I’ve always loved this saying because it’s a concise description of how we are creating our reality based upon what we’re observing and how we interpret it. The world isn’t so much as it is as much as it is the way we are. We see what we want to see based upon our pre-existing beliefs to create a picture of things that matches our worldview, also known as:

con·fir·ma·tion bi·as

“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People tend to unconsciously select information that supports their views, but ignoring non-supportive information.” – Wikipedia

There are various types of confirmation biases. Our brains and mind are very clever at deceiving themselves in order to produce an interpretation of events that fits our preconceived notions of what’s good and bad, true and false. Many of our biases are factory-installed; we may have inadvertently inherited them from parents, friends, or others, the acceptance of whom we were dependent upon. Most biases are also unconscious – they run silently in the background subtly influencing our interpretations, thoughts, speech, and actions, ultimately defining the reality we each experience.

For example, in scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I noticed that based upon an individual’s biases, one interpreted last night’s speech by the President Elect as an articulate message of hope, unity, decency, and a return to the core values many have felt to be lacking in the current administration. Another interpreted the speech as evidence that the President Elect was ill, had dementia, and was a participant in a conspiracy to advance a sinister Democratic plot.

The point is, two different individuals witnessed the EXACT SAME SPEECH and arrived at completely different interpretations upon which to base their reality. But surprise, surprise – reality isn’t out there – it’s IN HERE. The truth of the speech isn’t an absolute; it’s relative to the one who is watching. Therefore, our interpretation of reality says very little about what’s “out there” but says everything about what’s “in here”.

What lens(s) do you filter the world through?

It’s only when we’re willing to admit that we have confirmation biases are we able to transcend them to see the truth.

“…we should look within ourselves to see where our particular problems lie and our cause of ignorance. You see, ultimately all type of knowledge simply means self- knowledge. You must look for truth yourself and directly experience every minute detail for yourself.”

⁃ Bruce Lee

How do we, as Bruce implies, seek out the causes of our ignorance (and our biases)? In my experience until we can settle our minds, seeing past the murk of a lifetime of hardwired beliefs and biases is virtually impossible. Therefore, learning to quiet the mind through meditation or some similar practice is the first step. Once we’ve learned to separate observations from evaluations, we can witness our thoughts, beliefs, and preconceptions. This witnessing eventually gives way to the intellectual honesty that is required to see things as they are, unclouded by our beliefs about them. We can ask ourselves, “If I react to this experience in ________ manner, what does that say about me and my state of awareness?” Or going deeper, “Who would I be if what I believe about this situation wasn’t true?”

It can be uncomfortable at times, no doubt. But if you want to get past your own crap and see things as they are, or for that matter see yourself as you are, there are no easy fixes. Grab your night-vision goggles, your pick axe, and get digging. What you discover just might surprise you. I know it has with me.

As always, just my opinion.

-AB

Argument Disqualifiers

August 19, 2020

I rarely, if ever climb into the comment section of a social media debate. I’ve done it a few times in the past, but learned the hard way like many of us that thanks to the deceptive nature of our minds, a host of logical fallacies, our need to cling to our beliefs, and just a stubborn attachment to being right that trying to change anybody’s mind through social media is a pointless exercise. In fact, I think social media literally works against a civil, emotionally intelligent discussion between people holding opposing viewpoints. Unless you’re a highly evolved being, it’s damn near impossible to read a given comment section without losing faith in humanity; which is why I avoid it. Or maybe I don’t post anything controversial enough to be debated. Or maybe no one follows my posts…

But anyway, I do have friends who routinely have comment sections that look like a Civil War battlefield – bodies everywhere, screaming, ranting, hostility and ugliness. If you’re one of them and enjoy getting all riled up, you do you and to each their own. We could talk about all the stress, anxiety, and hostility that is generated in your mind-body by this type of interaction and the way it affects your health and peace of mind, but that can be another post.

If you don’t enjoy it and would prefer not to get into it on your or someone else’s wall, I offer my personal list of argument disqualifiers. Although there are undoubtedly more that could be listed, these five are pretty clear indicators that the person on the other end’s argument is not going to be worth investing your time in. When I see any one of these in my or someone else’s feed, I usually head for the exit. Nothing to see here.

I’ve been an armchair student of critical thinking for the last few years and have worked hard to understand how slimy my mind is and recognize the tricks it likes to play. I’ve got a ways to go yet, but on this road to wade through the muck, I’ve learned to develop my own ways to filter the information that comes into my dome. If this helps you out, cool. Hopefully these hints save you some time and peace of mind. If not and you think I’m full of crap, be sure to say so in the comments 😉. Take ‘em for what they’re worth.

