On Aggression – Rory Miller and Terry Trahan

Authors’ note: This is deep water stuff. Mimir’s Well stuff. We have done our best to make it understandable to people who may not have had certain experiences, but odds are some words have come to mean different things to us.

One example: For almost everyone, “smart” implies your ability to retain and apply information. For us, “smart” means your ability to recognize the situation and adapt to it. And that usually involves rejecting irrelevant information. In the normal world, a “smart” fighter will know a thousand techniques and the nuances of self-defense law. In our world a “smart” fighter forgets all but the handful of techniques he or she needs in the moment and understands that under SD law your options are either none, graded, or unfettered, and knows where those thresholds are. In the common world, a smart fighter is expected to be cognitively engaged. In our world a smart fighter is expected to reject that. Sort of.

“You have to be aggressive.”

“You have to tap into your rage.”

“The winning mindset is righteous indignation.”

We’ve all heard variants of this theme. To a professional, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Aggression is an emotion, and emotional fighters make mistakes. Aggressive people get into unnecessary conflicts. They walk into set-ups. When they do fight and prevail, they often continue– aggressive fighters can easily turn a legitimate use of force into assault.

Within a very limited scope, aggression makes sense. For novices at violence one of the big problems, maybe the biggest, is getting them to act at all. Despite years of training, in the first encounter, the hindbrain knows that training is unreal, and wants to use tactics that have evolved over millennia, like freezing. Also, the trained knowledge that one must act with force runs head-on into the social conditioning that ‘force is wrong’ and one ‘should be polite.’ In the brain, conditioning trumps training.

Encouraging and tapping into emotion is one way to bridge this gap. People will do things for “feelz” that they won’t do under objective need.

Here’s a potential language problem, because what professionals use can look an awful lot like aggression and is frequently even called aggression, but it is a different thing. It is decisiveness.

Decisiveness encompasses explosive motion, violence of action, speed of perception, processing and execution, all working towards a goal. The difference between decisiveness and aggression is that decisiveness is aimed at an objective, professional goal: to escape or to disable or to handcuff or to… Aggression is aimed at an internal goal. An emotional goal. Usually to assuage fear. As a rule, novices use force because they are afraid, they use as much force as their fear dictates and they continue to use force until the fear dissipates.

In a word, aggression makes you stupid, not decisive.

And this goes into language again, because being stupid is generally safer and more effective than being passive. And if you equate stupid with uncivilized, well, most civilized people don’t fight very well.

People (talking students here) tend to be very out-of-touch with the emotional intensity of physical conflict. Because of that, most people misread their own emotional intensity. For example, the person who was insulted and felt such a huge rage that years later he talks about the darkness within him, and never grasped that he didn’t actually do a damn thing. Or the common advice that if you want a student to be assertive, you usually have to instruct that student to be aggressive.

On that level, “Be aggressive” might be excellent advice.

For students.

When you are aggressive, you will use the highest force option available* to you and you will use it a lot. As a rule you will also use it inefficiently. When you are using an emotion as the basis and motivator for your action, it becomes entirely too easy to go overboard, perceive things as dangerous that aren’t, and not know when it is time to stop. A force professional must be in control during every step—the initiation of action, the scale of force used and when the forces ceases. Often, when to stop is the hardest call, especially when emotions take over. Violence is a tool to achieve an end, whether keeping peace in a jail, safeguarding people, or throwing drunks out, it is a tool to do a job. When you are based in emotion, that stopping point is not as obvious.

Our experience is that lower levels of force applied decisively are more effective than higher levels of force applied emotionally. Aggression is a very easy trip to the land of excessive force and decisiveness is not. When you decide, you are in control, when you react with emotion, you are riding a train that is not driven by your rational mind.

Essentially, decisiveness may not be accessible to novices and so there is some utility in emphasizing aggressiveness and rage. However, it is only a doorway to reach the ability to be decisive. Decisiveness gives you all of the benefits of aggression without the pitfalls.

*Available both physically and emotionally. When an armed officer goes into a feeding frenzy with a baton, his firearm was available physically, but not emotionally.

Boundary Setting: Emotion Based vs. Strategic Based – Erik Kondo

Boundary setting is a fundamental part of human life. Boundaries keep us protected from both physical and emotional intrusion from others. I think there are two main approaches for boundary setting. They are Strategic Based Boundary Setting (SBBS) and Emotion Based Boundary Setting (EBBS). Most people engage in Emotion Based Boundary Setting as the default. Effective Strategic Based Boundary Setting does not come naturally. It is a learned behavior. To engage in it, you must understand the cause and effect of boundary setting actions. You have a strategic goal that you are trying to accomplish.

On the other hand, Emotion Based Boundary Setting requires no prior knowledge or training. You engage in it based on how you feel at any given moment. Your actions are driven by your emotions. Since everyone has emotions, everyone also has the ability to use this approach from the get-go. Rather than being strategy driven, your goal is emotion driven.

Think of it this way. Regardless of the effectiveness of their actions, all people engage in boundary setting each day on some level. Since most people are not consciously aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it, they are not engaging in Strategic Based Boundary Setting. But these same people will respond in some manner to personal boundary encroachments and violations. Since they are not responding based on achieving a strategic goal, then they are responding based on achieving an emotional goal. Their emotions are the driver of their actions.

In some instances, their emotional goal will lineup with their strategic goal. But many times, their emotional goal will run counter to their strategic goal. Effective boundary setting involves purposely creating harmony between your emotional and strategic goals.

When it comes to Emotional Boundary Setting, there are basic two categories. Actions based on fear and actions based on anger. Boundary violations are unlikely to make you sad or only surprise you. But they are likely to make you fearful or angry. Based on your emotional response, you will react in some manner. This reaction is the essence of Emotion Based Boundary Setting. If you are fearful, you have a set of responses that are consistent with being afraid. If you are angry, you will respond consistent with being angry. The problem is that these responses don’t take into consideration their appropriateness for the situation. They are not goal oriented, they are emotion oriented.

Given that human beings develop their emotions well before their cognitive processes, it makes sense that people start off using EBBS. This method becomes thoroughly conditioned during people’s teen years. If some people are fortunate, they may learn effective boundary setting through modeling behavior. Or they may discover a method that works for them through trial and error. In that case, they may end up using a limited version of SBBS. But more than likely, they will condition themselves into habitually using ineffective emotional methods.

Emotion Based Boundary Setting looks like the following:

You are standing in line and someone steps in front of you.

What emotion you feel is situational.

You could have some degree of anger because someone unfairly stepped in front of you.

You could have some degree of fear because someone had the nerve to step in front of you AND he or she could be dangerous.

If you feel any other emotion, it is likely you did not consider the event a boundary violation. Therefore, there is no need for a response.

How you respond will be a function of what will make you feel better. If you are angry, then telling the person off will likely make you feel better. If you are fearful, ignoring or moving away from the person will likely make you feel better. But in either case, the question of what response will likely create the most goal oriented advantage for you is not part of your equation.

The problem is that if your response is anger-based, it is likely to escalate the situation. If your response is fear-based, you show yourself to be a non-enforcer of boundary violations. You create less external and internal respect for yourself. As a practical matter, one emotion based response usually leads to another from the other person and yourself. The result could easily be a situation that spirals out of control.

Many people, fearing the consequences of their actions, will use a low level response consisting of primarily body language. Unhappy with their response, their self-esteem will suffer. They may engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to justify their response as adequate. They may fault the other person individually, or stereotype and blame the person’s gender, or race, or religion, or occupation, or social status, or anything that makes them feel better about their response.

Other people will allow their anger to obscure the consequences of their actions. They will use a higher level response of aggressive verbal and/or a physical action to teach the violator a lesson. As before, these types of actions are emotionally easier when faulting the other person individually, or stereotyping and blaming the person’s gender, or race, or religion, or occupation, or social status, or anything that makes them feel better about their response.

