Particularly true for a young Victorian era woman like our protagonist, but also deeply accurate for all of us.

Our lives are moment-by-moment propositions. Each new moment a humanist version of Schrodinger's Cat hanging on a razor's edge of .... will I be this? or will I be that? We take all our little breaths of air as an unconscious promise of another moment, another hour, another day, another month...

Reality is though - we are promised nothing. The universe will do it's "thing" and we get to determine  ...from an array of possible outcomes... how we will influence the subsequent moments.

Not too long ago it struck me that it had become an effort to be deliberately kind. I had to think about it and choose it. When we stop being kind, we walk around life like a house-cat who's claws are never sheathed, always at the ready inadvertently fucking shit up just by moving. I realized this little slip down an unpleasant facet of my personality was a byproduct. The consequence of something I prefer to believe and is categorically untrue: I am bullet proof.

The Kevlar reinforced fantasy allows me to ignore moments in which I feel loss, betrayal, and other subtle woundings. Ignoring them doesn't mean they don't happen (and if you're all like "whoa...therapist heal thyself" are not wrong) although it is a stellar defense mechanism.  It's effective in the moments when it is required; however, I'm not proud of how it highlights my natural inclination to be a bit of an asshole. The kevlar defense makes it easy for me to ignore the actions of others altogether only there's an additional heinous downside -

I can't speak to that which I choose to ignore. It is one/another way a potentially necessary statement, question or dialogue silences itself. Speaking up or out or however you want to say it, can come at a cost. A cost that can be consciously chosen or denied if the cost is known to us. If the cost is hidden behind door numbers One and Two - the risk feels exponentially greater.

We are all someones with many possible outcomes. Those possibilities are reduced to contextual social norms when we forget even the outcomes we find heinous are actually still an option should we so choose. Shaking off the weight of the Kevlar Defense requires me to consciously choose what my outcome will be when I choose to keep my mouth shut (sometimes wisdom, without a doubt) and when I choose to open it.

Reinstating a little more kindness started a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully I'm the better for it but more importantly, hopefully my little piece of the universe will be at least less worse - nudging along the outcome to a "the cat is alive" byproduct of intention.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018 and self-defense can be's okay-

Who knew neurobiology would tell us how intensely Fubar'd the martial arts  & self-defense world can be? Let's find out...

An article by neurobiologist James Platt in Scientific American pulls together a handful of research findings to point out something I think a lot of people have come to understand somewhat intuitively: the more diverse your social network, the healthier you are. Across the board. Not just physical well-being but cognitive and emotional as well. No longer ground-breaking information, that.

What Platt goes on to point at though is cool, fascinating, interesting, and should bring us (the collective SD industry) to task. He highlights how the diversity of the social network carries a strong correlation to our capacity for decision-making and problem solving.

Meaning the more diverse the network - the better we are at those things. Being an information broker makes your brain function better. Information brokers are people who interact in a cross-cultural social system. Adolescents who have friends on the football team, in orchestra, drama club and choir are not only happier, healthier and better users of their own brains...but they are also part of the information superhighway.

If all your friends know each other, then the ideas you talk about and the skills you use for conflict management between people (and in your own internal struggles) are more homogenous and this is not all that awesome.

When we cross pollinate we are stronger for it. We are more effective in our personal health/well-being and we are more useful to our communities.

Conversely, the martial industry is intensely protectively tribal. One of the Gracies is on record saying that if you train with him and then go down the street and train with someone else teaching similar stuff you have committed a profound act of betrayal and one of the deepest violations of relationship.

He's not the only one holding this belief.

There are plenty of martial organizations who make it clear "if you train with us, you are not to train with anyone else who teaches what we teach". This edict intensifies if you are an instructor; to the point that if you associate with other organizations of similar skills you will be kicked out of your present association.

Compare this to Platt's summary of findings and we arrive here:

If you teach or train in our organization you must avoid becoming an information broker. Your ability to nurture your own neurobiological diversity must remain limited, keeping your problem-solving skills hobbled and your community usefulness limited as it applies to our industry and associated skills.

The monkey brain says protect the tribe. Protect the uniqueness, the skills identifying one tribe from the other must be held in isolation from the Other tribes to maintain the identity of our own.

Evolution says pfffffttt! Go be an information broker, it's fundamentally better for everyone involved.

Note: our neurobiology has also evolved to automatically Other humans who appear overtly different from one another. That being said, above all else, we are not our confined to the limitations of our neurons in either direction. We can devolve to limited, homogenous networks and with it a static set of functional problem-solving and we can evolve to limit the degree to which we look at people and say "because you are different than me, you are bad".

P.S. - someone asked for the reference so adding it in here:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

humans are just fascinating

What are the deciding factors influencing whether a behavior is counted as boundary setting v. unprofessional or otherwise worthy of discussion and an expectation for correction?

If person A speaks out about actions or behaviors, or sets a boundary in which the actions/behaviors of another person are marked as prohibitive, how we qualify this behavior is driven by the context.

Let's say Person A is a Drill Sergeant in a military unit. Person B is a member of her unit. Person B violates a rule, or an ethic. The sergeant reprimands; a type of boundary setting. Person B is like....what?!? No way! and jumps chain of command to complain.

Both A and B are setting a boundary. B says "you don't have the right" while A was saying "you were out of line". In the context of military culture and protocol, B's behavior is generally the aberrant action.

