Thank You for Your Apology

3svf6ux37u 

Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past.

~Tryon Edwards~

The day after the recent presidential election, I ventured out the door after a period of being stunned. I ran into a man I knew on a limited social basis. As usual, he asked how I was doing that day. I told him I was not doing very well. His very upbeat demeanor told me we had voted for different candidates.

We tried having a conversation about politics and in particular the election, both voicing our reasons for voting the way we did. I don’t think the conversation resolved anything or led either of us to alter his views.  I left his company resolving to be cordial in the future but to avoid political conversation which only served to upset both of us.

This has worked for several weeks. This morning when we met, he surprised me by apologizing for being overly strong in his statements in our last conversation of any length or consequence. I tried to recall whether I had said anything which might have offended him and apologized myself just in case. He assured me that I had not said anything to offend him and again apologized for his tone in the last conversation.

We were able to agree that the campaign and election were upsetting for everyone including both of us. We also agreed on being upset and worried about the great divide between the two halves of our fellow countrymen. We shared our fears about what this conflict would mean for the future of our country.

As I left our conversation, I felt the best I have since the election. Neither of us changed our minds, and did not try to change each other’s. We were able to share our mutual fears and hopes for the future. I realized that I do not need to see everyone with whom I disagree as an enemy.

Most of us want the best for our country and for each other. We just have different ideas about how to get there. At one time our leaders with different positions were able to sit down to find compromises with which we could all live. This does not seem to be the case right now. However, if we who elected them can talk with each other in the interest of our mutual benefit, we might be able to set a good example for our elected leaders. None of us can single-handedly change the tensions, disagreements, and hostility evident among our country’s citizens. Yet we can begin by building bridges between ourselves and those with whom we come into contact on a daily basis. That is at least a start.

Life Lab Lessons

  • If you are angry when you discuss politics, why do you think that is?
  • Look further to see what other feelings you might have?
  • Is fear one of them?
  • What do you fear?
  • Is it easier to discuss your fears with others than your anger?

How can people move past anger after the election?

Why do elections create such strong emotions?

In any election both sides have invested a lot of passion, energy and time in their point of view. For many reasons humans take not getting their point of view validated as a menace and a threat to their well-being. When we have to coexist with someone who has a different point and their point of view is victorious, it’s hard.

It’s quite challenging to be in a world where one’s strongly held views are repudiated. Our minds wrap around the rightness of our view and the need to have other people share those views in order to feel that there is order and safety. If you find out the other side has won, it is a loss which needs to be grieved and it creates a tremendous amount of vulnerability.

Excerpt from Amy Adam article in Stanford News- read more

Stress, Violence and Peace

pu7znj8szq

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.

~ Pericles~

The pace of life has become faster and more frantic in recent years. Many people leave little time for thoughtful reflection or just sitting still. If you are older, you might remember when life was simpler and less hectic. If you are younger, you might have heard about more peaceful times from your relatives. How did we get from living our lives in relative peace to being obsessed with anger and its expression in violence?

Many people lately have become alarmed by “senseless” violence around the world. Have you wondered whether there is a connection between the spate of suicide bombings in Europe and the mass shootings around the world, including those in this country? I have long considered a possible connection between these events and their relationship to fear and violence. Let’s take a closer look.

If you have ever studied psychology or even read about it casually, you are most likely familiar with the fight or flight response to fear. Depending on your circumstances, when faced with something fearful to you, you react by attacking the source of your fear (fight) if you think you can overcome it or avoiding it (flight) if it seems more powerful than you are. Immediate fear and these responses to it follow a direct and immediate threat of attack such as by a wild animal or person. You don’t have time to think about it but automatically react almost immediately.

Anxiety is related to fear. The feared object might not be immediately present, but you can worry about what might happen or not happen in the future. You become anxious about your own welfare or that of your family. You might also fret about the possible behavior of other people or the course taken by the society in which you live.

If you are unable to find a way to relieve this anxiety, it builds and eventually leads to a sense of desperation or hopelessness. This can take place inside you and possibly remain unknown to others. You might find someone whom you trust with your concerns and share them or act on your anxiety by lashing out. Based on my experience and reading, it seems clear that everyone has a breaking point at which they feel forced to act in ways not typical of them. Perhaps some people will turn to violence as a way to be taken seriously for once. Some commit suicide when they feel their life challenges are more than they can bear.