In essence, Emotion Based Boundary Setting is about attempting to create emotional satisfaction by whatever means available. Whereas Strategic Based Boundary Setting is about attempting to create strategic satisfaction by whatever means available.

“The Illusion of Self-Defense” A Personal Perspective from a Martial Artist – A. Kunoichi

Several mornings ago while groggily clutching my warm, comforting cup of coffee, I came across an article that jolted me awake.

It was an article concerning Kayla Harrison, an Olympian martial artist who was sexually assaulted and abused by her instructor as a teenager. In light of this, the author puts forth a challenge as to whether modern women’s self-defense courses offered by martial arts schools give sufficient, comprehensive preparation to the women enrolled in their courses.

And if not, then what is lacking in the schools’ curriculum?

Self-defense programs in general, have one singular, primary focus: to teach women, who are often viewed as a vulnerable population, to defend themselves in any number of violent scenarios. The scenarios that are rehearsed center around the presumption that a woman could be attacked suddenly by a nameless predator.

Basically, a stranger…remember “Stranger Danger” ?

Theoretical purse snatchers, being held at gunpoint or the tip of a blade, some menacing figure demanding your money and valuables.

Even worse – to be snatched into the back of a dark, unmarked van and raped, or left for dead.

Yes, this stuff happens. If you watch CNN regularly, you can’t help but notice the reports of young women who go out for a jog, only to be found hours later dead in a ditch, with visible signs of assault.

Compassionate self-defense instructors want to give their student the necessary tools to ensure that they don’t become THAT headline. It’s a noble goal, and an empowering one. I can say with some confidence that my martial arts background has given me some survival tools for the times that I must run alone, or walk through a dark parking garage to my car.

But I’m not overly cocky to think that my training is foolproof, nor will it save my ass in every possibility. Because nine times out of ten, it’s not a stranger that’s going to hurt me.

It’s going to be someone I know.
Perhaps someone I trust.
Someone I love.

I walked into a local dojo one summer when I was 22 years old, to inquire about self-defense classes. I wasn’t looking to become a badass overnight, although that would have been a pretty cool bonus.

The truth was, I walked into that dojo, having already been physically and mentally hurt.

It wasn’t by a stranger. It was my mother.

There was a story recently on the news about a 4 year old child that was found severely traumatized by police officers. When they asked the child what her name was, she simply replied, “Idiot.” She had been called idiot so many times, she had forgotten her real name.

Talk about a page out of my life.

I grew up in a house where a hard. ringing slap was not usual. Nor were drunken tirades, the phone being ripped off the wall, blinds getting shredded in her bare hands. Recounting all the names, and all the ways that left a dent in childhood, would take too long to say. Social services was called once by someone anonymous. It didn’t help. It only left me an accessible target for her rage. How dare anyone interfere with her right to parent me?

Self-defense and martial arts did not protect me from childhood abuse.
I walked into that dojo a few years too late.

But I did step onto a path that was necessary for my soul and well-being.
Because I was still hurting. And damn angry.

I couldn’t understand why the parent who raised me, was incapable of love. And why I constantly lived with the sense that my best was never enough.

My teacher saw the mess that was both abused child, and angry, confused adult. He used martial arts to tame my fury and teach me patience, to give me some small sense of self-worth.

He gave me encouragement where previously there was none.

He was 3 times my size, a gentle bear.
Because of him, I began to consider that I had some value in this world.
Or that I could be capable of something great.
And family, well..that meaning grew beyond blood and bone.

I cannot give enough credit to my first teacher, or the people and lessons learned in my time on this still-evolving path. If someone wanted to try martial arts, I would not deter anyone from doing so. It was the best decision I ever made for myself.

I lived alone during those early years, so I was anxious at the possibility of a home invasion. We did sometimes, work on “worst case scenarios”. I think I figured after the hell that passed for childhood, that the next person who tried to hurt me would be a stranger.

I miscalculated on that. Big time.
Because the next person who hurt me, was again, someone I knew and loved deeply.

Not long ago, I was in a relationship with someone within our martial arts community. The relationship moved very hard, very fast and without logical thought.

Looking back, it was a car crash waiting to happen.

He was handsome, charming, confident. He walked and moved with an assurance that I secretly envied. He could be so damn funny, passionate, and remarkably persuasive.

Perhaps too persuasive. He was blessed with a silver tongue, and would often privately boast, that he could get anyone to do anything he wanted.

That should have been a warning.

The relationship quickly took on the boundaries of dominance & submission, both psychologically and sexually. He was an intense force of nature, so naturally he emerged the dominant.

I was eager to prove myself worthy of someone’s love. That invisible scar from childhood abuse was still there, and I was starving for affection. Any affection.
Easily, I became submissive.

The relationship, through a number of twists, took a darker turn. I soon discovered that my passionate force of nature could be incredibly moody.
He showed one face in public to our friends, but something else when we were alone.
Intimacy took on a harder edge, until it was no longer true intimacy, but acts that bordered a gray line between pain and pleasure.

He ended our relationship to pursue someone else. But he decided that he wanted to keep our dominant/submissive sexual relationship, even as he pursued this new relationship.

He was maddenly, charmingly persuasive in why this was perfectly acceptable. He outlined passages from one of Antony Cummins’ historical research novels on the bujinkan, that detailed how the shadow warriors were encouraged to have sexual relationships – the theory being that it would further strengthen their bonds should they ever have to go to battle.

In other words, you’ll happily die for the one you’re fighting alongside, if you’re also screwing them.

I recognize now that he was taking historical martial arts lore and bending it in such a way as to keep my conscience satiated and my mouth shut.

Eventually, I began falling apart under the weight of the psychological games, and my conscience.

I wanted to be deemed worthy of someone’s love, but I was sickened by the fact that we were lying and hurting someone who didn’t deserve it. It went against the code of honor and integrity that we have within our community.

Be mindful of our thoughts, our words, our actions.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being used. There were many arguments and disagreements.
Be quiet, not be quiet.
End things, keep things going.

My conscience was a noose around my neck dragging me to the ocean depths, but I would still be quick to say whatever words he wanted to hear.

No, I won’t tell.

It exploded one night, in a way I never imagined, the last time I was alone with him.

A year would pass before I could even discuss what happened.
And even then, I could only detail in writing.
When I finally gathered the courage to share, I was told by a friend with sad, concerned eyes, that it was unnerving, violent, and that it reads as a sexual assault.

It’s still difficult for my mind to wrap around.
It should not exist for me, not with my background and training. But I can’t explain away the psychological ramifications.

Bouts of insomnia and terrible dreams, which I sometimes still have.
I once dreamt of him etched in stone, a beautifully carved statue that abruptly turned into a roaring monster, chasing me down into darkness.

I woke up screaming from that one.

I attempted to date, but couldn’t bear to be touched. I would visibly shake, cry and have an instinctual urge to just..run like hell. And my dates were nice guys, really.

I spent a long time in a perpetually anxious state of mind.

De-escalation – Dillon Beyer

One of the core issues in conflict resolution and de-escalation is that you have to de-escalate yourself first. Unless you can bring your rational functions on line, any skill you have developed in de-escalating others will be useless. The skill of de-escalating yourself, like any skill, requires practice. The problem we encounter here is that this sort of practice is best done in the environment that requires the skill you are practicing; it’s akin to trying to learn the material during the test.

Given the potential consequences for failure, this can make finding places to develop skill at de-escalating yourself a dicey prospect at best. This is particularly problematic if you’re seeking out these opportunities intentionally; it turns out that employers, co-workers and employees, friends and family, aren’t always excited to be pulled into social and emotional conflict purely so that you could “get some reps in.” Unless, of course, you have a very particular group of friends, which is a different matter entirely.

