Mistakes

“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” by Tavris and Aronson is a punchy 240 pages about a fundamental driver of our human identity: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of discomfort that occurs when we have two opposing ideas operating in our mind. For example, I think I am a good person, good people don’t yell at their neighbours, I yelled at my neighbours: so, either I am not a good person or there must be something about my neighbours that justifies a good person to yell at them. And thus also determines the way to war.

Cognitive dissonance seems to sit at the interface between our higher mind and our baser mind. The higher mind is a great space for virtuous idea and creativity. The base mind is all our instincts for survival. Both of these minds interact through our language centres and therein become our thought and our being. However, our baser mind provides hard wired outputs so that we can survive. Our higher mind requires educational sources, nurturing. So our baser mind can express in action almost quicker than we can think about what we are doing ie putting it into language eg be angry when feeling threatened. When an action from our baser mind expresses itself, we will most likely find ourselves at odds with our own higher mind. We experience a terrible discomfort, perhaps a deep guilt. This is cognitive dissonance. However, because we don’t like the feeling, we get rid of it by justifying our behaviour.

Self justification is behind good people doing even more terrible things. A man embezzles a million dollars from his company to pay his gambling debt. He starts by just a small amount which he pays back. But as he gambles, he takes more, and he can’t pay it back. Yet, he justifies, I will win big and all will be restored and I am a good person and I will give up gambling. But he never wins and eventually he is discovered. The small mistake, when justified, will lead to a greater and greater misdeed. Tavris and Aronson’s straightforward unfolding of the elements of Watergate, provide a strong lesson for all of us.

Tavris and Aronson identify several ways to deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. Don’t be too ready to resolve it. Have sleepless nights. Turn your discomfort over and over. Where might you be self justifying, being right, making someone wrong. Where might you need to make a hard decision that is ethically the right one.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own up to it as soon as possible. If the mistake made a mess, you have to clean it up. You have to take the consequences. But the early mistake and consequences will be mild compared to an escalation of mistake and consequence through self justifying.
  3. Learn from the mistake. In fact live for the mistakes you make, the people who can alert you to them, and what you can learn. This will ensure that you become a great learner, a successful person, and avoid making very big mistakes with big consequences.
  4. I would add, encourage others for the effort they put into trying things, making mistakes, and particular, learning from them. Help others see mistakes, not to be right, but that they can try again, even if they fail again. This is accountability, this is empowerment. This is the place in which there is no failure, just (paraphrasing Edison) a million discoveries of what didn’t work so well, and, in looking at each one clearly, finding a great opening of possibility.

Remember, says Tavris and Aronson, you are a smart, capable person who made a mistake. You remain a smart, capable person. The mistake remains a mistake.

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DOES GOD EXIST?

The word EXIST, like all words, stands as a symbol of a symbol, in this case an idea of phenomenon. As a word, it is, itself, a phenomenon. As a word it points for me to something that I am experiencing, that can, therefore, be said to be a phenomenon. The word God and Exist in the same sentence, for me, falls away, awkwardly, to the degree that I am leant to declare, God doesn’t Exist.

In the Baha’i Faith there are two words that stand for the idea of God: UNKNOWABLE and ESSENCE.

Unknowable, in the sense it is used for God, is an absolute feature. It is not like the idea that I know I don’t know, or even that I don’t know that I don’t know. It is not the mathematical idea of nothing in the set, zero. It is an idea that anything I can be, anything a sentient being will be, will not come any closer to knowing. It is that there is no set to hold no items. The word God, itself, is a placemark for the unknowability of, and here the second word comes into play, Essence.

Essence is the idea of the merest hint, the barest sense, a fleeting awareness. The fleeting awareness is a register of an ocean of power that is itself something manifest, something phenomenal. This ocean of power exudes both an awesome potentiality as well as a deeply inviting calm. An awareness of the ocean of existence only points further to the hint of an infiniteness of existence that, nonetheless, has certain regulations, a way that it works. And, there, as the way it works, lies the essence of the unknowable. The bringing of existence into existence is tangible as that it works the way it works, and that it is not ours to expect differently, nor decry that it works the way it works, for it works for we.

When I bring up the word exist, it is if essence ceases to exist. The word ‘exist comes up like an impenetrable wall which shuts out all merest hint, all barest sense. Exist not only has no capacity to speak of, to point to God, it is a heavy veil between my sense and the essence. To seek for the merest hint of the unknowable essence, put away all thought that God exists. Sit with your sense of being, ranging widely and seekingly, without any more purpose than just broadening the range across the ocean of power.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.

You WILL Choose.