The result can be a lashing out toward other individuals or society in general if we see others as responsible for our predicament. If we could understand the workings of others’ minds, much of the violence in our world might not seem quite so senseless. The violence makes sense to people feeling overwhelmed by life burdens. Most people tend to react emotionally to such situations without giving their response much thought.

If you could step back from your emotions, you might see more constructive possibilities and be able to choose one of them. Once you are overwhelmed, it might be too late to step back. You could make a practice of learning to step back from your daily routine even when you are not under pressure. Then you will have a better idea how to handle stressful life events when they arise.

Life Lab Lessons  

  • Practice setting aside peaceful moments or longer periods of time.
  • Without blaming anyone, consider how you arrived in this situation.
  • If you have been here before, what worked to get you back on track?
  • If you have no idea what to do, find someone you can trust with your challenge.
  • Once the crisis is resolved, write about what you did to handle it.

After living through the Brexit vote, Trump’s election is a familiar indictment of humanity

11abe7bk82

The night the UK voted to leave the European Union, those of us Brits who opposed the idea started out watching with a sick mixture of hope and fear. As results began to come in, there was the sinking sensation that something we wholeheartedly believed was wrong and damaging could come to pass. We asked ourselves: How could our fellow humans—people we live side-by-side with, people we respect—want this?

 The night America elected Donald Trump as its 45th president felt like it had some parallels: a
desperate hope that a country wouldn’t be swayed by fear, isolationism, and the rhetoric of “them
against us.” The nagging terror that it would.
The next morning, these are some of the people who are looking at America’s choice, aghast:
people who have experienced misogyny, racism, discrimination, harassment or bullying of any
kind. People who have witnessed it. People who think one of the roles of government is to protect
us from those things. Excerpt from Cassie Werber’s article in Quartz- Read more.

Criminal Justice?

How silly of us to think that we can prepare men for social life by reversing the ordinary process of socialization- silence for the only animal with speech; repressive regimentation of men who are in prison because they need to learn how to exercise their activities in constructive ways; outward conformity to rules which repress all efforts at constructive expression.

~Karl Menninger~

What if we had a training program to teach people how to become better criminals? We do, you know. In his 1966 book, The Crime of Punishment, the psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a critical review of the system for treating (punishing) criminals. Here is one conclusion he drew from his study, “The idea of punishment as the law interprets it seems to be that inasmuch as a man has offended society, society must officially offend him.” In other words the main goal of criminal justice is to exact revenge in proportion to the perceived offense.

In this country we have a criminal justice system which includes law enforcement, the courts and corrections system. Although these titles sound good, in reality what mostly exists is a punishment system. In theory, the system is supposed to make sure that citizens act in accordance with societal standards which are enforced by our laws. In practice, the system mainly provides vengeance on behalf of society on perpetrators of crimes.

All too often in recent times we see police officers engaging in the same violent behavior which they are paid to protect us from. More often than not, they are given the benefit of the doubt and not held accountable when they engage in violent behavior, despite the evidence against them. Courts were designed to help maintain a civil society by isolating criminals from society or seeking programs for them which might correct their behavior. In reality, sentencing is more about what the criminal “deserves” rather than what would change his or her behavior. The corrections system has largely given up on correcting criminals. Instead they are the agency which administers punishment corresponding to their offenses.

Menninger pointed out that there is little effort put into understanding the criminal, “No distinction is made in the degree of punishment for the dangerous, the docile, the stupid, the shrewd, the wistful, the confused or the desperate on the basis of these characteristics.” Instead the courts follow guidelines for various crimes with little consideration of who the criminal is as a person.  The main motivation for the system is to exact vengeance on the perpetrator to satisfy society. He also defines punishment as “the deliberate infliction of pain in addition to or in lieu of penalty.”

He noted that prisoners are treated like children, “the prisoner is clothed, housed, fed, cared for, told what to do and what not to do, where to go and where to stay.” We take people who do not seem to know how to act in society and take away all their opportunities to decide anything for years at a time, and then expect them to be able to function in society when they are eventually released.

