Thursday, October 27, 2016

re-languaging the aftermath of rape




Words are just symbols. They aren't the thing or the experience, they are just the conduit to pass the thing, knowledge, experience to another person for whatever reason it needs to become a shared context.

Still, words have a power of their own. In prayers, incantations, exhortations - there's a power in the words.

I watched a bunch of words pass back and forth about a week ago. A lot of words interchanged back and forth by a couple of people I know and whole lot of people I don't (hello Facebook). I watched the words and then read them again later. It was both a conversation - where the words themselves where moving back and forth as the trains run up and down the DC Metro rail lines....as it was a dissection of the words. What did the words mean?

It started with a question about rape culture. As in, is there really one...

Not going to touch that one, not at the moment.

Instead it got me thinking about the words-symbols used to identify someone who has experienced sexual violence. Victim. Survivor.

Victim - simple word. Victim of murder. We know what happened. If you're the victim of murder someone murdered you. Victim of poisoning. Someone slipped a little Nightshade into your after-dinner drink. Weirdly enough, applying the simple word "victim" to people who have experienced sexual violence is no longer simple. It's a word used in the legal system to identify who did what to whom-or was done to whom

I know there are people on the other side of the Sexual Violence Looking Glass who use the word victim to describe themselves. I know there are people who have experienced sexual violence who can't speak the word without an equally violent shudder of rejection. Rejecting the word.

And in comes Survivor. This is supposed to be better. It has a tribute kind of connotation to it. Respect-like...ish...sort of.

I think both words are dangerous. (As with anything dangerous, there is also an inert state. Humans suck at leaving words in an inert state.)

Victim = the person who was successfully attacked by ____________________.....
Survivor = the person who was successfully attacked by __________________......

the ellipses is/are important. They mean there's more to the story and the interpretations here get tangled in trauma, ego, blame, guilt, fear, wounds and scars. Hmmm, that sounds like fun...(sarcasm fully implied).

Time for a new word-symbol.
- TARGET-

It may be a more brutal word. It's cold. It's practical. Target - the circles you send your arrow toward. The paper hanging out at 15 feet. And that is exactly what the girl was to the Threat who chose her for rape. S/he was a target. Joe likes to target paper silhouettes. Jane likes to target steel. Joe likes to target college age women. Jane likes to target 12 year old boys.

If we have a rape culture (and I don't like that phrase) - we have helped it along into existence by the way we symbolize it in our words.

I have more on this - more about how rape and sexual violence gets reduced down to a trickle. Right now, it's enough to just say the more trauma we feed into this maelstrom, the more trauma we create.

There's enough depth to the impact of sexual violence on the Target, there's zero need to add fuel to the fire. Target is cold, accurate, descriptive. Maybe even neutral. Maybe - a word that can hold it's inert state for more than a nanosecond.

Victim has a story superimposed on the word by it's nature. So does Survivor.The story -the words created to symbolize the event, they don't belong to anyone except the person standing alongside dear Alice on the other side of the Looking Glass. So for gods sake - let's stop feeding the story line with superimposed expectations.




Sunday, October 23, 2016

connecting dots


....sometimes it takes me a while to put the pieces together...

Once in a while I wonder how I got here. graduated undergrad in the 80's with a teaching degree in Deaf Education (was absolutely captivated by the intelligent beauty of ASL).

Fell into a teaching job in an inpatient adolescent psych facility two years later (long and uninteresting story). Two years after that, and a move - teaching and going to grad school to become a psychotherapist.

That journey is 25 years + at this point in a dozen permutations and a terminal degree along the way.

So how then, did I end up eyeball deep in the world of violence dynamics? Krav Maga instructor, expert ranked (go figure). Own a self-defense training center, teach classes on the physical & psychological aspects around the country, have met some of the most stunning people of my adult life, and get to work with a tribe of folks that always leaves me feeling like the shallow swimmer - all wouldn't-trade-it-ever stuff.  But still...

When I get asked the question about why, at a less than "young" age, I launched into this and why someone with a doctorate would give up the office to run a training center...the answer is a little twisty. Parts that are made for public consumption, parts that take some 'splaining.

Digging down under all the various reasons and explanations - underneath it all is the reality of healing. I have always found myself in teaching/healing arts. Wired for it, I guess. And someone who's known me for a damned long time remarked "this just seems so opposite of everything you do".

It's the perfect and complete expression of everything I have done. Took me a while to see it though.

Me, most people I know, we look at teaching and healing arts as gentle, kind. We expect compassion to look soft and warm. Healing it isn't gentle. And compassion sometimes needs a hard edge. Teaching requires pushing, pressing people and that's got a hard edge to it too, but I think it's funny we still -culturally-find ways to soften it.

Nothing about healing is gentle. It's kinda' violent, really. The need for healing is born in violence and the process - perhaps necessarily - is equally so, if not in a different manifestation. If you break a bone, that wasn't gentle. The healing process of cells growing and binding and working to rebuild - it's certainly a violent disruption of life while the mending happens but it goes beyond that - the pain of illness and injury is no joke. We say "brutal" a lot in this context for a reason. Pain is a part of healing. A necessary part.

