I was captivated by another Throughline that aired on January 19, 2023. This episode explores possible Extremist Futures as envisioned by Omar El Akkad in his novel American War.
Omar’s novel is about America’s second Civil War. He imagines 50 years into our future. A time when climate change has turned Florida into an underwater theme park and climate disasters devastate the world. His vision is very similar to mine in my novel Sapience: The Moment Is Now (not yet published).
In American War, the world finally understands that it has to stop burning fossil fuels and bands them–but it’s too little too late. The US is the last to band fossil fuels. All states agree to switch to more sustainable energy except Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. These three states take up arms, deciding they would rather secede than stop burning fossil fuels.
They lose, again, but what follows is a years-long insurgency. This is where his story is mostly centered.
Something Omar says in the beginning of this Throughline needs to be emphasized. He says, “We read to feel into another.”
This is how we come to know and understand each other. A country or a state (I’m thinking of you Florida) that bans books because they might be subversive… God Forbid… they might give children ideas… is a system that seeks to keep its citizens in ignorance.
Break down the word: ig — nor — ance. States and countries that ban books are teaching their people to ignore what they see with their very own eyes.
And, people who are kept in ignorance are a heck of a lot easier to manipulate too!
He also says, “Story is the final act of Resistance!“
The New York Time’s describes his novel: “Omar El Akkad’s “American War” is a disturbingly plausible case in point — a tale of a future America torn asunder by its own political and tribal affiliations.“
This is what caught my attention too.
Throughline plays some from the audio book of American War that includes sound effects. Had I not caught the beginning, I might have thought I was listening to real, on-the-ground reporting.
Omar’s story feels real, very real. It feels like it is already happening.
He grounds his story telling by his real life experiences as a boy in Lebanon where he was a witness to the devastation of war and what happens to people in refugee camps.
Omar says, “A society subjected by warfare is akin to moving backwards in time.”
Think of what Putin is doing to his people and to the beautiful people of Ukraine. Every image coming out of his sick ego trip is likened to images from WWI.
The Academy Award nominated movie All Quiet on the Western Front vividly paints the insanity of rich, powerful men who send other men to die for their personal power and glory. In this movie (and of course the book), Paul Bäumer and his classmates are just cannon fodder for a fatherland that has gone mad.
If you are having a hard time remembering the horror and senselessness of death of WWI, then watch All Quiet to remind yourself that quiet means dead. Watch as these young, gifted boys sign up for service and get pumped up by grumpy, old narcissistic men who stuff them full of overly romanticized, patriotic notions of war and how they are defending the fatherland. It’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse.
Omar describes this souped-up patriotic messaging as euphemistic fraudulence.
This article begins with the college admission scandal that caught up actress Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli in acts of fraud to get their children into the best schools.
Robert writes, and this is important:
In an earlier blog post we suggested some reasons, grounded in behavioral ethics, that might help explain why reputable people and loving parents became involved in these frauds. The conformity bias, the self-serving bias, and incrementalism all may have contributed. The evidence disclosed in the indictment offers additional clues.
A euphemism, say’s Webster’s, is “the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”
Famed Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura writes of “moral disengagement,” suggesting that people, such as Loughlin and Giannulli, who think of themselves as good people can do something bad so long as they can selectively suspend morality for their activities. One way people do this is by use of euphemisms. Bandura notes:
“Language shapes the perception of events and the thought patterns on which people base many of their actions. The personal and social acceptability of given activities, therefore, can differ markedly depending on what those activities are called. Euphemistic machinations are used widely to detach and depersonalize doers from harmful activities. Cloaking detrimental activities in euphemisms can be a powerful weapon.”
Examples of the “sanitizing and convoluted language” (Gambino) of euphemisms that have helped people make their peace with wrongdoing include the following:
Dead civilians = “collateral damage”
Mass firings = “right-sizing”
Lies = “alternative facts”
Burning down villages = “pacification”
Fraud = “creative accounting”
Genocide = “the final solution”
Empirical studies indicate that “euphemistic labels can psychologically sanitize unethical practices, facilitating our participation in them.” (Moore & Gino).
The World is Either Good or Evil
This is a lie. Every modern human being born today is told this lie.
Omar talks about how this idea is used to twist us into doing all sorts of evil things. It is a notion, an idea, a belief drilled into us since the day we are born until the day we are dead.
It is this very idea that the world can be cleaved into a good side and a bad side that allows us to be manipulated.
I would add it is precisely splitting the world into Good and Bad parts that lets us justify just about any abominable violence we can dream up.
It is also what allows ruthless rulers to turn plain, ordinary, decent human beings into killing machines and monsters.
Ruthless Rulers are already monsters and include men such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong-um, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Abdullah Aziz Al Saud, Bashar al-Assad, and there are many more (see the list of Current World Dictators).
We live with these monsters right here, right now on our planet. And they are pounding our world straight back to the Stone Age just as fast as they can.
What do you think? Are they winning? The Red countries that is… are there more red countries than yellow or green?
That is exactly what they want you to believe. But, perhaps you are beginning to sense out it is precisely this idea of division that is the problem.
One of Omar’s characters is an empathetic lair. He is the character that goes into the refugee camps and radicalizes the kids there.
Omar says there is no such thing as exotic suffering, but empathetic liars make you believe there is. Empathetic liars parse the fine threads of what we do and what is done to us. Empathetic liars play upon the lack of self-agency in a place like a refugee camp (or one of Putin’s prisons) and use it like a gleaming lure to hook their targets–kids (or Russian prisoners) whom they plan to turn into cannon fodder.
Omar says, “People go to bad place when their self-agency is taken away from them.” And the more damaged a person is, the more their circle of Trust closes in, making them extremely vulnerable to empathetic liars
And that is exactly what autocrats, dictators, and pretty much most of the Republican Party in the United States are doing. Whoever they are…all close ranks around their strong man, hype their followers up on FraudulentEuphemisms, and close the circle of Trust until only one man can be trusted.
And, there sure are a lot of want-a-bee dictators who desire to be the one and only man the entire human race can trust–Putin, Trump, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, Kim Jong-um, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Abdullah Aziz Al Saud, Bashar al-Assad, or pick your poison.
Yes, Omar is very right to envision the coming of America’s Second Civil War! Heck, we might be staring down the path to WWIII.
I think Empathetic Liars is another name for Dark Empaths. Dark Empathy is not a good thing. Dr. Ramani does a very good job in this video explaining why all of us need to be on the look out for Dark Empaths and Empathetic Lairs.
Reality? What Reality!
Omar talks about when a group of people believeanything they want to believe is real… you’re living in a very dangerous place and time.
Add the element of violent insurrection being a central part of a country’s narrative, and you have a tinderbox waiting to explode.
He admits he’s been amazed how reality has out did his fiction.
He warns, “There is a particular Force that when it emerges within a group of people, it must be stared down directly.”
I would add that when this Force is encountered: You cannot blink. You cannot turn away. And, if you falter, it will destroy you.
I’m writing about such a force too. I was reminded of a prologue I was playing around with to describe my story. I realize it is exactly what Omar is warning us about.
Image from: Penguin Random House Audio | “Powerful . . . As haunting a postapocalyptic universe as Cormac McCarthy [created] in The Road, and as devastating a look as the fallout that national events have on an American family as Philip Roth did in The Plot Against America. . . . Omar El Akkad’s debut novel, American War, is an unlikely mash-up of unsparing war reporting and plot elements familiar to readers of the recent young-adult dystopian series The Hunger Games and Divergent.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
It is she who said monsters are made. Think Frankenstein, definitely constructed by a human.
And we do this all the time…in our heads simply repeating the stories we tell ourselves that create indelible images, which we then project onto the world we live in. Or better said, the world we wish we lived in.
The Planet We Made
Olafur Eliasson is an Icelandic–Danishartist known for sculptured and large-scale installation art that employ elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to enhance the viewer’s experience. He designed the cover of Time this month to highlight our collective climate crisis that will affect and impact everyone on Earth. Rich or poor, everyone will pay a huge price for further dithering and delaying on taking immediate action Now.
Olafur tells Time to create the effect on TIME’s cover, he employed a technique called after imaging. By following the instructions on the cover, when the page changes, your eyes re-imagine our overheated planet in the healthy vibrant greens and blues we, the human race, were born into and began our journey as a species through time.
The Monsters We Make
This same elusive after imaging takes place inside our minds. The images that get stored inside our minds are created by the stories we tell ourselves and the images we consume as ordinary citizens.
These images, let’s call them cultural images, are stored in our minds as belief systems. Beliefs are vastly more complicated images than the one created by Olafur Eliasson for the cover of TIME. However, compared to reality, beliefs are pathetic and paltry.
Belief systems tend to leave far more outside (the evil other) than inside (the person who sees the the world like you do). All of us adopt and cultivate belief systems. They help us know who we can trust. And, they help us survive by acting as short cuts to reality.
By popping your beliefs into a situation, you can just get down to action. Or really reaction to a situation because beliefs allow you to skip the work of hard thinking, critical analysis, and feeling into what you are actually experiencing.
Systems of belief are informed by the families we grow up in, the cultures we live in, and the religions we participate in (or do not participate in). Systems of belief are further evolved and informed by friends, peers, teachers, clubs, politics, and media, among many other sources.
Whether you accept the stories and images imparted to you through these systems, whether you believe them or you don’t believe them, beliefs about how the world is or isn’t are formed and held in the mind very much like the phantom image Olafur Eliasson created on the cover of TIME.
Each and every belief are things you have choose to accept, to believe, and to store in your head. You choose to believe the things you think are true or what you don’t believe or believe to be not true, regardless of whether they are empirically true or not true.
Once you commit to a belief (in other words you swallow an idea hook, line, and sinker), it creates an indelible image of how the world is, which gets overlay onto everything you do and everyone around you. Very much like the elusive image Olafur Eliasson made for the November 2022 cover of TIME. You put them there, and then you project them on the world.
Beliefs are more likes wishes, fears, and desires. They accord with more how we want the world to be rather than how it really is. Our wish/fear/wants live inside our minds and are projected on the world every moment of our lives. They hoover and cling to everything and everyone we come into contact with like a ghostly aura. Depending on what our projected system of beliefs tells us we should believe about a person or a thing that comes into our narrow bandwidth of focused conscious attention, aligns our actions and behavior in the world.
This rather simple ability has oversized implications–some good, some bad. It is an ability that we take for granted as human beings. Our ability to create systems of beliefs is a form of ignorance (ig–nor–ance, what we choose not to see) and it has gotten the better of us. It is what allows us to turn ordinary human beings into monsters or our world into a wasteland.
Kendra R. Parker explains our creation of and fascination with monsters this way:
When Dracula appeared in the 19th century, there was all of this fear, the English were preoccupied with borders, boundaries and nationalism. Between like 1881 and 1900 there was an increase in the number of non-English Jewish people. There was this xenophobia, this fear of Jewish people, this sort of threat of external colonization. And so these fears about the threatening outsider, who is going to come in and disturb the national pure body, finds its way into Bram Stoker's Dracula.
And if we come to the United States in 1898, we have newspaper images popping up out of North Carolina that depict Black men as vampires because there was this fear of Black men. There's this fear of black men being in politics and so that if you got black political power, then they're going to take over and destroy white women and all of that. And so you've got all of this propaganda.
And there are two images in particular. One is called "The Vampire that Hovers Over North Carolina." It appears in 1898, and it's a Black male vampire coming out of a ballot box. And there's another image that same time period in North Carolina where you got vampires coming out of the grave to vote and they're Black. And so there's this fear that if you let these monsters vote, they will take over and destroy our way of life.
The Monsters We Are
When we use our system of beliefs to turn other human beings into monsters, it is ourselves who become the monster. When hate becomes our fuel, then the transformation is complete. The monster has been made.
It is a way of being in the world that leads to Hell. It is the path of destruction, of mayhem, and of death.
It is a way of being in the world that may begin by being suspicious, distrustful, and skeptical. But it can quickly eclipse who you think you are and make you into a person who takes pleasure in being cynical, ghoulish, grisly, and grotesque.
Such a journey is often summed up by the popular phrase —Take The Red Pill. This means a person that falls down a rabbit hole. They start out innocently following juicy breadcrumbs of gossip and plausibly outrageous happens that grow ever more implausible. But once you get hooked on these toxic breadcrumbs carefully left behind by Master Manipulators who are experts in making the implausible sound plausible. Indeed, the Truth that you are willing to die for.
How To Make of a Monster
Step 1) Chop the world into absolutely good and absolutely evil, then choose a role to play in this absolute drama (it goes without saying that whatever side you play on… that is the righteous side, the good guys, the side that is going to slay absolute evil)
Step 2) Select a Mask for the role you will play in the absolute drama to rid the world of absolute evil (make sure you are the Super Hero of your story and everyone else is the bad guy)
Step 3) Strap Your Mask Tightly To Your Face So It Doesn’t Slip or Fall Off (you don’t want anyone to see you are merely human like the people and other living beings you are dehumanizing)
Step 4) Cut Up Bits and Pieces from the World and Other Stories, Then Mash Them Into Your Mask So You Become Unrecognizable Like Camouflage (it doesn’t matter if the bits and pieces make sense anymore, you are creating your super hero version of yourself!)
Step 5) Add Lots of Layers to Your Mask, Be Sure to Use Lots of Devilish Deceit and Deception, More Camouflage to Help You Better Play Your Role (God forbid anyone recognize that you’re really human behind your Fake Persona)
Step 6) Distort, Deform, and Mangle Your Mask to Create Fantastic New Levels of Distractions and Illusions, Even More Camouflage… Fighting Evil Isn’t for Sissies (this will draw others to you — your followers, your zombie army)
Step 7) Forget You Are Wearing A Mask: Now You Are A Monster
I have not read this book, Metaflesh. But, the image of the cover is captivating. To me, it perfectly captures how we can turn ourselves into monsters using any system of belief, any one at all. In the land of make believe, nothing is sacred. Once we slip down a rabbit holes inside our minds, the inner Hellish landscape allows us to endlessly violently project onto others what we cannot admit to ourselves that we are.
