The Haves and the Have-nots

I’m sitting in a beautiful candle lit restaurant in Vienna, Austria….sipping a glass of too-expensive rose champagne…but the bubbles, the dim light, the atmosphere – they are simultaneously invigorating and soothing. I see a family of three near me – the man leans back in his chair, chewing thoughtlessly on a piece of bread. I wonder to myself – does he enjoy the taste? Appreciate the texture? Consider the effort that went into making that bread just right for him. I see a son about 14 sitting next to him. He’s old enough to carry himself with comfort and look present, yet appropriately unimpressed by his surroundings. Certainly, he has had many meals like this – today is no special moment for him. He orders the rack of lamb and eats it as if it is $1 pasta. It is just a meal – sustenance. He is not rude, but neither does he appear aware of how special his dinner is. Few of us will ever experience food of this caliber, let alone so often by age 14 that it is boring. The mother, she eats without thought. Interacts with bland consideration. She is present but again, this is no highlight to a trip, a day, or a family moment.

Earlier today I walked the incredibly exciting streets and saw more amazing dresses, handbags, artwork, and shoes than I have ever seen. I am not at all a shopper but even I was impressed. I am not a big shoe person either (though I do love me some candy apple red pumps!) but the options here could make even the least interested take note. I took pictures!!!! A woman in one store kindly asked I’d like to try on the shoes – I laughed uncomfortably. What good would it do to try on shoes I could never buy? I smiled at her and thanked her for the indulgence. Because for me, just touching the shoes – dreaming of wearing them – THAT in and of itself was meaningful. I found pajamas of the softest material, vintage dresses that cost more now than when they were originally sewn, and coats that not only keep one warm but could make even the most homely person feel like a movie star.

And yet I giggled. Because why would any of these items matter? Yes, they feel nice on the skin. Yes, they are beautiful. But at the end of the day….If you have to cover up every part of yourself to be liked, valued, enjoyed – then has your soul been appreciated?

Perhaps it is cliché. Perhaps I am defensive – because, of course, I cannot purchase these items even if I wished. But while I sat at the same restaurant as that family – I enjoyed, savored every single bite and sip I took. Whose meal experience was better? Without question: mine was. I purchased only gifts for others on my shopping endeavor. Might I have enjoyed buying myself new clothes and shoes and bags? Perhaps. But I *know* I enjoyed buying my family European chocolates, stickers for my youngest, and fancy socks for my husband. I enjoyed seeing things I haven’t seen before. Though I admit – the 60s vintage dress: I’d have worn it with the biggest grin….just because.

Is money power? Does it matter? Does it impress?

To my mind, it provides options. But if it makes the joy of living less poignant, use it differently. If you see your child bored with an exceptional meal, switch to cheap ones and make them earn it. If purchasing fabulous clothes is commonplace….wear hand-me-downs until you feel thrilled and lucky to feel exceptional fabrics and dresses. If you aren’t enjoying what you have – give it away.

Appreciate pleasure, don’t waste it simply because you can.

Dodgers: Kershaw: Does the best always win?

The short answer is: no. Why?

 

In team sports – it’s a team…even a single best player isn’t going to change the outcome drastically. Even in those that seem like single person events – they are actually most often a team effort, even if behind the scenes – so in essence, you can’t be the lone winner either way. Moreover, there is the randomness one can’t predict. In statistics, it’s called “explaining the variance.” This means, we can only define a certain number of variables that help us predict an outcome, the rest is chance – or at least events/situations/variables we can’t predict. Did you know that when psychologists can predict 60% of the variance of anything, it is considered a HUGE outcome? And yet….it means it leaves 40% to factors we can’t predict.

The bottom line is this: You can control everything you can predict and there remains AT LEAST a 40% chance you’ll be wrong….no matter what.

So what do you do? Control what you can and accept what you can’t. It’s an old adage, but a worthy mantra. Thinking that if you just work harder, think longer, give up more, become a more dedicated martyr….none of these attempts are likely to result in more success. I used to tell my friend…

There will always be people who bet on horses randomly and win big. But the one that does her homework and makes an intelligent choice be will be more likely to win.

So my advice: Work hard, with limits. If you only work, you are guaranteed to lose the art of living. If you only live driven by chance and id-based desires, you are unlikely to achieve anything of meaning. Find the balance. Control what you can, dismiss what you can’t. Experience life instead of counting your achievements and diversify your interests. One of them is bound to succeed : )

But America….remember this doesn’t just pertain to winning in sports – it’s also the case in all events involving human prediction. This means that political races and domestic terrorist attacks are also influenced heavily by unpredictable forces. And herein lies our struggle to control our nation. Frustrated? Then consider the future use of big data analytics – where companies can record everything about you and better predict behavior.