If you have ever had food poisoning, eaten something that should have been tossed in the trash, you get the violence of healing.

On our mat we screw around a lot. We joke and laugh and it takes the edge of the reality of what we're about. It makes the darker reality of what we do a little less emotionally overwhelming. This is healing. Pairing the strength of a great group of people with the reality of being human -and all that entails - that's healing. It's healing while we hit stuff, sweep people to the ground, disarm a gun threat, fight someone off who has dragged you off by your hair...all healing stuff.

Hmmm. Words aren't cooperating. Trying again.

Rehabilitating overly domesticated humans - that's a healing thing. Deeply, intensely and sometimes excruciatingly necessary healing. Jung was known for his cautionary statement about the people who were the most at risk for horrendous acts...the people who are totally divorced from what Jung called the shadow self. The part of us that is capable of murder, pillage, plunder and random acts of cruelty. The more domesticated we become, the more intensely divorced from Jung's shadow we become.

If this divorce becomes final, then giving your teenage son a shotgun for his birthday (because it's tradition) and doing so by recycling the used-once-almost like new one his older brother committed suicide with - becomes a really good idea. Then, wondering why son number 2 is suicidal....and having no idea why the therapist is suggesting the lovely gift might be just a wee bit of a problem....*

Aftermath of the divorce.

Healing this - it calls for violence. Remembering we are capable of it, remembering everyone else is capable too. Finding our strength within it, and the power to control it.

So really, this is the deepest and purest expression of everything I have done. So far, anyway.

*this is not one of my cases - it's a case written up in one of M. Scott Peck's lesser known works.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Pollyanna's funeral



Yesterday was a good day to remember a necessary death.

I got a call from a young woman looking for a referral. She lives over 3 hours from our self-defense training center but wondered if I knew of any reputable places to train in her area.

I didn't. Not really. I know someone who is about an hour from her so we started with that. Maybe he can help her out. After I dug up his website for her, she paused, apologized for taking up my time but could she ask me a question...(that's such female thing to do - apologize for what you are going to do because you have been taught that making requests is an intrusion).

Here's the question: how do you know it's a healthy place to train?

The only reason that question gets asked is because experience has taught her it is a necessary question. When I got into this business I was incredibly naive. My previous martial arts experience had been positive. Both our kids trained in different arts with different instructors. I spent a little time in TKD. From our experiences, reality lined up with my expectation. Teaching martial arts means you are teaching a lifestyle of the tallest order. The instructors were mindful, respectful, and if they ever had a bad day - you didn't see it on the mat.

When I got deeper into training and ventured down the instructor journey I started to see the rest of it. The reasons behind this young woman's question. Hanging on to my Pollyanna attitude, of course this dark underbelly had to be rare, isolated cases.  Only it wasn't...isn't.

I have heard too many stories now, too many examples. I'm not exactly sure when Pollyanna died - it was a necessary death although what killed her still pisses me off.

After I gave her the info, we stayed on the phone for about 30 minutes. This young woman apologized no less than 5 times during the 30 minutes for all my time she was wasting and hopefully, at the end of it, she had a few ideas on how to assess a potential training center. And the question did come by way of experience. Conflict between a group of students caused the instructor to "fire" one of them.

The conflict developed when a student targeted with dojo bullying spoke up. The instructor knew she was being bullied. And told her that he was sorry but if she didn't leave the others would. He could afford to lose the $$ of one membership but not three. The bullies stayed and the targeted student had to go.

Maybe he meant well. None of us are buying yachts on our income. I get it. Sort of. At the end of day we do nothing if we have not helped our students stand for themselves. For however great of a guy this instructor may be, he taught a powerful lesson. If you stand up for yourself, you get kicked out of the tribe. WHAT?

If the martial gods have an ounce of power, they'll guide this ostracized student to a new training center where she will learn that speaking up for herself is the win - not abhorrent behavior punishable by banishment.

Friday, October 14, 2016

the dark waters of special



Special.

I have a a contentious relationship with the word. It is the source of substantial suffering. While humans seek to be, feel, experience specialness, the very nature of the experience is isolating. 

It feels good to be special to someone. The small gestures of mindful awareness in relationship leaves us warm and fuzzy on the inside. Before my spouse moved to his current position, he would make a cup of coffee for me in the morning and place it by my side of the bed. I would come to, drink my coffee and chat with him before he left - his schedule more structured than mine allowed for this little moment of specialness. He leaves before sunrise now and doesn’t disturb me - no coffee. I miss it. 

Dig deeper into the experience of special though, and it starts to get dark and murky leaving warm and fuzzy behind. 

In our over-domesticated society, we teach that violence is rare and uncommon. It is only a part of war; making soldiers special (especially brave or especially heinous). When home invasions happen, robberies, rape, etc. the target of this violence is given special attention. We post condolences and support on Facebook for people we’ve never met. News broadcasts give an “average citizen” 15 minutes of fame when something bad happens. 

