On Discourse and Patriotism -Why Colin Kaepernick can speak his mind.

There are these two young fish swimming along, an older fish swims the other way and as he passes greets them, “Morning boys, how’s the water?”  The two young fish swim on for a bit, and the one young fish turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water?”

We all have our water, that which we are swimming in every day, it is all around us, yet we so often fail to see that which binds. Such is patriotism.

“Patriotism is love for a country, not just Pride in it. But what is it that really makes up this country of ours. What is it that we love. It’s more than just a huge rock full of animals like cougars and eagles in it, right? It’s the people . . .” – John Cena

 

Lots of media and internet buzz on Colin Kaepernick not standing for the national anthem. I think Karem-Abdul Jabarr got it right in his WAPO piece Insulting Colin Kaepernic says more about our patriotism than his, and why I support Kaepernick’s decision and right to express as he chooses. I don’t agree with him, which is another discussion for another time, but it highlights just how much we need a history lesson on patriotism.

Let me request we dispel with the ra-ra “Red, White & Blue” rhetoric and response. I come from a family that knows sacrifice, more so than most of those I know, but not all of them to be sure. Other families have given so much more. My father was a proud Jarhead until the day he died, fought in Korea; my uncle  Jimmy the same, his tours in Vietnam; father-in-law 35 years in the Guard, reached Master Sergeant; my wife’s uncle Mike, Army, Vietnam. I know their stories and have directly and indirectly seen the toll such sacrifice takes on a man. Later as a young man I treated Gulf War and Vietnam Vets for several years, and know their stories, their sacrifice, their pride. So please, none of that “‘Merica” bullshit, it doesn’t move the conversation along and insults both of our intelligence.

Why I’m pissed is because we keep missing the point, and the missing of the point is a cancer that is killing our ability to solve problems, and killing our future. There are two kinds of Patriotism as I see it.

First, the obvious kind made of baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Waving a flag, making a float for the 4th of July parade, throwing on that patriotic bumper sticker, changing your Facebook profile picture whenever something bad happens, and yes standing for our National Anthem. This is the easy kind of patriotism, it’s the phone-in option when we’re too busy being distracted by the other cushy bullshit of our comfortable consumer lives. It is ALL marketing and no real sacrifice, which requires no real change or loss.

The second kind is showing up every day, doing the work, contributing to your and your families benefit BUT ALSO to something bigger than you – that of your community and your country. And doing all of that whether you love or agree with or approve the recipients of your good deeds. That is the hard kind of patriotism. We see it everywhere, it is all around us, and those men and women don’t ask for recognition – the black officer protecting a KKK rally; any officer protecting an anti-police demonstration; the soldier packing his rucksack for his 4th tour in Afghanistan; the female ED doctor treating a batterer just brought in after being stabbed by his victim (who finally fought back); the business owner giving that ex-con a chance; the single mother working 3 jobs to keep the family afloat; and countless other examples. 

This second kind of patriotism is also about civility, the deep acknowledgement that we may vehemently disagree, but in the end we are all on the same ship whether we like it or not, and in some real way if that goes down we all stand to suffer. We had this once – when Japanese men by the scores signed up to defend America in WWII, despite their families being placed in internment camps; when Rosy the Riverter came out in droves to fill in “men’s jobs” because our boys and men were overseas in harm’s way; the Tuskegee airmen; the all black 92nd infantry division performing heroically in the European campaign, despite not being able to share space with whites; the tenacity of so many in the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s who decidedly chose not to hate; the same for women in the 60s, with their precursors the women in the Suffrage movement; our collective reaction after 911, it was palpable in the streets and at coffee houses, if only lasting a short while; and so many others.

I won’t agree with those that say we lost that capacity. Nope, we still have that capacity, but it has been stifled and that vacuum has been filled with fear, insecurity, anger, ignorance and (for me most damaging) blind certainty. So certain I am right I cannot entertain the others viewpoint, and discourse dies in the process, and with the death of discourse amidst a time of fear, insecurity, and anger, vitriol grows like a weed. We are choking on it, it is not the best of who we are, it is our worst.

Yet THAT environment, that discourse or lack of it, and how we approach the idea of Patriotism, all of that is our water. We are swimming in it, and drinking it, and I think it’s time we consider what it is doing to us. 

So I support anyone’s decision to not stand and sing the national anthem. That’s part of patriotism. 

 

It’s about Prevention, not Prediction.

Recently, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, stated his greatest fear was the threat of “lone wolf” terror attacks. He further clarified that self-radicalized militants are much more difficult to detect for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, versus the bona fide terrorist group member (i.e., ISIS, Al Qaeda, etc.).