Now let's put Person A as mid-management in an organization. Person B is on her team. Person A reprimands and gives a corrective performance review. Person B feels it is unjust and takes it up the food chain. In the corporate world, this is generally considered less aberrant than in the military context.

Now let's say Person A is a whistleblower. Speaks out about something he feels is inappropriate
behavior in an organization's structure (let's leave this super general). Person B is involved in the behaviors being called out by the whistle blowing - and feels unjustly called out and retaliates with boundary setting. Person A and associates are excluded from organizational events.

The context helps us decide what we support and determines which boundary is the viable one and which is poor form.  In Conflict Communication seminars we talk about how mores and environment drive culture. This is context. If the mores are permeable and change based on personality alliances the environment becomes perpetually unpredictable. Humans by evolutionary design seek a degree of predictability in their environment because it signals safety at the survival level.

If we take the perceived instability of a moment-by-moment organizational context and couple it with  the complexity of neurobiological responses to our prosocial evolutionary design, we get some pretty predictable neurobiology-driven responses to this unstable context. Okay - now let's pull back in the boundary setting question.

Prosocial neurobiological responses (to specific kinds of stimuli) +  unstable cultural context + intra-organizational boundary setting behaviors = one incredibly hot mess. The solution typically is to stabilize the culture by clarifying the mores as well as the environmental boundary. If the environment is not geographic but instead membership; then the mores also set the environmental borders as well.

Weirdly, if humans aren't involved in change there is no growth and without growth the organism begins to atrophy, i.e. it dies.

So while the organizational structure requires stabilization to survive and create intra-organziational coordination among the humans involved, if it becomes too dies.

No wonder we end up in wars and other somewhat less catastrophic tribal conflict! And even more a testimony to the resilience of the species.

Monday, July 9, 2018

responsibility v. unforgivable asshole

Been thinking about privilege a lot. It's a hot topic in the social warrior world and has become the scarlet letter tattooed to the foreheads of folks who fall into the current accepted class.

On a comparative scale, I've always lived with a degree of privilege:

1. I am caucasian
2. I grew up in a two-parent household
3. My parents were employed
4. I have always had a roof over my head.

That finger-pointing, shun-worthy scarlet P follows me like a junior-high "kick me" sign taped to my back.

Comparatives go both ways. I could write this the other direction. Could write about years of money being tight, of how we lived in a crap neighborhood when I was little, etc. I prefer to talk about how privileged as in grateful I feel that my parents busted their asses. My dad grew up on a working farm. Money was a rare blessing. He was born with a pretty huge birth defect and was Irish-Catholic. Catholic charities hospital did corrective surgery when he was a toddler ... at almost no cost.   That's huge. Without that charity I wouldn't be here. He'd have never made it off the farm.

He was the first/only one from his family who went to college. Same is true for my mom, born to an immigrant dad who literally built the house she grew up in. Himself.

My mom worked - doesn't sound all that earth-shattering. But in the blue-collar neighborhood that was the step up from where we lived before, it wasn't common. She went to work because it was the only way they could maybe send us kids to college.

There are loads of people who had it worse and loads more who had more privilege. I am grateful for how hard my grandparents worked. Literally, physically worked. They survived the Great Depression. Most of their kids survived too. Because two generations busted their asses, I did so less.

Dial forward. In high school, if I wanted what my friends had, I had to work too. Fine. In high school I got a job. I had a history of bone-tired hard working family behind me. I never questioned work was mandatory for survival.

Dial forward several decades. I have a nice roof over my head. My kids are going/have gone to university and we are only student-loaning a portion of it. I have a car I like driving, food isn't a question and there's "extra". Not tons by comparison to my environment given where I live...but extra nonetheless.

And I am unashamed. I know this privilege wasn't a random windfall from the gods. My parents and my grandparents worked their assess off so the subsequent generations would have a leg up. I don't worry about racial profiling and I don't face the scrutiny and judgment that still confronts the LGBQT community.

In the maelstrom and firestorm of "privilege = unforgiven asshole" I'm happy to be who and where I am. Like my parents I worked my ass off, because they required it of me. And now, I get to do something with all that privilege. I could be an asshole. I could lord it over people and tsk-tsk suffering and I could say "well why don't you just get a job".

Here's the thing. There's nothing shameful about being able to pay the bills or going on a vacation. You know the whole power = responsibility? It applies. To any one of us who stand on the shoulders of people who scraped out survival in generations prior. Privilege gets a bad rap when we behave like spoiled little monsters instead of adults with a degree of leverage. There's no shortage of spoiled monsters, but privilege = unforgivable asshole isn't a physical state of being, it's a mental one.

Leverage is power gained from the use of a tool. Privilege is a lever. How I choose to use that lever determines whether or not I function as an unforgivable asshole or I function as productive. I'm sure sometimes I am an asshole because most humans are assholes periodically. Being ashamed is a force amplifier too...but I'm not a fan of the results of that. If you have a roof over your head, food is available and you can pay your bills, you too have a degree of privilege.

Being ashamed of it does no one any good. Your privilege is a lever. Use it well and use it wisely. Make the little world around you a better place. Yeah, it sounds trite but no kidding, you have the power to do so .... pretending you don't makes you the unforgivable asshole, not your privilege.