Friday, February 23, 2018

when the ground breaks - devastatingly acceptable expectations

quiet spaces in my head - which are admittedly not super common - have been filled this past week with emotion, thought, and a sensation of gravity trying to suck me down into the earth. That's the best way to describe what it feels like when I think about the kids who lost their lives in the Florida school shooting.

I have a kid that age. He is in the last few months of his high school career. He is a defender. He teaches in our kids' self-defense program and talks all the time about how much fun it is and how much joy he gets when the littles end class with eyes shining with accomplishment.

He wants them to be strong. He gets angry when people get bullied. He's not silent about his beliefs and he struggles when there's a suicide of a classmate and scratches his head when people doubt their value because he gets everyone HAS value.

And I think about him and this shooting could be his school just as easily as a school in Florida. I think about the terror and the choice he might make. As his mom, I want him to find cover and go dark. Wait for the LEO's to make the scene, subdue the shooter and clear the building.

I have mixed feelings when I think about what he might actually do because I think he'd be torn. He would know we would be devastated if he became one of the victims and he knows we are all defenders in this household. All of us in our own way, and he would stand in that gap. I am both frightened by this and proud of him at the same time.

I've seen video of the father addressing Trump. I've read the article about the 3 JROTC students who died because they stood as defenders, helping their peers get to safety. They paid for their commitment with their lives. And I can't even remotely imagine being one of those parents without feeling like the ground is coming apart under my feet.

And I don't believe the solution is to arm all teachers - some of them don't want to be armed and that's a bad metric. I don't believe the solution is to make certain weapons or ammunition or magazines illegal. Laws only control people who already believe in the behavior being regulated. I believe we are pathetic (our culture) in how we address mental and psychological health. I also know, having worked with violent individuals as a mental health professional, that better mental health will not categorically fix the problem.

I don't know the solution. Do we set guards at schools? Do we have metal detectors at all entrances? Controlled access points are already in many public schools but that's not a fail-safe. What I think (which means we are in dangerous territory) is that there are solutions to be found, they won't be one-size fits all and we won't find them until we stop being anaphylactically allergic to honest, thoughtful, investigative and progressive dialogue about violence and conflict.

In Violence Dynamics we always deliver ConCom aka Conflict Communications as a cornerstone of the seminar/conference. It's seminal because it basically says...look sports fans... emotions aren't bad but they make a really fucking horrible compass. They're fuel but so is spilled gasoline waiting for a match. Acknowledge the emotional energy and then, don't let it own you.

Get curious. Be willing to discover and discuss and engage and listen. We are ridiculously intelligent as a species. It is completely achievable for us [humans] to have an investigative conversation about violence in a manner that produces tangible, logical and reliable progress against the question - how do we keep our kids alive when they're at school?

Our wildly emotional and splatter painted gestures at the problem have become devastatingly acceptable.

Is it possible that we could take a collective stand for unreasonably high expectations? Expectations for effective, committed communication? How about if we don't stop having dialogue when the emotional deluge has past - and - what would become possible if we just stayed in it even when we got our feelings hurt, or angry or frustrated and we just kept exploring?

Seriously. We are so fucking collectively intelligent. I refuse to believe we are incapable, authentically biologically incapable, of solving this problem.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

the wierd ownership rights of success

When someone becomes successful, the people who have supported the upward trajectory can have warm fuzzy feelings. The supporters were...well...supportive and they get to enjoy the byproducts of their support. It's happy-making to know someone you helped actually benefited from the help. At the end of it, humans like being useful.

Once in a while, the success becomes an object of sorts. It's an item with property rights like who gets the Villa in the divorce. I've seen this in a couple of different permutations and although I have noticed it occurring around successful men, I have seen it more often around successful women. Because I am also female, there's a strong possibility of confirmation bias on that observation-

As a martial arts and self-defense instructor, I am noticing how this plays out in our world. Male students who become good at what they do, who rise up to to leadership and take on the mantle of coaching up other people are respected for their skill, hard work, physical dedication.

Female students who follow the same path are also respected for their skill, hard work, physical dedication and are frequently asked....who trained you? In a culture with powerful alliances to lineage this isn't particularly noteworthy and the differentiation between men and women perhaps remarkably subtle. Both genders will speak of lineage, who they are trained by and whom their instructor trained up under....all the way back to someone particularly [internally] famous.

I suspect the difference lies in whether or not the question gets ASKED v volunteered. In my experience the women are more often asked "who trained you" than the men. 