Instant Argument Disqualifiers:

1. Spelling or grammatical mistakes. Look, I’m not a trying to sound all high and mighty here. Throughout my life I’ve had atrocious spelling. Spellcheck is my lifeline and I have to proofread anything I write at least 3 times to catch my fat finger mistakes, and the occasional typos still creep through. But come on man, the butchering of the English language on social media needs to stop. There, their, they’re; two, too, to; your, you’re; sentences that read like a drunken stream of consciousness, nonexistent punctuation. If you want to convince me that your position has validity, how clearly you articulate your words makes a big difference in me taking your argument seriously.

2. Typing (screaming) in all caps. This one will get me to airlock someone pretty quick. Just because you’re trying to come across as passionate or loud doesn’t make you right. I get that you’re trying to make a point, (or drive it through everyone’s head like a jackhammer), but if you can’t write it clearly and articulately without making it seem like you’re about to burst a blood vessel, it might be a symptom of not having a super-strong argument to begin with. Screaming at your audience is a sure fire way to lose them.

3. Ad hominem attacks. Simply put, attacking the person rather than the position they are holding, see also, name calling. We see this one a lot on social media these days. This is probably because of the anonymity that social media allows for; unless you know this individual personally, chances are, you’ll never ever meet them face to face, so why not call them the son of a motherless goat instead of attacking their argument? Name calling seems to be the weapon of choice in the comment feed, but make no mistake, it does zero for your argument. If your lead-in is the latest derogatory name for the opposing political party or anyone else for that matter, you have already shown yourself the exit in my book. If you can’t bring yourself to use civil and non-dehumanizing words to others who don’t share your views, you’ve lost more than your argument if you ask me.

4. Whataboutism/Deflection. Another mainstay tactic of modern social media debating. We’ve all seen it – a point of contention is raised about a specific individual or group, and those on the opposing side of the argument, rather than defend against that point, deflect attention away from the issue by saying, “Well, whatabout that time you played belly button music when you were drunk at that party? That was just as bad!” No, it had nothing to do with it. I get it, it’s often used as a comparison tool to show that you and yours did something twice as bad. But here’s the thing – we’re not talking about that. Chopping the head off another doesn’t make you stand taller. Defend the point at hand, or at least admit you can’t. Stop shaking your keys and saying “Ooo, look over here!” Whataboutism is so much of an obvious deflection in leu of having a genuine rebuttal it’s downright painful. Debate/critical thinking fail 101. Please turn in your argument card at the door.

5. Posting memes as an argument. Memes have their place. Used at the right time they can add just the appropriate punch or emphasis to make a point, create inspiration, or make someone laugh. Used as an argumentative device, they are a hard fail, especially in political arguments. Political memes aren’t a means to further the discussion or to elaborate on a position; they’re meant to trigger emotion. Images of a political figure sprinkled with a handful of degrading and volatile words are posted to do one thing – light you up. See memes for what they are and don’t fall for it. In my opinion it’s a troll tactic, a lazy man’s attempt to shut the opposition down by throwing a cheap shot against the wall. If your argument consists of a snarky visual insult against your opposition, you really don’t have an argument.

So there you have it. My 5 red lights for spotting a no-win argument situation. When I see any of these in a comment string, I know I’m probably going to be dealing with more frustration than it’s worth. Like I said, trying to prove a point on social media is a big gamble. If it’s really important to you and you think they are truly willing to hear another point of view, go for it. But if you see any of these flags in a string of comments, just know that your return on investment will most likely be pretty small.

As always, just my opinion.

Break the Cycle

July 7, 2020

Our bodies are eavesdropping on our minds and the external world in every moment. Every bit of raw data we perceive, either consciously or unconsciously alters our mind, our body, and our perceptions of reality.

And this is where a steady diet of negative news or media content can become problematic.

Note – I’m not bashing all media as bad. It’s become vogue to lump all media sources into one untrustworthy bucket of “lamestream media.” That’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s important to be properly informed by reputable and objective sources, be they mainstream outlets, or smaller, equally qualified channels that maintain neutrality in their reporting of the facts.

What I am talking about is the quality of the information we allow into our minds. With so much data flooding our senses, it’s vital to mindfully curate the content of our awareness. It’s too easy to turn on the television or scroll through a social media feed with no concern or filter on the quality of the content we’re absorbing. This unending stimulus washes over us causing a direct and measurable change in our thoughts, emotions, and physical well-being.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell: Any incoming information makes its way into your awareness through the gateways of one of your 5 senses. In the case of a news report, you receive a combination of visual images coupled along with the sounds of spoken words or background noise. That input is perceived and triggers your brain to release neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that send signals between brain cells) and activate neural networks that code for specific thoughts, interpretations or beliefs about the information you’ve just consumed.

Those thoughts then causes the release of certain neuropeptides (chemical messengers that cascade throughout your body to various tissues and glands). Those glands then release specific hormones that ultimately influences the way you feel physically.

