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. https://www.fastcompany.com/90215773/how-ikea-quietly-tweaks-its-design-around-the-world

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 together...like 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"...you 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

shhhh....science and self-defense can be friends...really...it'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: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/what-your-facebook-network-reveals-about-how-you-use-your-brain/


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 stabilized...it 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.


Monday, June 25, 2018

context-



Context is everything and in a way...it's irrelevant.

Starting with the irrelevant side. Humans are constantly and continuously pulling data points and information from a broader context and applying it to their/our own lives. I suspect we 'have to' do this because there are too many data points - too much information, particularly now, to not extrapolate and apply. The original context often gets lost as we weave the information into the meaning of our own journey and... does it matter?

I don't know - does it add value? Read an article this morning about a new term: textjack, it's what happens when someone uses a biblical quote in a way that isn't actually how it was meant. Happens all the freakin' time and has for centuries.

It matters to theologians. It matters to the woman being beaten under the idea that she should be submissive to her husband and made the grave error of disagreeing with him. It also matters to the emotionally and physically exhausted athlete who leans on her own use of scripture to help her dig deep in a final game, just not in the same way.

Does it add value - maybe that's one of the measures for whether or not the context matters and I have a suspicion that humans pretty much re-contextualize everything, always and that overall, it's such a hard core 'just is' that talking about it may be like pointing out water is wet.

Acknowledging this academically and cognitively opens up a deep opportunity for connection between humans who might otherwise really polarize though, so maybe worth a discussion.

It also helps me wrestle with a glitch.

The event: I say something and humans in proximity do what humans do and hear what I say in a context that adds value to them - and out-of-context to what I am attempting to communicate.

the glitch: I don't enjoy being misrepresented.

On one hand, it serves as a fantastic checks/balances. I learned a looonnnggg time ago that I am responsible for the impact of my communication. If something lands differently than I purposed, it's on me to correct. It was easier when all my communication was contained in a circle of people I interacted with. Whether I was teaching a seminar or in a meeting, I could check and recheck. I could listen and ask questions.  I could self-correct and stay in the conversation with someone until the communication was working. Working doesn't mean agreeing, it means producing valuable outcomes.

I have written a bunch more stuff that's "out there" thanks to the internet, and have taught at more seminars and passed a tipping point at which I can no longer check in with every human who interacts with my communication. Once in a while something cycles back to me - something I said and it's immediately clear that the listener took my communication "out of context".

I don't know how other humans experience this, I don't particularly enjoy being misquoted or misunderstood. It really bugs me when the recontextualization happens around subject matter I carry a lot of passion for. The first time it happened I was 26 or 27 working as a teacher in an adaptive behavior classroom for Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing students. I was in grad school and burning hours I didn't have to burn in a local community theater way out on the outskirts of Baytown, Texas. I'm not a fantastic actress and Broadway would have laughed out loud, but I loved it. The little local newspaper did an interview of the cast because of the nature of the play we were rehearsing.  I was misquoted. I lost my shit. I was all like....what can I do about it? I need to call the reporter...call the paper...blah blah blah.

A dear friend a few decades my senior- smiled and then laughed when he realized I was authentically upset. Really? Like the tiny local newspaper matters and it's one sentence and...basically get over yourself.  Eventually I got over myself but it still bugged me. Personal glitch.

Anyway, recently ran into two examples of how what I was sharing was contextualized by the listener in a completely different context than the conversation I was in/having.  In one example, I don't know if there is any value being gained from the re-contextualization. It's mostly unhappy troll-ing. In the other one, as best I can tell, there is value in the re-contextualization. Like example one, in example two the person didn't like what I said, thinks what I said is wrong and probably also wrong again for sharing it out-loud with other people.

Okay. Got it. Self-correcting next time I give the presentation in question to be more specific in my language because I think the message is important - the message I intended anyway.  Important enough to be damn sure I add in a clarifying distinction the next time around.