Menninger also pointed out that it is silly of society to try to re-socialize a convict by “reversing the ordinary process of socializaton.” Prisoners are required to follow a rigid routine with little opportunity to learn how to make better decisions or to exercise any decision making. There is little opportunity to learn how to express themselves in light of strict rules which do not all allow for the opportunity to learn and practice socially appropriate behavior

Researchers long ago concluded that punishment does not usually change behavior, at least for the better. It makes those punished more likely to commit further criminal acts. They learn to become better criminals during their time in prison with little constructive activity available. They often become motivated to seek vengeance for being punished in prison. Punishment can bring to a person’s attention that his or her behavior is not acceptable. Yet many incarcerated individuals have no idea what alternatives are available to them. Menninger sees the appropriate role of corrections to help offenders regain their self respect and learn to be productive members of society.

Menninger did not suggest that society should just ignore criminal behavior. Indeed he sees it as society’s obligation to respond, but in a different manner than seeking revenge.  He quotes the 1870 American Correction Association principle, “The aim of the prison should be to make industrious free men rather than orderly and obedient prisoners.” This principle seems to have been long forgotten. Yet it would seem more helpful and appropriate to help prisoners learn how to function as better citizens rather than to beat them over the head for not being good citizens.

Perhaps partially in response to Menninger’s work and also in the context of the civil rights movement, our society and government started looking at the criminal justice system and moving toward more rational alternatives. Alternatives to incarceration such as mediation, mental health treatment in jails and prisons, educational and job training programs as well as follow-up programs such as half-way houses and on the job training arose as we took a reasoned look at the problem of crime. In particular, racism and poverty began to be addressed in a rational way.

Despite this trend, many people resented “pampering” of inmates and saw them as being mollycoddled by do-gooders. The focus of efforts that did exist was mainly on those who had already become prisoners. Despite some prisoners learning from their experience with prison and making changes in their lives, recidivism remains high. In recent years, between two thirds and seventy-five percent of criminals eventually wind up back in prison within five years of release. The common perception is “once a criminal, always a criminal.”  People and governments began to see efforts at reforming prisoners as a lost cause and our society swung to a punishment system without much concern for the possibility of change.

In my opinion, efforts at reform have not gone far enough. Changing the criminal culture will not take place based on draconian laws and harsher punishment. The roots of crime lie in poverty and racism with some people seeing no viable options for them other than turning to crime. The real challenge is to change our prejudices and find a way for everyone to have viable options to survival other than those provided by the criminal route.

The myth that more punitive approaches to criminals would make them more inclined to reform themselves too precedence and our prisons began to expand and fill with more prisoners than any other place on earth. Psychological studies have shown that punishment does not generally improve deviant behavior. Incarceration as it stands now is chiefly a school for crime and a place for fledgling criminals to hone their criminal skills.

Some police departments have as their motto, “to protect and to serve.” Living up to this motto is a challenge, especially as cities have grown and become partitioned into enclaves for people of varying social classes. The war on poverty developed in the 1960’s morphed into the war on crime. Yet “war” remained central. Over the years police have been militarized and now are often seen as armies to control the poor. Institutional racism has also pervaded many of the police departments in large inner city communities.

Initially, programs were developed such as those in New York City to empower local leaders involvement in troubled communities develop programs responsive to the needs of residents in these communities. These were soon abandoned and efforts turned to heavily arming the police so they could better control restive poor people.

Have you ever stopped to consider where criminals come from? Poverty, racism and experience with violence as victims all take their place as contributors to violent behavior. All of these apply to the majority of people who wind up in the justice system.  If all we do is punish them for a while in an environment entirely populated by others in the same boat, how can we expect them to emerge from prison any better than they were when they were convicted?

Part of the answer lies outside the criminal justice system. Poverty and racism in society as well as their effects on people who experience them cannot be changed by the criminal justice system alone. This is a charge to society as a whole. We need to learn how to respect people as individuals, help them learn ways to emerge from poverty by gaining job skills and then stop discriminating against them because of their poverty or race. It would also help if the administration and officers in the criminal justice system stopped treating their charges as less than human.

I don’t mean by that treating them like animals. One of the characteristics of people prone to violence is cruelty to animals. Perhaps one approach to working with criminals is to give them options to care for animals of the earth as well as for the earth itself. This approach has been shown to work in a few programs focused on those caught in the web of drug abuse. Many of those incarcerated also struggle with chemicals.