So the right question is: Are you willing to give up your privacy to gain better predictability?

Photo credits: Boris Stefanik, Quino Al, Brian Wertheim

Meta-Messaging

Meta-messaging is the act of providing a common message to a large group of people across more than one area.

For example, a company might produce several different products but have a meta-message across them all focusing on something like comfort or women’s products. Terrorism has a meta-message of fear and controlled actions. People in one part of the world who act to harm others can suggest that all people belonging to their group are similar. Meta-messaging can be used for or against a group, depending on preference and goals. In politics, there are many candidates and many territories but the party to which the candidate adheres has a meta-message – in this case, called a platform.

But what happens when these messages are not clear? What happens when one of the products or candidates doesn’t fit?

Questions begin to arise by those listening to these messages. Doubt sets in. But the real damage occurs when people become critical of the lack of cohesive message being put forth. When this occurs, it allows loosely related messages, put forth by people or groups outside your control, to affect your message. For example, if a person commits an act of terrorism, people may become suspicious of a group to which they belong. It might be religion, but it might also be a club, or a level of education, or a set of organized beliefs. When the groups to which they belong are small in number, or not well known, people will often generalize the behavior to all people in the group. However, if the groups are large, this is less likely because too many people who don’t act the same would compel a different interpretation.

Perception colors reality. Data clarifies it.  

This is why we need to all be cognizant of our own biases….and also aware of the meta-messages we provide to others. To which groups do you belong? Why? How do they affect how others view you by association? Now….how might you use this messaging to your advantage?

Both the Republican and Democratic parties are in significant flux with regard to meta-messaging. The Republican Party is split by those that support the current administration and those who don’t. The Democratic Party is in shock over the election of the current administration and as such is simply rejecting everything put forth by them…but failing to provide an alternative message.

It is vital to our nation’s future that both parties define themselves in a way that focuses forward, is clear, and connects to the other. Unification will allow for a stronger nation, greater fiscal and personal success, and is the most likely, reasonable path to national defense and global leadership.

Perhaps we should consider the meta-message of our nation: Are we united or divided? America, the world is watching….

Photo credits: Mark Adriane, Alice Pascual, Ksenia Makgovonova

Focus on living, not achieving

Sometimes we need to pause…think….reconsider….remember that the unexamined life isn’t one that’s been lived to the fullest. Why? Why is it that we should bother to think about our lives, the lives around us, or our plans for the future? Because if all we do is go through the motions, then why are we here? Why bother?

I often say – don’t fear dying, fear not living.

As you examine, ask yourself, is the fighting, the arguing, and the negativity what you wish to spend your time sharing? I’ve asked many people on both sides of the political space this question and I find that folks really believe they are helping, adding strength to our nation, helping our people be better informed. While I thoroughly appreciate and lift up the passionate and determined support of our nation – I must challenge the method.

If the only people listening to you are the people that believed you in the first place…then have you really made a difference?

It is absolutely necessary to understand how our messages are being received in order to make a difference. Continued focus on achieving the goal of ensuring people have access to our personal interpretation of information does little to promote the lives of Americans and their ability to experience, maintain safety, thrive, and ultimately soar individually or as a nation.

We must instead focus on supporting the lives of our people rather than demanding they share the same beliefs. Drive national progress over your personal agenda.

“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” JFK

Photo Credits: Becca Tapert, Joshua Earle, Michael Browning

Strategic Psychology

  Strategic psychology is the study of national and international emotional movements.

With the advent of social media, the ability to share information immediately and widely has become possible. It has disrupted the flow of information so drastically that it allows anyone to control others, regardless of the accuracy of the information being shared. Essentially, the lack of filter on information and the immediacy with which it is delivered creates a recipe of disastrous proportions. Hence, this idea that large groups of people can ebb and flow in a joint emotional experience and that that combined movement has the power to drastically impact national and world events, is incredibly meaningful and must be better understood.

Some expected issues, in order of increasing concern:

  1. People will be unable to digest the enormous amounts of data and facts from social media. Accordingly, they will become overcome by emotions in reaction to factual or inaccurate information equally.
  2. This feeling-overload will begin to change the way people view facts. It will skew their ability to differentiate factual data from opinion and will result in people forming opinions based on whatever feels most accurate.
  3. This confusion will lead to erroneous assumptions, poor decisions, and expected bad outcomes – which will require justification. To take full responsibility for these outcomes would require significant self-awareness and generally speaking, people can’t handle taking too much responsibility for bad outcomes. Instead, they blame others.
  4. Once the outcomes spread across an entire country, we will see large-scale issues affecting not only those who made poor decisions, but everyone. Expected large-scale impacts could include unrepayable debt, relationship breakdowns, and the distrust of education and the media – all at the national level. Domestic terrorism is also expected to increase in frequency and severity as emotional outlets become constrained, rules of behavior are questioned, and as regulation of these emotions declines.
  5. Once rules of decent behavior are no longer followed and all information is distrusted, replaced instead with emotion-driven beliefs, the ability of a society to function with structure and safety will rapidly decline.

