Archive for January, 2009

Obama’s Fight With Tyler Durden!

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a whole cult of interest forming around “Fight Club” and its manifesto of destruction. The theory seems to be that any action is better than no action at all. Well, I disagree strongly! Good action is best, even if it doesn’t always provide instant gratification. 

I feel sorry for President Obama. He’s in the same boat. He seems to understand that some fundamental systems in this country don’t work well. But he also seems to realize that “deliberate and prudent” are not bad words. Decisive action implies making a decision, which in itself implies thought and choice. 

I’ve also worked for change and improvement my whole life, sometimes with exhausting results and sometimes with very few results. (See my last book if you don’t realize how difficult it can be!) So the young people I know ask the legitimate question:  Do you really believe you can reform from within?  

They ask if it’s evil, isn’t it better to destroy it? Well, if it’s evil because it destroys the minds, bodies, and souls of people, how are you any better for acting in a destructive way? You become the very evil that you fight! Decisive action implies making a decision, which in itself should imply some thought! 

I’ve spent much of my life feeling like I had no patience. I was always the one being called a troublemaker for pointing out when something is being done badly. (i.e. hurtful to humans!) I’ve suggested and implemented ways of improving poorly run systems, either individual or agency-wide. And I still feel like the wait to see change is endless.   Even lately I tend to complain “So many good leads to follow, so little instant gratification!” 


Senseless Violence?

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

For many people, just using the terms “senseless violence” equates with “evil.” They don’t see their anger or bigotry as evil because they see through the filter of their own biases. Their rage is justified; their violent actions have reasons. Whether they swat a fly or burn a human, they will tell you they had their reason. 

Actually, using the term “senseless violence” just mean that the violent action doesn’t make sense to us, the viewer. After nearly forty years of working with the most bizarre, in prisons and in jails, in closed wards (when they still had mental hospitals!), in short, with every variety of strange and “senseless” behavior that can be observed, I have had the chance to observe many “reasons” for violence. None of them really make sense to me. 

Please let me be clear that I do not condone or excuse violent behavior. No matter how strong the emotion, the action is still a choice. No substance use or psychiatric disorder, in my mind, excuses the wrongness of behavior that hurts other people. In fact, it is exactly that element of choice upon which this article is focused.  

Many academics have written about the idea of innate aggression as a characteristic of being human. Anger and rage are seen as built-in responses to threat, with aggression and violent actions a result. I am convinced that, while the emotions may be a natural part of the human response to fear, the actions we do are always a choice we make. Whatever your reasoning is, you still have a choice of how you express it. 

I have found over the years that to help people heal, it is necessary to understand the internal pattern behind their seemingly bizarre behavior. Only then can you help build a path out of the morass and into healthier patterns. But when it comes to anger and people who commit horrible violent acts, I have seen a growing tendency to skip the more difficult path and just retaliate with vicious vengeance. 

The problem is that this only continues the cycle. The consequence of acting with venom against those who hurt us only creates a world with more violence and more venom. So what would happen if we tried to figure out the twisted trail that leads to aggression so that we could turn it in another direction? I’m not talking about simply getting into the criminal mind, with the corresponding danger of getting lost in that landscape. No, I’m talking about actually trying to understand. 

Understanding the seemingly twisted logic of another doesn’t excuse evil. Hopefully, it might give us clues as to how to prevent similar destructiveness in others in the future. But the first step is a comprehension of the rationale behind the violence. If common sense means widespread, then, as the saying goes, common sense isn’t all that common. But understanding the un-common reasoning of the violent may lead us to some ways to stop it.  

When it comes to violence “common” sense just doesn’t seem to exist. The reasons humans give for acting badly boggle the mind. Thank goodness everybody doesn’t think the same way or the human race would have destroyed itself by now.  But there are moments when I feel the species is headed in that direction.  

My professional experiences with violent felons over the last fifteen years, as well as my personal experience of the last five years, has made me want to explore the topic of why people do bad things in more depth and with more objective analysis of all its parameters. I feel like I’m just beginning on a jigsaw puzzle and I have to admit that there are pieces that completely elude me at the moment! There are problems in this whole area of study that totally baffle me.  

For example, some people cannot resist the temptation of the delusion that causes others to suffer equals “power.” In my writing and teaching over thirty years ago, I defined power as the capability of getting things done. All these years later, I still see more sense of achievement in actually accomplishing a project than in just being able to force people to do things. I assumed that over the years more people would come to this realization. (Well, I never said I wasn’t naïve!) 

With all the misconduct and theft in government and financial officials growing daily, 

Trying to understand why some people want power and money and will hurt others to get them makes my head ache. I understand wanting to make a living and provide for your family and future, but conspicuous consumption just seems so boring to me. At some point, enough is enough. At any point, forcing others to suffer should detract from your self-esteem not bolster it! 

Then there’s the problem of people who crave anger. I’ve written a lot over the years about how to manage anger. But I’m finding there are people who don’t want to manage their anger. Instead they just want to feed it. They say things like “I get my energy from being angry” or “I don’t feel like myself if I don’t get angry.” Of course, I don’t understand! That’s because I’ve always felt that I get my energy from love and sex, art and play, life-nurturing rather than life-destroying activities. 