So now we’re feeling differently because of the information we just let into our minds.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our brain notices how we’re feeling differently and then we start to think the way we’re feeling. It’s a feedback loop – we absorb negative information, signaling our body to feel the way we think, and then our mind notices we’ve begun to feel bad and we start thinking the way we feel.

Rinse and repeat.

Run this cycle for a few hours or days, that state becomes a mood.

Continue it for a few weeks or months, it becomes part of your temperament.

After years, that negatively or fear becomes a personality trait, or state of being.

See the problem here?

So how do we escape this trap? In a word, awareness.

Understanding how this happens is a good start. But you have to be vigilant. Notice what you mind has settled on and recognize that what you are attending to is changing your neurology and biology moment by moment. Then make the commitment to be skillful, conscious, and mindful when it comes to the data you consume. Your attention is a precious resource and it shouldn’t be squandered on toxic, negative, hateful, or fear-generating news. Focus on the positive, the good, the uplifting stories and aspects of life and relish the way those make your body feel. Create a feel-good feedback loop.

(This would also be a good time to talk about the power of gratitude, but I’ll save that for a future post.)

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us may not have given it much thought, but we each get to decide what goes into our mind. Sometimes rising above life’s negativity can be as simple as consciously deciding where we put our attention.

True Freedom

July 4, 2020

As Americans celebrate Independence Day, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on what it means to be free. In this country, freedom generally refers to our ability to live free from oppression and tyranny, to be treated equally, to be able to speak as we choose, to come and go as we please, to bear arms, to vote for whom we choose, to love who we want, to worship whatever god (or lack thereof) we like.

This concept of conventional freedom has been a powerful ideal that has and continues to make this country an amazing place to live. These freedoms cannot and should not be taken for granted. Countless lives and enormous sacrifices have allowed us to enjoy the freedoms many of have come to accept as the givens of our daily existence.

However, freedom goes far deeper than these things. To truly be free we have to be free from the past, free from conditioned thinking, outdated beliefs, and the bondage of karma. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are prisoners of our habits, perceptual cycles, and the grooves we’ve dug into our nervous system through repeated use for years and lifetimes.

In truth, we’re not free. Not as long as we keep doing things the way we always have. Rather than being awake, creative, aware, and adaptive to the changes of life, we’re in a prison of our own making; we’ve built our cell, locked ourselves inside, and the prison warden is ourself left over from yesterday.

True freedom means digging a tunnel out of your cell by seeing beyond old habits, emotional addictions and ways of thinking, questioning your personal status quo and discovering the tiger snares you have set to trap yourself as you hack your way through the jungle of your own mind.

“To see a thing uncolored by one’s own personal preferences and desires is to see it in its own pristine simplicity.”

⁃ Bruce Lee

To really be free, we have to question the authority of our beliefs, the cultural programming we have inherited, and our ideologies that hold us back in a limited understanding of who we are, why we’re here, and what it all means. We have to ask ourselves “Does this thought, this idea, this concept or philosophy truly serve me? Is it and evolutionary choice for me? (and everyone impacted by it (and if you understand the interconnectedness of the universe, that means everyone)).

Will we hang on to our old broken worldviews of exclusion, separation, rampant nationalism, racism, hostility, distrust of knowledge and wisdom, or will we liberate ourselves to experience unity, wholeness, inclusivity, peace, truth, and understanding? Now more than perhaps any time in the past, we stand at an evolutionary crossroads – one path pulls us back into primitive, reactive, unconscious tribalism; the other path leads to a an evolved global community of compassion and understanding informed by knowledge and expanded awareness.

In Sanskrit, the word for liberation is Moksha. Moksha is emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedom. It invokes the image of the peeling away of the layers of conditioning we have built up around ourselves like the skin of an onion. As each layer is removed, we become a little more of ourselves; pure unbounded beings of unlimited potential. Moksha is the freedom the world needs now. Only when we free ourselves from the past, the fear, and reactivity, will we move forward as a society.

On this Independence Day, may all being be free. Free from suffering, free from pain, free from the prison of conditioning that holds us in the ruts of the past.

Moksha 🙏🏻

The third step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is Right Speech. Right speech implies speaking words that bring peace, harmony, and compassion into any interaction. It means choosing words that come from a place of truth, authenticity, but are also infused with kindness and understanding of their implicit intentions. To use the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, ‘Be impeccable with your word.’

The bottom line in right speech is to do no harm.

For example, we often relish hearing a biting and sarcastic comment, however such comments are often made at the expense of another. Cynical, critical, snarky, hostile, or aggressive words cause harm.

Equally important to the words themselves are the things that go unsaid, or the implied subtext contained within the speech. When we practice right speech, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I trying to convey? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it improve upon the silence? Am I being mindful of my words in a manner that uplifts and helps to bring understanding?”