This is a book review of Metaflesh from where I got the image:
Metaflesh is written by Evan J. Peterson, author of The PrEP Diaries: A Safe(r) Sex Memoir and DragStar!, the world’s first drag performer role-playing game. Metaflesh is a book of verse and prose from the point of view of Frankenstein’s Monster. The reflections are inspired not only by Mary Shelley’s seminal work (double entendre fully intended) but also by the pop culture descendants of her novel. Sources include a wide variety of Frankenstein/mad scientist movies and song lyrics. The book also contains themes of Jewish folklore, queer culture, camp, and a lot of David Cronenberg-style body horror. The book covers the gamut of the Monster’s experiences through over a century of movies and songs, and portrays the Monster as both gender-fluid and a sort of chimerical film critic, reviewing portrayals of their self through lyric poetry and flash fiction.
This is an ingenious book of metafiction. Just as Dr. Frankenstein cut up different people and stitched the bits together, Peterson cut up and reassembled his sources, turning them into something greater than the sum of their parts. Borrowing from William S. Burroughs cut-up technique, he splices together Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with F.T. Marinetti’s Manifesto del Futurismo (Futurist Manifesto) and with J. G. Ballard’s essay, “Why I want to F*ck Ronald Reagan.” He apostrophizes the sexually explicit films of avant-garde queer Canadian creator Bruce LaBruce and doesn’t forget to include General Mills’ Frankenberry breakfast cereal or select lines from Mommy Dearest and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The combined imagery of classical Greek mythology, white supremacy, drag queens, Judaism, and zombie erotica do not merge into a hot mess but meld together into a deliciously readable book.
This literary retrospective is sad, funny, quirky, surgically precise, and captivating. I was never bored and didn’t skip through parts. I tore through my first reading at speed and have been taking my time through subsequent readings. The only spot which slows me down, pulling me to a frowning halt, is a simile in the poem, “His Name is In Me”: “gross as the tallest savage.” Although I’m aware that white supremacist imagery is intentionally used throughout the book—punching up, not down—the use of the word “savage” feels out of place here. It is a racial slur used against Black and Indigenous peoples and stands out awkwardly in a poem strongly based in Judaic imagery. If it is a slur used against Jews, I am unaware, but this is my only quibble with the entire book. -- Book Review: Metaflesh by Evan J. Peterson
Someone OnceTold Me
Someone once told me that my blog The StoryTelling Species Series was just a story. He really just wanted to put it down and elevate himself because we were having a very strong disagreement about COVID. I knew he was wrong, but could not explain to him why he was so wrong then.
Now I can. I knew it is the stories we tell ourselves that make us into heroes or villains, good or evil, saints or monsters. Now I know how it happens inside our minds.
Given how susceptible we are to believe our own stories and lies about ourselves, it is best to give all other people the benefit of the doubt and trust they are not the monster you are afraid of… the one that lives inside of you. It is best just be human and to recognize that we have a little bit of good and a little bit of bad inside of us.
It is when we hang onto the evil inside of us and refuse to let go of it that we make ourselves into monsters and turn Earth into Hell. Trust that reality is far more interesting than the stories we tell ourselves about our selves and others.
Trust that you belong here and now with everyone else and that together we can heal ourselves. This is something we can only do together. And if we heal, Earth heals and our burning hot planet may once again shine in its brilliant, beautiful, life sustaining blues and greens!
Ancient wisdom blended with modern images and music.
When people see things as beautiful, ugliness is created. When people see things as good, evil is created.
First Stanza & Archetypal Animation
Being and non-being produce each other. Difficult and easy complement each other. Long and short define each other. High and low oppose each other. Fore and aft follow each other.
Second Stanza & Archetypal Animation
Therefore the Master can act without doing anything and teach without saying a word. Things come her way and she does not stop them; things leave and she lets them go. She has without possessing, and acts without any expectations. When her work is done, she takes no credit. That is why it will last forever.
The Tao Te Ching was written around 400 BCE by Laozi (also written as Lao Tzu). He is the founder of Taoism, which is one of the philosophies flourishing during the time in China known as the time of The Hundred Schools of Thought, which thrived from the 6th century BCE to 221 BCE.
According to Mozi, another of China’s great philosophers born c. 470 BCE and died to c. 391 BCE, the achievement of social goals necessitates the unity of thought and action by the people and their rulers. His political philosophy bears a resemblance to divine-rule monarchy: the population ought always to obey its leaders, as its leaders ought always follow the will of heaven.
He is the first major intellectual to rival Confucius, founding the school of Mohism during this period of The Hundred Schools of Thought. His teaching have been summed up into 10 theses that have since been extensively argued. His most famous these is that of:
Jian’ai: This is the injunction that one ought to be concerned for the welfare of people in a spirit of “impartial concern” (jian’ai) that does not make distinctions between self and other, associates and strangers, a doctrine often described more simplistically as “universal love.” -- Encyclopedia of Philosophy
It would not be long before how well the leaders of the people would (or could) follow the will of heaven would be tested.
The Rise of Strongmen and Ruthless Rulers
Qin Shi Huang is the second of the Ruthless Rulers I highlight in my book Sapience: The Moment is Now (not yet published, but soon).
He is the first of the feudal kings of China to conquer all of the Warring States in 221 BCE, which included six dynasties, to create the Qin Dynasty. These territories include most of what we consider modern China today. Upon doing this, he declared himself the first emperor of China and assumed a title implying he possessed divine powers. He begins his rule by persecuting monks and philosophers, which cumulates in the burning of the books and termination of the Hundred Schools of Thought.
"Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Ssu's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning. "Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. -- History of Information
It is a pattern that has repeated itself over and over and over again since the first Ruthless Ruler walked the Earth. The inability of the people to tolerate diverse groups of thoughts seems to lie at the heart of how and why Ruthless Rulers rise to power.
And yet walking alongside Ruthless Rulers are men and women of rich intellectual mastery and wisdom such as Mozi and Confucius, Plato and Aristotle, Laozi and Zhuangzi who are only a few of individuals who have delved deeply into the human psyche and wrestled with the unknowable.
More than any time in our collective history, we need so many more people to take the plunge and do the same. To wrestled with the monsters that live inside all of us. We need groups of people in greater numbers than ever before to contemplate, debate, mutter and muster greater understanding for the tremendous diversity of thoughts, ideas, and philosophies we are capable of conceiving and creating into reality using nothing more than our minds to imagine something different than nature would have previously allowed to exist. We must work and stretch our minds far beyond the simple ploys Strongmen use to generate arguments and embed slogans into minds meant to bend the into little boxes that are easy to control and use like disposable commodities.
This is what Strongmen do, as they endlessly dream of becoming the next great Ruthless Ruler.
We see it playing out again, right here, right now, in our own countries wherever they are as the tide of intolerance, bigotry, racism, nationalism, patriotism, partisanism sweep strongmen into powerful positions–Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, Rodrigo Duterte, Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping, Putin, and formerly Trump.
They use righteous ideas and righteous talk like jack hammers that steadily chip away at the unity of thought and action Mozi talked about centuries ago as essential for collective good of all. When their speech doesn’t flame the right pit of emotion and opposition arises, they use violence (if they canget away with it) to silence those who don’t agree with them.
Will we let ourselves be torn to pieces by ideas and thoughts flung about by Strongmen and Ruthless Ruler? It always ends the same way. They reign with terror tearing down and destroying anything good and wholesome a country or group of people has managed to achieve, turning on those who turn against them, annihilating anyone or anything who dares to question them. They tell their followers they have been sent here on a divine mission, they have been sent by God, or indeed, they are God and everyone must bend down before them.
It is for this reason I will highlight parts of Laozi’s book written so many centuries earlier. A man who was believed by the people to be a god and worshipped, though I suspect Laozi would have tolerated this as a bit foolish…he knew he was a man with faults and foibles…that is what his teachings are about navigating the stream we call ourselves full of faults and foibles, wisdom and knowledge, danger and destruction. He advocated the middle way. His system of thinking would serve modern men and women well right now in the dangerous tides we ourselves have created and now must swim.
Here is his first chapter of his masterpiece of thinking animated with modern images and music from our time now.
Chapter 1 — Tao Te Ching
First Archetypal Animation & Stanza
The tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.
Second Archetypal Animation & Stanza
The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of creation.
Third Archetypal Animation & Stanza
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery. By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.
Scott Simon talks with Hernan Diaz about his novel, “Trust.” It tells the story of a New York tycoon who takes advantage of the 1929 crash, and his attempts to rewrite and control his own story. In this interview, Diaz tells Scott that power is the ability to bend reality and shape what others perceive as real. Power imposes someone else’s reality onto others. Wealth and money (and the desire to get more money) does this to people. They burn with the desire to have more of that kind of power over others. Great fortunes create a reality in and of themselves that others are eager to have a part or piece of.
From workplaces to schools to national governments, leaders everywhere are being called on to solve complex problems with humility and bravery. This hour, we consider what it takes to be a leader. Guests include executive coach Patrice Gordon, organizational psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, and educator Shabana Basij-Rasikh.
I found the first interview particularly compelling as the speaker relates our ancient programming to have strong men leading a tribe or clan. These were times when groups were small and all members knew the integrity of every other member and whether they could be trusted or not. However, as our small bands and groups of people surviving together against vast and overwhelming odds have grown into vast civilizations, the qualities of a good ruler have shifted tremendously.
A good ruler today does not act on gut instinct, as would have been the right thing to do 10,000 years ago. A good ruler today actually must go against gut instinct to grasp the greater complexities of our modern realities and make more calculated, incremental moves that benefits all members of the collective, even those who are against the leader. But as people electing who to rule us, we are still vastly informed by our own gut instincts and emotions choosing ruler who we feel we could have beer with rather than rulers who could stare down the missile silo of a narcissist idiot threatening to use nuclear weapons on the world.
“The World Economic Forum annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, 2019 – an exclusive event where the world’s richest and most powerful people get together to solve the world’s problems. I was there when David Attenborough, you know, was showing his new film. The Garden of Eden is no more. Beautiful – you know, absolutely beautiful, stunning footage of how we’re wrecking the planet. And people were literally crying while they were seeing it. And I was thinking, but, guys, you arrived here in your private jets.”
Why does Russia's massive and powerful military force continue to struggle against a smaller, less well-equipped opponent? Journalist David Volodzko wrote about this in a recent piece in The Daily Beast titled "The Embarrassing Truth Behind Putin's War Failures." He says the Russians appear not to have internalized the lessons they could have learned during other conflicts, particularly the civil war in Syria, where Russia backed the government of dictator Bashar al-Assad. -- MICHEL MARTIN, HOST
The problem is, in April 2021, I believe, the company that makes the Azart and its owner, Leonid Reiman, who's the former minister of communications, came under investigation for fraud. They had evidently been using cheap Chinese parts. This led to a bunch of problems, including the batteries didn't really work that well. So they've had to switch instead, and they're largely using mobile phones and things of that nature. And this is just one example of how corruption has left Putin and his army out in the open, in a sense, and exposed. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
I think that we all have overestimated Russia's military capabilities. And, I would add, I think that Putin did, too. One point that I make in the piece is that Moscow recently purged 150 Federal Security Service agents, and they sent the head of the FSB's fifth service, which handles counterinsurgency ops in Ukraine, to Lefortovo Prison. Now, there's a couple different theories as to why, and I'm inclined to go with the official explanation on this one, which is that Beseda lied to the state and stole funds. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
So again, as with the radio communications issue, we see corruption coming back to bite Russia. And as a consequence of that, Putin may have gone in on bad intel, thinking that the Ukrainians were going to be waiting with flowers instead of Bandera smoothies - which is, you know, Ukraine's version of a Molotov cocktail - and going in with bad gear, thinking that he had the best and the latest. And so as much as we fell for this idea of Russia being much more powerful than they are, much more capable than they are, Putin fell for that himself. -- DAVID VOLODZKO
Ridley Road | Masterpiece Theater
`Ridley Road' is the story of the 62 Group, a collection of anti-fascists who stood up against the rising neo-Nazi movement in Britain after World War Two, based on Jo Bloom's book of the same name, released in 2014. In the summer of 1962, twenty-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London following the death of her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a brief but intense love affair with some months before. Her search leads her into the fight against resurgent fascism in East London, where members of the Jewish community are taking to the streets, in and around Ridley Road. -- Google Knowledge PanelNote:This is 1962 this movies is about; just 17 years after Nazi Germany almost successfully invaded England.
Please note Chrome works best for the Archetypal Animations in this post.
— By Wendell Berry
First Archetypal Animation & Stanza
When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s live may be,
Second Archetypal Animation & Stanza
I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
Third Archetypal Animation & Stanza
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
Fourth Archetypal Animation & Stanza
I come into the presence of still water.
Fifth Archetypal Animation & Stanza
And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.
Sixth Archetypal Animation & Stanza
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
ReflectionsOn Wendell Berry’s Poem to This Moment in Time
When the forces of man’s collective psyche gather into a maelstrom sending destructive vortexes this way and that into the world, it is hard not to feel as Wendell Berry begins his timeless poem:
...despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's live may be...
Putin blows his devil’s breath from high within his isolated, depressing Moscow tower. A devil’s wind that makes his warrior vortexes go this way and that. Everywhere they go, the leave behind trails of blood, of dead bodies and blown up buildings, trees, and earth. Up there in his tower of desolation, he bloats in his madness as he congratulates himself over and over again about how he is getting away with unleashing his Hell-scape fantasies, deathly desires, and foolish folly into the world.
If you are a person with normal capacity for human empathy and compassion, then it is impossible to turn away and ignore what is going on in Ukraine. And you must not turn away.
We all must witness this wicked madness straight on, just as the Ukrainians are meeting Putin’s little devils straight on. If we don’t want to become like Putin, we must feel this destruction deeply and furiously. And we must feel down deep into our bones all the other tragedies unfolding in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa, Central America, South America, in the heart of all major cities and super rick countries in this world.
If you do, this means you are still human.
Wendell Berry describes the monsters inside us all. And he also tells us how to quell them and to sink into the peace that passes all understanding.
