Friday, August 30, 2019

what makes an expert?

Good question.  Don't really have an answer. This post is about the off-balanced nature of how we play with the word because it doesn't mean now what it used to mean.

I guess we get to acknowledge first, that "expert" means a lot of things. It can mean someone particularly knowledgeable in a particular arena, someone granted personal respect, someone with demonstrated skill sets that seemingly outmatch their peers -

It used to mean just "experienced". But that usage is now deemed obsolete. Too bad. A momma who's raised 9 fabulous kids is a freaking expert by experience in my book, and I know one such momma.

Expert has evolved into one of those words that changes in definition as swiftly as the context changes. Here's what I mean:

I've been designated for "expert testimony" in a couple of court cases over the years. Two criminal, a handful of civil, and one IDEA mediation (that one was a really long time ago)  and my testimony ranged from nodding my head yes to a judge in family court to a 7 hour deposition in a civil suit. Cases addressing a bunch of different situations - mostly human behavior...except the IDEA case - that one was an assessment on accessibility. Long story that,  based on my first career as a Deaf Education teacher.

I earned an Expert I rank from Krav Maga Global following a week-long grueling physical training camp in Israel followed by an equally brutal physical skills test. I survived - earned the patch and hung up my rank-testing goals. When just about everyone testing undercut me by a minimum of ten years, (and months of recovery to their weeks) I turned my physical training goals on to different objectives.

People have called me an expert on any number of occasions mostly around the field of self-defense as it relates to our psychology and human behavior - and self-defense specific to women.

Who's right? The courts? The mediation officer? The judge? My combat art system's rank evaluators? The IDEA attorney? My friends and colleagues?

It's not a title I claim and I have openly shunned it until I'm blue in the face - and it gets used my direction anyway. I'm not a fan of the word - but not because of the word itself. I don't like how easily we fall under the authoritative spell cast by it.

Case in point. Just because some folks label me that way doesn't make it true. There are so many people out in the self-defense world with more experience both as practitioners & as instructors than I will ever have. But the E word is sticky and once someone wipes that sticky goo on you, it's damned hard to get it off.

There's a logic fallacy called Appeal to Authority. It's when we reference Experts to give our words more weight in an argument or, a good natured debate (and that seems to be a dying art -but check out Randy King's new podcast for  dose of fresh air on that one). Humans like to appeal to higher powers for a host of reasons, mostly, I think it's because there's a degree of personal abdication...a little back door that gets creaked open when we say an Expert told us so-and-so. Then if shit goes badly, we have someone else to blame. The Expert told's the expert's fault...certainly not our own! Back door...

I think we like Experts too because they get to be windmills for the Don Quixote's among us. Something, or someone to rail against when we feel otherwise ineffectual. We can write scathing reviews, blog posts, IG comments - from afar we are the brave warrior for truth and justice and again - back door exits because few people will reach to have open honest dialogue anymore. Particularly around disagreements (or worse, offense). I have an Expert I don't like - at all. But I know a metric ton of people who do like this particular Expert. When I feel like jousting I'll grab my steed and lance and do my thing. But I do it quietly, with friends who are going to laugh at me for it because jousting at windmills is...well jousting at windmills.

So, what IS an expert? My spouse, for starters. In his area of expertise - a sought after guy in his domain. He's an expert. In my world, he's stunning. I know there are people who don't like him and in his domain would not call him an expert. Okay-dokey. I get to see him how I choose.

As much as there are people who slapped the sticky expert goo on my back and use the term with respect, I know there are folks out there who completely disagree. Good. They get to do that too.

The cautionary tale around the word Expert lies in the credence we give it. No one is a true expert. That's because somewhere, someone else taught the Expert who was then just a student. And that teacher was taught by someone before them, etc. And - more importantly, somewhere there is someone who is keener, more skilled, sharper minded than anyone slapped with the Expert label. We may never hear about them - doesn't make it less true.

Whether we seek an authority in curing an illness, healing a broken bone, in deciphering early English Literature, self-defense skills, in torte is essential to remember Expert is a designation, not a fact. The best possible gift you can give yourself when you meet someone who's been tagged with that sticky label is to decide for yourself...then let other folks do the same.

(And I'll be the first to tell you there are other folks out there who far more earn the designation than I ever could.)

If you really like the work of a particular person, you respect their ideas and feel they are a benchmark in their field - okay. You can share this sentiment with your friends and some may buy it while other's do not. Good, accept it and move on.  Not a great platform for proselytizing.

The inverse is also true.  Have a friend or colleague who designates someone as an Expert that you don't much care for? Okay dokey.  Remember, it's an assigned value of esteem, not a universal fact and you both get to believe as you choose. Really. There's enough room.