Which brings me to the attached image. I have to admit, I debated sharing it, knowing that It might be emotionally triggering to some, but I believe it underscores the lack of understanding and compassion we are suffering from as a society right now. The left column lists some frequently heard responses to mask mandates or stay at home orders in the interests of our public safety, health, and well-being. The right column lists how those words could be interpreted.

We are in a bona fide health crisis and the science is clear that we have to adjust our way of life (wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, etc.) if we’re going to get through it. The pushback voiced in some of these frequently heard comments often betrays a constricted and egocentric view that doesn’t take the bigger picture into account.

I’m not saying that everyone who says one of the phrases in the left column necessarily feels equivalent to what’s on the right side. However, those phrases do carry a degree of insensitivity to how they may be interpreted by the listener. Yes, we filter the world and the words of others through our own biases to perceive our own reality. But that doesn’t lift the responsibility of the speaker to choose words with care. Those comments also indicate a level of ignorance to the multiple factors involved in this issue:

Do you know someone who has had or died from COVID-19? If not, at the rate we’re going, that’s likely going to change.

We all want to get back to our lives, but what do you deem to be an acceptable sacrifice to make so that can happen? How many lives? Will those lives be people you know and care about?

No one wants to live in fear. But this really isn’t about fear, it’s about concern for others. Wearing a mask or avoiding large gatherings isn’t a statement that says, “I’m afraid”, it’s a statement that says, “I care about others not getting sick”.

Freedom won’t be very relevant if illness sweeps throughout our entire country and collapses our health care system. If your breathing is being managed by a ventilator, freedom to breathe unaided is going to be a slightly bigger concern than a nationalistic ideal.

Although both sides continue to politicize the issue, 2.74M infections and 130K deaths is a lot of people. This is not make believe. It’s real and it’s serious. In the final analysis, it’s about people’s lives and not who is to blame. (although consequences and karma are inescapable…)

I can hear the pushback from some, “Oh you’re just too sensitive, too politically correct. People like you make our country weak. Suck it up, buttercup!”

To a certain extent, that’s right. I am sensitive to the words we choose to use. Despite its shock value or humor political incorrectness won’t ever qualify as right or mindful speech. I hate to break it to you, but being deliberately cruel or careless with your words doesn’t make you the tough, brutally honest, tell-it-like-it-is hero. It just makes you mean. It dumps more negativity into our collective consciousness and continues to hurt others. And since when is being sensitive to the concerns of others a bad thing? We’ve been misled to believe that compassion and caring are signs of weakness. They aren’t. They take more strength than you imagine.

“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

⁃ The Dalai Lama

And maybe it’s me, but I always thought that looking out for the little guy, helping those that were weaker than us, and taking care of each other were part of our core American values.

Ultimately, you as the speaker, don’t get to determine how your speech will be interpreted. You may not think you’re being insensitive or hurtful with your words, but if they carry passive-aggressive, uncaring, or hostile baggage just below the surface that intention will still come through. You can’t un-ring the bell. Once the words leave your mouth, they can’t be pulled back in. To mindlessly fire a salvo of talking points to justify a narrative doesn’t serve anyone and only feeds a wave of ignorance and selfishness that’s sweeping the country.

Speak mindfully. Speak with compassion. Speak with understanding. Speak from a position of awareness. Speak what one of my teachers called the “sweet truth”.

Words matter. And they have consequences. They tell others who you are and what you stand for.

What will the legacy of your speech be?

But that’s not what we’re taught. In fact, we’ve got it backward. We’ve come to believe that everything humanity has achieved has been through rugged individualism, toughing it out, and me against the world-style drive and ambition. It’s not that those qualities aren’t important; they have their time and place. Or perhaps it’s better to say they HAD their time and place.

However, the real unsung hero of a civilized society is compassion, caring, kindness, and the spirit of cooperation. I help you, you help me, and the world is better and moves forward because of it. If we understand the principle of interdependence, we cannot ignore the fact that no one is an island. Infinite networks of relationships are responsible for keeping us fed, clothed, connected, sheltered, paid, healthy, and fulfilled.

Have you ever stopped to consider the incredible self-reliance and ingenuity of some of our primitive ancestors? Their ability to figure things out, to build tools, weapons, or farming implements were the building blocks of our society, but it was only in the sharing of those ideas and the caring for each other that we were able to become more as a group than as isolated individuals.

Compassion is the Yin to the Yang of self-focused, me, myself, and I thinking. It’s the necessary glue that brings people together out of a desire to help, to care, and to eliminate the suffering of others. It’s the opposite of the ‘survival of the fittest’ that says only the strong survive. Compassion teaches us that the strength of the strong can help support the weak and we all move forward.

Compassion is also the true key to our survival and growth as a species. Force, struggle, and wrecking-ball politics are dinosaurs that will ultimately lead to our extinction. As Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine said, “Evolution favors the survival of the wisest.” Compassion is the choice of wisdom, of growth, of healing, and evolution.

It is our greatest strength. And without it, we are doomed.