There is perhaps ownership of/for the successful women, in any industry. The mentors, coaches, instructors, etc. who participated in her hard work, dedication and skill. It's challenging to give a solid example in descriptive terms because this is slippery. My experience of it shows up more in statements. Examples:
"I did that..." stated by a mentor in reference to a female who accomplished something. To be clear, this was not a statement made by the successful female - it was made by her mentor/coach.
"Her coaches did a great job with her..." remarked upon by onlookers to a successful female
"I still have more to teach you" and "Just focus on your XXX. When people ask you to consult - tell them no" as expressions of keeping her under said mentor/coach/instructor etc.s tutelage.

I'm turning this thing over in my thinking because as a martial arts instructor, I have the privilege of supporting some really talented and successful students.  I'm wondering, do I take MORE pride in my female students than my male students? Do I express 'ownership'?

As a good friend likes to say "a rising tide floats all boats". I know that if the people I'm around do well, my boat sails on the same waters as what carries them. We work toward mutual benefit of one another and this is true for my students. Ego, fear, and natural resistance to change live in me (as much as I regret to admit it) and those 3 at least, fuel the drift to efforts at ownership. So I'm thinking about it and wondering if it's an isolated observation, or a dynamic with a broader occurrence?

And then, if it's a 'thing' beyond my narrow slice of the world, what impact does this have? What are the sociological implications? When we mark territory - it's often because we fear losing it. What fuels this fear? And I probably should avoid tangential mental meanderings before I am adequately caffeinated in the morning.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

this rose has thorns - #500

Protocol and Punishment. If you do something bad and wrong, your tribe will punish you. If the tribe wants to limit how much punishment it must meet out the tribe will create protocols to prevent the behavior altogether ...and up the punishment for maximum deterrent currency.

In the tribes I know of, it's a two-fer. A little prevention and a decent amount of punishment. Punishment itself is used as a two-fer...punish often enough and with a enough force and the punishments become prevention. Our current social structures expect this to be in total sufficient - we know it isn't. It's also where I struggle to believe the #MeToo and #Timesup campaigns will be deep game-changers. Maybe I'm wrong, and that would be cool.

And I'm sure Oprah and her colleagues didn't read my Dear Oprah post. For my little corner of the universe though, it was widely read (and widely read is absolutely a comparative to my other stuff and the idea of "widely" to me mostly means "read at all"). Confirmation that I'm on to something is that it was both agreed with and strongly disagreed with--

There's another award ceremony coming up - and a continuation of the efforts to support the #metoo and the  #timesup campaign, the artists are going to be wearing white roses. Kinda' cool in a fashion because the white rose was a symbol of women's suffrage and those women paid heavy prices for their commitment. They were jailed, starved, tortured in various was including being beaten and served food crawling with maggots.

Now the fight is about sexual harrassment and sexual violence with a strong focus on the arts and entertainment industry. #Timesup is a statement that people don't "get to do that anymore".

I'm poking around at a couple of questions - why is the time up? Why now? Why not 10 years ago? Why not 100 years ago...or a thousand years ago? Sexual violence has been protocol-ed and punished for millennia. 

Momentum probably gets a good deal of the credit. We've had more change in the 50+ years I've been alive than the last 300 years combined where women are concerned. #Metoo and #Timesup have created some momentum in the arts & entertainment industry and some momentum among the common folk as well.  It looks like a degree of this momentum is anchored in Protocol and Punishment. As in, let's do more of that. I don't know if that's good or bad - above my pay-grade, really. I am cautious about it remaining anchored in that particular trajectory.

It has the potential to invite an externalized attitude about personal authority and I've seen the damage that causes. Protocols are set by the tribe to keep us in-check and punishment is force-applied action when the protocols are violated. Protocols -rules- work for the people who agree with them. What if you don't agree with them? How many times have you driven over the speed limit? Anyone text and drive for even a second since the laws forbidding it were ratified?

Risk v. Reward drives those choices. In that moment of going over the speed limit, the reward felt worth the risk. There is no difference between rape and speeding when it comes to protocol effectiveness and behavior management. If you agree, you'll comply. If you don't, you won't.

Taking it deeper - systemic (tribal) punishment is only a factor if I get caught. And even then, I may judge the Risk:Reward ratio as worth it. Serving time is not always considered a horrible outcome. What then?

#500. I threw that out there in my letter to Oprah because I like the notion of women being able to decide for themselves. To have the skills, knowledge and ability to set their own protocols and their own ability to support the protocols with enforcement if necessary. Can that go awry? Will some women use physical force when it's not called for? Sure. But that's already happening across all gender lines for pretty much everything. That's why we still have child abuse. Yes, oversimplified comparison perhaps - but nonetheless that's the bottom line.