What if we taught prisoners how to make good decisions, to anticipate consequences of their actions, how to negotiate with others, cooperate on common goals and compromise so that others can also reach their goals? Does this seem unrealistic to you? Efforts in this regard have taken place in jails and prisons but are not the main thrust of the corrections system which remains more focused on punishment than encouraging changes in the behavior of those identified as criminals.

I am not suggesting that nothing has changed since the days when Menninger wrote his book. Communities at the court, jail and prison levels have developed programs to help prisoners become educated, learn job skills, address chemical dependency and anger issues, learn about society and relationships, as well as transition back into the community. It has been my sense that such efforts have not ever become a major focus of the criminal justice system where criminals are looked at more as animals to be contained rather than fellow humans to be helped to find their way again. That is our challenge.

(Excerpt from my forthcoming book, From Rage and Violence to and Peace and Harmony.)

Since 9/11, our fear has harmed us more than terrorists have

 

crowd of people

Fifteen years ago, American self-confidence shattered amid the death and debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and four hijacked aircraft.

The ripple effect has been felt ever since.

Before these terrible terrorist attacks, we believed history was on our side. Perhaps rightly so — the forces of democracy and capitalism had torn down the walls of communist tyranny, and the world was poised for an era of “perpetual peace” enforced by unchallenged U.S. power. In fact, foreign policy was barely discussed during the 2000 presidential election. The world was going our way.

Then Sept.11, 2001, happened. It was a shock because it was not supposed to happen.Read more.

Remember to consider your humanity before attacking others

SAM_2445

   “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” ― Ernst F. Schumacher

In times of distress, destruction and violence seem to be good solutions. People don’t resort to these because they are full of hatred and anger, but because they are often driven by fear.

It’s easy to prepare for the worst and immediately jump to conclusions. As a society, we often want to be prepared for whatever situation life throws at us.

But when we become preoccupied with our fears, we often forget the bigger picture. Read More.

Thank You Donald Trump

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

Some people are horrified at the venom spewing from the mouth of Donald Trump. People at the other end of the spectrum are happy to hear someone express the rage they feel because their lives are not the way they would like to see them.  Most of these people don’t dare to share their anger or lash out at anyone who could possibly be responsible for their lives being a mess but suffer in resignation.

The Trump rhetoric is not a reasoned response to feeling angry among his followers. There is no attempt to understand why they are in the situation they are in or to find a reasonable approach to changing that situation. Their sole focus seems to be to rage at those they blame for their misfortune and to destroy the people and institutions they hold responsible.

Trump supporters are not the only ones suffering. Many people silently endure poverty, racism, debt, lack of a good job and medical woes. They could choose rage as well but realize that spewing invective as he does will not change their situation. Nor will it make them feel any better in the long run. Those suffering in both groups do not have the power individually to change their status to that of people with more satisfying lives.

Have you ever known an angry mob to find constructive solutions to their plight? I haven’t. The only way to make reasonable changes is to learn how to work together. But you can’t do this while you are consumed with rage.

People shouting are not in the frame of mind to reason with anyone else about anything. Others who listen to the shouting only hear raw emotion. They don’t hear any details of others’ pain, how it came about or how it affects individuals and families. Neither do they hear anything rational which might become a basis for productive negotiations or cooperation.

So why should we thank Donald Trump? We all have within us the capacity to negotiate with each other toward our common good. All of us have the capacity to descend into blind rage where our words are merely weapons and offer no bridges toward mutual dialog. We can thank him for showing us the worst of which we are capable. He mirrors the depth of rage and spitefulness for which we all have the capacity.

Can you imagine all of the billions of people on earth acting as he does in public? It’s a frightful image to behold. Before we get to this point, we can learn to behave like rational human beings and express our concerns in a way which others can understand and which allows us to work together toward solutions which benefit us all.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Write down what makes you angry about your life.
  • Try to understand how you got to feel this way.
  • Do so without blaming someone else for your misfortune.
  • Consider what you have to offer others to better their lives.
  • Try out one of your ideas with one other person.

Political Correctness or Respect for Others

 

Rev. Mr. Stewart advised three questions to be put to ourselves before speaking evil of any man: First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary?