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, for countless reasons. But one of its most appealing qualities for me is the spirit of collective peaceful exploration and cooperation across all cultural and species barriers. To me it’s always stood out as a beacon of what humanity could become and in my heart, I like to think that the archetypal energy of Star Trek is out there, on the edge of a metaphorical event horizon pulling us toward that future. It’s not a perfect future, but it’s an image of where we could go if we remember what it means to be human and set our moral compass to the true north of compassion, kindness, understanding, and awareness.

– Donald Miller

Now, more than any other time human history, we have a greater access to information that can lead us to knowledge, wisdom, and ultimately enlightenment. But oddly, as a society it feels as if awareness has become the road less traveled.

Why?

Why would anyone choose to remain in darkness, in fear, in ignorance?

As Rumi says, “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”

I think there’s really only one answer…it’s comfortable. We’ve become complacent in what we think we know, but we don’t know what we don’t know. Nor do we not know what we don’t know that we don’t know.

Seeking knowledge and the truth is hard. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes brutal self-honesty. It’s not a cushy, easy ride. Not necessarily an appealing approach to a society that is becoming increasingly lazy, entitled, and self indulgent.

But in my view, choosing to live in darkness is a death sentence. There’s no growth, no evolution, no improvement. We’re stuck in the prison of our own making, and our tormentor is ourselves left over from the past. I don’t know about you, but 10 years from now, I don’t want to be the same person I am today…

Every choice we make, as individuals or as a society lead us forward to a nourishing, evolutionary future, or backward into a primitive, selfish, and hurtful past.

Every. Single. Choice.

What choices are you making today? Are they leading you to more understanding, compassion, peace, and growth? Or are they holding up an old, broken, rusty worldview that divides, stirs anger and hostility, and hold you and the rest of the world back? Can you really afford to live in the past, in an ideology that has become a relic of time long gone?

Maybe you can. But one thing is for sure, the rest of the world can’t. Knowledge, growth, and change are the only way we’ll get through our current troubles. And the choices we make toward ignorance or knowledge will make us part of the problem or part of the solution.

In ancient times, one seeking knowledge would follow a guru, a teacher or guide. Guru literally means “dispeller of darkness.” But you don’t need a teacher to find the light of truth, because it already exists within you. If you look within, you’ll feel the truth, you’ll know it down to the core of your being.

I challenge you to find the light within, to awaken to a higher more evolutionary version of yourself. Make life-affirming choices. Be compassion. Be truth. Be peace, harmony, laughter, and love. True change can only happen if each of us, one by one awaken to our true selves.

Then the world will change in our image.

The last few months have stirred up a great deal of mental and emotional turbulence, especially on social media. It’s not an exaggeration to say that social media platforms have become battlefields of polarized perspectives and competing ideologies.

For many of us, the strain of endless negativity and hostility is not worth signing on. But there are options. You don’t have to be at the mercy of every post, comment, or meme that hits your wall. You have a choice in how you can deal with the stream of information.

In my experience, there are 3 things you can do right now to cultivate more peace on social media. They are:

1. Always Consider the Source. Before you click, read, or fall down an emotionally reactive rabbit hole, take a moment to consider the source of the information you’re about to put in your head. Who’s saying it, who wrote it, what news source or basement blogger published the content you’re choosing to consume? Experience matters…it matters a lot. The thing about the internet is that it makes everyone seem reputable, but that’s not always the case. Social media has given everyone and their brother the ability to publicly opine on any topic, and while we each have some area of expertise in a few areas, very few of us are professional scientists, politicians, or lawyers and without the data that comes as a byproduct of years of training and research, for most of us, our strongly held belief is just an opinion. We all have them…

Also remember to consider the news sources your consume. Everyone likes to believe their news sources are neutral and right down the middle, or in a word, absolutely true. Chances are, they’re more in the realm of relative truth. Know the difference between an overview story of largely facts versus an opinion piece that’s based upon a particular interpretation of the facts. It takes work to vigilantly seek out the truth in everything you read, but it will save you a lot of angst later when you find out what you read (or worse yet, chose to believe) was dead wrong.

2. Skip the comments. Granted, there’s a certain temptation in opening the comment string of a highly controversial post or article to confirm or argue for your beliefs. Or better yet, just to watch a squad of like-minded others pile-on a troll. While it can be a fun spectator sport, the comment section is ultimately nothing more than a minefield of other people’s raw unfiltered options. It’s like wandering through the subtext swamp of hundreds of strangers….yuck. From what I understand, psychologists have discovered that the lack of eye contact and increased anonymity of the internet emboldens people to be orders of magnitude meaner online than they would ever be in person. In the blink of an eye, a nice discussion can turn into fight club.