And - I get to see again what we do. How humans re-contextualize pretty much everything in life so that it works in our own worldview and at the end of the day, even if I am misquoted and even if the misquote is purposed to disagree with me, or discredit me, if there is value* - then trying to re-communicate may not be all that important.

That's the struggle. I know it's a personal glitch and usually that means I need to just shut-up about it. When the re-contextualization changes the meaning or the purpose of the message and the message a)  is potentially really important and b) not material I came up with (I didn't decide water is wet, but I am responsible for communicating that correctly nonetheless) - then it is on me to retool my communication. My monkey brain wants to whine...that's not what I meant...

The reality is, no one gives a rat's ass what I meant. And this experience is a really good reminder -

Sidenote: Value. I don't mean "value" as in a pedophile misquoting me so that he or she finds justification in having sex with more 5 year olds...as an example...as far as I know THAT has not happened. By value, I mean life gets better for the individual and as it gets better for them, it doesn't get worse for everyone else, as it would with the pedophile...as an example.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

compliments in many forms ...



I'm working on an ethics presentation for VioDy's 'back channel',  a project in development for the organization's website. I'm looking at it from two angles, the student angle and the instructor angle. The instructor angle is expanding a little into a broader professional angle.

Been thinking about that off and on the past couple of years. Interacting with various other instructors running programs similar to mine in our area and internationally (and less similar too) it's been a curious journey as the professional behavior is incredibly diverse. What's okay to do, not okay to do - okay to say/not okay and how we treat one another in the martial/combat industry.

There are some horror stories out there. More horror stories and cringe-worthy tales by and far than the tales of collaboration and ethical decorum.

One organization I've been a part of originally had a general rule of thumb about intra-organization behavior: play nice with each other. There's plenty of room for multiple instructors, programs, clubs don't get spun up about proximity. I was at a meeting many years ago where folks were pushing for a hard radius rule and the guy in charge wasn't a fan. His input? If you put up a good program with good training and good people even if another guy from our group sets up across the street from you, you should be fine. Different personalities create different tribes.

Essentially, he was right. Practically, as a business owner, having what could be competition within your own tribe set up across the street would be at the minimum awkward. I can totally understand how it could feel worse than awkward, even like a betrayal. Nonetheless, the guy in charge had a point that is valid. At the end of it, there was one distinct behavior he was not cool with...don't go after your brother/sister's students. No poaching.

Students might drift on their own but poaching was seen as particularly poor form within the organization. I tend to agree. If they wanted to train with me - they would. If they started somewhere else and came to me - their choice. If you start with me and it doesn't suit you...why would I want you on the mat? You won't be happy and that makes for the beginning of a whole lot of shenanigan's I don't really want anyway.

Over the years different students who train at my place have shared how they've been solicited to leave our place and go to another place, the place doing the soliciting. About a week ago, one of my long term students pulled me aside (actually the student's parent - student's a teenager) and shared that they had been approached on a number of occasions, including recently, by another school teaching similar skills and part of an organization we are also a part of.

This other program isn't across the street - it's a good distance away and we draw from different demographics. They're making overt efforts from the other program to get the student to leave us and join them instead. Not the first time they've done this, but the first time in a good long while a student of ours has brought it up because the student "thought I should know" as they are uncomfortable with the ethics of it.

The first time I heard about this kind of dynamic a few years ago it irked me. I got a little puffed up and monkey-brained about it. We weren't supposed to do that - that was one of the no-no's in that organization. This time though I had mixed feelings. First, confirmation that our industry is notorious for under-the-table deals .... like many industries. Second...what a huge compliment! When a student we've trained from ground floor up gets repeatedly courted by another program it is confirmation we're doing something right.

It was cool to hear both the parent and the student describe how adamant their NO has been stated and the explanations for why they are super clear they would not consider training over there...different tribes/different personalities fit different needs.

What's even more cool though - the team of instructors at our place alongside the student's commitment to their training - has created a desire from other programs to poach the talent. Raising a glass to the compliment and a nod to all programs who create the environments conducive to kick-ass students.

Sláinte!