And if you turn assigned value into a battleground (whether for or against) you are playing deep in the Appeal to Authority fallacy and here's the rub, it is unnecessarily divisive. Unnecessary  because it doesn't matter. It's a label with such a profoundly fluctuating meaning the term itself doesn't carry any authentic value.

I like my Expert and you decidedly do not. You and I kick up a storm over a worn-out, echoic paper doll of a what end? Who is served? Who's life is now the better for it?

Here's an option. We evaluate an Expert's position and message as it relates to our personal experiences in life. If the words and music line up, if the message resonates and it adds value to your life, own it. It's your life (not the Expert's), take the message that moves you and let it become your own. If in this evaluation you do not find value, leave it. Move on. There is something thread-bare and weary to the gestures we make against the messages we reject.

We used to burn people at the stake for this sort of thing. Physically. We're still doing it metaphorically. Think about what amazing creativity could replace obsessive hostility against a meme, message or ideology you reject?

And this goes deep. Let's take an ideology like racial/ethnic supremacy. I personally find it abhorrent. I can march against it, carry signs, shout at rallies, exchange blows with those who support such ideology. Who have I helped? Is my neighbor happier? Are my children healthier? Are the hungry fed? Is the justice system suddenly woke?

We get really spooled up over our Experts and experts. We pit one against the other and hide behind keyboards - which feels a little self-convicting at the moment since I am, in fact, at my keyboard...and we throw poisonous darts because we feel better for it?

I don't think so. I don't think anyone actually experiences resolution in these ideological hunger games.

So no, I'm not an Expert. I have been called one, labeled one, introduced as one at a speaking engagement. I have stopped stomping on the term when thrown my way because I don't get to decide what other folks think. Much as I'd like to - and because my energy is better spent where something may be created v destroyed.

It's a silly word, anyway.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Old Problem + Brainstorming = New Program

This article was originally posted by Daisy Luther. She is the "host" of the program, handling registration etc. - and essentially the reason this got created...

As a therapist, I have worked with hundreds of people across a nearly 30-year career.  Many of these people had been/are survivors of violence. Here’s an example:

Kelly (not her real name), was a 30-something mother of two. Lived in an upper-class suburb with a husband who made a good living. With both kids in school, Kelly took a job at a major department store working part-time during daylight hours.

The store is a major national chain and anchored one of the “better” malls in the area. As her shift ended in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day during non-holiday peak season (think – safe, low threat environment), Kelly walked confidently toward her car…which was parked fairly close to the building.

She was abducted at gunpoint in the parking lot of the store.

Two men drove her around for 12 hours. They alternated between threatening to kill her and debating each other on their options regarding how they could ‘use’ her (everything from sexual assault to ransom). Well into the night, they pulled over to the side of the road so one of them could get out and pee.
She asked one of her kidnappers if she could do the same. A nonverbal interchange gave Kelly the feeling he might let her go. She ran. He fired shots at her as she took off through the trees. Maybe to cover his ass with his friend, maybe to frighten her, maybe he wanted to hit her…we don’t know, the case was never solved.

Fifteen years later, Kelly still struggled with a pervasive experience of anxiety and hyper-vigilance. Can you blame her? Statistically, very few people survive this type of abduction.
What would have made the difference for her?
Learning to disarm a man half-again her size, stripping the gun from his hands? Not that those skills are bad to learn but think about what that really takes. How many hours of practice? And even if Kelly had those sweet skills, do we want to tell her facing down an armed man in a parking lot – grabbing his gun and stripping it from his hands – is her only option? 

Do you want it as your only option?

Yes, I am trying to make a point. The answer here is no.
What else can we offer Kelly and everyone else who doesn’t ever want to be in Kelly’s shoes?
We’re not teaching prevention in women’s self-defense.
If we teach Kelly her best bet for avoiding the therapy couch and battling devastating anxiety is to avoid the encounter, we give her a superpower.
But are we also victim-blaming? No. It may sound that way, but no.

If the only options we give people, particularly women, are options for the worst possible situation, then we are reinforcing a centuries-old belief: women are frail damsels and they will be targets

Right now, women are targeted for violence more often than men, statistically speaking.

In part, this is because when we teach women’s self-defense most programs teach the last line of defense. We teach how to hit, kick, defend a grab, poke an eye out. We teach the fight, the physical encounter.

To use these skills effectively, you need to pay the financial and physical costs of training. The “bad guys” know the majority of women aren’t training. If we disconnect the social/criminal expectation that women are generally unprepared, we get to look at another problem in women’s self-defense programs: when the fight is the focus.

A physically violent encounter is never without consequence. I don’t wish this on anyone; male or female. So why is that what we always teach?
I say we because I was guilty of this too. I was taught this way; I was trained to teach women’s self-defense by teaching responses to getting choked or grabbed or dragged by your hair.