Plus, there’s that whole expertise thing again. Having an opinion doesn’t make it true. But people will fight vehemently for those opinions garnished with loads of expletives…it’s really a pointless place to be most times. If you are going to comment, remember what your mother hopefully taught you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Hurlings insults all ad-hominem-style gets you nowhere and adds more hostility and negativity to the world. Most times people don’t go to a comment string to change their minds. They go there to prove a point, pro or con. So knowing that in advance, you can make the choice to deprive potential combatants of an opponent.

“How beautiful it is to stay silent when someone expects you to be enraged.” – Unknown 

3. Lastly, see memes for what they are. Memes have become the quickest way to make a point on the internet. Find an image, sprinkle it with a quote, an inspiring passage, or some sarcastic snark, and viola, you’ve got a guaranteed attention-grabber. I’m not against memes – they can often be spot-on, funny ways to capture a sentiment ala “a picture is worth a thousand words.” However, because of their potency, they are often used as a substitute for an actual discussion or discourse, kind of a poor-man’s debating tool. Especially when it comes to political or highly incendiary topics. When used in this way, memes get dropped on you like a debator’s “dirty bomb”.

It’s important to understand what’s happening here. That image coupled with a phrase or quote has one purpose. It’s not to further the discourse, not to help you better understand another point of view. No, when used this way, a meme’s purpose is to piss you off. It’s meant to trigger an emotional reaction. It’s a cheap shot used by someone who is either incapable or unwilling of having a healthy discussion or debate. When you see this, you can avoid the temptation to get pulled into a pointless meme salvo with some stranger in the comment section. Say to yourself, “I see what you’re doing there, and I’m not going to take the bait.”

So those are my 3 tips to staying sane on social media. They’re not a cure all, but they can help. Give ‘em a try and be a nice human online.

Thanks for reading, 

Adam

The Roots of Violence

October 8, 2017

Sadly, I find myself writing yet another post following an act of horrible violence in this country. The Las Vegas shooting took place almost a week ago and it’s taken nearly as long for me to get my head around what I want to say. After the shock, sadness, and anger have settled in to a dull acceptance of a completely avoidable tragedy, as a nation we get to watch the same old rinse and repeat cycle – an outraged public, an impotent government bought and paid for by the firearms industry offering “thoughts and prayers”, and an army of internet and media warriors opining on gun control, the second amendment, domestic terrorists, and mental health. But if the unfortunate recent history of mass shootings in this country have taught us anything, it’s tragically unlikely that anything will change.

The problem is, none of these things address the real issue. The problem is violence, not guns. Don’t get me wrong, guns make violence exponentially easier to inflict upon others and we should certainly be taking steps to keep them out of the hands of those who wish harm to others, but the root of the issue has always been the violence itself. Violence is an existential problem; it’s part of our current human condition. That’s not to say that violence is an inevitable or unavoidable aspect of life, however, in our current state of human evolution, it is a given that we must learn to understand and address head-on if we are ever to move past it.

Philosophers and psychologists have written countless volumes of the nature and origins of violence; but in my view violence boils down to one thing – Stress. Stress always has been and always will be the fertile breeding ground for violence. No stress, no violence.

In very simple terms, stress is the feeling of inescapable pressure, tension, and anxiety created when our needs are not met. It arises from the perception of a physical, psychological, or emotional threat. The perception of stress activates what we know as the fight or flight response, a biologically hard-wired response of our autonomic nervous system. The fight or flight response is a survival mechanism designed to prepare our system for violent action; by either running away from the threat or engaging it in combat. Our primitive ancestors needed the fight or flight response to keep them alive in an inherently dangerous environment. Once activated, they fought or ran away, effectively discharging the stress. Those survivors lived longer than those who didn’t and passed their genes on to their offspring, generation after generation.

We have inherited the stress/fight or flight response from our ancient ancestors, but unlike them, we typically don’t live in an inherently dangerous environment. Yes, we may experience occasional threats to our survival, but for those of us who aren’t in the military, law enforcement, or other dangerous line of work, the chances of experiencing a life threatening situation are relatively low.

However, that doesn’t stop us from activating the fight or flight response between 8-15 times a day. Traffic jams, work deadlines, family arguments, the political/ideological climate, social issues/injustice, grief, depression, and anxiety can all trigger the fight or flight response and the resulting chemical cascade that switches our physiology into survival mode. Unlike our ancestors though, we don’t typically burn off the excess stress through combat or running away. Instead, we stuff the stress deep within, bottling it up like a powder keg primed to blow.

Sadly, this is the norm for the vast percentage of our population. Chronic and acute stress are facts of life that most of us have come to accept as normal and unavoidable.

This is a lie.

Stress is not normal, nor is it healthy. Not for your body, mind, or emotions. In fact, nearly all illnesses are either directly influenced or made worse by stress. It puts incredible pressure on our mental state. In fact, prolonged exposure to the stress response dampens our ability to think clearly, make rational and well reasoned decisions, or understand the consequences of our choices. We’re conditioned to perceive the world as a dangerous and perpetually threatening environment. In essence, we’re reduced to scared, anxious, little animals, twitching in the bushes, ever ready to run away or leap out to attack our perceived foe. We shoot first and ask questions later – if at all.