I wonder when was the last time Putin went down to where the wood drakes gather? When did he last lay down on his back, belly exposed to the light, the air, the sun, the stars and breathe in the beauty of this world? When did he last see a heron eat a snake or ponder the peace of still water? When did he last look up into the night sky and wonder about how implausible any of us are here at all?
When did Putin cut himself off from his curiosity, his wonder, his inner grace and awareness that he is alive in a magnificent world with enough bounty for all, if only we would tap into our inner wild nature where the wild wisdom of life runs free with the knowledge there is bounty all, if only we take our fair share? When did Putin become a narcissist blob cut off from his body, his heart, and his humanity? When did he become a monster?
Seventh Archetypal Animation | When Grace Is Lost
Putin lost his inner grace long ago, and now, alone and cold in a forbidding world, he opens a gate for devils to tumble and fumble their way out into this beautiful world. They rape women, shoot children, bomb maternity hospitals, children’s hospitals, and recreation centers where 1,000 women and children huddle in the dark and cold hoping they might just stop their bombing. Instead, they are crushed under the rubble of another bomb.
I hate Putin. I hate Putin’s army of dead and dying souls. I wish the Free World would grow a stronger backbone and kill this man who has become a Dracula overseeing an army of Zombies. But, we are playing on the “civilized” game board, while Putin plays on the barbarian game board.
However, he won’t win. He might kill a Hell of a lot of people. He might even launch a nuclear bomb, but like so many Ruthless Rulers before him, he will crumble into the dust bin of life. Ruthless Rulers always do.
Oh yes, they might win for a time. And, they might press their smelly likeness onto other human beings, adding to the blob, but he will never win. His zombies will never rule over the multitude as he has promised.
Evil never wins! At least not for long…not as long as there is life to live. Not as long as wood drakes sail on lakes or great herons hunt and devour snakes. Not as long as a single human being wanders down to the waters edges and wonders why this whole thing exists at all. Ponders why we are here amongst the divine majesty of the trillion billion stars above.
Being Human by Being Connected to Each Other & the World
My friend Karen shared this poem with me. We both feel deep pain for suffering the of the people of Ukraine. We both feel helpless in the face of such evil, and yet, we live…and…in the face of such horror, in retaliation to the demonic evil unleashing death, destruction and horror on Earth, Ukrainians fight! They live!
And yes, they are dying by the hundreds of thousands because Putin is a coward and his army is ill-equipped and ill-prepared, indeed, they are unwilling to wage this war, expect for the beasts he’s imported in and the degenerate ones who glory in the gross and disgusting side of life…the ones who are too afraid to love or to know who and what they really are.
Ukrainians know the price of this evil, and they stand against it, and they are winning! They are winning because they remained connected to their humanity and grounded to this Earth–our home, our mother, our true nature. They show us, the Free World, each and every day how to fight for what is right and how to be better human beings!
“In accordance with Quranic verses and traditions, the promised Heaven and Hell are presently in existence and will be completely shown in the hereafter where man will be given his everlasting abode in relation to his beliefs, actions, and ethical traits. But, there has been another form of Heaven and Hell which can be seen in this world through mystical experiences (shahūd) or they will manifest themselves for mankind in the inter-world which will result in either pleasure or pain. There are differences of opinions in regards to the form of influence and relation that one’s beliefs and actions have on his condition in the hereafter and also in the explanation of Heaven, Hell, and their forms.”
“Your love is like a knife to the heart and a dagger to my soul. You will not be happy until I have lost all control You see me in calm waters after drowning me in your river of drama So you continually…“
Music: Meditative Dreamer by James Kenneth |Shamanic Journey (Healing Flute, Wind, Fire & Drums) | Available on Apple Music, Pandora, Deezer, and other streaming services.
“The answer to the question whether the Viking berserkers are historical or not remains a mystery. What we know about these figures lie in very few materials. The Viking berserkers are the ones who would wear no metal armour and enter the battlefield. They were armorless and still willing to join the battle to sacrifice not only for their clan but also for Odin the Allfather. Legend had it that the berserkers would howl and scream when they fought against their enemies. They were completely different when they joined the battle. These warriors would know no pain and no fire and flame could burn them.”
The Storytelling Species: Makers & Players of Reality Bubbles
In the previous pieces of the Storytelling Species Series, we have explored how individual attitudes, beliefs, and thinking styles can influences our individual perceptions of reality. We also looked at how stories can influence our understanding of reality (inner and outer). We even explored how stories can become shared narratives that serve as foundational building blocks of our great civilizations and complicated societies. We also looked at how other kind of stories (e.g., conspiracy myths) can pull us together and shred our shared reality. These types of stories are carefully crafted narratives created by people craving attention and power and such people make up stories designed to tear us apart and make us distrust each other. They do this because in a civilization that is in a state of chaos and distrust, it is much easier to carve out a group of people who they can manipulate and control.
Each and every person alive today contributes to the quality of our shared reality–at local levels, at national levels, and at global levels. It all begins with our individual understanding of reality (our inner world), which is contributed to our shared reality (our outer world) through our thoughts, words, and deeds (conscious and unconscious), through our feelings (conscious and unconscious), and through our sensations, specifically, what we pay attentiontoand what we ignore. We also contribute to our individual and shared reality through our instinctual and intuitive responses to what happens to us as we journey through space and time.
Many of us know thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition as components of psychological tests like the Myers-Briggs Personality Type. Finding out what our default psychological operating system is can help us navigate the world better such as figuring out what kind of job or career we might be good at doing or happiest doing. Most of us consider this knowledge not much more important than knowing what our astrological sign is. But I suggest this knowledge is critical to understand not only how to navigate the outer world, but also how to navigate our inner world (the hidden world inside of us).
One of the most tragic aspects of being a modern human today is an all out denial of the reality of one’s inner world. Denying the reality of our inner world denies us the ability to navigate it. We must know our inner world in the same way we know the physical world (the outer world). We must know where the dangerous areas are inside of ourselves and why they are dangerous. We must know where the safe and nurturing areas are inside ourselves and how to navigate between these hidden places. Without this inner knowledge, we can feel lost, anxious, and fearful in the world.
This is what crystalized for me the day I met the bubble maker. The quality of our individual batch of consciousness is how we know and understand our outer (physical) world as well as our inner world (hidden world). The quality of our stream of consciousness can be greatly influenced by how we employ our thinking style, or how much we allow our feeling style to help us understand the world around us. The quality of our consciousness can be increased or decreased by the degree of sensation information we pay attention to (e.g., who is around us, how are we feeling around them) as well as the degree to which we are aware of how we are responding to people and things around us (i.e., are we acting unconsciously, in an instinctual way to people and things around us). When we react unconsciously, this impacts how much intuition we can access in the moment.
Our individual batch of consciousness is constantly changing for it needs to be dynamically balanced moment by moment with what remains unconscious inside of us. Many of us who have grown up in modern Western society are taught from very young ages to deny the reality of our inner world. We were taught to do this to survive the ways in which power is wielded in our super-huge, mega system of consciousness. We have evolved these systems of being because they have been super successful strategies to survive in an unpredictable and complicated world. These systems have allowed human beings to dominate the outer world.
When we deny the reality of our inner worlds, we do not to stick out, we do not individuate (i.e., we do not become a singular and unique human being as we were meant to be). We do not grow up to become the person only we can be. By not being unique and different we fit nicely inside our system of consciousness that values sameness (i.e., people and things that are readily replaceable within the system). By being the same as everyone else, we do not draw undo attention to ourselves by individuals who are more powerful than us and who could do us harm. Especially if our uniqueness and difference threatens their view of reality or if our uniqueness threaten’s their power (watch out then!).
When we become a target of a more powerful person, it is bad. We all know this. So most of us go along with the system because it is easier, and we can have comfortable enough life doing so. If we play it right, we can even possibly grow to have more power in the system too. However, do not delude yourself that if you become a person with power that you are immune to the corrupting force of power. Power corrupts and corrupts completely. It takes a great deal of consciousness to withstand the corrupting force of power. This can only be done by balancing power with honesty and humility. Since most of us lack awareness of our inner worlds, it is rare to find powerful people who can balance power with honesty and humility. It is also rare because our current system of consciousness does not reward individuals for doing this.
In addition to being very vulnerable to the corrupting forces of power, when we do not know our inner world, our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being is greatly diminished. We become victims to our own unconsciousness, which condemns us to a life of ignorance that can incur terrible damage to our psyche. This damage is readily visible to other people because unconscious people are much more likely to participate in spontaneous acts of violence that they inflict on “other” people because they have projected that part of themself on the “other”, refusing to see it lives inside them and it is themself they are destroying.
If you think our current system of consciousness stinks and needs to change, the only lasting way to change the system is to change yourself. You change yourself by knowing more about yourself inside and out, which means understanding your inner/hidden world is real and has a reality that impacts you in powerful and significant ways. Doing this can be painful for it means going into the darkness of your soul and finding your inner divide.
If you are human, you have an inner divide. It is what allows us to be conscious. It becomes dangerous for us and other when we remain ignorant of this inner divide because this is how our unconsciousness flows into the world (our shared reality). When it does, all sorts of mischief and mayhem happens. So, if you are serious about creating a more beautiful world, get busy getting to know what is living inside of you–the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is only by knowing all of one’s self that a person can balance the oppositional powers always moving and flowing inside of us. It takes an equal and opposite force inside of us to balance a powerful force. When we remain unconscious of the psychological forces inside of us, we weld power in lopsided and destructive ways that hurt us and hurt others.
Recipe for Making a Better Batch of Reality Bubble Mix
Step1: Finding the Right Balance Between the Stories Rising Inside of You and the Ones Swirling All Around You, Especially the Ones You Choose to Eat
The Bubble Maker
On this day, I biked to the Big Wheel at National Harbor in Maryland, going across the Woodrow Wilson bridge. On some days when I cross this bridge when the wind is blowing it feels like flying. It was on my way back after this wonderful ride that I meet this extraordinary woman making gorgeous giant bubbles.
Earlier that day, I wished I had asked a group of men who were practicing a dance with scarfs that they waved above their heads if I could film them. The dance was so beautiful, even though I thought it was quite feminine for men to be dancing with scarfs. But I was too scared to ask them. Then, on my way home, I saw two construction workers horse playing after work. One held his hands up like a boxer looking for a good punch on his friend. His friend waved his t-shirt at him to distract his friend from landing a good punch. They were laughing…that’s how I knew they were playing around. And then, I knew what the men dancing with scarfs were doing–it was a highly ritualized war dance!
So, when I saw the Bubble Maker, I said to myself… ‘I’m not going to let this one by!’ I asked her and she said yes. We had such an amazing conversation as I filmed her making beautiful bubbles. She told me this batch bubble making solution was not her best batch. She explained each bubble mixture is a little different. Some batches make bubbles better than others, so she was struggling with this one. Despite this, she was a master bubble maker, and I got many beautiful shots of giant bubbles. It was magical in every sense of the word.
Step 2: Synthesize, ferment, and transmute your flow of consciousness.
Bubbles of Consciousness
As I watched her, I thought about a conversation I was having with my good friends in Germany about how the human mind is capable of crafting and believing such fantastic versions of reality. I began to think of these bizarre versions of reality were like bubbles created by the mind. Thus, the idea of Reality Bubbles popped into my mind. Some mind bubbles are very stable and last for a long time. Other Reality Bubbles are inherently unstable and pop almost as soon as they leave our minds. Most Alternative Reality Bubbles will pop soon after leaving the mind because the Rock of Reality is very hard.
I imagined the human mind is like the wand the woman making bubbles was holding in the park. With our minds, we make bubbles of reality that we put out into the world, which are visible through our thoughts, words, and actions. Consciousness is like the bubble making mixture in the bucket. As human beings, we channel and distill consciousness continually as it flows through us as experienced by our circumstances, station in life, visions, and dreams (sometimes nightmares). The consciousness contained inside of us is used to generate ideas that inform our individual actions. Thus, the quality of our individual consciousness determines the strength of the mixture used to manufacture the ideas we put out into the world through our Wand of Mind. It is the same wand every human being uses to put out bubbles of reality into the world, but the mixture of consciousness used can be vastly between humans.
Step 3: Explore, discover, repair, and revive your inner landscapes.
Reviving Our Lost Inner Landscapes
This mixture also forms our inner landscapes, mind-scapes. These inner landscapes are illuminated by the light of our conscious understanding. This is how we come to know who we are. This inner light of consciousness is what we inherited when we stepped across the threshold of consciousness many thousands of years ago. Despite all this time, this part of our consciousness is the smallest part of us. Vast amounts of every human mind remains cloaked under the darkness of inner unconsciousness.
But this is what we are here to do–to explore, discover, and claim inner landscapes by illuminating them with the light of our awaken consciousness. The more unconsciousness contained inside your mind, the less stable your inner landscapes will be as well as the bubbles of reality you manufacture with your mind and put into the world through your actions.
This is why it is important to see more of who were are as a human being, which always includes good and bad parts of ourselves. To make stable bubbles that are able to last through time, we need to maintain dynamic balances between good and bad elements existing inside of us and flowing all around us all of the time. We get glimpses of these cloaked areas through thoughts, dreams, and visions. But more often we become aware of our unconsciousness because we get triggered by the unconscious content living inside of us. They pop up just like instincts pop into action due to environmental stimuli that spurs an animal into action. When an animal acts based upon their instincts, nature has already worked out the dynamic balances over billions and billions of years evolution.
However, as newly awaken conscious beings, we have a lot to understand and work out dynamic sustainable balances. This is hard work and it is far easier to revert back to simpler ways of seeing the world such as black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, and then choose one side or the other side to rally along side. But, ultimately all opposites are inseparable because inside goes with outside, up goes with down, light goes with night. Every opposite is inseparable from its other side just like the other side of a coin. You can cut off the other side, but it is still there…the coin is simply thinner… and that is exactly what we do when we split reality and exist in only one side–we make it smaller. Another serious problem of existing only on onside or the other side of the Coin of Realityis a fatal lopsidedness will result. Living in our huge human collectives with lots of technology can delay the consequences of this fatal lopsidedness, but not forever… that is the Gift of Reality… it will always flow towards balance in the end, and as you are carried in this flow, you will hit the Rocks of Reality along the way.
