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!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

thinking out loud on safe spaces

thinking out loud-

Communication gets tough when words/phrases take on differing definitions particularly when those definitions are politically - socially charged.

It makes me think of The Giver and how words like 'love' were discouraged because it was too imprecise a term. Language is symbolic by it's nature and as a result is going to be malleable and imprecise at times. I can get ranty just like other people about how a word or phrase is used. I do, in fact, sometimes get ranty on that topic.

Not a fantastic personal attribute.

All that to say, I'm not exactly sure how to unwind our current social construct of 'safe spaces'.

I've used that phrase safe place - a lot - and it has meant different things. I'm sure I've interchanged space and place because while they don't mean exactly the same thing, they're strong synonyms.

How I know I've used the words -
1. in a therapy setting, you won't be judged and what you say is confidential (within the limits of the law). This is a 'safe place' to talk about what you don't think you can talk about anywhere else.
2. at our training center - safe place means if someone is being an asshole on the mat - I will invite said asshole out the door. Have done and will do again if it's needed.
3. on any mat I'm teaching, if student A decides other students are good targets for predation student A will be escorted off the mat, again have done and will do in the future should it be required.
4. at a presentation to a bunch of men who oversee regional programming for an international martial arts organization 'safe place' for training for women - if your male students strip down to their underwear to change out their groin protection and that makes the women (in your culture) uncomfortable....show the men to the bathrooms.
5. don't hunt your students as your built-in dating pool regardless of your gender...training to be a dangerous human should be done in a safe place -
6. training (again) is a safe place in general...as in we work hard to control for injuries and acknowledge they happen sometimes anyway-

etc.

In my experience, safe place/space has never meant the same as comfortable or easy. Nothing grows in comfort, comfort encourages stasis and living things that fall into stasis are on the slow slide to death. What it looks like from my breakfast table is that safe is becoming interchangeable with easy and comfortable and whatever the opposite is of challenging. College profs are being told they can't challenge a student's answer in class discussion because that wouldn't be 'safe'. Holding standards is considered a violation of someone's rights to (without judgment) behave as they choose. To create a safe space, you are allowed to do and say as you please and no one is allowed to say anything to the contrary and these safe spaces are populating where perhaps they should not.

I have a kid about to go off to college. If he says something illogical and ill-formed in one of his classes I hope the prof challenges his thinking. If he misses a due-date on a paper and he gets a 0 for it and it tanks his grade, there better not be a safe space welcoming him with open arms for the harsh and hostile attitude of the instructor. That 0 should be uncomfortable. Life is full of consequences and if he doesn't get a chance to learn the balance between action and impact in his job as a student it will a brutal transition to life outside the ivory tower.

Acknowledging prejudice and hostility born of the narrow affordances that can cause both ignorant and informed aggression is a thing - balance and intelligence is also a thing. Where do we draw the line? Should there be safe spaces where pedophiles can gather without the judgment and scorn of other nonpedophiles? Oh, wait. Those already exist and most folks think finding those sites and shutting them down is a good idea.

Maybe we should create safe spaces in prison where the pedophiles can be housed together because we know they'll be targets in the genpop...they should be safe from this kind of discrimination, yes?

I rant once in a while. No question about it. I get opinionated and monkey-brained. This adventure in thinking-out-loud isn't about pointing fingers at the safe-space activists any more than it's an effort in self-condemnation. It's a wondering...and perhaps a cautionary example: be careful what we ask for...




Thursday, April 26, 2018

#500 thoughts - goals forward


found an incongruence in my mental framework. Fixing it-

Goals Forward + Resources Backward is not a super common cognitive paradigm. This may be an evolutionary thing. How much food does our little band of homo sapiens have? Hmmm, doesn’t look good – time to hunt. The resource assessment determines today’s agenda, the goals. How we shift to goals-forward is something to noodle around on and I’m super tempted to follow that rabbit trail but it’s not why I sat down at the keyboard this morning.

I tend to be fairly goals-forward when attacking a problem. Or a person. Or I was when I first started training. It may be why TKD was frustrating because the goals were about tournaments and belt progressions and after a while, it just wasn’t a meaningful enough goal to hold me. Krav Maga was a little easier to sink my teeth into, the goals worked for me -move in, cause damage, prevail, get out. Those goals made it easier to get connected to the idea of rank testing and other achievement-based benchmarks within the progressive system of a combat art.

During the early days of becoming an instructor, 99% of my instructors were men. Big surprise. Periodically, I needed reminding that I wasn’t 6 feet tall, 250 pounds and I wasn’t bullet proof. They weren’t wrong. My instructors were pointing out that my attitude was fine but my tactics sucked. You can’t be 6 feet tall when you are – ummm – NOT, no matter how much attitude you bring to the event.

Size matters (I know…I know…jokes abound). While I stubbornly, slowly began to acknowledge this reality another affordance snuck in and tainted the way I thought, assessed and taught. The impact of mass differentials in the physics of a violent encounter is a thing. What creates the potential for a distortion in thinking, is how we relate to the terms “advantages” and “disadvantages”. This is a resources-forward way of thinking. What do I have? What am I lacking? How do I work with that?

A question crept in a while back, it didn’t have words to it so I couldn’t articulate it but now there are both words and what feels like an answer. Resources-forward  as a useful paradigm in self-defense has a limited shelf-life. Limited like buying milk the day before it goes bad, limited.

I am guilty of teaching this way. The size comparative of person A and person B may be immutable.  The goal is dynamic and it is the goal that dictates the strategy and the ensuing tactics. This is a painfully obvious statement.

It’s a useful statement though, perhaps. As I dig deeper into developing #500, my first steps are in researching mindsets, instructional approaches, the good/bad/ugly of women’s self-defense and in this research am finding an unfortunate little fallacy that crept in to my own affordances over the years. Size is a disadvantage from which to compensate.

Or not.

Size is a factor. But if it’s one piece of a larger equation, whether it’s an X or an A in: a+b=x doesn’t, by its nature, determine whether or not it is advantageous or deleterious to the equation.

What happens if we drop this paradigm. If we stop telling women (specifically but not exclusively) that they are at a disadvantage and need to compensate. Size advantages/disadvantages is a resources-forward paradigm. Goals-forward is…well…about the goal. Damaging a human body just isn’t that hard.

And resources-forward may also be one of the culprits behind why most programs are solely focused on the worst possible situation – the physical encounter because that is about fear. When we are counting resources in light of potential problems, this is fear running our thinking instead of something more useful.

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 because...it 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 IN...is 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.