~Poynder’s Literary Extracts~

Recently the term “politically correct” has come to the fore in presidential campaign haggling. The term generally means speaking in ways which do not offend any individual or group. Certain politicians take pride in flouting convention by saying whatever comes into their minds without concern for who is offended. Instead, they say whatever occurs to them and it is up to others who might feel offended to just grow up.

They take this position under the guise of free speech. They are entitled to say whatever they want, regardless of how their words strike others. It’s not up to them to shield the rest of the world from their utterances. Free speech is a right included in the first amendment to the constitution with these words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This amendment was included to prevent Congress from making laws against free speech as well as other related rights. It was later generalized to apply to all levels of government. Nowhere does it say that it is okay to say whatever you want to without restriction. We have laws which prohibit damage to others by speech, specifically slander and libel which damages another’s reputation, inciting illegal behavior, and obscenity, although the courts have had difficulty defining just what is obscene.

Some people go to extremes to prevent their words from offending others. Others feel that it’s okay to say whatever they can get away with regardless of how others feel about it. Without considering the legal status of every statement, perhaps there is another way to evaluate our speech. We could stop to think before we open our mouths and ask ourselves the questions posed in the quote above.

Sometimes we repeat things we hear which might simply be gossip with no basis in reality. It is not illegal to gossip but it serves no useful purpose other than to sound as if we know what we are saying although we might not know anything about the truth of the matter. Gossip and rumors can harm the reputation of others, not to mention undermining our own credibility.

Is what you say kind? Do you say something to enhance or encourage others or are your words mean-spirited and spiteful? How would you like your words to be received? How would you like to be perceived by others? How would you like others to speak of you, especially when you are struggling to do the right thing and still make mistakes?

Is there any purpose for your words? Do they accomplish anything positive or are they just empty jabbering. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell stories. They are our way of sharing our fantasies, wishes and dreams. They just don’t need to be at someone else’s expense. I have heard an admonition from many parents, “If you have nothing kind to say, it’s better to keep your mouth shut.” Do your words accomplish anything or are they just idle chatter?

All of these tests for our speech imply respect for others. We don’t all agree on everything. Our opinions and feelings are based on our own experience which might be quite different from that of others. Before you go on the attack, stop and listen to the other person. You might learn something about yourself.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Ask yourself if what you have to say is true.
  • Is your opinion in the spirit of kindness for others?
  • Will your words contribute anything positive to others?
  • How would you feel if someone used your unkind words to describe you?
  • Try to see others as fellow travelers rather than competitors.

Personal Origins of Violence

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible
will make violent revolution inevitable.

~John F. Kennedy~

 

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one seems to be born violent. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted quite a few studies over the years to try predicting violence.

To the best of my knowledge no way of predicting it has ever been perfected to the point of knowing whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays such behavior, it is clear then that he or she is capable of aggression and likely to take this course in the future.

The question remains: where does such behavior come from come from? Let’s look at some contributors. One is the path your life takes. The way you live and how you think about life can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between.  These patterns are often shaped by how your parents lived and what you made of their lives. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a not so peaceful one. Someone you know and respect could have helped divert a major disaster. Or someone you know and respect could become so frustrated with his or her life that explosive results follow.

Violence as we view it here is brought about by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. It may also be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for what happens. You can be seen as violent by associating with individuals who show such a pattern whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

What makes a person violent? Researchers have long debated about whether a tendency toward such behavior can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research.

Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form of aggression is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances appear to play a significant role in all our behavior whether positive or negative. How you are treated in your family, how stable your family is, the safety of your neighborhood, whether you have adequate housing and food, how others react to your racial or ethnic background and how you learn to react to threats can all contribute to how you act. Feeling in physical danger, how you think about yourself, others, your life situation and your prospects for life and what resources you see yourself as possessing also make a contribution.

You may never have acted in such a manner. However you might have considered it at least in passing. Take some time to think about how you got to feel that way and what you did to head it off. Maybe this will help you begin to understand violence in the world.

Life Lab Lessons

  • What has happened in your life to lean you toward violence?
  • What have you experienced which let you toward a peaceful life?
  • What has helped you to control aggressive tendencies?
  • What have you done to provoke others anger?
  • What have you done to keep the peace between you and others?