As a society, and even within forensic and threat management circles, we remain fixated on Prediction – trying to determine with certainty who will act violently, when they will act, and what they will do. We have spent billions of dollars, extensive human capital, and much of our individual liberty in the pursuit of monitoring foreigners and ouCrystal Ballr own citizenry towards predicting the next attack. Yet we continue to see attacks unfold both here and abroad, by both affiliated terrorists and so called lone-wolves: Reutlingen,
Ansbach, Munich Germany; Nice & Paris France; Orlando, Fl; San Bernardino, CA. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, only focusing on attacks motivated by radical islamist ideology, just within the past year, and just within the U.S. and Western Europe. There are numerous other terror attacks by other groups and ideologies. In response we as a collective have focused heavily on Prediction, and less on Prevention.

The difference is important. The truth of the matter is we cannot predict behavior in general very well, and certainly cannot predict violence very well. A few things contribute to this difficulty.

First, the base rate for violence of any kind is so relatively low in the general population, that it becomes very difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. Accurate prediction requires statistical probability modeling, which in turn requires that you analyze a phenomena that occurs with some regularity. We can predict how often “violence” of different types occurs in the general population, but not specifically who will be violent, when, and in what context.

Second, forensic psychology and sociology research has greatly informed us about violence risk factors, and this research has continued to evolve in improve our understanding over the past 15-20 years. Yet, there is still much we don’t know about why one particular person moves on a trajectory of violence, and another with similar risk factors, features, and personality does not. Frankly, the science is just not there yet. As much as some experts would like to profess, this is not Minority Report and we don’t have pre-cogs working for us.

Third, the developmental concepts of multi-finality and equi-finality impact our accuracy. Multi-finality is when two people with similar genetic loading and/or environmental upbringing show markedly different achievement later in life (i.e., Bill and Roger Clinton). Equi-finality is when two people with very different genetic loading and/or environmental upbringing end up achieving the same later in life (i.e., Bill Clinton and Donald Trump). Multi-finality and Equi-finality occur all the time, and are impacted by a myriad of experiences, events, and influences for which we cannot fully account.

Fourth, violence of any kind is multi-dimensional, dynamic, and transactional in nature. Many factors contribute to one’s violent trajectory, that pathway changes over time accelerated and decelerated by environmental events, and it occurs within the integration between attacker and victim(s). Prediction assumes a static conclusion of what will or won’t happen in the future, yet violence does not play by those rules, it is not a static occurring phenomenon.

Prevention does not require Prediction.

In short, we cannot predict violence at any meaningful level for the individual. Perhaps one day in the distant future, but the state of the science is not there currently. The answer is to instead focus on prevention, and this is not a foreign idea to any of us.

The forensic psychologist Reid Meloy uses a great example to explain prevention without prediction. Consider a cardiologist with a 1,200 patient caseload. The cardiolEKG.jpgogist  cannot “predict” with any certainty which of his patients will have a heart attack in the next month or year. Indeed, we see cases occur all the time that seemingly “break the odds” – the morbidly obese 55yo male patient who smokes a pack a day and drinks a 6-pack of beer daily lives for 15 more years; while the 55yo male patient who eats healthy, runs marathons, does yoga, and meditates unexpectedly drops dead of a major heart attack within 2 months. The cardiologist cannot predict with precision which patient will have the heart attack and who will not, and when the heart attack will occur. Yet, that inherent limitation is no reason to negate trying to prevent the heart attack based on what we do know about the risk factors.

We can still prevent by knowing the risk factors, screening and assessing for those, applying evidenced-based interventions to treat and mitigate those risk factors, and adjust accordingly over time based on whether the risk factors increase or decrease. We treat the risk factors, and thus decrease the risk of heart attack in the aggregate, and in the majority of cases at the individual level as well. It is not a precise science as the above example illustrates, but it is one that is far better than not trying to manage the ris
k factors at all.

THAT is Prevention without prediction, and that is what is involved in evidence-based threat management as well:

  • Understand the risk factors for violence
  • Clarify the kind of violence you are trying to mitigate (Affective vs. Predatory, to be addressed in a future post)
  • Screen and assess for the known risk factors
  • Treat (intervene) to mitigate the risk
  • Monitor the impact of the intervention, and adjust accordingly

We can and should continue to improve our ability to eventually, one day, predict who will be violent versus those who will not, but that seems a long way off given the complexity involved and the limitations of our current science. Rather, we must continue to use risk estimates based on evidenced-based risk factors, and apply those in a manner so we can intercept a trajectory of violence upstream before violence occurs.

 

 

 

 

 

On Extremism: Ideas matter

It is tIMG_6232ime we stop blaming extremism for mass shootings, and fundamentalism and radicalization while we’re at it.

I’ve had four discussions in as many days with people blaming mass shootings on extremism, fundamentalism, and radicalization. Blaming these outside of any context. I do not particularly care for extremists of pretty much any belief system. I’ve certainly drank the Kool-aid of a belief system or two in my past, but these days I try to live a more ideologically stoic existence. Sometimes I am more balanced than others, sometimes I eat cake over the kitchen sink . . .   IMG_8965

The problem with extremism is the absolute certainty with which those holding an extremist position believe their world view to be, and the equally absolute shutting down of openness to other ideas that might counter that worldview. That is indeed a problem, because it shuts down dialogue and cocoons us into impenetrable self-reference, as I noted on
a prior post. More precisely, it shuts down both self-correction (we don’t challenge ourselves) as well as other-correction (we don’t let the “other” challenge us). We become a closed system, unassailable to any feedback-loop from the world.