So, think about your thoughts and how they are turn into actions in the world, which shape and create our shared reality.
I know this is all pretty abstract, but perhaps you will read the story I am writing about this when I finally finish it (Sapience: The Moment is Now). For now, I continue to make these mini movies to help me feel grounded to the Earth and connected to all the beautiful life around me and inside of me. By appreciating the beauty of Earth, I am able to continue gathering inner strength to pull back the projections I have put out into the world. As I pull them back, I find my inner reservoir of consciousness is replenished, which helps me endure.
Projecting our consciousness out into the world is perfectly natural because we cannot see ourselves when we are first born into the world unless we look in a mirror. That is what projections do. They allow us to see ourselves through others.
The trick is seeing: “Oh – that is me!” And, reclaiming that part of ourself that has been temporally lost into the world as a project. This is your power. This is all in my book… but I still must find deeper calm to write again since the latest calamity befell me and my family.
Step 4: Be here, now, that is all we ever have… everything we know, do, feel, become is wrapped in the now.
It is up to each of us to find critical inner balances between the self of the present and the self of the future. It is simply the price of being a conscious creature, and so, it must be navigated. At times, it can be very hard navigating between the needs, desires, fears, and fantasies of present self with the concerns and needs of future self, but that is what we are called to do a conscious human beings who have the gift of knowing.
Following are some of the activities I do that have helped me navigate my inner divide, which exists inside every human being. Often, it comes down to calming down my self-talk (the thing we call thinking and prize so much as modern human beings). Alan Watts often says that thinking is a good servant but a bad master. This is a fundamental teaching of Buddhism that the Western trained mind has a very hard time understanding.
Nature helps us see ourselves in balance with everything else. Being outside, we can step outside of our minds and open us to other ways of knowing and understanding ourself in relationship to everyone and everything else. But to do this, one must be willing to slow down and look! I’ve made a series of nature videos throughout the months of lockdown and social distancing due to the global pandemic, which required individuals to put the well-being and health of others ahead of themselves–that is why we were asked to wear masks and keep distances, not because we were being controlled by evil politicians and scientists. My goodness the stories circulating on the Internet are so creative and more entertaining in conspiracy myths than a Marvel movie. I would ask those flocking to such narratives, what is it inside of you that these stories are activating? If a story you read makes your blood pressure rise, your heart beat faster, your anger increase, who is trying to manipulate you to their point of view? Instead, go outside. Let your own inner truth rise. If you are holding your inner split in balance, you will feel peace, you will feel confidence, you will feel in control and trust yourself to know who is telling you porky (aka bullshit) and who is telling you something real (be it good or bad). Life is complicated. Nature is complicated. We are constantly surrounded by complications and need each other to understand and navigate a complicated world as we travel inside very complicated collectives (i.e., our super-huge civilizations). To see the full nature series, click here: Have You Been Outside Today?
Description: Think about the resolutions you made this year: to quit smoking, eat better, or get more exercise. If you’re like most people, you probably abandoned those resolutions within a few weeks. That’s because change is hard. Behavioral scientist Katy Milkman explains how we can use our minds to do what’s good for us.
Towards the end, Katy says, “So often we don’t understand the forces of opposition inside of us, such as the desires of present me (I want to eat that ice cream now) and the consequences of future me (I’ll have to deal with the extra load of calories and fat that might be bad for my weight, cholesterol, mood).” Through out the episode, she gives plenty of examples where her present me created problems for her future me. She said she found it far more productive to approach these situations as an engineering problem rather than falling back to judgemental self-talk (also known as thinking). To do this, a person needs to recognize the forces of opposition operating inside themself, such as Seinfeld’s conflict between Night Guy and Morning Guy and Day Guy. between present self and future self honestly and fully without judging them as lazy, no good, stupid, or anything else one has been told by family members, friends, and culture about the behavior.
Basically, my take away from Katy’s presentation is that anything that trips us up and subverts us from achieving our long-term goals is human. It is normal. And, it can be handled by understanding the inner conflict and engineering simple work arounds. To do this, we need to see the forces at work honestly and fully without judging them (e.g., I’m a lazy, no good, stupid *#$). Often we internalize negative self talk because we have been told this by family, friends, and our culture. It is easy to label and judge. It is much harder to see our internal conflict, which in an inner spilt due to being a consciousness creature, honestly and to accept it as part of one’s self that must be loved and nurtured just as much as the parts of ourself that are heralded as good traits (e.g., over-achieving guy or gal, bringing home the bacon guy or gal, or anything else we or others label as desirable behaviors).
Watts often liked to ask in his lectures: “Why don’t you know what you want?”
“First, you don’t know what want because you haven’t thought about it or you’ve only thought superficially about it. Then when you somebody forces him to think about it and go through and say yeah I think I’d like this, I think I like that, I think I’d like the other as the middle stage. Then you get beyond that say: “Is that what I really want? The end news day, now I don’t think that’s it. I might be satisfied with it for a while and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it, but it’s not really what I want.”
“Why don’t you really know what you want two reasons that you don’t really know what you’re not number one you have it.”
“Number two, you don’t know yourself because you never can. The Godhead is never an object of its own knowledge, just as a knife doesn’t cut itself, fire doesn’t burn itself, light doesn’t illumine itself. It’s always an endless mystery to itself.”
“I don’t know.”
“And this I don’t know, other than the infinite interior of the Spirit, this I don’t know is the same thing as I love, I let go and I don’t try to force or control. It’s the same thing as humility, and so the Upanishads say, “If you think that you understand brahmin, you do not understand it and have yet to be instructed further.”
“If you know that you do not understand it (dharma), then you truly understand for the brahmin is unknown to those who know it and known to those who know it. And the principle is that anytime you as it were voluntarily let up control, in other words cease to cling to yourself, you have an access of power because you’re wasting energy all the time and self-efense trying to manage things trying to force things to perform (the way you think things ought to be–like Rush H. Limbaugh–lol!). The moment you stop doing that that wasted energy is available. Therefore, you are in that sense having that energy available. You are one with the Divine Principle. You have the energy.”
“When you’re trying however to act as if you were God–that is to say you don’t trust anybody and you’re the dictatorand you have to keep everybody in line–you lose the divine because what you’re doing is simply defending yourself. So then the principle is the more you give it away, the more it comes back. Now, you say I don’t have the courage to give it away I’m afraid. And you can only overcome this by realizing you better give it away because there’s no way of holdings onto it.”
Haunted and the Edge
The haunted and the edge offer much in understanding our inner realities better, but they are often taboo and little understood. This is a playlist created by the Last DJ of Earth who is trying to save survivors of Earth after a global catastrophe. He hacks Multinational satellites to broadcast his musical sermons, working day and night to bring down Earth’s new overlords–the ones who worship money. Consciousness is the key. The Sapience Series tells the tale. Follow Sapience: The Moment is Now for when Book 1 is available.
You are beautiful. You are vital to this now. So, take care of yourself. Stay safe, stay well, and find some time to cultivate your beautiful patch of consciousness for it connects you to me and to all of life and the natural world! This is how we create a more beautiful world by seeing the beauty in each other, even when we disagree about things.
— Myths Are Passages Channeling Energies That Can Hold Us Together or Tear Us Apart
The Storytelling Species: Makers & Players of Reality Bubbles
Part 4 in The Storytelling SpeciesSeries
The truth of any civilization is that it is not a monolithic, inanimate thing. Human civilizations live. They are complex living entities that are fed and sustained by each individual living within it. Because of this, civilizations can die when they become sick or too rigid to flow with the pressurizing forces of time.
Many years ago, long before humans where considered human, the motivation to live together in groups was pretty straight forward—survive. Lots of species on Earth live in groups or herds or packs or flocks because it is beneficial to individual survival. Of course, individual sacrifices are required to live harmoniously in groups. For example, there always seems to be many more low status individuals than high status individuals in a group. However, overall the enhanced survival benefit of being in the group rather than outside of it tends to be a powerful motivator.
The structure of groups and how they operate is determined primarily by instincts. There are lots of similarities in instinctual responses between species because all life has had to adapt to common environmental challenges on Earth, making lots of similarities of group life between species. But, there are plenty of examples of uniquely tuned instincts species have evolved to equip them to thrive in very specific niches, making very unique group structures–consider what it would be like to live inside a beehive.
What Are Instincts?
I will let Dr. Robert Sapolsky tell you about instincts and how human beings are exactly the same in these fixed action patterns as any other mammal on Earth, but also utterly unique in how we use fixed action patterns to do things as individuals and groups. He is a professor of biology, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford University. He has possesses an impressive body of field research and artfully combines his mastery of his field with a charismatic ability to communicate with others, allowing him to make complicated concepts understandable to just about anyone.
This is one of his shorter talks that it is well worth listening to if you have ever wondered about human behavior and why we do the things we do. In this talk, Dr. Sapolsky dispels every myth of how humans are unique and different than animals; however, in each instance where we act exactly the same as everyone else here on Earth, he also points out how we do it bigger, more extravagantly, and ostentatiously than any other animal on Earth, and that makes us utterly unique.
Living in groups is one of the things we do as humans that is utterly different than other animals on Earth. When we live in groups, we do it with pizzazz and with style. We like our groups to proceed in a manner and approach that generates vast, complicated, and intricate social systems that operate more like ecosystems, allowing the humans existing within them to seemingly live outside of or beyond the constraints of nature. No other animal lives quite like humans do in groups–that is for sure. Our precocious ingenuity has allowed us to occupy just about every livable niche on the planet. And when we encounter a non-livable niche, we can change it so we can live there too!
Stories of Hermits
It is possible to live utterly alone as a human being and still survive. There are many stories of hermits and monks who have lived alone for years, decades, their entire adult lives. Many are fabled to do this in order to overcome and master their most primal fixed action patterns. But some simply do not want human interaction or the entanglements that human relationships entail. These are important stories. However, our current collective story is not one about a world populated by 7.8 billion hermits. I doubt Earth could even sustain 7.8 billion human beings living utterly alone and unconnected to each other.
For a modern true tale of a man living utterly alone, Snap Judgement tells a riveting tale titled The North Pond Hermit.
Snap Judgment Description:
There was a legend in central Maine, about a hermit who had lived in the woods, unseen, for 30 years. Then, in 2013, the police arrested a man named Christopher Knight.
Produced by Joe Rosenberg, original score by Renzo Gorrio & Andrew Vickers
Why Do We Need to Care About Instincts?
To me, this is simple. If we do not bring our conscious awareness to bear on our daily lives, we are destine to act based on fixed action patterns (e.g., deeply encoded urges, impulses, and instincts). When we live in an unconscious manner, we do not feel and thus cannot fulfill our full potential as a human being. We live rather as our parents, forebears, and ancestors lived seldom taking a moment to consider if what we are doing now, what we have been taught to do and think and believe, is right for the moment we are living in.
When we do not bring our conscious awareness to bear on our constantly changing circumstances, our preprogramming is bound to kick in and run wild. Acting in this way stagnates our spark of consciousness as individuals and as a species. It can even make us lose consciousness, going backwards as an individual or a group (devolving rather than evolving).
In addition to instincts, human beings (being so darn clever and unique in how we live in groups) also bring cultural precepts, religious doctrines, community rules, and all the decrees, commandments, and directives deemed necessary to live in big, complicated societies and civilizations. We willingly agree to abide by these rules whenever we join a new group or alliance or club or clique. It’s the price we pay as human beings to belong to things we think benefit us in some way or another. In highly technological, modern societies, this can add up to be a lot of groups to which an individual must belong. If a person is not careful, this sort of belongingness can end up sabotaging the amount of and quality of consciousness that can be brought to bear, without fear or favor, to our situations, circumstances, struggles, and challenges encountered in life.
When we act unconsciously to our circumstances, we often fail to apprehend, understand, and act in ways that are needed to maintain harmony in our life and in the lives of those around us. Instead, we often end up acting no better than a troop of baboons. However, because we are human, we tend to put highly creative and imaginative spins on making our lives more miserable and difficult than they need to be, if only we would have brought a little more attention and consciousness to the situation, which would have allowed us to see the bigger picture and understand the interconnections present in all events transpiring here on Earth.
Stories Act Like Glue Holding Complicated Groups Together
So what keeps us from tearing each others faces off (like baboons can do when their status is provokedby a young upstart or lower status member)? What allows us to work together in more or less harmonious ways within our massive social conglomerations?
Religions have long served a fundamental role in creating and maintaining cooperative groups. Sports can unify and unite groups, even pull different groups together in friendly competition. Food is a great unifier too, so is music. And so are stories, especially mythical stories that activate numinous content in our psyche (I’ll talk more about this in a moment).
Here are some of the foundational stories that have helped create and define Western Civilization. It is a list put together by the BBC of the top 10 stories of Western Civilization. Let’s look at a few:
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
Bethanne Patrick, Contributing Editor of Lit Hub, says, “I believe the journey of Odysseus defined a streak of individualism particular to Western culture that has led to much change in the world – good and bad.”
Kenneth W Warren, Professor of English at University of Chicago, agrees. “The Odyssey has provided the architecture for the quest narrative and template for characterising male and female virtue in ways that shape, enable, and limit our storytelling habits into the present.”
Novelist Beverley Naidoo hones in on: “The multiple stories within Odysseus’ 10-year journey home after the Trojan war, while faithful Penelope waits for him and son Telemachus seeks him, have seeped deep into our cultural consciousness. The human elements within this myriad of stories continue to resonate down the centuries, allowing endless reinterpretation.”
Jenny Bhatt, writer and Contributing Editor at PopMatters calls it “the first widely-read political novel in the US” and “the first work of fiction that openly addressed the cruelty of slavery, human exploitation, the lopsided legal system, the entrenched patriarchy, the need for feminism, and more.” It became one of the most popular books of the century – in the US and abroad – and is credited with radically altering the perception of slavery, with many voters noting its influence on the abolition movement. Its human focus and call for empathy struck a chord among readers.
Author and novelist Roxana Robinson says it “told the story of slavery through the eyes of the enslaved, and was one of the first novels to show black characters as fathers and mothers, parents and children – human beings, who were living under inhuman conditions.”