Considering that so many people are locked into this state day in and day out, it comes as little surprise that we’re killing ourselves. With so much stress, our natural human tendency toward compassion, goodwill, kindness, and mutual cooperation has been overwritten with a new paradigm; kill or be killed. Think about how you behave whenever you feel threatened. Do you think about the welfare or feelings of others? Are you open to other opinions, ideas, or perspectives? Do you look for opportunities to help or serve your fellow human beings?

Nope.

When stress and fight or flight rules, we live in a closed feedback loop of fear, paranoia, anger, resentment, projection, hatred, and simmering rage. We look out for number 1, and will rigidly oppose anything or anyone who stands in the way of what we perceive to be our territory.

This is why we’ve seen such a spike in violence of all kinds over the last few decades. Life becomes exponentially more stressful every year and we all are caught in its trap. Most have no outlet for their suffering and it comes out in domestic violence, road rage, political and ideological discourse, physical altercations, civilian/police interactions, escalating up to international conflicts and all out war.

Stress therefore is the physical, mental, and emotional foundation of any mass shooter or terrorist. A terrified, incredibly insecure, caveman who is desperate to find an outlet for the stress and anxiety that is ripping him apart from the inside out. But wait, you might say. Some of these guys don’t seem like frightened little animals, they seem like cold, calculated, and relentless killers without a hint of stress anxiety, or remorse. They planned out their attacks with clearly thought out, premeditated calculus.

True. But what got them to that point was the overwhelming stress that narrowed their vision and made the choice to kill scores of innocent people seem like a viable option. Once they decided on a course of horrible action, their stress had an outlet, but it was still the underlying cause nonetheless. The Vegas shooter didn’t “snap” on October 1, 2017 when he fired into the crowd. The snap happened long before, triggering a series of events that led up to the actual shooting. The stress is never truly relieved however. It’s still a crushing force that in many cases, after feeling he has no way out of his suffering, causes the shooter to take his own life in the end.

If stress isn’t managed then, both at the individual level and the collective level of our society the violence and mass killings are unlikely to stop. Our paradigm must shift if things are to change. Changing paradigms isn’t an easy sell, though. Our collective consciousness is deeply rooted in the fight or flight and reactive responses of our nervous system. With so many of us scared and on edge the notion of opposing force with force seems like the only option. Now more than ever, with a commander in chief who hurls violent and incendiary Twitter rants at his perceived enemies, we live in a society of hair trigger stress reactivity. We’ve come to believe the only way to achieve peace is through superior firepower. How often have we heard in the wake of a mass shooting, “The only thing capable of stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”?

This is a prehistoric mentality that justifies force vs force to subdue our opponent. It might be effective in the short run, but it doesn’t ever really address the cause of the problem. Violence begets more violence in an unending cycle; and in our modern age we’re not talking about hurling spears and stones at each other but rather bone shattering, organ rupturing pieces of metal fired from high powered, rapid firing, instruments of mass destruction with high capacity magazines.

For those readers who study the martial arts, you’ve undoubtedly heard the maxim to never oppose force with force. This is a practical recommendation for energy and technique efficiency, but also a core strategic principle for winning the battle with as little conflict as possible. Physics tells us that meeting force with force wastes enormous amounts of energy and the resulting energy leakage can contribute to collateral damage to the larger system. In other words, force against force just doesn’t work. It’s a caveman strategy causing more harm than good in the long run.

What therefore is the answer to the epidemic of violence? How do we dial down the stress response so we can live lives of peace with each other?

In one word, meditation.

Meditation is the most reliable, the most researched and time tested tool we have at our disposal to reduce the effects of stress on our nervous systems. Meditation, simply put, is the antidote to stress.

Countless and ongoing studies have demonstrated repeatedly the effects of meditation to reverse the effects of the fight or flight response. It calms the nervous system and replaces the fight or flight response with the “rest and digest” response. It helps to flush the primary stress chemicals of cortisol and adrenaline of the system. It changes brainwaves to a more orderly and coherent state. And most importantly, it shifts our perception away from a fearful survival mentality to one of calm safety and security.

Meditation goes to the heart of the matter. It’s not about policy, laws, or taking away anybody’s guns. It’s about healing the stress that is ripping this country apart. It is the equivalent of not opposing force with force. It is the most effective tool we have for evolving our paradigm from “survival of the fittest” to “survival of the wisest.”

Meditation works. It’s not as glamorous as double tapping the bad guy in the head, but if more people are meditating, there will be fewer bad guys in the first place.

Don’t believe me? Consider this:

Meditation programs have been introduced in inner city schools with a history of violence and have completely changed the culture, leading to a drop off in violence and an upswing in student engagement and performance.