Overall, most of us live in a generally safe environment. This makes violence look and feel rare, and so when we encounter it directly or vicariously - it’s unique - special. Only, it isn’t. Violence is everywhere. If you eat a hamburger, the food in your belly was predicated by violence, killing. If you munch a carrot - it too comes to you by way of violence. Damn thing got ripped from the ground so you could enjoy the pleasure of eating the very thing keeping the plant alive. 

Swat the mosquito and you commit murder. But we don’t want to think about it that way and so, violence becomes this removed context of animalistic behavior that happens only to a select few, performed by even fewer uniquely heinous individuals. 

And special now takes on a dark and murky feel. Special can isolate you, deeply and harmfully isolating - violence being rare makes it special. I started coaching again after resigning from in-office practice because my schedule became too erratic for appropriate consistency for an office setting. Rory agreed to see what would happen if we offered coaching under the context of the Conflict Communication model and it didn’t take long before I had a client generated from this model. 

In all of my coaching clients at present, there is a common theme - the isolation of specialness. Violence comes in many packages and in each client, there is a particular version/package and each person carries the perspective of isolation and the darker side of specialness. 

Violence isn’t special. It happens all the time, every day. Nature and people use violence as a tool because it works. Violence has a context to it that is predictable (in a way) and follows identifiable patterns. 

But - we make it random and odd and rare. Then when someone experiences violence they face dark uncharted territory in the process of reorienting their reality and what tomorrow (and next year) might look like. And - they feel they are charting this foreign terrain alone. They are- as their own particular experience goes - but as humans go? This is not uncharted territory and we do not travel it alone. It is well-mapped and many of us have already traveled these lands.

How do we bring the context of violence back to the reality of it? And, how do we do this and simultaneously avoid minimizing/dismissing the intense individual experience of re-ordering reality after a violent encounter? 

It’s do-able. It’s also work. Diligent, often difficult work. 

Do we keep violence special because it’s easier? Has our lifestyles of convenience made us lazy enough that the hard work of reality has become so distasteful we are now allergic? 

I have my own answers - think - wonder - consider what your answers sound like.


Specialness comes at a price. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

the world is watching

There are very few realities that are binary. Respect, intelligence, good v. bad, even gender isn't really binary.

But we like binary. On. Off. Good.Bad. Right.Wrong. Keeps life simple, doesn't it? The current state of affairs in the U.S. upcoming presidential election is a hard-won example (I'll explain that in a minute). Trump v. Clinton. One or the other. Binary.

Except it isn't. So many other choices exist. Yeah, I know...we need to change the two-party system, not enough people will vote Libertarian, blah blah blah. It's noise.

What happens if the majority of U.S. citizens just said to hell with this and no one showed up to vote?   I know that won't happen and so the people who do show up will ruin the potential of zero voter turnout but, what if? Or, what if we all wrote in our own candidate and we all wrote in our own name? Then what? Or a majority decided to get behind some random person and we all wrote his/her name in? Or....

And while you're running off with all the reasons that won't work/matter, you are running away from the point.  We have two "viable" candidates because we accept the reality as binary. As long as we accept this reality, it will be the definition of fact.

Trump and Clinton are complex human beings, so are you-me, everyone over the age of 5. But if we make them binary then we get to abdicate responsibility for the state of affairs and lay it all at the feet of the two-party system political engines. And this is a hard won example of the state we are all facing, the byproduct of trying to force humanity into a binary context when it just fucking isn't binary.

Is Trump a mysogonist prick? Is Clinton a criminal? Is that the sum total of who they are as people? Probably not. But it's easier to assume it is the sum total of their personalities because that makes it binary. If this crazy election season can offer us insight into anything, maybe it can teach us that our Hollywood driven idealism in which people wear black hats or white hats doesn't actually parallel with reality. Maybe, just maybe, it's time for us to grow up and realize that life can be difficult. People can be complex creatures and decisions as to what a thing is....or is not....might require more than five minutes worth of evaluation.

And maybe, if we want our lot in life to improve, we need to look up from our own navels and see where we can add value. The elderly woman struggling to load her groceries into her car...offer to help her. The frazzled parent with a screaming toddler in a public place - smile at them instead of rolling your eyes annoyed (trust me, that parent is having no more fun than you are) - someone not paying attention to the lane closure trying to "force their way in" - don't be an ass, let them in. What does it cost you? Are they clueless so your refusal teaches them they had better become more aware? Are they a cheating bastard who is outrunning the lane so they get ahead? How.do.you.know?

You don't. But if you make it binary, good or bad, life just got easy. You -we- get to self justify.

Trust me, when it comes to the lane jumpers I'm just as likely as the next person to cast stones. But I'm also not willing to dismiss someone's worth or value because of the decision they make on the roadway or in the voter's booth.  Like it or not, we are all in this mess together. Evidence of a true Alpha is demonstrated in the amount of resources s/he has and are offered to those who gain from being served by those resources. As a country full of people who pride themselves as Alpha's - guess what? The world is watching. Will you be a value-add resource? It starts in the parking lot of the grocery store folks, the voting booth is only a mirrored reflection.

Oh, and the world is actually watching. Talking to friends who live outside our boarders, their news channels are focused on our election. Not what's happening in nearby Syria, but what's happening here in our election circus.  Collectively we need to a) grow a pair and b) grow up.