This week a team of three of us had approved our application to facilitate a workshop on accomplishment at the 2018 Global Transformations Conference in Monterey, California. The full title of our topic is “Living the Dream: A Life of Accomplishment”. During the process of putting together the application, we (the team) have had weekly conversations about what accomplishment means and where it all came from. Looking at a thread of accomplishment that I am calling ‘creativity’, and how I might address it from my view of my own biography, I can hear any number of people who might present alternate viewpoints of what accomplishment is and how it ‘should’ work. In pondering those potential ‘alternatives’, ideas I have already heard from various sources, I began to realise that we are all just be standing in the path of our own choices. For all of us, there is only that, given whatever we think we know and much we don’t, we will choose as we will choose.

A couple of years ago, The Poetry Foundation post a commentary by David Orr, that we often fail to fully read this famous poem by Robert Frost. When we just read the beginning and the end we come away with the common interpretation that Frost is encouraging us to take the more arduous looking path. However in the middle two verses he regales that neither path is really any different to the outward glance but that only one of them can be taken. In this case, when we read the last verse we can see he is being ironical about how we will dress up the story of our life, in the future, as one that was the more adventurous.

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

David Orr tells that Frost actually wrote the poem as a tease while in England and going for regular walks in the countryside with another poet, Edward Thomas. Frost told that, after the walk, Thomas would often complain that he should have chosen different pathways because of what they missed out seeing. So, Frost wrote the poem just to say, a choice is made, and that is that. Everything else afterwards, is just a following along that path, as it has to be.

Sex and Power

The social philosophy program on the ABC Radio, THE MINEFIELD, tried to discuss the socio-political effect of the sexual abusiveness of powerful men, mostly in media, but some in politics. It was almost shocking to me to hear the striking inability of the guest on that program to deal with the biological imperative of sex, seeming to relegate sex to a social construct. My own 58 years on the planet and conversations with many men and women, suggest that trying to sideline the biological imperative of sex is most of the cause of our modern challenge around sex. If we are to understand ourselves and sex, at all, we need to take on the whole picture of human being-ness and history.

We must accept the biological nature of sexual urge, as in the same category of thirst and hunger. Unlike thirst and hunger, we will not actually die from not satisfying the sexual urge. However our brain’s biology is not set up for ‘actually’. It is set up for ‘as it will’. From the point of view of biology, to achieve an action, the brain is set up for the imperative ‘as it will”. Regarding sex, the human biology is set up as that ‘we will die’ without it. ‘Actually, it is our species that will die without it. Biology doesn’t account for this distinction.

Understanding the biological imperative, we can then begin an historical exploration  with a view of our pre-homo sapien sapien behaviour. Taking non-human primate behaviour as reflecting that history, we can conclude that the early human social group was dominated by the alpha male who bullied other males to their possible death, and strictly controlled his own access to females for sex. Females also, in the main, capitulate to this social formation as access to sex and other emotional rewards.

Through these alpha males, what we could now call, psychopathic, from about 100,000 years ago, the groups journeyed across the world, establishing new groups and new territories. This journeying is continuing today, and the European colonial movement that we get caught up with in many political expositions, today, is just the recent and largest, lead expeditions. Since then, the psychopath has lost a lot of power, although to understand today’s conundrum around sex is to understand the current imposition of the psychopathic male and his ability to draw sycophants, both men and women, around him.

It is important to understand that the key transformative mechanisms that allowed human society to move from those alpha dominated groups to today’s yearning for an egalitarian society, has been the development of religious concepts and structures. Religious structures, being often built parallel to pre-existing political structures, have created access for men and women to sex and social power in new ways. Somewhat like an adolescent primate, religion has maintained only just enough ‘cheekiness’ to be allowed by the alpha, while eventually building up challenging levels of power that become alpha, and taken over by alphas (psychopaths) who wield their power across both religious and political spheres. Periodically, a new religious view would emerge to support another, more egalitarian view.  Over millenia, the play between religions and social politics and, eventually empire building, while not over-powering the psychopath (because it would take a psychopath to over power a psychopath), created a greater and greater sense of egalitarianism. Today’s complaint against sexual abusiveness must be taken in the context of that as modern yearning being built over thousands of years.

In a certain way, the broad spread complaint against sexual abusiveness (a badly kept secret the whole of my life from Marilyn Monroe’s suicide and movies being part of my childhood; noticing that adolescent males I knew who had been exploited by older gay men and many of whom died of AIDs in the 1980s; to the litany of allegations from workplaces), is part of the final movements of the world of humanity towards an equality of men and women.

Fundamental to that equality are that the mainstream of human society transforms on three fronts: being clear about sex, sexuality, and that equality means independence of men and women agreeing on monogamous sexual relationships (in otherwords, marriage); transforming economic systems by striving for independence, removing support for slavers, and other sycophantic behaviours, and ensuring equitable resource distributions; transforming political systems by supporting participatory democracy, education, and powerless attitudes in unity.