Meditation programs have been introduced in hospitals, improving recovery time, pain management, and providing overall stress relief.

Meditation programs have been introduced in the workplace resulting in improved performance, enhanced work-life balance, stress management and overall mindfulness.

Meditation programs have been introduced into police departments, helping to better manage stress, foster a deeper sense of purpose, and create an improved bond with their communities.

Meditation programs have been introduced into the military, helping service men and women cope with the realities of combat, manage PTSD, and enhance overall performance.

And meditation programs have been introduced in prisons, leading to improved inmate rehabilitation, reduction in violence, a deeper sense of purpose, stress reduction, and improved reintegration into society upon release.

Meditation has also been repeatedly demonstrated to show that when a large enough number of people are meditating in a given community, not only the meditators receive the stress relieving benefits themselves, but those benefits also carry over into the larger community of non meditators.

If meditation can have these results within these localized populations imagine what it could do for our society if practiced on a large scale. Not only would individuals relieve the stress that is disrupting their lives, but all of society would begin to heal and benefit from the increase in group coherence.

It’s long past time to recognize that what we’ve been doing to address the violence in our nation isn’t working. “Thoughts and prayers” aren’t working. The fruitless battle for gun reform isn’t working. Federal and local law enforcement investigation, intervention, and interception of mass shooting suspects isn’t working. People are dying from mass shootings every month. The dead will be buried and mourned for, but what will have changed? Sadly, on our current snails paced learning curve, nothing will have changed. Is it not time for a different approach, one that addresses the cause of the problem of violence itself? If not now, when will it be the time? After the next shooting? Or the next? Or the next?

The pitiful truth is that the time for change was literally years ago. And our own lack of courage to change has always been the only thing holding us back.

Many of us feel helpless whenever we hear of another mass shooting or terrorist attack. We’re not helpless. At the very least, take the step into the future of humanity by refusing to contribute to the collective field of stress in our country. Share the idea with your friends and family. Learn to meditate or join a local meditation group. Deprive stress of of the chance to grow within you. It’s the most potent tool we have for correcting our course away from another senseless tragedy.

Okay, I get it. No one wants to see a negative, politically charged post on their wall, but there are times when we have to say something and this is one of those times.

As a nation, as a human race, we're looking down the barrel of a gun pointed at the head of the world, hammer cocked back, in the hands of two men who's awareness is deeply rooted in the fight/flight and reactive primitive brain responses of our caveman ancestors.

Whether their threats and boasts are nothing but monkey dancing and egomaniacal posturing doesn't matter. Bluffing or not, no good will come of this inflammatory rhetoric; the stakes are too high.

However, I wonder, how many of us have truly considered the potential consequences of a nuclear conflict? Having grown up in the latter part of the Cold War, I was educated in what a post nuclear war world would be like and it is simply put, unthinkable. If an "ICBM exchange program" begins, even if it doesn't escalate to other nuclear-capable nations it will be catastrophic beyond our ability to imagine, for the victims, for the environment, and for the world.

Some of may find temporary comfort in looking away, pretending it's nothing to be concerned about. I beg you to think again. The danger is very real.

Look around you right now and recognize the impermanence of our way of life. Our society, our culture, our families – all those things we hold dear are incredibly fragile. All of this could be wiped out in a moment – sparked by a rage filled tweet in the wee morning hours…

This is not the normal behavior of a mature and well adjusted leader. Grown, mentally healthy adults don't act this way, and every one of us knows it. Our leader is demonstrably and clearly unfit to manage this situation and to lead our nation. His lack of military, diplomatic, foreign policy, executive, legislative, and judicial experience, coupled with his narcissistic and egomaniacal personality have all the makings of a disaster of literally global proportions.

At what point will this behavior no longer be acceptable, not from a republican, democrat, conservative, or liberal perspective, but from a human one? When will we collectively say, "No more. You do not speak for us. We will not follow you down that road any longer" ?

Of course, the other leader is equally unhinged. But here's the thing, if we're going to be worthy of the title of the Greatest Nation in the Free World, the onus is upon us to take the highest road possible, to have the most mature, most enlightened perspective in times of crisis. When a fire is beginning to burn, our duty as an evolved nation is to find every means possible to extinguish the fire. Not pour more emotional and rhetorical fuel onto the blaze. The enlightened leader always seeks to avoid conflict if possible, rather than ignite one. Our leader is emotionally incapable of making this choice.

If the CEO of a million dollar company or a military leader behaved this way, he would undoubtedly be removed from his position. Yet we wait. We're told to give him a chance…
Where is our courage? Where is our strength as a society to stand up and take action? Are we too stuck in our political ideologies to cross the isle for the sake of our humanity and the future of our way of life? Or will the headstone of our culture and society read: "They waited to see what would happen."

The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict…[an individual] who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/527703/