And at the end of it, women trained in self-defense .... includes a frontloading effort in prevention skills. Yeah, of course that includes don't all go out together and all get really shit-faced with no one to serve as the sober decision-maker.  Prevention is sooooo much more. People reading, understanding how and where and why violence happens, how to identify the difference between threat displays and pre-attack indicators, how to....

They physical stuff is the everything-else-failed option. It needs to BE an option, it also needs to be one of many options. And those of us in the industry need to be teaching All the things. All of them.

--and to prevent someone getting twitter-pated because that sounds like teaching all the prevention stuff is only a girl's game - don't hear that I mean it as such - it isn't.

Speaking of the proverbial Someone - someone...well several someone's actually - called me on my words. Give me 500 women? Pony up, sister. 

I'm in a massive project that is like a giant pacman eating all my time. It's over mid-March. But I'm moving on the #500 and I have an amazing tribe in the VioDy team who are standing with me and thinking with me and when March is past - there will be more. Boots-on-the-ground more.

....because - if we hit a tipping point of a high percentage of women who are trained in at least rudimentary self-defense the cultural expectation will shift from an assumption that women are easy targets to maybe only some women are .... but which ones? The Risk:Reward ratio will be harder to discern and I'd like to see what that looks like.

Circling back around to the white roses. Cool symbology. Let's remember too that this symbol far outreaches virtue signaling and reflects frontlines-level risk unprotected by the beauty and glamour of Hollywood Royalty. A white rose for this purpose also signals a level of anarchy required to create substantive change and a willingness to be at stake for a level of risk that carries an equal opportunity of reward and punishment. There will be both and the cost can be high.

Monday, January 15, 2018

nesting dolls

I'm in Santa Rosa, CA this week. It is like being in a nesting doll - a living breathing nesting doll.

I don't even know how to articulate it.

In October the area was hit with the "Tubbs" Fires. It's January and the impact of the devastation is still palpable. Not where I'm staying and working - it looks untouched. It isn't singed or scorched. But it's a pocket. It's a spot of normal in a reeling abnormality of destruction. Everyone I know here has talked about the new layer of impact - community wide PTSD. If your house didn't burn, maybe where you worked did - maybe you escaped both but XX number of your good friends are homeless.

I can't really find the language to express the ripple effects -

So nesting doll. I'm here in this city that is normal and abnormal paradoxically simultaneously.  And I'm teaching physical self-defense, a little ConCom, a little Violence Dynamics, a little Krav, in this mismash that shouldn't work...but does. Teaching a group of people who "have to" come to the training and the research on mandatory programming in any kind of rehabbing (including the whole idea that prison should be rehab of a sort) consistently reports mandatory stuff doesn't work. But this seems to.

And the people in my classes are in the bigger long term program that is voluntarily mandatory because being IN the program is voluntary but participating in the different aspects of the program once you are mandatory.  And so the people who show up to work with me for two days didn't have a say in it.

And they all have a metric ton of life they are working through, including addiction.  Violence is an up-close and personal experience for the majority - both on the giving and receiving end of the violence spectrum. So there's a lot of conversation and experience of PTSD in the program tucked inside a city that kind of has PTSD.

Nesting dolls.  Nothing profound to say about any of this. Just noticing and wondering about it. And fascinated once again by the crazy capacity humans have to adapt and adapt and adapt again. There's a continuum or a scale in how humans measure adaptability ...healthy to unhealthy to not-at-all.

But being here in the midst of a great deal of adaptation in action, all I can think of is --

no wonder we made it to the top of the food chain - we just don't know how to die, do we?

It's a figurative statement, haven't met an immortal human yet and we all eventually die and sometimes we die in tragedy -

at the collective though? we don't die easily. We should - but we don't.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dear Oprah, give me 500-

Dear Oprah;

Inspiration is a fantastic emotion. When the well of emotional energy living at our core finally gathers enough energy to explode upward into conscious awareness and we feel compelled - there is something grand about watching a volcano erupt and something equally grand about feeling inspired.

And then there is the aftermath. The emptiness that is left once all the energy has been expelled. When the molten rock cools we are left with a barren landscape. Let's face the aftermath of our inspirational experience and get our hands dirty. Do the work.

Hard work. Work that plods forward outside of the eyes of social media and work largely unrewarded - which is by no means a bad thing. In your acceptance speech, you acknowledge the hard work. The years of toil under oppression whether the oppression be about race, or gender, or both.