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
Nilanjana S Roy, novelist and Financial Times columnist, points out: “Frankenstein influenced scientists as well as writers… [and] speaks to the modern fear of the creations that spin out of our control”;
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, is “the quintessential story of the modern world” says Roger Luckhurst, Professor of Modern-Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck College, London.
The compelling story of the scientist who brings a creature to life has become one of the most enduring images in modern literature and beyond, and the monster serves as the “ultimate metaphor”, says Lena Wånggren, Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
There is an “uncanny accuracy” says Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History at Westminster University, in the book’s definition of modern tyranny: “Now more than ever, we seem to live in the framework it identified… Even the author’s name – ‘Orwellian’ – conjures up a world of thought control. Its precision about the mechanisms of propaganda and the machinery of oppression has got it banned by every authoritarian regime: they are scared of its power to name horror. It is a handbook for those who want to resist.”
All those who chose Orwell’s masterpiece seem to agree on one thing – the novel’s scary prescience. “Big Brother gets all the attention,” says novelist and columnist Nilanjana S Roy. “But it’s the rest, the eagerness to join mobs, to obey, to hurt, that he caught so unforgettably.”
Or, as BBC Culture Editor Rebecca Laurence succinctly puts it: “The ultimate 20th-Century novel becomes the ultimate 21st-Century novel. Terrifying.”
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
Telling the story of the colonisation of a Nigerian tribe from the point of view of an African, Things Fall Apart explodes stereotypes about Africa and brought to life the true impact of cross-cultural misunderstandings. Achebe said that “this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’”.
The European colonial narrative could never be the same after this was published. “It’s an empowering African novel: it brought African experience to the world like no other African fiction has”, according to Dominica Dipio, Associate Professor of Literature at Makerere University in Uganda.
By changing the filter through which the continent was seen, “The novel showed readers what an African world looked like when it was not being reduced to canned images animated by racist assumptions,” says Ainehi Edoro-Glines, a Nigerian academic. “Achebe’s innovation was to change the conventions of modern storytelling so that instead of seeing darkness any time readers looked at Africa, they’d see what every novel was designed to show – a complex representation of life.”
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
“It gets at the primordial human desire for the story that never ends – which can very easily stand for life that never comes to an end.” Ahdaf Soueif, novelist, writer and commentator, points out: “Many characters, motifs and quotations (‘Open Sesame!’) from this set of stories within stories have become common parlance across the world.”
“It’s the deepest of wells,” says novelist and columnist Nilanjana Roy. “In medieval & modern times, from writers to singers and film-makers, we never stopped drawing from it.”
Critic Muneeza Shamsie admires “Sheherazade’s courage, intelligence and confidence and fact she succeeds, asserts the power of storytelling and imagination over tyranny and terror – a concept which has strongly influenced the ideals and ideas of our world.”
Lena Merhej, a comic artist from Lebanon, picked the book “because it gives a subversive voice to a woman that uses it as a weapon for her survival.”
To see the rest and read all of the reasons why these stories were selected, go to the BBC Culture page (note book images come from this page as well).
We Are An Unfolding Story
One could even say the United States’ Declaration of Independence is a collective story of the highest order and complexity that all its citizens (and even its non-citizens for no country or civilization operates in a vacuum no matter how powerful they have grown) play out every day. And so as it is played out, it is written–an unfolding story through time in space.
Manoush Zomorodi introduces him this way: “And it has been a year of thinking how our actions affect our neighbors, a year of realizing that many of our systems do little for the most vulnerable among us and here in the U.S., a year when the population further splintered over what it means to be an American. And so how do we talk about all this stuff without alienating each other? How do we move forward collectively? And what is our civic duty in the 21st century? These are big questions. And so on the show today, we’re going to explore ideas about How To Citizen with Baratunde Thurston. He’s been working on and thinking about this topic for years. And he recently came out with a new podcast series appropriately called How To Citizen.“
Through this episode Manoush and Baratunde explore some of his notable podcasts and TedTalks. The first individuals he brings up is the lawyer and civil rights activist Valarie Kaur and what she calls Revolutionary Love. He tells Manoush, “I picked Valarie as the opening voice in the podcast series, the How To Citizen podcast. I wanted her to offer a spiritual invocation to the whole idea of what it means to citizen as a verb. And that means to commit to each other.”
Thurston highlights something Valarie talks about, which is “In order to love others, see no stranger. We can train our eyes to look upon strangers on the street, on the subway, on the screen and say in our minds, brother, sister, aunt, uncle. When we say this, what we are saying is, you are a part of me I do not yet know. I choose to wonder about you. Number three, in order to love our opponents, tend the wound. Tending to the wound is not healing them. Only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents, the terrorists, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.“
Another person they highlight is
Thurston says, “So yeah. So to empathize and identify with the idea of hurt and pain and to acknowledge that I have played a role in probably someone else’s life where I was the opponent – to extend that to others, that’s when it makes sense to me, and it’s not just this masochistic endeavor.”
The next person Thurston brings up is Eric Liu (who he likes to call Mr. Democracy).
Thurston tells Manoush, “Yeah, I had been talking about this project of How To Citizen for years in some form, and I saw his talk at TED about making civics sexy again and these Civic Saturdays events and sermons, all this kind of religious faith language. But the faith was not in an all-seeing, all-knowing deity. It was in very fallible human beings and our institutions.“
There is much more to this talk and all of it is well worth your time to listen to in full or to read the transcript if you are interested in a healthy, diverse, thriving, democratic system. But this is why I am zeroing in on language and storytelling. We tell the stories through our thoughts, words, deeds, and actions (or non-actions). We are writing our living systems as we live it.
It is hard to keep a democratic nation. It is hard to balance differences (e.g., different perspectives, needs, desires, beliefs) as expressed and lived by lots and lots of different people from all over the world who have come to live in the United States. In the TedTalk mentioned above, Liu says: ” Democracy works only when enough of us believe democracy works.”
It takes work to keep a democracy. One of the most memorable points Liu made was out democracy does not automatically spring from constitutional rules but from the inner workings of civic spirit–that is us. We all contribute to the quality of this spirit and whether it is healthy or not.
I know it is hard to stay informed and to pay attention to all the things a complicated society like the United States of America requires its citizens know, but this sort of knowledge is important for the system to continually sustain and renew itself. It is tempting to clamp down and claim that one’s own personal set of principles or beliefs are the only ones to follow to move forward. It is hard to compromise and walk another’s path.
Moments of Illumination& Seeing More of the Story
One of things I think the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated is weakness in our existing systems of being around the world. Many of these weakness can be traced back to individuals living unconsciously; people choosing to live in narrow channels and closing themselves off to points of views that are not in alignment to their preconceived ideas and beliefs; people who refuse and are unwilling to see the world from someone else’s perspective–to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
An interview with Kai Ryssal of MarketPlace demonstrates vividly what is happening to millions of people who have lost jobs and feel like they have been forgotten, even thrown away by our current system of being in the world. A brief clip from this interview that drills down on the fissures in our system and collective way of doing things that is doing us in as a collective is the following:
Ryssdal: When we talked last time, I don’t even remember what I said, but you in essence said you felt you had been forgotten and overlooked. And just to break the fourth wall a little bit here, we kept in touch and you sent us a text in January that said, and this is you now, “I feel so astonishingly betrayed by the systems responsible for protecting and providing for our nation.” Do you as a guy on the lower rungs of the income ladder in this country, do you feel any hope that it’s going to get better post-virus?
Cairns: You know, I really don’t see a lot of silver lining. We are so eager to get back to normal that we’re probably going to ignore a lot of the lessons learned from this pandemic. You know, restaurants and bars are already trying to go back to business as usual. Customers, people in general, definitely want to just go right back to normal. And without some sort of structure, some sort of system in place to help facilitate people taking things easier, I don’t see how this is going to get much better in the future.
Ryssdal: But Neil, if a bar or restaurant opened up around the corner from you and said, “Hey, we can give you 25 hours a week,” would you do it?
Cairns: Probably. Yeah. I don’t think I’d have a whole lot of choice, and that’s exactly the problem — we should. You know, providing for people in situations like mine, like those who are in worse positions than mine, to be able to stay home, to choose when to go back to work in a way that is best for them, I think is really important, and I don’t see any indication that we’re gonna make any attempt to do that.
How toTell Better Stories
To tell better stories, we need to see each other–everyone. The PBS NewsHour explores this idea in the rising occurrence of hate crimes against Asian Americans. In large part, Trump ignited and inspired this collective hate to be acted out in cruel and brutal ways. He gave a green light to let this hate rip through the delicate fabric that holds us together as an utterly unique collective–something that has never existed on this Earth below at this level, but only if we can keep it, as Thurston so beautifully expresses in the TedTalk above.
In the PBS piece, it is said:
“The absence of knowledge is a way of keeping people fighting each other.” Missing in History – The void of knowledge of Asian Americans has and is being replaced by garbage – caricatures of Asians being animals, disease infested, monsters.”
“The problem is invisibility. Justice is not a zero sum game. Justice is a fabric that extends across all communities.”
To tell better stories, we need to see more of ourself by embracing moments of illumination (often triggered by a crisis, a setback, a disaster) to boldly go where we have not yet ventured inside ourself, the realms where our invisible self dwells. Sometimes to tell better stories means we need to see the biases we harbor, the prejudices we protect, and the injustices we perpetuate. Other times it means seeing the power we have lost because we have projected onto someone else. But when we see it exists inside of us too, we grow stronger, we heal, we become more whole inside–we grow as a conscious being. When we finally see we are the thing we hate, we can even transform.
HiddenBrain did a beautiful piece on the power of stories in transforming ourself.
Description: The Story of Your Life: “We can’t go back and change the past. We can’t erase trauma and hardship. But what if there was a way to regain control of our personal narratives? In the second part of our series on storytelling, we look at how interpreting the stories of our lives — and rewriting them — can change us forever.”
The Power of Myth
This is the power of myths and storytelling. They show us ways to channel the intense energies that surge inside of us when we are provoked by our circumstances. These energies begin as instincts but what consciousness allows us to do is to sees these energies rising before we act on them. This ability gives us a moment to choose an action different than what our innate instincts would otherwise dictate that we do.
In the heat of the moment, many of us may well act on the instinct triggered. However, when we do bring our conscious attention to these moments, we can alter our instincts in a great variety of ways. This is what Jung calls archetypes. They are mirror images of instincts but altered by consciousness. This allows the energy to flow forward in any number of different ways different from how they would have otherwise contained in nature. The number of variations of rising instinctual responses are as vast as the number of human beings who have chosen something differently.
These are the stories of Gods and Goddesses from every culture around the world. These stories tell about what befell a God or Goddess after choosing an altered instinctual response to a situation encountered. Each God and Goddess embodies qualities and energies of our most primal, basic instincts. Together, instincts and archetypes make up the building blocks of the human psyche.
Jung came to believe archetypes are empty templates that we fill anew each time we alter our instinctual responses triggered by circumstances we encounter. They are fluid, flexible, and powerful like water. When we meet our situations and circumstances consciously, we live mythic lives.
A Few Modern Stories Offering Strong Modern Mythic Images to Ponder
A new Netflix series I have loved watching is Invisible City. The trailer says, “What if the legends of your childhood are living in plain sight?” Which of course, they are. This is a beautiful drama that weaves in the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and its people and animals with Brazilian Folklore entities and deities. Season 1 explores what happens if one of these vital entities gives up.
Previous Post in Storytelling Species Series | Part 3: Death of the Father
Next Post in Storytelling Species Series | Part 5: Collective Storytelling: Who Is Q & What The Heck Is the Plandemic and Anti-Vaxxers All About?!!
The video below is an artistic-musical journey of some of the events that defined and reshaped our shared reality over the past year. It spans natural disasters, disease disasters, and human made disasters that occurred beginning around Feb. 2020 to Feb. 2021.
I began by drawing the sad woman sitting by a fire contemplating something. I drew her early in 2020 before most of what happened transpired. Behind her is a dreamlike landscape, which was drawn some years earlier. However, I felt it belonged in this dream-like landscape. I then wanted images to appear between the flickering fire, but I didn’t know how to choose which ones to draw or feature among all the disasters and terrible things that occurred last year all around the world.
I decided to focus on the United States and found a regional map that I redrew artistically. I found other maps of where fires occurred, where the derecho hit Iowa and left a 750 mile path of destruction, where hurricanes came ashore, where Black Live Matter marches took place after the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis (my hometown), and where COVID-19 infections were rising. I artistically re-envisioned and redrew these maps as layers that could be used over the Regional Map or alone.
I blended live videos of 2020 events (e.g., driving through fire, driving through the derecho, hurricane mapping and video, Black Live Matter marches) as well as murals painted by artists worldwide honoring George Floyd and/or illuminating the collective struggle of COVID-19 into this video montage of 2020.
Towards the end, I include drawings I made many years earlier. There were lots so many glitches in getting this video posted, including having to throw out 6 songs at the very end and replace them since the musicians did not allow their music to be used with anything other than their original videos. I understand this, it is their creation. However, I am deeply grateful to the musicians who do allow their musicto be used with ad revenue going to them (as it should). I have cited all musicians and tried to give credit to all videos and images used that are not my own drawings or photography. I list these sources in the description section on YouTube.
It is with gratitude I offer Mother of Grief — Remembering 2020
Note: The above video is redone due to a copyright claim on one song that block the first version from being viewed. I have removed that song (and then two subsequent replacement songs that ran into the same issue) and replaced it with more gracious musicians who realize art is meant to create and give birth to new art, always. I will leave a link to the previous video because sometimes these claims get lifted.
I completely support any advertisements that the musicians place on this video so any money goes to them. I have never intended, nor ever will, monetize this video for my own profit. It is meant as a work of art expressing some of the dramatic changes that occurred around the world in 2020. It is a year that will be remembered as the moment the world walked through a doorway from which it will never return to the world it had known in the previous year.
How we move forward from this point depends on the quality of character of every living human being on our planet as measured through mind, heart, and each individual’s ability to see the humanity of all people and the preciousness of all life on earth.