Fortunately for us, we live in a world with a nearly perfect environment in which we can routinely practice, relatively free of consequence- the internet. Here is a game I like to play to practice personal de-escalation without much, if any, real risk. Feel free to play along.

Next time you’re in an impassioned debate online, when there’s someone who’s COMPLETELY wrong on the other side of the debate, and you’ve got a good boil going, walk away.

It has to be a debate you’re invested in, on a topic that you really care about. If you don’t have any skin in the game, it’s easy to leave, and you won’t get anything out of it. Make sure it’s a discussion you *really* want to win. The reward will be directly proportional to the ante.

Don’t tell them you’re leaving. Don’t make any parting comment, or any attempt to save face or get in the last word. Just go radio dark.

Don’t go back and look at how the discussion is going without you. See if you can avoid “checking in” altogether.  Make a clean break.

This is the fun part of the game: notice how it makes you feel. Notice your impulses, justifications, and how you rationalize them.

Is there a narrative you create to address any feelings about this you might have? What parts of your brain light up, and how do you deal with that? If you find yourself coming up with strategies to make it easier, can you play without them? Can you just watch the process happen internally without needing to address it?

If played honestly, I think this can help those of us who tell ourselves that we would never get caught up in this sort of nonsense, that we’re not subject to the same impulses as everyone else (those of us who are special snowflakes). If you play with a topic you actually care about, it’s a safe environment to watch your own processes run.

This seems particularly useful if you’re the sort of person who avoids escalation and monkey-dance games primarily by not caring about the people or topics involved. For those of us who are inclined in that direction, the monkey gets triggered infrequently, but that means we may actually have less practice addressing it when it does. If you’ve convinced yourself you’re not subject to a particular weakness, you’ll have a much harder time building the skillset necessary to navigate those waters if (or more likely, when) you find yourself in them.

Burnout – Jeffrey Johnson

The first 2 times I attempted to write this piece, I couldn’t. Writing about the burnout I had experienced literally brought back the brain fog, the emotionally drained state of mind that dragged my body down with it, the ocean of grief and guilt I was drowning in during the worst months and years of my life.

In late 2011, I was working in a dysfunctional behavior school, separated from many of the teacher-counselors from my previous school who I viewed as family. This included my teaching partner Callahan, who became a brother and best friend through some really great and difficult times. I was feeling out of place, angry, and disrespected by the leadership of the organization for various reasons.

Then, in October, my maternal grandmother suffered a major stroke that paralyzed her on the left side of her body. We’d grown much closer after the passing of my mother in 2009, and all the grief I’d swallowed down so I could function during mom’s death was resurfacing uncontrollably in the ER and eventually the ICU of Hillcrest Hospital, watching with uncertainty while my gentle and loving Gramma was hanging on by a thread. By Thanksgiving, I found myself in a depressed stupor and barely able to talk.

By day I was getting cursed out, roughed up in physical restraints, and generally extremely frustrated by problematic leadership and in the evenings I was watching my grandmother’s body and mind betray her bit by bit. I remember when her dementia started, when she had confused me with my younger brother. I thought this was her usual confusion of my name with my brother’s or my uncle’s name. It wasn’t. She really thought I was Micah and she realized it. “Oh Lord, I’m losing my mind…” It was like another knife in an already gaping emotional wound.

To top it all off, I’d failed at romance once again and descended into a spiral with self medication. Every evening I lived in a cloud until bedtime. I stopped hanging out with most of my friends and wasn’t returning calls. When I did talk to them and they asked how I was doing, I was always “fine man, I’m good.”

I was dealing with grief, trauma, loneliness, financial hardship, and embarrassment that I couldn’t get things to work right. Eventually, I was burned out.

Burnout feels just like it sounds. It’s like your insides are literally charred and smoldering-your brain, your lungs, your heart, your gut. It feels like your whole Self is balled up and buried under layers of confusion and loss.

Eventually I retreated into the computer room as a daily routine. I drank and smoked and escaped into random YouTube videos and whatever else you find on the interweb once the rabbit-hole has sucked you in.

The shame you experience makes it really difficult, because you won’t reach out for help, or talk to someone about how you are feeling, for the most part. It wasn’t until a couple of friends were hearing how bad a time I was having and suggested I take leave from work that I decided to talk to anyone. I had to talk to a counsellor and get assessed in order to request FMLA, which I ended up not needing since I had so much sick-time left to use.

If you see yourself in what I just described, you are burnt out and it is affecting your work and your social life. It is making you hard to live with. It is sucking all the motivation out of you and making you a slave to your problems. It’s causing you to be complacent about your health, your finances, your long term goals and dreams. I’m not blaming you at all. I just want you to be real about how badly this is crushing you. I want you to pull out of the nosedive.

You have probably lost interest in things you used to enjoy. You probably lose patience quicker than you used to. You probably feel like there’s nothing you can do to change work, or home, or whatever other situation there is. You are probably doing a lot of escaping into nostalgia, trying to get a hold of feelings from a bygone time when things were easier (Youtube videos of old Transformers episodes was where I went. My mother used to like to watch that with my brother and I). Escaping is probably making you ignore some very real obligations like paying college loans or doing cleaning around the apartment. You are literally sick right now. You need to get healthy and you need to be proactive and assertive about that.

We work in crisis. We see blood, urine, feaces and phlegm. We get screamed at and threatened, experiencing the vicarious trauma that comes with dealing with traumatized clients and mental health consumers. Our bodies crash into other bodies, bone hitting bone and flesh twisting and skin rubbing off on concrete. We examine the scars we get in the mirror and try to sort out the thoughts and feelings. And we are expected to bounce right back from every episode like we aren’t affected. We see things that we can’t unsee. We often feel like no one could relate to our stories. That is sometimes the case. We have to be aware that it’s easy to martyr ourselves and that being a martyr is not heroic. It’s messing up your access to a life that has a lot of beauty and goodness in it.

It’s making you sloppy on the job as well. People are counting on you to keep them safe, whether they are your colleagues, clients, or the general public. You have to operate within very strict protocols on the job-program rules, state and federal laws,Medicaid billing, etc. If you are getting sloppy you can make a career ending mistake, or a mistake that gets you or someone else hurt or killed. If you find yourself not caring, you need to step away.

You are going to have to do some things you might not normally do or have never done before.

Go camping. Start taking yoga. Paint. Write poetry. Find a support group and talk to other people who know what you are going through. Eat whole foods. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Take walks often. Go to the art museum. Visit friends and family you don’t often get to see. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Drink more water. Go hear a live band. If you are religious at all, find a good house of worship with a good community. GET ENOUGH SLEEP.

I bet everything I suggested is stuff you already know to do.

When you are burnt out you get stubborn. You’re stubborn because you feel like that will protect you. You are in survival mode, and survival mode is only good for dealing with imminent danger. You do anything that confirms the world view that nothing can change, that all is basically lost. It’s basically emotional self-harm. You make statements and engage in behaviors that perpetuate the burnout. You know you are doing it, too. You have to interrupt it. You have to do something new. It will be uncomfortable at first, mainly because you are challenging your own personal reality, the story you tell yourself about who you are and what the world is like. You are confronting all the terrible things you tell yourself because of the terrible things you have endured.

Don’t self-medicate as a long-term strategy, it doesn’t work. Don’t rely on a new lover to rescue you from your thoughts and feelings, you’ll be sorely disappointed if they let you down. Also, if you attract someone in that state, you are probably attracting someone going through the same stuff. That’s a lot of unhealthy stuff in a relationship. Don’t stay up til 3am every night. The lack of sleep is making you more depressed, and it’s messing with your metabolism. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t stick it out at a job if you don’t have to. Don’t stay indoors all-day, everyday. Don’t ignore it when your friends and family tell you they are worried about you. Don’t avoid sunshine and fresh air.