You also applauded the #METOO women for their courage - what have they gained for giving their voice and sharing their experience? Individually- perhaps a moment of inspiration. And an experience of strength for walking past the shadows of misplaced blame and its sister shame - maybe that as well. Not small moments.

But Oprah; what has changed? Yes...I hear your argument about how change takes time and we need to dig in and be an agent of change regardless of reward. I hear you. I speak those words and I agree.
What will be your unrewarding efforts? Now that the inspiration has past, where will you work?

Here's an idea. Give me 500 women from the North American Continent. Not all at once - 20 at a time is do-able.  500 women I can train in essential elements of self-defense specifically for women. 500 women who will know how to explain prevention skills, how to read the early warning signs of escalation in behavior and pattern. 500 women who will understand the context of violence in a way that is honest, straightforward, without ego of "I know all the answers" because as women, we absolutely know we do not.

These 500 women will understand the social, tribal training wired into the behavior of both men and women. They will know how this creates a context for violence and what it requires to step outside this context. They will be able to communicate this understanding and be able to invite other women into this wisdom.

These 500 women may be able to tag themselves with the #MeToo campaign, but it is not a requirement. I can. I didn't. Having been targeted for violence is not a prerequisite for an effective self-defense instructor. It does not automatically make me knowledgeable. It does not make me an expert in any action of violence except the specific events I have personally experienced and this may - or may not - be transferable.

These 500 women will know there is nothing glorious to be gained by experiencing violence. They will know the scars left behind are permanent. They will know too, the scars can be reinterpreted into strength. And this will be their invitation. Strength is more than a hashtag.

Strength is a choice.

Give me 500 women. In a year, each of the 500 will reach (and by reach - I mean train/teach) 100 women and in short order there will be 50,000 women with basic self-defense skills. That is the beginning of a tipping point. Add 500 more instructors in Europe and another 50,000 women. And let's keep going. Let's go to places where violence against women is far more indemic.

The potential for this to be exponential is in the math. Not in the inspiration. Change is in the work. Work we can do now - not in 50 years, not when legislation and sentencing laws change, not in safe spaces.

Maybe instead of coming forward in a band of violated sisterhood we can stand in strength. #500

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Right Room

playing with answers and thoughts to a trap my monkey brain just SO badly wanted to jump right in the middle of -

A lot of folks like to educate on topics in which they are poorly informed

Common phenomena in all industries and all areas of human interest from economics to art to violence. Social and behavioral psychology offer loads of explanations for this behavior. It's not new, nor is it a mystery.

Picking away at the layers though into more specific versions of this broad-stroke human behavior I'm struck by a subset. When someone who is actually rather informed on a subject and they not only jump out of their lane but do so with such grand unequivocal proclamations of expertise - this behavior is the trap/hook I reeaaaallllly wanted to get wrapped up in recently.

Once in a while, I throw my monkey brain a banana and let it play until it exhausts itself. I was tempted, really tempted on this last one. Wanted to rant about - not sure why I held off -

What usually happens when I don't go bananas, I end up poking a stick at it.

Here's the thing. The more a human learns about a topic or subject matter, the more the human discovers how much s/he does NOT know. The more 'expert' in an area we become, the more clear we get about what we do NOT know. When ego overwhelms what intelligence dictates, the monkey brain demonstrates it's power.

Where does this gigantic push from the monkey brain come from? The ego needs to be affirmed. It needs to be right. It needs to prove something and it needs to be dominant. If I think about the essential biological purpose for this drive, it is about structuring the tribe by enforcing protocols and squaring up unanswered questions about leadership and power. This is a super interesting function when it takes place among a group of people who are all pretty competent, i.e. powerful, in the same subject matter.

When that subject matter is violence and the competent crew in question has gained competence through experience the dominance display doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Unless it's an expression of fear.  Think about it... if I have survived a violent subculture by being the most dominant, the most frightening and the most asocial animal in the territory, then the monkey brain is going to create an intense correlation between dominance and survival even among friends (or at least friendly colleagues).

The opposite then, is also true. If I am not the most dominant, the most Right, the most expert of the crew then I am vulnerable. Dominance = Survival. Vulnerable = Death. So Dominance it is.

Recently, I watched someone who is not a woman, and by admission has not beaten a woman, raped a woman, etc. explain with great veracity (and in my judgment, great hubris) what women really need in self-defense training.  It was not a dialogue but more a diatribe. An unnecessary dominance display among colleagues - some of whom were women. No nod given to the women in group, no recognition of the intellectual and experiential collective gathered regardless of gender, and therein lies the hubris. And beneath that hubris, I suspect a great deal of unacknowledged fear.