Without intervention, the destruction of our nation is a significantly possible outcome. We must rise up and support our people.

We *can* stop this before it progresses but it will take a system-level plan for how to affect emotions and information flow at the national level. It will require a sophisticated strategic plan to help our nation, provide the hope we need, and clarify a path to progress. Strategic psychology then is the idea that we can affect emotions in systems of people and delves into the ethical, moral, and scientific obligations associated.

We are all the same…or are we?

 

 

 

A wrinkle in time….The Giver….Movies that show us a future of control, sameness, no sadness, no happiness – calm predictability. Do you prefer it?

Think big – open your mind – ask yourself – are we aiming to make everyone think the same? Be the same? Act, do, believe the same? 

What’s the benefit of sameness? It’s predictable. With predictability, comes comfort. With no competition, comes no loss. With mediocrity, comes middle ground. With controlled feelings, comes safety. But….

If we squelch the desire to fight – we lose our drive to soar….

Are we willing to give up the chance to succeed? To persevere? To learn? To think? Question? Disagree? In exchange for comfort, we release extremes – both pain and euphoria.

Knowing what something is….is not the same as knowing how something feels.

Where do you stand? What do you prefer? How much control do you believe should be executed on our people? How much opportunity should we provide?

Photo credits: Soren Jorgensen, Waranont Wichittranont, Jonathan Simcoe

Centrism vs. Unification

What’s the difference? Why do you care? I like to say Centrism is like divorce court: Where everybody loses. The centrist opinion usually falls in the middle of issues – we call these people ‘fence sitters.’ Nobody likes a fence sitter because at the heart of their decisions is the need to not upset anyone, not take a position, avoid decision making. But the real problem is that when you take a centrist position, you ignore the real preferences and possibly the needs of the opposing parties.

The best way to bridge people or groups is to unify them.

In order to achieve this, you first have to determine what, exactly, it is that the parties want. But when emotions are high, this can be a real challenge. Sticking with my analogy of divorce court, you often see people whose actual goal is just to punish the other party. They don’t actually care how the punishment is carried out – could be public ridicule, could be losing time with kids, could be reduction of money or loss of home – doesn’t matter typically. The person is just so angry they want to see the other party punished and they want to feel vindicated. This is not an actionable goal nor is it a reasonable way to act. Yet, the reality of my point, stops no one. 😉 People still want what they perceive as ‘justice’. This behavior can also be seen in all other areas of life, including business and politics.

For example, at the root of the Never Hillary movement was a strong need to make a point and deliver perceived ‘justice’. There was an underlying need to punish her, the democratic party, and even possibly all politicians in general. Enter DT and you’ve got a way to both punish Hillary and the party, and even throw in a little pain for politicians in general. Vindication was the goal, and it was achieved.

But what was the cost? To some, nothing – many people are thrilled with the current administration. For others, they believe it has begun the fall of American society. With such a huge difference in beliefs, we either have to assume that a large group of people aren’t seeing reality, have a disorder (both of these have been suggested of course…by both sides), or they are using a different set of goals and measurement sticks to determine success. There is little likelihood that millions of people have all lost their minds so the most likely answer is the last one.

Using different success metrics means we have to listen to each other, understand others’ metrics, and then press forward with a plan.

If both sides have different needs, this is the easiest situation because, unlike in a centrist view where neither party would get what they want, in a unified stance, we can provide each side with their wish. Similarly, when parties want the same goal, but believe in different pathways, we can generally find a way to reach success. However, when groups want opposing outcomes, this is where we struggle. Or do we? Rarely is it the case that groups want truly opposing results. Rather, an oversimplification of the argument makes it seem that way.

For example, take the goal of free education that Bernie Sanders put forth. Is it really the case that it is bad for our people to be educated? Of course not! I doubt large groups of people really believe that. Rather, they don’t want to pay for it for everyone. THAT’S the real issue. So, be creative instead of pushy! Create an education system for adults that can be replicated, accessed, and provided to people at relatively no additional cost. Online education has a one-time cost and a relatively low cost to maintain.  Why hasn’t this been recommended? Because people want to win their point. Always be careful about focusing on the battle at the cost of winning the war.