This approach is generated by a profession created by men, originally, for men.

The male warrior culture is permeated with a powerful message. Stand. Draw your sword and fight in the face of insurmountable odds. Retreat is defeat. Flight is cowardice and cowards are punished.

If we gather the cavalry and top the hill to find a fighting force outnumbering our ranks 10 to 1, leaving cuts deep. It tells tales of unprepared, unworthy warriors and failed leadership.

If we avoid or leave a fight, we are bad, and we are wrong, and we are unworthy of respect.

Intellectually we know the smart thing is to avoid the trouble. But human intellect is not often a committee member when these decisions are made.
The majority of men I meet who teach self-defense to women are good guys with an intense passion for helping people to become stronger and safer. They bring with them centuries of socially constructed rules governing their behavior, just as women do.

Generations of stories rewarding valor as bravery in battle inform how self-defense instructors see the world. We don’t pin medals on people because they turned the corner when they observed a potentially dicey situation up ahead. This mindset, for good or bad, has been the foundation of the self-defense industry.

So of course women’s self-defense will focus on the fight. 

Now let’s take this deeper. It was the rare woman who grabbed a sword and rode into battle. Rarer still for her to do it openly as a woman. It wasn’t allowed and many of the women in many of the warrior cultures became successful warriors only because they were disguised as men.

In 1991 the U.S. made its first move toward allowing military women to be combatants. In the grand timeline of human culture, 1991 was yesterday.
Prior to 1991, the U.S. culture refused to allow a woman the right to defend her people. This message is powerful. The purpose of a soldier on patrol is to detect and prevent the battle from escalating. To hold a line and a host of other missions. All of the military mission objectives focus on one primary goal: protect the home front. If a woman isn’t capable of this militarily, how can she do it as a civilian?

She can’t. Her only option is to wait until the battle comes to her. She is only capable of responding as a victim. If you are female, you will be targeted and you will be attacked. This is the hidden, unspoken message of women’s self-defense programs when the curriculum targets only physical defense against assault.

It is also categorically incorrect. Here’s the equation

  Women (until recently) are not permitted in battle.
+The only noble action in battle is to cross swords.
  Divided by the belief that women are natural targets
=The current state of women’s self-defense programming.

Don’t misunderstand.

I firmly believe women are both capable and should be given the opportunity to learn the physical aspect of the “fight” in the timeline of self-defense. It is a good day when the embers lurking behind her eyes burst into a bright flame when she realizes what, in fact, she is capable of doing.
As an industry, using the term loosely…
Teaching women’s self-defense without teaching avoidance and prevention is like teaching your teenager to drive cross-country without teaching her how to put the car in gear.

There were situational cues to Kelly’s abduction. Signs and tells given off by the two men who were waiting for a victim to present. If Kelly had known what to look for and had the training to override her social programming to be nice, helpful, and obliging, she might have avoided those horrible 12 hours.
I have to say might because you and I were not there. We don’t know how this knowledge would have actually shifted the events, only that it holds the potential to do so. 

This is the kind of thing I’ll be teaching on September 21 if you are able to attend my course. Learning how to shift events in your favor.
Be careful how you analyze this. This is where the risk of victim-blaming begins to lurk in the shadows. There is a distinct demarcation between blame and learning how to prevent a physically violent encounter. Please don’t confuse the two. It is remarkably disempowering.

You have to learn about violence to avoid it.

If you want to prevent violence, you have to learn more about it. If we want to learn about it, we have to keep our visceral emotional reactions in check and recognize it for what it is – our nature. This is something that I want to speak more about in person with you during my course.

Women’s self-defense is typically taught as a set of physical skills designed to help women survive a physical attack. It neglects an authentic and extensive dialogue on prevention and avoidance. It lacks this conversation because the industry evolved through men.

The industry evolved this way because culturally, men were allowed to learn the skills of battle and women were not. Men have been indoctrinated to believe avoidance and just leaving a potentially violent situation is cowardice.
And as a result, we focus on the battle. The fight.
If we are ready to dive into the deep end on prevention, we must also be ready to have an open and honest conversation about humans, violence and our capacity to be predatory. We need to have this dialogue without shock and awe effects, and we need to shake off the historical warrior mythos in which valor is won only in the bloody battle.

We need to get over our cultural sensitivities forcing prevention into the category of victim-blaming and we need to understand one, critical fact: Women are wired to put random pieces of information together into intelligent packages of meaningful data.

This means women are instinctively talented intelligence analysts. When we hone instinctive talent into functional skill. If and when life explodes, we are unleashed into who we are capable of becoming, unrestrained by the social mores catalyzing the paralyzing paradox of battle earned valor and the forever damsel in distress.

You are a force to be reckoned with. If you will own it.