Again-you know all of this. You have to get proactive. You have to make the changes.

I don’t self-medicate at all any more. I workout every other day. I am stretching my hands into as many spaces for training in and teaching martial arts and self defense as I can so I can do what I love and earn cash in the process. I am staying close to people with high energy and lots of ambition. I’m not trying to press religion on anyone, but for me that helps to order my existence and have something firm to stand on when everything else feels like it’s going haywire (it usually just feels that way). I get outside when the sun is shining as much as I can. I take B Complex vitamins and Omega 3 supplements. I drink lots of water. I get lots of rest. I hang out with friends who keep encouraging me to be my best self. Otherwise that burnout from 5 years ago will creep back into my consciousness again, wreaking havoc on my internal process and progress. Life is not perfect, but I’m more clear headed about what I can do to make the best of what I have. I feel the bad stuff resurfacing every few days, but I’m a lot better at pushing past it to do something-anything-productive and healthy.

You know this stuff. And if you didn’t know, I hope this gives you some ideas so that you can manage your burnout and rise above it.

What I experienced cost me relationships, shot holes in personal goals, and left me feeling like a loser. If this is where you are, you have power to change it. It may take a gargantuan effort. It may take a longer time than you planned. It may guide you in completely different directions than you planned. That’s fine. Be open to the process. It’s ok to have weaknesses. It’s ok to fail. It’s not ok to quit on yourself. Burnout convinces you it’s over, or close to over. But you still have power. Use it.

Anger, Belief, Moral Framework and Conflict Part III, Marc Mac Young

I’m going to direct you to the works of Dr. Jonathan Haidt; professor of social psychology, one of the formulators of Moral Foundation Theory and author of the book Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.

(Great book, I highly recommend it. It was a pivotal for the direction I’m taking Conflict Communications. You can find audio and video on moral foundation theory on the web. You can also get Righteous Mind on audio.)

The premise of moral foundation theory is established (or if you will traditional) forms of morality are based on five universal, but different foundations. These five are:
1- Harm/care
2- Fairness/cheating
3- Loyalty/betrayal
4- Authority/subversion
5- Sanctity/degradation

I’m not going to go into these five too deeply because the focus of this article is conflict arising from differing moral systems. (Besides, go read/listen to the book). I will tell you there’s a sixth, and prospective new member to the list. And I personally think number six is a big source of sanctimonious rage.

But, before we talk about that new kid on the block, I want to stress that these five exist in all traditional, historic and established systems of morality. That ‘… these five exist…’ is very simple sentence, but it has very deep in implications. One of them is having all five, is very much the basis of what I said earlier about the size of the gap between positions. While not being on the same page, having all five at least puts people from traditional systems in the same book. No matter how differently they interpret these or what they emphasize. Now granted there still can be some nasty differences, but there’s a new problem strolling the streets these days. Worse, it’s got its sleeves rolled up and is looking for fights. It has to do with how many foundations (or as I call them, pillars) someone’s moral system has.

But before we get to that, let’s keep looking at the results of having five. When a system has all five we find long-term, stability. Even thought different systems emphasize different interpretations, these five pillars all balance each other out, both limiting and supporting each other. Yes different groups emphasize them differently, but the presence of the five creates a stabilizing internal system of checks and balances. This stability — even though it may change over hundreds of years — is what has allowed these systems to continue a thousand or more years. Whether you agree with the system’s beliefs or not, they have an impressive track record of sustainability. A track record new ideas do not have.
Also notice these checks and balances start out in the pillars themselves. Harm/care is two sides of the same coin. Who do you take care of and who do you harm? Who is it wrong to harm (and you must take care of)? In comparison who is it okay to hurt? Also what harm do you bring onto those who harm the ones you’ve deemed need care? In other words: Who do you give priority to in harm/care?
It’s not a simple question.

I’ll give you a very powerful, example. Abortion. The Pro-Abortion position puts the well-being and rights of woman first. Assessing that in the first trimester the fetus isn’t ‘alive, ‘ the woman is more important — including the effects having a child will have on her life and opportunities. This position holds that abortion is not murder and it protects the woman. The Pro-Life position puts the well being and rights of the child first. Assessing the fetus is ‘alive’ and a child from inception, this position holds that abortion is murder. And speaking of murder, people have died over differences in convictions on this subject.
Wow, irreconcilable differences, right?
But instead of focusing on the difference, look at the similarities. Both sides are very concerned about the harm done to their chosen priority. Both are arguing over their different answers using the metaphysical question of “when does human life begin?” And most of all, both are absolutely convinced of the morality, virtue and truth of their position.

Someone’s position on this subject is less important than recognizing the underlying dynamics. When harm/care situations are reduced to black and white someone is going to be helped, someone else is going to be hurt. Who is it going to be? That is the core component of what the fight is over. And how someone can feel morally superior with whatever position they take — because after all, they’re keeping someone from being harmed. Being able to both see this and how the same thing affects your position is a very important skill for negotiation and compromise. And, just as importantly, for recognizing an entrenched and unreasonable position — including your own.
Having said all this, I’d like you introduce you to the new kid on the morality block: Liberty/ oppression.

Although many Moral Foundation Theory proponents will tell you Liberty/oppression is very much a ‘made member,’ I still look at this sixth as a prospect. That’s because the other five are global. All human societies and long running moral systems have them. Liberty/oppression is still both localized and, realistically, not all the bugs are worked out — especially because so many individuals are setting their own standards about their ‘rights’ and freedoms.
This requires a side track. Simply stated humanism is a concept that was introduced into Western thought only a few hundred years ago. Now in American terms, that may seem like long ago, but it’s really not. Remember we’re comparing it to established systems that have lasted over a thousand, if not thousands of years. Yes, humanism has strongly influenced Christianity (especially the Protestant versions) in the last 300 years. And yes, it can go off on it’s own form of secular morality (while lacking divine providence, it can be unquestionable authority to true believers). But what we don’t understand is concepts like egalitarianism, liberty, equality, freedom and rights (for everyone) — ideas we’ve been conditioned to take for granted as self-evident truths, and in some cases #THETRUTH — are in fact, extremely Western-centric.

There’s a few problems with this. First we fail to realize that our acceptance of humanism is a belief system. (It is no more scientifically demonstrable as any other religion.)

Second, as implied in the previous sentence, it can be turned into a religion. (That religion requires the worship of a ‘supreme being’ is another Western conceit). This second point opens the door to orthodoxy, dogma, interpretation, heresy and sects within humanism.

Third, we don’t realize when we start going on about humanistic beliefs (equality, human rights, liberty, etc.,) the rest of the world looks at us like we’ve grown a second head. That is not a shared frame of reference. For example, they see nothing wrong with inequality and racism. (Or as my favorite quote from Star Trek DS9 goes, “Oh no! We Ferengi aren’t against oppression. We just want to be the ones doing it.”) In order to believe there is something wrong with those, you have to be coming from a humanistic perspective.

Fourth, humanistic based morality can be twisted into my rights and freedoms are sacrosanct — and I get to decide what those are and what they mean. That last is a very short step from there to the source of chronic rage over perceived oppression and wrongs. Which brings us back to using Liberty/oppression as a basis for morality…

What do rights and freedom mean to you? What do they mean to someone else? Often individuals’ interpretation of their freedom becomes a form of zealotry regarding their selfishness. If they perceive you are infringing on their freedom to do as they will, they will come at you tooth and claw. You have no right to tell them what to do. While we’re at it, you have no right to judge them or to try to stop them.