What was cool though, no one got worked up over the dominance display. The diatribe addressed a couple of different topics in the same breath and in that breath, there was a good deal of truth spoken as well. A couple of folks in the conversation responded to that truth - gave acknowledgement etc. Maybe, in time, this will quiet the fear. There is a fantastic experience being human offers us...the conscious acknowledgment of what it's like to NOT be the smartest person in the room - when that happens - you are in the right room. When the fear that requires dominance controls us, we can never be in this room ...even when our body is in that room our monkey will never allow the reality to be acknowledged.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Enemy Mine

the enemy narrative seems to be a deeply embedded human narrative. It's may even be tied in to our genetic drive for tribe. Kind of hard to have a solid sense of tribal identity if everyone in the tribe can change tribal affiliations at will - revolving door tribal identities aren't an acceptable thing.

I'd venture that in our current era, most of our tribal affiliations are imaginary. Doesn't make them wrong or bad or any less potent, the affiliations are just not tied to raw survival. Example. I am "a lot" Swedish. Still have family in Sweden. But if Sweden goes to war, I am not going to feel personally threatened. I'll worry about family - but my sense of physical safety and security won't be under attack. I am also "a lot" Irish. Same thing goes.

Tribal affiliations to our chosen organizations and even cultural heritage are rarely tied to our original drives for maintaining tribe. Sort of. Working this out...

Let's say I'm part of a Facebook group and over time, everyone in the group - leaves. The group page may still hold a spot in the interwebs, but the tribe has disbanded. Poof. Extinct. A year from now very few people, if any, will remember the group ever existed. Woe is me, such a loss!

But...if I founded this group and it's purpose is SUPER important to me and everyone is like 'meh' and moves on, I am likely to feel at the minimum, a tad irritated and on the opposite extreme - deeply betrayed.

And. If you leave my FB group for another group of a similar focus - now you are an enemy. You are my competition. You, are a traitor. You are loyal to me, or you are my enemy.

Are we so fiercely protective of our imaginary tribes because the evolution of humans' higher level skills (prefrontal cortex stuff) has outpaced the evolution of our tribal functions/drives? There is an internal disparity in these two evolutionary tracks and I wonder if that's why we engage in such dysfunctional behavior.  Think about this. If I belong to one martial arts group and then get involved in a second - there is a powerful martial mores that says my behavior is bad and wrong.

About a year ago I was looking into Libre - nosing around more than anything. A martial colleague reached out and said "hey, I'm a Libre guy and we could work together and make your school a location" (paraphrased). This could be fun, I'm thinking. But......I was also connected to someone else, a different martial colleague who had a few connections to Libre and taught knife stuff....and there was a subtle resistance to this from the first person. The connection never happened - for a variety of reasons btw - I'm just using this as an example to highlight the point.

The Gracie BJJ organization had a video circulating in which one of the Gracies made an overt statement that if you trained with him and then you also decided to train with someone else you were really fucking up and he would take it personally- a betrayal and a violation of ethics.

Another example - I'm connected pretty deeply with a couple of Martial 'tribes'. A representative of one of the tribes and I had a conversation ....can't remember when...a year? two years ago? The conversation included a questioned posed to me...why would you risk the approval and support of our organization to be connected to another one?

Somewhat paraphrased because naming the tribes is irrelevant here. It highlights though, the strong drift humans have toward the enemy narrative.

You are either with us, or against us.

Historical references go back at least as far as the Judeo-Christian Old Testament Book of Joshua - this is super important to us.

I am chasing about 5 different rabbit trails in this context right now - maybe there will be a few more posts on it as I play around with it. At this moment, I am landing on a couple of things:

1. if the purpose of a tribe is to make people better, stronger, more resilient expressions of themselves then this tribe would be violating it's own purpose for existence to say "you can only be stronger and more resilient in MY way..." because-
2. If as a tribe, I restrict your ability to become stronger and more resilient to the greatest degree possible then I make you vulnerable to the types of strength other tribes are developing...i.e. you can only be strong the way MY tribe is strong.
3. This creates an obvious weakness easily exploited by the enemies my tribe has created by drawing this line.

Rory once posed the it possible to shift tribes without creating an enemy narrative? It should be possible because the tribal identities are a) chosen and b) irrelevant to daily survival. However, the disparity in evolution of our monkey and human brains may create such an intense dystonic state that we may find the paradox too intense and capitulate to the stronger monkey drives no matter what we do. And yes - I am using the WE on purpose. The WE applies to both the tribe and the Benedict Arnold's.

Sooo many thoughts - but given I'm at the end of cogent thoughts at the moment - I'll put a pin in it for now.