Remembering who we have lost and how our lives have changed is important, especially as we prepare and begin making choices on how to move forward as individuals and as communities. Our choices matter. Without taking time to reflect and to grieve for what has been lost, we are bound to go in circles and repeat fixable mistakes in attitudes and ideas over and over. Taking time to remember and grieve is a sacred act. No matter if your life has been impacted in big or small ways, this past year has caused a pause–and Now is the time to reflect, remember, and cherish the precious gift of life–something that is so fragile and fleeting for all of us. This is how we grow and transform by remembering, reflecting, and cherishing what has been lost and using this remembrance (this accounting of one’s life to this moment in time) to make different choices moving forward.
Recently, I’ve been reading a book about the philosophy of the I Ching. It is a book one of my brothers got a long, long time ago. I don’t know how I ended up with it. For years it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. Perhaps I would not have understood what the author was revealing had I picked it up earlier. However, after 5+ years of significant reversals, setbacks, and losses, it really resonates with me today.
Carl Jung said the East charted inner landscapes and developed a deep understanding of who and what we are as conscious living beings while the West turned its time and attention to charting and understanding the outer world. Neither focus is bad. Both are part of reality; however, the Western focus on the reality of the visible, outside world grew lopsided (very lopsided), creating an imbalance in the psyche that resulted in a lost of awareness of sacred inner landscapes forming one’s inner realities. This forgetting has put the wellbeing of individuals in peril, and possibly placed our collective survival as a species, a civilization in jeopardy as well. All hands are needed on deck to heal the chasm created by this extreme lopsidedness; I will tell you more about this in my book: Sapience.
Returning to what I was reading last night that felt like it belonged in this post. I was reading a chapter about the Student-Sage Relationship. The I Ching believes student and sage are one. And, we come to know our inner sage by developing inner discipline and quieting our mind. This is how our inner sage can be heard, understood, and followed for the good of self and the greater good.
What felt like belonged here is the following:
The Sage is polite, but firm in stating cosmic principles.
It is through such firmness that we perceive his total personality as gentle, kind, firm, and correct–one that believes in us in spite of our deviations.
He waits while we exhaust our enthusiasm for false ideas; he allow us to self-destruct if we stubbornly insist upon doing so, but would rather we did not, because, as he tells us, we have the potential for achieving something both great and permanent for the good of all, if we will do it.
While working with the Sage, we feel a nourishing, helpful presence.
If we become arrogant, however, this presences departs and we begin to feel lonely.
We are hardly aware of this presence until we lose it and miss it.
When we return to our path, the presence gradually returns.
It is as if an inner light comes and goes.
By his coming and his going, he teaches us about himself and about our relationship with him.
The book is called: The Philosophy of theI Ching. It was written by Carol K. Anthony who I came to discover recently died in August 2020. She founded her own publishing company and lived close to me. I could have met her had I been a little faster in my curiosity about the I Ching, but time and fate is what it is. Her biography is beautiful:
Carol began her study of the I Ching in 1971, during a mid-life crisis, when she was age 41. Her difficulties made her receptive when a friend, desiring to be of help, introduced her to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching. It taught her to meditate in a way that helped her to understand what the hexagrams were saying. She kept notes of these insights as they occurred. Within seven years she had a complete set of notes on each hexagram that helped friends understand the hexagrams they received. She quickly realized that her notes filled a unique need. Two meditation experiences led her to publish them under the title, A Guide to the I Ching, and to found Anthony Publishing Company. This book was followed by The Philosophy of the I Ching, in 1981, The Other Way, Experiences in Meditation Based on the I Ching, in 1990, and Love, An Inner Connection, Based on Principles Drawn from the I Ching, in 1993. These books interested other publishers and some of them were translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Croatian.
Kojo is retiring soon and will be missed. This was a wonderful look back on a year that turned world upside down.
It was Friday, February 28, 2020 on The Politics Hour when we first covered the coronavirus in any detail. We discussed it again briefly on The Politics Hour a week later. But at that those moments we had no idea how deadly the virus would become and how the year would unfold. We were talking about elbow bumping and hand washing.
Over the days that followed cases started to gradually increase in the D.C. region and throughout the country and the world. And on March 10 we devoted the entire show on the virus with doctors and public health officials and began covering the COVID-19 pandemic regularly.
This broadcast will take a look back at the year of COVID, with insights and reflection from Emergency Physician and Professor Dr. Leana Wen, Washington Post Columnist and Parenting Coach Meghan Leahy, and WAMU/DCist Staff Writer Elliot Williams.
Description:The year 2020 was one of painful loss. We said goodbye to respected leaders and lawmakers, to gifted athletes and entertainers, to people who have inspired us and enriched our lives even if we didn’t know them personally. In some cases, people were taken from us far too soon, victims of a pandemic that has caused death and suffering around the world. And some of those we lost were the victims of grave injustice, cruelly robbed of years of life they might have spent with family, friends and loved ones.
To lose these people is a reminder of the fragility of life, and a reminder to take care of one another to the best of our ability. But in the midst of feeling sorrow for people who are no longer with us, we should also take comfort in the gifts they gave us while they were here. Here, TIME pays tribute to those who left us in 2020, people who changed the world for the better and helped show us a path forward.
The year that COVID built: a look back on 2020
The World Economic Forum put together a wonderful snap shot of 2020 based on what we searched for on the Internet as well as other key moments of 2020.
— Are We Lost in the Garden of Eden or Trapped in an Endless Fairytale
Conflict–what a terrible and yet beautiful word. Conflict is something all human beings must learn how to do from the moment they realize they are a different entity from their parents, primarily of course the mother. In psychology, this moment is known as thePrimal Split. In Judeo-Christian doctrines, it is known as Original Sin as epitomized in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis telling how God created the world and all life in it and then created Adam and Eve to live in it and enjoy it.
But like any children, Adam and Eve inevitably disobey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge; the one capable of inspiring inside of them the knowledge of good and evil. The conventional story tells that it is Eve who picked the tempting fruit after being deceived by a sneaky snake. But did you know Eve was Adam’s second wife?
Eve was Adam’s second wife. Adam had a secret first wife whom God created at the same time and in the same way as Adam. She was his equal and opposite in every way. Her name was Lilith. History mostly remembers her only as a demonic figure. One must look to medieval Jewish tradition to find where Lilith is remembered as Adam’s first wife, before Eve. However, when Adam insisted, she play a subservient role, Lilith grew wings and flew away.
I suspect what really happened in the Garden of Eden was entirely all too human. Upon getting his new beautiful, obedient but docile wife–certainly not his equal–Adam carried on an affair with Lilith. Eve never caught on, but God did. The only snake in this story is Adam’s manhood, and God was mad for his transgression for he created Eve for Adam on one condition to be faithful to her and Adam disobeyed. So, he had no choice but to throw Adam and Eve out of Eden. Lilith having transformed into a different sort of being, simply flew away.
The First Mortal Conflict
So here we are: humans of the world left to find our way forward after the dramatic fall from Eden due to the first conflict of the world! A parent-child conflict, of course, just as the Primal Split is a primal parent-child conflict awakening the psyche to consciousness, but that is another story.
For this piece, I am sticking with the supernatural conflict between God the Father and his children, us. So super charged was this first mighty conflict, discord and strife remain the default mode of knowing in the world.
When conflict is done in an open, fluid, inquiring way, it can illuminate the world between us and inside of us, at least for a moment like a flicker from a spark caused by conflict. These sparks help us see more of what we don’t know about the world, about each other, or about ourselves. When we see the unknown, we can begin to know it. When we know it, we can integrate it into our Field of Consciousness (the part of ourselves illuminated by consciousness–i.e., what we know). This is how we grow our consciousness by seeing and learning more about the world around us and inside of us–most often through conflict.
But conflict can also cause us to get stuck within static, standing patterns of disagreement, disaccord, disharmony, and dissension. These patterns grow instead of consciousness. Over time, these patterns become rigid, unyielding, taut, stressed, tight, solid, and harden objects tend to collapse under pressure, trapping the individual’s desperately trying to sustain and defend them from attack. This becomes a crushing process, a dying process because locked into a standing pattern of permanent defensive conflict, the psyche does not grow and what does not grow in this realm, dies.
I will illuminate two talks I heard recently that were inspiring. I believe they offer opportunities of learning better ways to engage in conflict. This is important to learn because conflict is not going away anytime soon in the human world. So we might as well get better at doing it. I have imagined two common standing conflict patterns that all of us get caught in at one time or another. The first, I call getting Lost in the Garden of Eden. The second, I call getting Trapped in a Fairytale.
Lost in the Garden of Eden
When we come together in relationships, we recreate a little bit of the Garden of Eden inside ourselves and inside of others. This little bit of Eden is a safe place to grow and learn about the world and ourselves. Of course learning means conflict because we are human now, but in relationship, we are in a place where we can be safely seen and heard for who we are–the good and the bad. This is love. Love is capable of holding the opposites of who we are in dynamic balance as we learn and grow through conflict and mistakes.
There is nothing bad about making mistakes or having conflict, except we can get stuck in bad patterns of conflict that hold us down in inferior patterns of behavior, second class beliefs, mediocre ideas, average/commonplace/uninspired ways of being in the world. This is how we get lost in Eden. We let our inferior self lead.
This leads me to the first talk I want to highlight. It is given by Esther Perel about how we can develop resilience in our relationships. I heard it on the Ted Radio Hour.
Esther Perel begins her talk saying, “People want to feel alive in their relationships. And they want it in their friendships, they want it at work, they want it in their romantic relationships. It’s essential.” Esther says this feeling of aliveness is what inspires us as human beings to build trust with each other, to collaborate or compete with each other, to build intimacy and maintain it through time.
One of the most powerful things about relationships is that they can help us weather uncertainty and survive against the odds. Esther says any “prolonged uncertainty …is accompanied with a sense of grief and loss, not because we lose people only but because we have lost the world that we knew.” She explains that she focused her work on working with couples because the couple inside the family really transformed. When marriage was a no-exit enterprise, then it didn’t really matter if the couple did that well or not. I mean, it mattered a great deal, but it didn’t matter for the survival of the family. People stayed together miserable if they had to. Once people could leave, the expectations and the demands from their intimate relationships completely changed. And I found that transition really fascinating.
Here are fascinating moments from Esther’s talk:
There’s Energy In the Room
“I realized that there was an energy in the room with a couple. You could actually see the change happening in front of you if you helped people to connect or to open up or to be vulnerable with each other or to speak truth to each other or to apologize to each other.”
We Think We Can Be Happier: But Really, We’re Just Walking Deeper & Getting More Lost in the Garden of Eden Inside Our Soul
“Today, we don’t leave because we are unhappy necessarily, but we also leave because we think we could be happier. And that is how consumerism has entered modern marriage.”
The Crisis of Desire is A Crisis of Imagination: We Need Each Other to Get Unlost in Eden
“I stumbled upon sexuality. It was absolutely not planned. And I stumbled about it, actually, around the Clinton scandal because what interested me was how sexuality in every society, in every culture becomes the place where the most archaic, traditional, rooted aspects of that culture are lodged or, on the other end, where the most progressive, radical, transformative changes take place.”
“So, we come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide. Give me belonging. Give me identity. Give me continuity. But give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one. Give me comfort. Give me edge. Give me novelty. Give me familiarity. Give me predictability. Give me surprise. And we think it’s a given, and toys and lingerie are going to save us with that.”
“…the crisis of desire is often a crisis of the imagination.”
“When I say that we cannot have one person give us what once an entire village used to provide, what I’m saying is that there is a kind of individualization in romantic love that I think is problematic. Look. At this moment, I’m not just even meeting a partner. We are meeting a soul mate. A soul mate used to be God; you know. But at this moment, people are talking about ecstasy, transcendence, meaning, wholeness, you know, things that we used to look for in the realm of the divine that have now been transcended into romantic love. It was meant to be. It’s almost a divine intervention. It fell from the heavens in front of me.”
“What I will say is that people need community, and they need other friends. They need other people to talk to. They need other people to share activities that their partner isn’t interested in. To ask one person to do all of that – to give me belonging, to give me meaning, to give me community, to give me transcendence, to give me – and then all the other stuff of everyday life – succession, children, family life, money, etc. – that is…”
“Relationships are undergoing massive transformation on all levels. But especially couples have gone through an extreme makeover. There is no other relationship that has gone through so much change.”
The following comment comes at the end of a segment where Esther and Manoush listen to part of a piece that aired on “Where Should We Begin?” dealing with infidelity… the most difficult type of conflict a couple can attempt to grapple with, especially because of the shame and failure our culture tends to attach to it. What Ester zeros in on is something I think all conflicts hold in common and that is coming to a better understanding of each person’s humanity and their individual journey that has brought them into the current conflict.
“And interestingly, when you reach the end of the session and you hear his – you know, his challenges around his feelings about masculinity, about the fact that he could not have a genetic connection to his children, about the way that, you know, he became the way he is not out of nothing. He becomes humanized. You may not like him, but you begin to understand him.”
For anyone playing at being an armchair therapist or just genuinely trying to be a friend and advise someone in a difficult conflict, what Ester says next is very important to remember.
“And that is the role of the therapist. The wife has to decide what she wants to do. And nobody lives with the consequences of her decisions but her. So, it’s very easy to tell people do this, do that. We are not in their seat. We help people gain clarity. We help people there to do the things that they are afraid to do if that’s what they say they want to do. But we also understand that this is a couple that has two decades together almost, that they have a rich life, that they actually often get along quite well and that…”
The Wonderful World Work & How the Bottom Line Accelerated Our Disorientation that Dumped Us on the Sea of Unconsciousness (Now We’re Really Lost in Eden)
Another fraught and difficult realm to navigate conflict is the workplace. Ester says, “When people go to work, you interview them about their official resume – what schools did they go to, what experience of work have they had? And nobody’s asking you about your unofficial resume, and your unofficial resume is your relationship history, and that relationship history does not stop at the door when you go into the office; it travels with you, and it is going to influence how you work with your colleagues or with your father or with your co-founder, etc.”