But this is an incredibly one way street. You can’t judge them, tell them how to live their lives or tell them what not to do. You don’t have that right, but they do. They can judge and condemn you in a heartbeat. This behavior is especially common among those who feel oppressed or victimized by events in the past. In more extreme cases you can see this taken to where a person feels that it is his right to break the law (including assaulting you) because of past and currently perceived oppression.

Basically you’ll find this kind of sacred outrage comes in two basic flavors:
1) those that will act on their own and
2) those who act through proxies.

Either way, they’ll come at you with righteous rage. Not only do they attack, but they act in the absolute conviction they are morally justified in doing so. You have wronged them. According to their moral standards, you deserve it.
Someone who is acting in moralistic rage cannot be ‘reasoned’ down, nor can they be appealed to. At the apex of their rage they can only be deterred or stopped (as in physically). This is not a bluff, you have to be ready, willing and able to do it. If you aren’t they’ll see it and just escalate beyond what you’re willing to do. Acting as if you are or using your authority as a shield is another good way things can go bad. But especially do not try to shame them; that is a tactic that will blow up in your face.

That does not mean however they cannot be stopped — especially before they get a full head of steam. The question is how far down that road are they? Someone who is acting from anger is easier to deal with than someone who is acting out of fury. Someone who is being hostile is different than someone who is being verbally or emotionally abusive. Someone who is verbal is a on a different level than someone who is being physical.

Therefore the issue isn’t if that’s what they are doing, it’s how far down the road is it? This is going to have major influence on what it is going to slow it down, much less stop it. That is important, because you’re not going to be able to change the mind of someone in this state, all you can do is limit the damage they do or — more practically — persuade them to leave you alone.

Worse, if they can ‘win’ on their own, they’ll run to human resources, administration or other authorities to do it for them. In extreme cases they’ll doxx you, organize a protest, vandalize your property and stalk you — all with clear conscious and moral certitude. Again, you deserve it. In case you haven’t guessed it there’s a strong connection between the rising victimhood culture and this kind of anger based morality. They were wronged, therefore what they are doing is justified.

When it comes to zealots you will find a greater numbers among individuals whose moral frameworks function on only one or two foundations. In fact, let’s call them — uber-pillars. These are foundations that have been blown out of proportion and to the exclusion of others. No other pillars matter as much as what they’ve focused on. For example someone obsessed with Liberty/oppression often has no respect for authority (Authority/subversion foundation). The only moral authority they recognize is themselves. The rules don’t apply to them. That’s if they’re not aiming for subversion (overthrow).

For example, what will be the morality of someone whose entire moral framework is predicated on Liberty/oppression and Harm/care? What rules (much less laws) will that person be willing to break because of perceived wrongs and injustices? How much anger and fury will that person carry at the world? A world so obviously wrong and hurtful? A world that deserves to be hurt back. We tend to think of fanatics in terms of religion, but secular ideologies can become just as extreme and harmful.

Earlier in this article I said, ” In some situations not only isn’t negotiation not going to work, there’s a good chance trying will make things worse. ”

Those lines should make a whole lot more sense now. But let me state, trying to compromise with someone intent on hurting you is not impossible. What you’re negotiating for takes on a different shape though.

I will also say the definition of ‘good faith negotiations’ change when dealing with people whose morality either condones your destruction or doing you harm. They aren’t playing for a win/win. They’re playing of a win/lose. And just so you know, their version of winning is you losing. Many of them are willing to sacrifice for that goal. For example in a work situation they may lose their job, but if they can get you in trouble that’s still a win — at least in their book.

Recognize that with such a personality, the best compromise is a draw. In a one time situation, you both walk away still breathing and go on living your lives. In a more long-term situation, you both withdraw to and stay on your respective sides of the street. You do not tolerate, but neither do you transgress over those boundaries. If forced to deal with one another, both you remain formally polite so as not to trigger a negative response that would have unwanted consequences.

We’ll talk more about how to handle such folks next time

Anger, Belief, Moral Framework and Conflict: Part II – Marc MacYoung

Last time we looked at how anger, preserving one’s sense of self-worth and core beliefs can get us into conflict. Now we’re going to look at:

A – How beliefs shape our morality.
B – How different moral emphasis’s can keep us from coming to resolution.
C- How certain people have weaponized their so-called morality to justify their attacks on you.

This concept is is bigger and deeper than many people realize. It’s also the source of what I call “anger based morality.” A beast that is, unfortunately, on the rise in our modern society. In another installment we’ll deal with nuts and bolts on how to handle belief based anger and anger based morality. But in this this one, let’s introduce you to the growing trend of sanctimonious rage

We’re going to start with all moral systems are belief systems — even secular ones. (Veganism makes more sense when you look at it as a religion, focused on moral conduct and purity.) If you read the last installment you’ll remember how anger and preservation of core beliefs are connected. Thing is they need protecting. Beliefs, and by extension, moral systems are largely based on unprovable assumptions, assertions and conclusions that a group of people have made and maintained over a long period of time.

But just because they are beliefs, do not dismiss them.

First off, remember belief is how we organize our thoughts against being overwhelmed by the universe. The human ego is ill equipped to handle infinity without the safety net of beliefs to keep us sane.

Second, beliefs are crucial to our self-identity, self-worth, and worldview. They are the basis of our behavior, choices and how we treat others.

Oh, for the record, when I say that moral systems are based on unprovable assumptions that does not mean that the systems arising from them don’t have a proven track record. They do, usually a very impressive one. (Like keeping millions of people living together and functioning with minimal bloodshed.) So while the core assumptions may not be solid, the results can be. Or they can become a disaster. But the nature of our beliefs are going to affect self-identity, self-worth worldview, our morality and ethics.

Third: Our beliefs are a filter that we run almost every decision through.

It’s not an exaggeration to say: Beliefs gets us through the day. Think of how many decisions you make every day. Once we’ve made up our mind (picked a belief) it turbo charges our decision making process. When we encounter an event or idea we run it through a belief filter to find where we stand on the issue. If it fits, then ‘yes.’ If it doesn’t then ‘no.’ Putting this in computer terms, beliefs speed up processor speeds by automatically deleting many other options.

In a small sense it can be as simple as ruling out two local restaurants because you don’t like _____ (fill in the blank) food when it comes to ‘where to have lunch.’ But look at that same process in the bigger picture. Once we’ve decided a subject is good or bad we go from there. But how we go is we reject anything that doesn’t conform with our beliefs. For example: Violence is bad. Once we’ve accepted that belief. Any violence is automatically bad, as is anyone who does it. That saves us from having to think.

This filter idea is important, because it really isn’t thinking about the subject. It’s “here’s the template, does this new data conform, yes or no?” That’s not really thinking, it’s judging. And judging saves us the skull sweat of having to actually think about the complexities of the issue. (This by the way why a child asking ‘why’ is so annoying — especially about social issues adults just take for granted. We really can’t come up with solid reasons for belief filtered decisions.)

But here’s the fly in the ointment. Many of us believe ‘belief’ is weak, if not bad. We’re smarter and better than that. We identify ourselves as ‘rational’ because we tell ourselves we’re rational. (Yes, it’s a self-eating watermelon.) But it can go further, it can lead to a form of fanaticism about how rational we are. Many people have transferred their zealotry from religion to secular causes and ideologies. It can bleed over from just being convinced we’re rational into telling ourselves because we are so smart we are right and good — no matter how judgmental, prejudiced, hostile and violent we’re being.

Oh and in case you’re wondering about the science behind this idea. MRIs of brain activity show a decision is made in the non-logical parts of the brain, before the logic and speech parts are activated. That means, when faced with a situation requiring a choice or interpretation, the decision is usually made (filtered) immediately and then we ‘think’ about how to communicate it. In other cases, the stimuli is received, the decision is made and we immediately act on it without conscious thought. (Don’t condemn this process, it’s what allows us to drive a car.)