That’s the kind of statement that really worries me because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in sixty years, it’s that fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to destruction and suffering. In the last fifteen years of turning more and more into the study of how to prevent gangs and how to prevent terrorism, it’s clear that just responding with anger means turning into the evil that one is trying to avoid.  


Finding Hope

Monday, January 19th, 2009

With all the news stories about corruption, violence, and just plain rotten behavior, my sons often ask me “Has it ever been this bad before?” In my 60 years of life, I’ve looked back and struggled, not knowing how to answer that question. 

I think I had this fantasy that as I got older, things around me would make more sense. And looking at personal events in my life didn’t help! When I first wrote the original bio sketch below, I had no idea that I would end up writing a book about the worst in human beings and an example of a legal system gone toxic.  

The last four and a half years has been a maelstrom of disillusion and despair in everything I had believed in. Since I covered the worst events in the book, I wanted to find some of the idealism, hope, and optimism that had always led me. I even had the courage to put a photo of myself on this website. Granted, it was from my 50th birthday. I’ve been rather camera-shy since the accident described in the book.  

My friends said the winds of change were blowing through the country. I’ve been working hard to find hope and new enthusiasm. 

Then I spent Martin Luther King Day watching a two-hour special by Tom Brokaw about “1968.”  Reliving the events of that year and remembering the effect they had on my personal life shocked me into tears. I heard Tommy Smothers say “I miss the optimism.” I heard Arlo Guthrie say he too thought we would “begin to relax as human beings and get along.” 

And I began to understand why I was having trouble answering my sons’ question. It wasn’t the venom I’d experienced since 2004; it was that venom hadn’t gone away. I have no idea whether we cover up more corruption now or then. I have no idea whether there is actually more violence. I just know there was too much venom then and there’s too much now! 

Someone interviewed complained about those foolish young people who “thought what you thought was right” and would go to any lengths to change the system. Someone else said the “culture wars began” then. But class disagreements have always existed in this country. My impression is that the 1960’s were just the first time people complained loudly in public instead of griping in private. 

And I can’t blame one generation of youth. I’m not certain there is a difference between the instant changes demanded by the radicals of the ’60’s and the demand for a magic pill, cure-all surgery, or financial bailout of this generation. Both want instant gratification. If the baby boomers are sometimes called “spoiled and self-indulgent,” then what is the characteristic of this nation listening to a constant barrage of commercials promising instant cures for pain, age, and fear? People today who hate those who disagree with their beliefs are no less venomous than officials of the Inquisition! 

Mr. Brokaw asked what was worth keeping and what should be thrown out? The first thing I thought of was that silly old slogan “Love it or Leave it.” I had the idealistic notion that if you loved this country, you should stay and try to improve it. I still do. I still prefer troublemaking whistleblowers to polite hypocrites. There are things wrong that need to be fixed. Love means having the courage to tackle the job of repair. 

We went to the moon that same year. One of the astronauts recalled seeing the earth rise over the moon’s horizon and realizing for the first time “really how fragile the Earth is and how limited our resources.” Amen! That’s still true. And it’s as simple as this: if we’re not doing things to improve conditions, we’re allowing their destruction. That’s as true for the welfare of human beings as it is for the physical environment. 

No matter what your politics, no matter what your religious beliefs, no matter what your race, no matter what you see as differences, we are all human. There’s only one way for us to survive: Co-exist and Cooperate!  

Mr. Obama, I wish you well. Don’t let the venom discourage you. Keep trying and we’ll all find hope. Because the alternative is despair!

Has Thinking Gone Out of Style?

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Words have become tricky these days! During the election the situation reached nearly intolerable levels, but, let’s face it, it’s a general epidemic. For example, in the months leading up to the election, if I looked at how bad things are and said I wanted to see a “change”, it was no longer considered a simple statement of fact. It became an excuse for others to attack. And I never even had to mention my political leanings! 

Why do so many words have a hidden agenda today? Why do people talk about a word as being a “code” for a whole set of ideas? 

Words have been usurped. Euphemisms have become coded messages that take on implications that were never intended. “Pro-life” is a classic example. Originally meaning “in favor of the value of human life” it has become a term that carries the hidden message that a woman, whether poor, raped, or otherwise traumatized, has no right to the value of her life or the life of her other children. In fact, it sometimes appears to carry the meaning that sex-education and knowledge about preventing unwanted pregnancies should be banned. I’m confused. 



Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

It’s certainly become more difficult to keep treading water when it’s rising everywhere. Financial worries, too few jobs, constant fear – these days it’s a flood of epic proportions! But while I’ve talked about stress before, this time I think we need to deal with discouragement and despair. It’s seems that just plain “giving up” in frustration is one of the biggest problems facing us.

You see, any flood is worse if it’s sludge that rising around you. Not simple survival problems, but a toxic brew of greed and power-hunger that leads to corruption and ethical violations by the very officials in whom we trust to preserve our security. Mix that with apathy and feelings of helplessness, and you’ve got an overwhelming mess indeed.