In a character from the Netflix miniseries OA, the young woman playing OA talks about the invisible self. It is the part of ourselves that we hide from others…sometimes hide even ourselves. But this invisible self is a reservoir holding all our potential selves. It holds our values, virtues, principles, ideals, and ethos–what the I Ching calls an individual’s superior qualities/Superior Self. It also holds our deceitful, empty, fruitless, idle, inconstant, ineffectual, nugatory, null, profitless, shadowy qualities/Inferior Self/Selves. It is hard to underscore just how important it is to illuminate more and become acquainted with all of who we are. It is the only way to truthfully, justly, compassionately navigate our fate, which is all those parts of ourselves still hidden in the darkness of the invisible self. We create Eden in relationship to each other. We get lost in Eden when we break our relationship to each other by letting the Inferior Self take control of our thoughts, decisions, and actions in the world we share together–this is how we create Hell.
Esther discusses how for years; it was very hard to get invited to companies to talk about relationships because it was considered a soft skill. It wasn’t part of the bottom line. And soft skills were often considered feminine skills, and feminine skills were often idealized in principle and disregarded in reality. She goes on to say this changed as transformations in workplaces changed and then suddenly, relationships become the new bottom line because no amount of free food or money…Compensation, benefits is going to compensate for a poisonous relationship. And then I began to think, you know, I would love to go and show how these relational dynamics that I have been exploring, they don’t just take place with your partner, your romantic partner; they actually are part of your relational life.”
A Bad Business Breakup
“I ask everybody, how many of you and your businesses have bad breakups? And to what extent do those breakups and in what way do these breakups influence the way you start to work with the next person and even who you hire? Often, we tend to hire the person whose strengths match the weaknesses of the one before you. I think work is a very rich ecology to explore the overt and the covert, the seen and the unseen relationship dynamics that people bring. We expected more in our personal relationships, but it happens no less at work.”
On a Time of Working from Home Using Too Much Zoom
“So, I would say I don’t think we are working from home, Manoush. I think we are working with home. I am with my family, my children for some of us, my partner for some of us, my parents, my siblings, my roommates. I am inhabiting all the roles at the same time. I am the parent, the teacher, the lover, the friend, the child of the colleague, the boss, the CEO, you name it. And it’s all happening often on the same chair in the kitchen.”
“So, we have all these disembodied experiences. And people talk about exhaustion for a reason – because even the phone is much better, you know, where we actually are in synchronized time and not in a delay constantly. And we’re not trying to look at people with whom we actually never make eye contact. So, I think it’s a very different reality.”
On Losing A Job
“And when I lose my job, I lose a fundamental part of my identity. I thought I mattered because a younger generation has been raised with a deep sense that they are important and that they matter. And I can – I am totally dispensable and nobody actually really feels responsible for making sure that I will have something to eat. I think what a pandemic does for work and for personal is it rearranges your priorities. It makes – you know, a pandemic is an accelerator. Every disaster is an accelerator of relationships. It’s an accelerator because it brings mortality to the forefront or loss – loss of job as well. And at that moment, you basically say, what am I waiting for? I’m going to go do what’s really important.”
Relationships rest at the center of who we are, who we want to be, how we become what we want to be, unless we get trapped in a standing pattern of conflict that can get us lost inside ourselves and in relationship with each other. Ask yourself what relationships are you in and what is their quality, vitality, fluidity, and spirit? Are they growing? Are you growing? If not, why not?
Trapped in a Fairytale
Conflicts can rear up into ugly, unexpected things that tear relationships apart or trap them in stagnant, unchanging patterns that don’t allow for true growth. The trap may be beautiful where every wish is granted—a fairytale. Or the trap can be frightening and disorientating—another sort of fairytale. Both are dangerous because both end up separating you more and more from the hard work any real relationship requires to stay strong, supple, and grow through time.
If the separation grows too wide, too deep, a rupture of reality occurs. We do this all the time when we fail to heal the cracks caused by conflict, but rather focus on the cracks in another person’s story, ideas, beliefs. When we dissect and vivisect each other through constant unresolved conflict. When we fail to take responsibility for our part of the conflict. When we fail to hold the other in compassion and love and trust both people want to know the truth of who they are, who they are in relationship to each other, who they are in relationship to the world and universe. This is how we break reality into a million, billion, trillion pieces that just keep shattering more and more. This is how we create alternative realities, fairytales, where we may have control, but we don’t have knowledge… we don’t know anymore who we are, what we have become, or that we are trapped in a fairytale where we are the author, the characters, the victims, and the victor.
Whole groups of people can become locked inside fairytales, the boundaries of which are defined by one-sided arguments and lopsided beliefs. This is how human conflict becomes polarized. This is how radicalization forms and grows into a monstrous thing like a horrible fairytale.
Our modern lives are very complicated. Because of this, there are lots of conflicts… many, many of which go unresolved and fester. This is what I am calling getting trapped in a fairytale. The trap is inside our own mind and it causes us to lose sight of who we really are turning us into characters like the big bad wolf or Mary with her little lamb and making us ignorant of if we are eat the nourishing apple of the Tree of Knowledge or the poisonous apple brewed by the Evil Queen. The I Ching would say when this happens, one’s inferior selves have gained control are are trying to get rid of one’s superior self… the war is inside.
I really found Adam Grant’s talk with Shankar Vedantam on The Hidden Brain illuminating. I particularly found how Adam talked about two common types of human conflict:
Relational conflicts are inherently much more difficult to see clearly and navigate smoothly. I think every adult human being on Earth can cite a relational conflict that never was resolved and remains an open wound between both individuals involved. This is a tragedy always when a conflict cannot be resolved for it leaves an open wounded inside each individual’s mind that becomes inscribed within the growing consciousness—potentially causing it to grow lopsidedly, which will recreate the unresolved conflict over and over again with new individuals in desperate attempts to heal and continue conscious growth.
Task conflicts are very different actually essential for groups of people who have come together to solve a problem or to implement a collective effort. Task conflicts are how collectives grow the collective consciousness. However, if we are individuals who have not mastered relational conflicts, task conflicts are easily co-opted by an individual’s psyche and turned into a relational conflict, which serves to inhibit and sink the efforts of a group to grow and solve challenging problems.
Hidden Brain with Adam Grant – The Nice Guy –author of The Fool’s Journey
Shankar Vedantam introduces Adam Grant by saying, “Grant is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School. He’s the author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. He’s interested in the question of obstinacy. Why do so many of us find it difficult to question our own beliefs and challenge our own views?”
Adam begins his talk by recounting a conflict where he refused to admit he was wrong
“I think I was 12. My friend Khan was on the phone with me. It was a commercial during Seinfeld and we got into an argument. I don’t remember what it was about. And I just refused to give in, even though he had really good proof and eventually he hung up on me and I called him back and I said, did the power go out?”
On Competing Powers of Self
“And as long as I can remember, I’ve been agreeable. And it’s weird because on the one hand, I hated admitting I was wrong, and I was extremely stubborn. (…) But on the other hand, I really liked Harmony and I wanted to get along with other people.”
The Downside of Always Being Agreeable and Wanting Harmony
“Yeah, I think like everything else in life, it has tradeoffs. So, on the one hand, agreeable people create a lot of harmony. They tend to get along with other people. They’re constantly encouraging. But if you look at the data on leadership effectiveness, one of the things you see is highly agreeable people tend to be worse at leading organizations and teams than people who are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. (…) They say yes to everything and they don’t challenge people enough.”
“…agreeable people are really prone to what’s called agreement bias.” Adam tells how this can be bad: “Cleverly. Where you come to the table, somebody offers you a terrible deal, but you hate the idea of saying no. And so, you say yes to something that’s not in your best interests.”
The Problem of Always Going with Your Gut
“I remember my mom telling me if you’re unsure of an answer on a test, go with your gut. Go with your first instinct. And yet, if you look at the research, if you do go with your gut versus your second guess your first instinct, which is better, and on average, the vast majority of students who reject their gut, they actually improve their scores on average.”
“And so, there’s a fallacy that your first thoughts are your best thoughts. A lot of times, intuition is just a subconscious pattern recognition. And the patterns that you’re recognizing from the past may not be relevant to the problem you’re solving right now in the present.”
I want to jump in here because we have lost so much knowledge of our inner realities our language and shared understanding about it has become muddled too. The confusion between instincts and intuition is one of these things. Instincts are short cuts to reality that help the individual survive dangerous and challenging circumstances. They are indeed triggered by pattern recognition that are recognized as dangerous, life threatening, or life promoting circumstances. Intuition is the ability gained by becoming a conscious being. It allows a conscious person to glimpse into the darkness of their unconsciousness and know something that would otherwise not be apparent or knowable. Repeated glimpses into the unconsciousness might recognizes patterns, but it takes conscious effort to unpack it and truly understand it. So, I would reword Adam’s second paragraph as instinct trying to navigate a world in which it never was evolved to live within… no wonder it gets multiple choice questions wrong!
Test Your Gut
“And so, you don’t want to trust your gut. You want to test your gut. And even when you tell people about this evidence, they are still reluctant to rethink their first answer…” like what happened with Blackberry “I think we can both remember a time when basically everyone you knew had a BlackBerry and they just dominated the market. And then BlackBerry fell apart because – Mike and his colleagues were unwilling to rethink the very things that had made BlackBerry great.” “And they just got locked into this set of assumptions that what people wanted out of a BlackBerry was a device for basically work e-mail, as opposed to essentially a computer in your pocket for home entertainment.”
Big Stakes Can Led to Big Mistake: The Importance of Rethinking What We Know
“Our reluctance to think again can have even bigger stakes in the 1980s, NASA downplayed a brewing problem in the spacecraft Challenger. Since the spacecraft had completed many missions, officials assumed it was safe. But in January 1986, the spacecraft exploded moments after liftoff, killing seven astronauts on board. […] Or take the U.S. war in Iraq, where President George W. Bush and his colleagues failed to rethink their views after their initial rosy expectations of the war.“
The Soup Nazi & the Drivers of Obstinacy
Shankar says, “Adam, I want to talk about some of the drivers of obstinacy in our lives. I know that you’re a fan of the TV show Seinfeld. And there’s a famous scene which features a restaurant owner who is called the Soup Nazi.”
Adam laughs as he explains what drives the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, “He makes great soup, but he cannot tolerate the slightest criticism or deviation from the script. I want to play you a short clip where the character Elaine visits the Soup Nazi.”
Task vs Relationship Conflicts
Shankar recaps, “So the Soup Nazi illustrates something that you talk about at home, the difference between relationship, conflict and Task conflict.”
Adam replies, “Most of us, especially those of us who are agreeable, when we think about conflict, we are thinking about Relationship conflict. That’s the personal, emotional, of us, especially those of us who are agreeable, when we think about conflict, we are thinking about Relationship conflict. That’s the personal, emotional, I think you’re a terrible person. And my life would be better if I never had to interact with you.”
“There’s another kind of conflict, though, that an organizational psychologist named Eddie Jan and her colleagues have studied. Task conflict, and it’s the idea of debating about different opinions and perspectives. It’s potentially constructive because it’s actually about trying to get to the truth. It’s not personal. It’s not emotional. We’re not trying to beat up the other person. We’re not feeling like we’re being attacked.”
How the Soup Nazi Inside Us All Turns Task Conflicts into Relationship Conflicts
“We’re trying to hash out or sought out different views through what might be a feisty conversation. But it’s intellectual. And I think one of the biggest problems that the Soup Nazi had is he could not have a task conflict without it becoming a relationship conflict.”
How the Soup Nazi Inside Us All Turns Task Conflicts into Relationship Conflicts
“We’re trying to hash out or sought out different views through what might be a feisty conversation. But it’s intellectual. And I think one of the biggest problems that the Soup Nazi had is he could not have a task conflict without it becoming a relationship conflict.”
“The moment that you object to his line, that you don’t follow his rules, he takes it very personally and bans you from his soup oasis.”
Less Conflict is Better: A Critical Mistake
“I think the mistake that a lot of people make is they assume that less conflict is better. That if you want to build a successful collaboration or a great team, then you want to minimize the amount of tension you have. But as some researchers have argued, based on a lot of evidence, the absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.”
How We Create Collectives of Apathy: Fairytales That Don’t End Happily Ever After
“If you’re in a group where people never disagree. The only way that could really happen is if people don’t care enough to speak their minds.[…] in order to get to wise decisions, creative solutions, we need to hear a variety of perspectives. We need diversity of thought. And task conflict is one of the ways that we get there by saying, you know what, I think we actually don’t agree on what the vision for our company should be or what our strategy should be or how to design this product.”
Adam’s Study on Groups
“I tracked team performance over a number of months, and I surveyed people in teams on how often they were having relationship conflict as well as task conflicts. In one group, even if they agreed on nothing else, they agreed on what kind of conflict they were having and how much of it.”
“It turned out in the failed groups, they tended to have a lot more relationship conflicts than task conflicts, especially early on, they were so busy disliking each other that they didn’t really have substantive debates until about halfway through the life cycle of their project.”
“And by then it was almost too late to change course, whereas in the high performing groups, they started out with very little relationship conflict and plenty of task conflict, saying, look, before we design a product, we really want to get all the ideas on the table about how we might do it or what it might be for. […] …once they sorted those out, they were able to really focus and align around what their common mission was.”
Where and How Things Go Wrong in Groups: Enter the Poison Apple or the Dragon
Adam says most often in a group, “Someone raises an issue with something that the group is doing, and people behave like the soup Nazi. They react and take things personally.” When this shift happens in a group, then “Everything that gets raised by the other person is interpreted in the most negative light possible. And then I think the other problem is people sometimes just they don’t even hear the substance of the idea because they’re so invested in defending their ego or in proving the other person wrong.”
But Wait… There’s More: Sometimes Conflict Arising Due to Confusion Over Beliefs & Values
Shankar says, “There’s a related idea to this distinction between task conflict and relationship conflict that you explore in your book. Adam, you say that one reason it’s hard to admit we are wrong is that we sometimes confuse our beliefs with our values.”
Belief or Value & the Dragon Scale
Adam says, “When I think about a belief, I would say that’s something that you take as true. A value is something you think is important. And yeah, I think a lot of us make a mistake of taking our beliefs and opinions and making them our identity. And since I spent a lot of time studying the workplace, I really enjoy thinking about how dangerous the world would be if people in the professions that we rely on every day did that.”