Putting it another way, most people’s thinking is actually done after the judging. That’s when they communicate their decision. Often they also supply ‘reasons’ to justify the decision. If resistance is met, it upgrades to defending their filtered decision. This does require ‘thinking.’ But, even then, this is not rational thought, it’s usually rationalizing thought. (With just enough cherry picked ‘facts’ to convince ourselves we made an informed conclusion.) Realize many people not only don’t distinguish between filtering and thinking, but they honestly believe filtering is thinking. Not even close. But recognize all the skullsweat we put into communicating and defending our decision is central to our belief that we’re being rational and base our opinions on facts, not operating from belief.

The truth is our ‘reasons’ for filtered decisions are usually pretty weak. When we self-isolate ourselves among like minded people we never find this out. If pressed we’re likely to resort to “soundbites” that work in the echo chamber. If those don’t carry the day, we usually just respond by becoming angry and doing personal attacks about the other person. (Spend a week on social media and you’ll see all kinds of name calling and insults). This is anger preserving our core beliefs. But recognize how it protects us too. This anger keeps us from seeing exactly how weak our arguments in support of our beliefs really are. Also if we’re lucky, it distracts the other person from presenting information dangerous to what we believe.

Remember how tied into anger self-worth and core beliefs tie are? How anger is used in the preservation of those? Well we’ve now laid the groundwork for bumping it up a notch and it become chronic, self-righteous rage. Rage that is fueled by offended morality out looking for targets. In case you haven’t been outside lately, there are a lot of people for whom outrage has become not just a philosophy, but a way of life. Despite your best efforts to avoid them, you might have even run into one or two of them.

Stop and think about the last time you saw (or were involved in) a discussion over a hot button topic. How dare someone not agree with our filtered decision! In many cases if someone disagrees, that person isn’t just stupid and wrong, they are evil.

Wait… you’re evil for just disagreeing with someone?

That isn’t just illogical, it is so left-field and emotional it’s unnerving. This especially when we see that the person saying it is convinced he or she has made a rational and informed judgment about that other person. (Which is a contradiction in terms; it should be a rational and informed decision. But remember we’re talking belief based judgments here.) From as little as one sentence, the accuser has the ability to judge and condemn the whole person because he/she is a ____ist, ____ive, ____ican, ___ian, or some other label? This venomous rhetoric, anger, blind conviction, and condemnation don’t make sense until you look at this behavior from the perspective of moral outrage and zealotry. It may not religious, but it is zealotry.

Focus especially on the authority behind this behavior. This is no longer “God is the authority for our actions,” for many anger has become the unquestionable source and justification for behavior. It’s not just that their moral beliefs cause them anger (which it often does), it’s more their ethics and morality are anger based. First, they are morally justified in what they are doing because they are angry. Second, their anger becomes sanctified because it arises from their beliefs and morals.

Anger based morality, that’s an ugly concept. If we consider anger as an act of ego, we’re floating into some dangerous waters. Because now we’re dealing with an individual’s self-righteous anger being sanctified as righteous anger because of a bigger cause than just ego.

What could have been selfish or misguided (how many times have you gotten angry and discovered you were wrong) now becomes an absolute and unquestionable TRUTH!™ This truth becomes the authority upon which they act. In case you missed it, that just became an excuse for abuse. But it goes further than that. The greater the perceived wrong, the more uncompromising and dogmatic the anger. Fury becomes their ultimate moral authority. Stop and think about some of the many ways that could go bad.

So know they’re out there, but also know it takes time and mental gymnastics before you run across that extreme. As such it’s worth looking at how — in less extreme cases –morality influences conflict. We’re going to look at that and a few other things.

One of those others we’re going to look at is how different systems of morality can create an abyss between us and someone we’re in conflict with. An abyss that makes it nearly impossible to come to resolution if you don’t recognize it. When you recognize it you can come up with work arounds. The trick is to recognize it.

This chasm goes deeper than “I’m an A and you’re a B.” That’s a crack in the ground. Often these are variations within a system (e.g., the difference between a Southern Baptist and a Freewill Baptist). These differences often manifest as doctrinal points and/or interpretation. Although these doctrinal differences can grow into schisms, there’s more in common than not.

A ravine is “I’m an A and you’re a 3,527” That is trying to communicate across totally different systems (e.g., Muslim and Buddhist). While difficult, the fact that there are complete systems on either side makes it possible for communication. Here the commonalities are fewer and more general (e.g., both have a long standing moral codes that address the same issues). Still the chance of communication and finding a working solution exists.

But things can expand to an irreconcilable abyss when positions become entrenched. It is this entrenchment I want to take a quick look at. This is because it’s important for understanding the unrecognized problem I mentioned earlier. Just so you know, the ‘unrecognized problem’ is when two sides have a different number of moral foundations.

With both anger based morality and different numbers of moral foundations you can find yourself in an unpleasant situation. That is when someone isn’t interested in compromise — up to and including to the point of doing you harm. In some situations not only isn’t negotiation not going to work, there’s a good chance trying will make things worse. When compromise is truly impossible, that’s not only when you need to shift to other viable strategies, but recognize trying to negotiate is a waste of valuable time and resources.

So if you have to shift, do so knowing why it was necessary; that way you can explain yourself when called upon to do so.

Anger, Belief, Moral Framework, and Conflict, Part I – Marc MacYoung

In his Anger Workbook, Dr. Les Cater identified three fundamental sources of anger:

1) Preservation of essential needs
2) Preservation of self-worth

3) Preservation of core beliefs.

Using this three-category model, you can analyze and dissect the motivation behind anger—both in others and yourself.

Let’s start with the difference between a basic and a fundamental. While in many respects they are synonymous, there comes a point where they split. That is where a basic is an introduction to a subject while a fundamental is a premise upon which a system is based and from which it rises. That’s why looking at these categories as fundamentals is important. When you look past the details of a specific incident, you can see these sources—and recognize where the anger comes from. Understanding why, you can do something about it.

Moving onto a fast explanation of the three categories:

Essential needs are those things necessary for our survival and to maintain our lifestyles. When they’re threatened, we respond with anger—after the fear. (Think of your reaction when someone almost hits your car. You need a working car, and the money it would cost to fix it.)

Self-worth isn’t just self-esteem, it’s also self-respect, pride, social status, and how others see us. Although the last is a bit of a self-eating watermelon because what we tend to give more weight to—and will become both violent and self-destructive over—is what we think others think of us. Meanwhile, we’ll blithely continue self-serving behavior that actually negatively influences others’ opinions of us.

Two points about that last. First is why. Man isn’t as much a rational animal as a rationalizing one. There’s a perceived profit in the behavior, so we rationalize doing it. Second is a warning. People who behave this way the most are the ones most tetchy about perceived slights. How dare you call them a ___ (fill in the blank) for being a ____ (fill in the blank).

Core beliefs  . . .   

Well, short version is core beliefs are how we organize the universe and our place in it. We’re seriously married to these ideas, and we will ferociously protect them—regardless of how much or little sense they make or how true they are. They are our TRUTHS™. They not only create, but maintain our individual reality. They literally create and maintain the whole of our universe.

Another way of looking at it is we need our beliefs to simplify life enough so we can get through the day. We function within boxes of our own—if not making—choosing. See, infinity is an awfully big place. Beliefs are the mental walls we build to protect ourselves from seeing how big. Such a view would leave most of us curled up and cowering in a corner. Our beliefs create a model of life and the universe that is small enough for us to grasp. So while “yay for beliefs,” they can also keep us inside our own mental and emotional prisons. But it’s a prison we want to be inside because outside is too big and scary. Anger is a fast and easy way to keep those walls intact.

We’ll come back to protecting beliefs because it’s a big part of anger and conflict—including how and why we get there.