Get the right answer, not your answer, and use innovation and creative problem-solving to find win-win scenarios.

With an understanding of people, an ability to listen to people’s needs, and some innovative thought, we can unify this nation by providing people with what they really want instead of suggesting everyone should compromise to the middle.

Unity is the strongest position of defense, excellence, and world leadership we can achieve as a nation. It’s high time we make it a priority!

Photo credit: Tim Marshall, Alondra Olivas, Courtney Hedger  

How do we get Americans to discuss solutions….instead of yelling at each other?

PART 1: The Problem

A good friend of mine asked me this question and I answered simply: We must help people be less emotional before they can discuss anything logically. You see, once the brain is flooded with chemicals due to emotionally charged situations, it stops functioning. Given that the part of the brain affected by these chemicals (frontal lobe) is in charge of rational thought, what I’m actually saying is that reason, thinking, and the ability to discuss anything logically becomes impossible. THIS is why people say – let your partner or friend cool off during a fight before you discuss ways to fix the situation. This is also why we all say things we regret in the heat of the moment. It is also why we forget how to speak when we are nervous in front of a crowd or a potential new partner. All of these moments have one thing in common: emotions that trigger chemicals to release and shut down our logic centers.

 

These issues can be hard enough to manage when two people are involved. When the number of people increases, the potential conflict points increase exponentially in difficulty. Why? Because every extra person adds not just his or her emotions to every situation, but also reacts to the people around them. So in a marriage, for example, you have person 1, person 2, and the interaction between them (#3). Add one child and now you have person 1, person 2, person 3, interaction between 1 and 2 (#4), interaction between 2 and 3 (#5), interaction between 1 and 3 (#6), reaction of person 3 to the interaction of 1 and 2 (#7), reaction of person 2 to the interaction of 1 and 3 (#8), and reaction of person 1 to the interaction of 2 and 3 (#9). So with two people, you have 3 possible areas of conflict. Add one child and it escalates to 9. Add more and the possible areas of conflict just keep increasing at exponential rates.

Now…imagine all this on a national scale…and it should be no surprise that we have a giant mess of disagreement and potential conflict points available.

It used to be the case that when one was upset about something, that person went home, possibly vented to a family member, then slept on the issue. This separation time is incredibly important. Why? Because it allows the stress chemicals in the brain to drain. The following morning, one thinks more clearly.

That was then. This is now. The world is fast paced. Information flow is immediate. Why delay when you can vent immediately?

<ENTER SOCIAL MEDIA> 

Now, you can share your emotional, unvetted, completely raw, beliefs immediately. Not only do you get an extra rush of chemicals letting out your anger or frustration, you also get responses from others immediately…and…that’s right, another rush. The result of your one frustration not only makes your emotions high, it now increases the emotions of all those following you….who, in turn….share their frustrations with their entire network….and so on and so forth. One issue, that in the past would have faded while you slept, becomes a national epidemic of emotions in literally seconds now. Worse, the feeling of those chemical rushes is the same as one that takes drugs, seeks daring activities like jumping out of airplanes, or tries risky behaviors. So now, that one experience has not only affected your network of ‘friends’, the act of sharing also has you hooked on the chemical rush, and has you seeking more emotional situations that can start the cycle of chemical rush again and again and again. Eventually, your brain will reset itself permanently at a heightened state of agitation. At this point, you will need the rushes just to maintain a sense of balance.

Ironically, however, you will be constantly out of balance.

PART 2: The Fix

Fixing this national level epidemic of emotional turmoil is no small challenge. Simply telling people to calm down doesn’t work – most people don’t know how and frankly, self-control and delayed gratification can be difficult to employ when the chemical rush is so intense and elongated in time. Similarly, trying to speak reason to someone in a heightened emotional state is quite simply, a waste of breath. The person literally can’t digest what you are saying. The words will be simply filtered out of working memory as fast as they enter. This is why those who aren’t feeling that heightened sense of chaos and emotions can’t understand why friends who used to be pleasant to be around are no longer reasonable. It’s why many of the social media posts don’t even make sense at times. Ironically, it’s also why protests don’t work – they empower the people who already agree with you but act to further infuriate those who don’t.

As the people who, at one point were hanging on to their frustrations, reach the end of their ability to keep speaking logically, and reasonably without feeling heard…they will become sucked into the same emotional cycle out of pure frustration…and yell back. Once this happens, everyone is yelling AT each other – and no one is listening. Both sides are defending their position – though more times than not, people have forgotten what, specifically, they are fighting for…because really, they are fighting to be heard.