Conflicts That Clarify Rather Than Confuse
“There are examples of leaders who basically model what it’s like to have task conflict without relationship conflict. I was thinking of something that President Obama said some years ago when he invited someone, he disagreed with to play a prominent role in his administration.“
“We’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.“
“To disagree without being disagreeable.”
On Correcting Others
Shankar recaps, “I think many of us forget this lesson at and we think that if someone else is wrong, our job is just to correct them. How we correct them is unimportant.”
Adam replies, “Yeah I think that’s such a common mistake in communication. We think it’s the message that matters. But so often whether somebody is willing to hear a message depends on who’s saying it, why it’s being said and how it’s being delivered.”
On Trust, Dignity & Respect
“I cannot tell you, Shankar, the number of times that I have rejected useful criticism because I didn’t trust the person who was giving it to me. Or they delivered it in a way that I found disrespectful or offensive.”
On Threats to the Ego: The Big Bad Wolf or Poison Apple Problem
“Not all of us listento useful feedback even when it’s presented clearly and without rancor. That’s because we confuse challenges to our views with threats to our ego.”
Or Maybe It’s Just a Case of the Totalitarian Ego
“There’s a term that I love for this which comes out of psychology originally Tony Greenwald’s term. It’s the totalitarian ego. The idea is that all of us have an inner dictator policing our thoughts. The dictator’s job is to keep out threatening information, much like Kim Jong Un would control the press in North Korea.”
Inner Dictator to the Rescue!
“When your core beliefs are attacked, the inner dictator comes in and rescues you with mental armor and, you know, activates confirmation bias where you only see what you expected to see all along, triggers desirability bias, where you only see what you wanted to see all along.”
Corner Stones of the Totalitarian Ego Are Obstinacy and Stubbornness
“You can see the totalitarian ego at work in a study conducted some years ago by researchers in Australia. They asked volunteers to think of a time when they did something wrong and apologized for it, and to also think about a time when they did something wrong and did not apologize for it. Researcher Tyler Okimoto explains what they found.”
Adam:When you refuse to apologize it actually makes you feel more empowered. That power and control seems to translate into greater feelings of self-worth. [00:24:41]
Shanker:And in some ways, the sounds like the inner dictator when we when we apologize, in some ways we are disarming ourselves. And when we refuse to apologize, in some ways we are mounting a form of emotional self-defense. [00:24:50]
Adam:Yeah sadly, staying attached to wrong convictions makes us feel strong. And psychologists have also found for decades that the act of resisting influence only further fortifies our convictions. Because we can we basically get inoculated against future attacks. We have all of our defenses ready and we end up sealing our beliefs in an ever more impenetrable fortress. [00:25:04]
Edges of Convictions, Beliefs, and Conflict: Maybe This Really Isn’t Your Fight… Your Just A Scale in the Armor of Your Group Who’s in Conflict with Another Group
“So, I have a brilliant colleague, Phil Tetlock, who wrote a paper about how almost every decision you’ve ever made, almost every opinion you’ve ever formed, is influenced by your relationship to the people around you and by the groups that your part of and the identities that you hold about who you are in the social world.”
Preacher, Prosecutor or Politician – Do You Know What Your Conflict Mode Is?
“What Phil observed is we often spend time thinking like preachers, prosecutors and politicians.”
“Preaching is basically defending a set of sacred beliefs and saying, look, I found the truth. My job is to proselytize.”
“Prosecuting is the reverse. This stance in a conflict is to prove you wrong and win my case with the best argument.”
“Any time an individual or group has strong beliefs. It’s pretty unlikely they are going to rethink any opinions or decisions if they slip into preacher or prosecutor mode, because we already know.”
“We’re a little more flexible when we shift into politician mode. […] when you’re thinking like a politician, what you’re trying to do is get the approval of an audience that you care about.”
“And so, you might be campaigning and lobbying. And sometimes that means adjusting and flexing at least what you say you believe in order to fit in and win them over. The problem is that we’re doing it because we want to prove our allegiance to a tribe, not because we’re trying to get closer to the truth.”
Strategies that Help People Reconsider Cherished Opinions
Shanker asks Adam to tell the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the brothers who invented the first successful airplane. Adam describes:
“Of all the moments in history that I would love to witness, I think watching the Wright brothers argue would be pretty high on my list. So, if you look at the history of what the Wright brothers created together, it seemed like they were constantly in sync. They created their own printing press together. They ran their own bicycle shop. They made their own bikes together. They launched a newspaper together. And of course, we all know they invented the first at least successful airplane together. And I always assumed that they were just lucky to have such harmony.”
“And if you read any of the biographies that have been written about them, if you read their own letters and personal communications, if you read the stories and the anecdotes from people who knew them well, it was very clear that arguing was their default mode and it was almost the family business. What I think is fascinating about the Wright brothers is they mastered the ability to have productive task conflicts without it spilling into relationship conflict.”
It was typical for them when they were trying to invent their airplane to argue for weeks about questions like how do you design a propeller?
They would sometimes even shoot for hours back and forth.
At one point, their sister threatened to leave the house because she just couldn’t take it anymore.”
The Power of Scrapping
“But they seem to get a kick out of it. They called it scrapping and they said, look, the whole point of an argument is it helps both people see more clearly if you do it well.“
“They never saw an argument as personal that their mechanic used a phrase that I think about almost every day. He said, I don’t think they really got mad, but they sure got awfully hot. […] “That to me, captures the passion, the energy, the feistiness that goes into, you know, duking out a set of ideas that’s really important to you, but not leaving that interaction angry.”
Even Brilliant Visionaries Need a Team to Scrap With
“You tell the story of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, obviously a brilliant visionary, but he was also famously stubborn.“
The Problem with Highly Agreeable People
“When you think about your network, we all have a support network that’s usually the highly agreeable people who we know are going to have our back and, you know, really lift us up or pick us up when we’re down. I think what we overlook is that we also need a challenge network, which is a group of people that we trust to question us to point out the holes in our thinking, the flaws in our logic, the ways that our decisions might be leading us astray from our goals.“
Creating a Great Challenge Network
“It’s not clear to me that Steve Jobs did this intentionally, but he was very lucky to be surrounded with a group of people who played that role of a challenge at work for him. […] He was dead set against making a phone. He complained for years about how smartphones were for the pocket protector crowd. And Apple makes cool products. We don’t want to touch that. He could rant for hours at a time about how, you know, everybody was beholden to the cell phone carriers and they didn’t know how to make an elegant product. And sometimes he would even throw his own phone against the wall and shatter it because he was so frustrated with how bad the technology was.”
Cultivating a Fertile Idea Field & Planting Idea Seeds that Grow
“Luckily, Jobs surrounded himself with brilliant engineers and designers who knew how to get him to think again. You have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. A lot of the things they did as part of his Challenge Network are things that we’ve seen people do every day. They would plant seeds.
They would say, ‘Hey, I hear Microsoft is talking about making a phone. How ugly do you think that’s going to be? And if we ever made one of those, what would that look like?’”
They would ask questions like, you know, hey, we did the iPod. We’ve already put 20000 songs in your pocket.
What if we put everything in your pocket? And what they were doing was they were activating his curiosity.”
Taming the Inner Prosecutor: The Sneaky Little Gremlin in Any Good Fairytale
“If you told him he was wrong, he would immediately go into prosecutor mode and tear your argument apart.”
Taming the Inner Preacher: Every Terrible Fairytale Needs a Sinister Minister
“If you told him about your idea, he would preach about his idea”
Inspiring the Curious Seeker
“But if you could ask a question that intrigued and led him to realize that he didn’t know some things, he might then go out and try to discover them or give you the green light to go and discover them. And those kinds of conversations finally got him to reverse course and make a phone.”
Beware the Logic Bullies: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall — Enter Evil Spock
Adam tells how he got the nickname logic bully: “I had a former student named Jamie [who came to me] for some career advice. It was clear in the first minute or so of our conversation that she was already locked into the plan she had made. I was worried she might be making a decision that she would regret. So, I told her all the reasons why I think [she was] making a potentially big mistake. She listened patiently for two or three minutes, then said, ‘You’re a logical.’ She [told me] that I overwhelmed her with rational arguments and data, and she didn’t agree [with], but she didn’t feel like she could fight back.”
The Real Magic Happens Inside
“The curiosity we show in trying to understand more about [our] own views and motivation to change [this type of] thinking. That’s where real thought happens.“
Habits of Highly Effective Thinkers
“There’s a classic study by Neil R. and colleagues [that examines] experts versus average negotiators where they compare what their habits are.
One is [average negotiators] spend a lot more time both in their planning and in their actual negotiations, thinking about common ground and talking about common ground, saying we want to build areas of consensus before we find out where we’re opposed.
They asked a lot more questions (e.g., OK here are two or three possible proposals. What are your reactions to this? What do you like? What do you dislike and what are your thoughts? And that allow them to both learn more and again, signal more flexibility as well.)“
Getting to the Great Ideas – Is It A War or A Dance?
Shanker summarizes: “We often think of trying to change someone’s opinion with the metaphor of, you know, a tug of war, that the harder I pull, the more I can get you off balance, the more likely I am to win. And the model that you’re suggesting here is a very different model, you know, model where you’re asking a lot of questions, where you’re seeking common ground, where you’re willing to make concessions, where you’re open to figuring out how you yourself might be wrong.”
Adam adds: “There are some psychologists who have said we should think about disagreements, less wars and more as a dance. And I can’t dance at all. […] But what I like about the dance metaphor is, you know, that in a dance your job is to get in sync with your partner.”
You Can’t Lead All the Time to Save the Planet!
“That means if you’ve both shown up to the dance with an idea about what steps you’re going to take; you can’t lead all the time and expect your partner to do all of the adjusting.“
“You actually have to be willing to step back and let your partner lead from time to time. And that’s what expert negotiators seem to do, its what great debaters seem to do, and I think it’s what all of us could do more when we have polarized conversations.”
I’ve taken you 40 minutes into this very beautiful and important talk, but there is more. You can read or listen for yourself if you have found any of this helpful. Adam and Shanker discuss how to frame multiple versions of an idea, setting up effective challenge networks, creating psychological safety to get to more and better creative ideas (idea places where people aren’t punished or penalized for offering opposite ideas), and creating group cultures based on trust and respect (critical part of psychological safety). Psychological safety does not mean sloppy:
[00:44:38] — Amy Edmondson is quick to point out that psychological safety is not about being nice or having low standards. We actually need psychological safety with accountability. We can have high expectations for people, but also give them the freedom and permission to rethink some of even what we might have called best practices.
They discuss creating environment where people are rewarded for being nuanced rather than punished. They talk about how to avoid becoming a group that is solution averse like what is happening with Climate Change.
[00:45:55] — “So, let’s say with climate change, for example, if you say, well, we need a whole bunch of companies to reduce their emissions and you’re talking to somebody who’s a staunch free market conservative, they’re not necessarily going to like that idea. And so, their motivation then is to deny the existence of the climate problem in the first place. And I think we should be really cautious about jumping to solutions. We would be better off saying, hey, I’m aware that there are some problems when it comes to climate change.”
[00:46:30] — “We shouldn’t spend all this time talking about why my solution is right or why your view that climate change isn’t an issue is wrong. Instead, I should say, well, given your views about what we should do on climate policy, how would your proposed solutions work and how would you implement them? And when you ask those questions, something really intriguing happens.
They talk about the invisible balance between idea flexibility and inflexibility (e.g., [00:48:15]
Winston Churchill facing down, you know, Adolf Hitler, even think of, you know, people like Mahatma Gandhi, you know, very singular, focused in terms of what they were doing, very unwilling to reconsider sort of the rightness of their views.)
They talk about explanatory depth, which is the idea that we think we understand complex systems much better than we actually do. They talk about the importance and benefits of being a little bit more intellectually humble, curious, nuanced, more doubting, and less dogmatic. These are the behaviors and habits that help people moderate their own views, become more patient with others, and become less extreme. In a time of extreme polarization on almost every conflict of existential crisis to human existence, isn’t learning how to become less extreme inside yourself a beautiful idea?!!!
Are you ready to rethink your cherished ideals and ideas today?
This tells about two women you stood in conflict against oppressive, lopsided, racists beliefs, behaviors, and practices. Because of their sacrifice and courage, our shared reality has been changed.
Description: When Billie Holiday was harassed by U.S. government agents and told to stop singing ‘Strange Fruit,’ she refused. When Shirley Chisholm ran for president and was ridiculed and told she shouldn’t aim that high politically, she refused. On this episode of Throughline, two pioneering Black women, Billie Holiday and Shirley Chisholm, who set their own sights and never backed down from a fight.
This piece talks about personal transformation through work and struggle.
Women Take The Lead In Fighting ISIS In ‘Daughters Of Kobani’
Sometimes conflict is essential to change the world and bend it back into balance.
“So much of the news from Syria consists of sad stories of chaos, of brutality, of war. But a new book — while a story about Syria and about war — brings us a refreshing story of hope, of female courage, and of heroes.“
Quantum Mechanics, Free Will and the Game of Life
Excerpt: “Before I get to the serious stuff, a quick story about John Conway, a.k.a. the “mathematical magician.” I met him in 1993 in Princeton while working on “The Death of Proof.” When I poked my head into his office, Conway was sitting with his back to me staring at a computer. Hair tumbled down his back, his sagging pants exposed his ass-cleft. His office overflowed with books, journals, food wrappers and paper polyhedrons, many dangling from the ceiling. When I tentatively announced myself, he yelled without turning, What’s your birthday! Uh, June 23, I said. Year! Conway shouted. Year! 1953, I replied. After a split second he blurted out, Tuesday! He tapped his keyboard, stared at the screen and exulted, Yes! Finally facing me, Conway explained that he belongs to a group of people who calculate the day of the week of any date, past or present, as quickly as possible. He, Conway informed me with a manic grin, is one of the world’s fastest day-of-the-week calculators.”
There is so much we don’t know. An open, fluid, flexible mind able to navigate complexity and conflict with curiosity, passion, and compassion is beautiful. They world needs more beauty now. Are you ready?