Where things become interesting is when we realize how much overlap there is in these three categories and, at the same time how much of our self-identify is wrapped up in them. But let’s stick just with overlap for a second.

Even with these fundamentals, anger isn’t exactly a single cause issue. For example when a core belief is perceived to be challenged, it’s commonly interpreted as an attack on our self-worth, as well. It’s not about the idea anymore, it’s a personal insult. It’s not a question regarding our beliefs, it’s an attack. (If the belief is wrong—what does that say about our intelligence?) This is a big part of why people get so hostile and angry when their beliefs are questioned.

Before we go on, finish this sentence, “I’m a ______ (fill in the blank).”

First things first: Do you take pride from that identity? Your recognition of that emotional investment is important. Not because you have it, but other people do, too. Ignoring or forgetting said investment is a fast track to conflict, triggering belligerence in others and your own aggression.

Now ask yourself: How many of your beliefs are attached to that identification? What do you have to do, believe, and think to qualify as whatever that is? How does that self-identification influence how you look at the world and your expectations of how you’ll be treated? How does it influence your obligations to others (what they can expect from you)?

These simple questions show the connection between what we believe, our self-identities, and how we approach the world. They show where our reactions come from when our self-worth and beliefs are challenged. Think back to your last “you don’t treat me like that” reaction. What beliefs were violated?

In fact, let’s use that as a side track. I’m going to give you good way to remain both calm and nonemotionally reactive in a situation that could devolve into conflict. When you start to feel angry, ask yourself which of the three categories do you think is threatened? This assessment gives you a momentary pause, instead of following the—and I very specifically use this word—habit of reacting in anger. This allows another part of your mind to come up with a different response that isn’t habitual, anger driven, and likely to cause more problems.

Using anger to preserve beliefs opens the flood gates to all kinds of aggressive and hostile behavior by us that elicits the same response from the other person. This is important because although we perceive all slights as intentional and malicious—often they aren’t. When you aggressively respond, even if you weren’t in a fight before, you’re in one now.

Back to core beliefs being threatened, some belief systems require a villain. If you accept this ideology, someone else automatically becomes your enemy, oppressor, or target. It’s part of the identity of being a _____ (fill in the blank). The very existence of those hated others is a threat to your core beliefs. Hence, you’re always mad at them. To the rational mind, this seems silly. But to another part holding the benefits of identity of being a ______(fill in the blank) far outweigh the inconvenience of having an enemy.

Worse is how easy it is to slip into perceiving anyone who doesn’t believe the same as ‘us’ (the right, good, and knowledgeable) is evil, stupid, and wrong. It’s no longer just an established enemy. Anyone who doesn’t follow the exact same orthodoxy becomes your enemy. When you are surrounded by enemies, you interpret one of ‘those people’ just opening his or her mouth as an attack. And since he is already attacking our cherished beliefs, whatever we do to him is acceptable—because he deserves it. Even if he didn’t do anything, he still deserves it just because he’s a _______ (fill in the blank).

That last bit is integral to  justifying much bad behavior after the fact and giving ourselves permission to act in the first place. We know what we’re doing is wrong, but because of the anger generated by the belief, it becomes okay to act.

(By the way, I just skimmed by something important. Chronic anger can also be used as a way to keep us from examining—much less changing—the very beliefs that cause us pain and anger. This isn’t just a Catch 22, it’s a weird perpetuation and constant seeking of external targets as a distraction from having to look at ourselves. The world is constantly showing us the belief is askew yet our anger prevents us from seeing the source of the problem—our own beliefs and how they affect our behavior. Such people are constantly on the look out for people to focus their anger on. Being targeted by them is often shocking because of the dragon’s flame’s intensity over a small, trivial thing. You can call such people rage-o-holics because they use explosions of anger like an alcoholic uses going on a bender. It’s a form of venting their rage, as well as self-soothing. This behavior allows them to get rid of their pain and anger, but not change the beliefs causing them.

This brings us to an important point. There’s a difference between facts and belief.

While we can—and often do—use cherry-picked facts to support our beliefs, a belief is not a fact. But we believe it is and that directs our behavior.

A few key points useful in spotting the difference: First, facts are pretty widely recognized. For example, the effects of what we call gravity are pretty much a fact. (Point of interest, your knowledge of this fact is what keeps you from stepping off the edge of a tall building in everyday life.) Second, there is much less emotional investment with facts than there is with beliefs. How emotionally invested in your knowledge of gravity are you? Beliefs need emotions to be sustained. Third, just because a lot of people believe something doesn’t make it true; it just makes it a popular belief.

Now you might be thinking I’ve been talking about religion. Well, that’s a part. Here is where things get . . . interesting . . . about beliefs. There are many people in our modern secular world who have countless beliefs—but won’t admit it. In fact, they show downright scorn for beliefs—especially other people’s. The reason they have such contempt for beliefs? In part, it’s because they look down on the beliefs of others as superstition, ignorance, and weakness. To a degree that’s because they pride themselves on how intelligent, enlightened, and sophisticated they are. And partly, they are absolutely convinced that theirs aren’t beliefs, but rational conclusions based on logic and facts. This gives their beliefs the same absolute authority—and even morality—as religious beliefs. But theirs are better . . . because they aren’t beliefs, but facts. (Yes, it’s a self-eating watermelon.)

Such people can certainly be as adamant and fanatical about their “non-beliefs” as any religious zealot. And they can be just as hostile, aggressive, abusive, and violent to preserve these core beliefs and force them on you. Knowing this, start looking at how ferocious someone can get to preserve deeply held philosophies. And more importantly, how ferocious you can get if you feel someone has violated one (or more) of your beliefs—whether that’s your faith, how you feel you should be treated, what the world owes you, what you owe others, how people should act, challenging your ideology, or daring to hold a different one.

If you can keep from falling into this trap, you can greatly reduce the conflict in your life.

It’s important to recognize when our self-worth and core beliefs are threatened, it’s very easy for us to react with anger. Anger is perceived power. It’s a rush. We feel emboldened to right wrongs. Anger also gives us permission to do things we know are wrong. It’s the pass we use to give ourselves permission to do all the things we claim we aren’t. “I’m a peaceful, open-minded person, you judgmental son-of-a-bitch!”

Wait . . . what?

A Roman named Horace once said, “Anger is a short madness (insanity).” I find that anger is often far more self-serving than that. Many people’s use of anger allows them to give themselves permission to behave in ways they recognize as wrong and know are hurtful, but are —most of all — self-soothing. In venting that anger, we feel relief. If something causes us emotional discomfort, the siren’s song of anger tells us, “Go ahead. Do something that will make you feel better.”

While it might not lure us to our doom, the truth is that giving into this impulse usually makes things worse. The momentary satisfaction of lashing out at someone—whether to punish them, share the pain, or preserve our beliefs or our concepts of self-worth—often provokes a negative response from those who can defend themselves and injures those who can’t. Or perhaps, instead of acting immediately, the angry person waits and seeks revenge through other means.

Two people (who have given themselves permission to self-sooth by acting out) create an ugly escalation where both parties are equally guilty of misconduct. Yet, both are convinced they are the victim in the situation—which gives them the moral high ground for their bad behavior. Often their blatant aggression is justified as, “I was just defending myself.” But more often, the excuse is simply, “I was angry.” In these modern times, there has been an emphasis on expressing feelings rather than controlling them. Many people have been conditioned to and have given themselves permission to be controlled by their emotions.