Our people want to be heard.

It’s surprising how simple it can be in the end. Most of us can accept a decision different than our own preference, but only if we feel heard and understood first.

So the answer to how to get politicians to stop yelling is….LISTEN. These are the steps:

  1. Stop talking, start listening: It is rarely the case that the person you’re talking to is as crazy as they sound at first. They are typically frustrated, angry, or feel wronged. Let them get it all out before defending, correcting, or explaining.
  2. Ask: If it’s the way you want it, what does that look like? Most times, people don’t even know what they want. They know they don’t like what they have but they don’t know what success looks like. You must name your goal, define mission success.
  3. Make sure you understand what they are asking for: One always need to make sure that you’ve understood correctly.
  4. Define steps: Clarify how (the steps) to reach the goal OR explain why it can’t be done. By this point, a person’s emotions have stabilized typically because they have been heard, they’ve redirected to a solution-focused mindset, and you’ve repeated back to them their own argument. So at this point, you should *finally* be able to discuss actual solutions to issues, instead of yelling so much.

At the national level, the solution is surprisingly easy too:

Don’t social media when you’re angry 😉

Ok, while it’s simple, it’s not easy to convince people to follow it. But for every person that does resist the urge, it’s not just one reduction in a network – it’s the ripple effects that don’t occur that allow peace, calm, and logic to rule and begin the cycle of unity.

Photo Credits: Andre Hunter, Jerry Kiesewetter, Ben White, William Ivan, Vlad Tchompaloy, and Spenser H on Unsplash

America Day

Today is a day that brings another debate to our country: Celebrate the Indigenous people who inhabited our country first or Christopher Columbus who brought Europeans here in 1492? The issue of course lies in the extensive genocide that followed during the colonization of the Americas. This debate comes just shortly after the questions over the civil war monuments, making it even more heated. How do we balance remembering history with while acknowledging that much of our history involves significant loss of life – in our case, loss of Americans’ lives.

In any other country, people are more alike than in ours and so battles won, even at the loss of life, are often celebrated as a ‘win’. But winning in our case also means many of our people lost their lives. So how do we settle this? How do we move forward?

My son said it quite well – he said, “Mom, it has to do with what the focus of the celebration is. If we are celebrating someone for something good they did, then that is ok. But if we are celebrating someone who is known for pain and suffering, then we need to put that in a museum.”

So today, I’ve chosen a middle ground. Of course I want to remember and honor the indigenous people of our country. They deserve the recognition as the first to be here, the true Native Americans. I can also understand the celebration of Columbus discovering this continent while acknowledging that what followed – the way they colonized – was not with respect of our original inhabitants. In other words, I can honor one deed while not condoning another.

The way I choose to honor both the Native Americans and Columbus is by focusing on the positive outcome that ultimately surfaced for our country: we are land that is free and brave and diverse. I know how we got here is not the most diplomatic route but I cannot change the past. I can only channel the energy and look to the future.

So, in the spirit of our original ancestors and our ancestors that arrived – not only with Columbus but every other immigrant that followed – I created what I’m calling Unite America Command Central (UACC).

It’s a room in my house dedicated to the work I am doing to unify this diverse, creative, and amazing country. If we are going to continue, our people must come together, we must unite. In the wise words of another exceptional American:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” – MLK, Jr.  

Global Communications and Diplomacy for War Avoidance

“We have an obligation to the world to add to the global stability. We can do that with arms in our hands…or without arms in our hands…” – Thomas Ax
Certainly, it is possible to decimate an entire country with the launching of weaponry. So why don’t we just destroy countries that don’t act in a manner we wish them to? Why don’t we just destroy everything that doesn’t conform to our belief systems? Why don’t we just bully our way through the world and conquer it all?

In the past, it was not possible to traverse the Earth and destroy everything in one’s wake in an instant. Now we face the challenge that we are capable of such destruction…but similar to the old adage – we would cut off our nose to spite our face – when you reach a level where everyone will lose in the event of a fight, you are left with the requirement to stand down. Yet to do so appears at first like an act of cowardice to some…when in fact, it is the stance of reason, strength, vision, and resolution. It is not a sign of weakness to choose diplomacy before violence – it is an act of intelligent warfare.

There will always be a reason to fight, to disagree, to engage in conflict, to prove a point. However, once the act of fighting alone results in a guaranteed loss of humanity, you must find another path. Diplomacy, international coordination, cooperation, and assimilation offers the most optimized option for global stability. All our nations must take seriously the need for our people to work together, think together, share our lives together. Because when we do so, we create a community that understands each other and through that experience….we create the best chance of our human survival.