And why shouldn’t they? Given technology, social safety nets, plentiful resources, and a social abhorrence of physical violence, a life of letting oneself emotionally act out is sustainable. A person can emotionally fly off the handle and have little or no fear of physical repercussions. This tendency has been further accelerated through the Internet and texting where physical proximity is not an issue. People give themselves permission to go to any emotional, verbal, and behavioral extreme in order to win the situation. While physical violence is rare, you have individuals and groups with long-standing anger using a new tactic. If you confront them about their behavior, they first lash out at you and then run to authority (or the administration or human resources) to condemn you. This isn’t defensive action, it’s aggression. One way or the other, they’re going to ‘win.’ While we’re at it, large sections of the population have no fear of losing their low-paying jobs or going to jail because of their emotional outbursts.  Another perception of winning, is simply walking out of relationships.

I tell you this not as a condemnation of society or to scare you, but to give you an idea of what you are dealing with. Many people have weaponized their emotions, concepts of self-worth, and beliefs and have no hesitation about emotionally lashing out at you. There are still other people who are the equivalent of giant exposed nerves who are like undetected mines that explode when you step. Or, knowing about them, you become so overly concerned about handling them with kid gloves your stress level goes through the roof.

Oscar Wilde once notoriously quipped, “A true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude.” If you consider it, there’s a double message there. Yes, you should be careful about being unintentionally rude, hurting people’s feelings, or stepping on their concepts of self-worth or beliefs. And quite frankly, if you find you accidentally have do not hesitate to apologize—within reason. If someone snaps at you, check to see if you’ve somehow inadvertently stepped on their toes. If yes, it costs you nothing to apologize in order to keep the peace. Since acknowledgement is what most people seek, the situation is quickly and painlessly resolved, and everyone can go about their business.

Unfortunately, if feeling outraged over being attacked, you choose to snap back  . . .  

Having said this, there is a time and place to call people on their bullshit and bad behavior. But make it an informed and deliberate decision. This puts you first and foremost in control of yourself. In general that puts you ahead in the game. And that strongly influences how others will see you and judge your actions. Now instead seeing two screaming assholes, there’s a better chance the witnesses will align with you (because odds are they’re tired of his noise, too).

Second, being in control of yourself, you can keep you from mirroring his behavior. This, too, keeps you from crossing lines that would lose you support or get you into trouble if called upon to answer for the conflict. (In this current climate, many people don’t lose gracefully. Plan on the loser running to an authority figure and claiming victimization.) Not allowing yourself to get angry keeps you thinking strategically and not reacting emotionally. It’s when we get angry about these perceived attacks on our self-worth and beliefs that we make mistakes and cross the line. This gives the loser’s claim of victimization credibility when you actually did say or do something in reaction.

Don’t give him that ammo to use against you.

End Part I.


The Fear Factor Part III:  Developing the Objective Mind – Paul McRedmond

You’re not you when you’re scared.

More precisely, you’re only a small part of you, that part where your normally rational mind-set has been hijacked by the survival brain and its adrenaline response (freeze, then fight or flee).  The freeze takes time, time you may not have.

To reduce freeze time (the perception-action gap) requires developing the objective mind (OM) through knowledge, training and experience.

OM is the 4th Brain, the one that is NOT the rational, emotional or survival brain but is a coherent (hierarchically consistent) synergy.  OM is the ‘anchor’ of the personality, a ‘place to stand’ and view the internal (psyche) and external (the world) environments.  By realizing, and remaining anchored in OM, you are able to act, correctly and successfully, without waiting for the rational mind to grind through its processing procedures.  It’s a type of mental reflex:  see it, it’s done.

First, knowledge – the academic pursuit of information – reading, listening, contemplation and discussion.  Think about these basic questions in order to gain a better understanding of the self:   what are the levels of the personality and how do they express and interact, how do the three brains perceive, process, store, recall and share information, what are your ‘buttons’ and how do you react, and recover, when they get pushed – is there a pattern?  What do you need, what do you want, which environments and activities make you feel happiest, saddest, fearful or angry?  

Second – training in the inner and outer environments.  Inner training (developing mindfulness) must include some form of meditation, a way to still the still the incessant chatter of the rational mind and the pressure of the emotional mind to act on feeling instead of thought.  As with any training, meditation should be done daily.  How many hours do you spend on fitness, or forms, or drills?  There should be, must be, Balance.

Outer environment training should include all of the martial arts from the Spectrum, with emphasis on that category necessary to your needs.  For instance, in the criminal justice field, the ability to CRUSH THE BAD GUY (defensive tactics) (following a sensitive and caring conversation, of course) is necessary.  

Last is application of your knowledge and training.  But, absent getting into the criminal justice or military career fields, finding environments and situations where your life might be on the line is difficult.  You can get at least a dose of adrenaline from certain sports such as rock climbing, skydiving, bungee-jumping and tournament competition.  Whatever makes your heart pound, mouth dry, bowels loose, palms sweaty and eyes a’google will give you some inoculation against the stress of startle adrenalization – the fear factor.

Then, if you get scared, you’re more than you.

The Fear Factor, Part II: Mind-Set and the Martial Arts Spectrum – Paul McRedmond


COMBAT: Kill High adrenaline, emotional commitment and

SELF-DEFENSE: Escape ‘spiritual’ cost, extreme legal repercussions



ART: Coordination

FITNESS: Fitness Low adrenaline, emotional commitment and

PHILOSOPHY: Knowledge spiritual cost, no legal repercussions

The purpose of combat is to kill the ‘enemy.’ The issue here is that a modern, ethical martial artist is not trained to kill or to deal with someone trying to kill them while a wolf (one of the three categories of criminals, the other two being coyote and weasel) has no compunction about killing you, nor any concern for legal repercussions.  The mind-set here is ONE AND DONE and the ambush the best tactic.

Most martial arts are advertised as self-defense styles but the training is based on staying engaged – multiple strikes, locks and holds, takedowns and pins, etc. This is fighting, not self-defense. The mind-set, and tactic, is “STUN AND RUN.”   

Defensive Tactics are the realm of the criminal justice and security specialists.  The goal is to control the individual; this means either getting him or her into secure custody or to voluntarily alter their behavior.  Training here MUST include Verbal Judo (George Thompson), conflict simulations, grappling and counter-assault techniques, behavioral psychology and stress management and inoculation.  The mind-set is “I WIN, YOU LOSE’ and the tactic is the swarm-and-pile.

Sport is a formalized contest between one or more players.  It has rules, time limits, special environments (like mats), referees, protective gear, restricted techniques, etc.  Sure, you can get hurt and many martial artists ARE capable of hurting someone badly, but the training doesn’t include the one most important factor that divides martial arts from ‘shtreet’ fighting – the fear factor.  The mind-set is I DON’T LOSE and the tactics, better fitness and force delivery.

Art is for coordination and expression of mind – perception – structure – movement and is also good for developing reflexes that, if trained correctly, can get you past the first punch or rush of a wolf.  Modern Arnis is an art.  Forms are art.  Bagua is an art.  Stylized knife and club counters are art, NOT reality.  The mind-set here is harmony and the tactic, rhythm.

Fitness is for increasing the available mental, physical and intentional energy so as to live a longer, happier and healthier life OR to prepare you for a sport.  The former is about health and longevity, the latter (‘extreme’ fitness) to prepare you for the intense structural stress demanded by most sports.  The mind-set here is ONE MORE PUSHUP and the tactic is finding the time to get, and stay, fit.

The purpose of philosophy, the foundation of the spectrum, is the acquisition and use of knowledge.  Knowledge is power, purpose and direction and melds the internal and external world into a greater, more inclusive whole by expanding your consciousness via the avenue of focused perception.  Knowledge can help you survive in combat, see and avoid the stalking wolf, gain control of confrontational people without incurring liability, be more successful in your chosen sport, reveal greater vistas in your art, help you train smarter, not harder and, perhaps most importantly – know thyself.  The mind-set is mindfulness and the tactic, question everything and keep at it until you find an answer.