Yet, even with that inherent problem extremism remains a problem in method or process, but not in content. Extremism, fundamentalism, radicalization has no content. It is an  equal-opportunity influencer. Pick any viewpoint in our world, and there is someone you can find who radically supports it, and most of those are not at elevated risk for mass killing. Extremism in-and-of-itself is not the problem. It cannot be judged and condemned in isolation.

Extremism is the energy or velocity with which a belief or set of ideas manifests, but that energy requires a BELIEF and IDEA as the substantive filler to move something or someone to action. If extremism represents the Energy, then the belief and ideas represent the Mass, or that which is being moved into action. 

Beliefs define our view of the world, and at the core of those beliefs are ideas.
Beliefs and Ideas matter. They are relevant.

Extremism needs the fertile soil of an ideology of this or that belief system to express its energy. Without that we have all energy and no guiding belief that calls one into action to do anything, in any particular way, guided by any particular set of values or principles.

An Oak tree can grow more rapidly, or more slowly, leaning this way or that, with its growth energy and velocity shaped by the environment and conditions under which it has taken root. That growth pattern can be more or less extreme. But regardless of those conditions and the range of ways it can eventually manifest, it remains an Oak tree with all the relevant characteristics therein.  It does not become a Maple or Birch. It eventually expresses itself consistent with its core architecture. Ideas and beliefs too have a core architecture, which can be expressed within a range based on environmental conditions, but which still remain connected back to the ideas at the core of the belief system.

So it’s time we move beyond quick talking-points of blaming extremism outside the context of ideas and belief, because without that context, the terms “extremism, fundamentalism, radicalization” mean nothing.

Consider for a moment. When was the last time, if ever, you sat awake at night worried that a Quaker or Amish or Jain is going to storm into your workplace, or house of worship, or local restaurant with guns blazing, shouting out ideological motivations. Indeed these groups are not immune to strong beliefs. They, like all other groups in human history, display the gamut of fringe believers up though hard-core zealots. But none of us are worried they will become violent and conduct mass attacks based on their belief systems. Inherent in these belief systems is a core architecture that is very prohibitive against such violence.

The more extreme one moves within these belief systems, particularly Jainism, the LESS likely one is to act violent. One becomes increasingly loving, probably to a degree that would creep many of us out just a bit! Jainism is an Indian religion that at it’s core is totally pacifistic and non-violent. Radical Jains go to great lengths to excruciatingly inspect the ground they walk on so as to avoid stepping on an ant; the most devote and radicalized wear cheese cloths covering their mouths in fear they might accidentally swallow a gnat or small bug. The more “nutty” and “extreme” these believers become, the less likely they are to be violent.

The Abrahamic religions? Well, not so much. They have a well developed, complex, and contradictory history, each in it’s own unique expression – of anger, revenge, wrath, brutality, misogyny, love, compassion, etc. Those values are embedded in the religious texts, with prohibitions, prescriptions, and parables illustrating how one should live their lives. Indeed those texts are used to inspire great and sinister works alike, and interpreted all along that full continuum. But the extremists within those belief systems are not all equal in their expression and behaviors, because the particular beliefs and ideas matter. And those belief systems and ideas have evolved differently over millennia, and they have not all evolved in equal tempo.

As a collective, for us to better understand how extremism, fundamentalism, and  radicalization influence mass violence, we must take into account the mindset of those perpetrators, which includes an understanding of those belief systems and ideas, and how they operate within those individuals.

This is a complex undertaking, for there are many motivations that impact mass shooting perpetrators. Violence is a dynamic and multi-determined phenomenon. Eric Rudolph was motivated to bomb abortion clinics and gay bars, influenced by a complex mix of personality inadequacies, anger, resentment, and radical Christian ideology. The picture of Omar Mateen, who attacked the Orlando Pulse nightclub last week, continues to develop, but we similarly see a complex set of influences including personality inadequacies, need for control, anger, brutality, misogyny, sexual identity confusion, and radical Muslim ideology. There are many more cases of such perpetrators having belief systems and ideologies that influenced the expression of their hatred and anger – some of those belief systems are linked to large-scale groups and others are very personal:  Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech; Harris and Klebold at Columbine; Jared Loughner in Tuscon; Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook; Dylan Roof in Charlston;  Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino; the Kouachi brothers attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris; and so many others.

Each of these assailants had their extremism, and each had their expression of it through specific beliefs and ideas – beliefs and ideas that fueled them, justified their actions, and rationalized the consequences of their actions. That degree of belief was also very personal, very real, very important – important enough to kill for, and in many cases to die for. We must understand that dynamic to understand such perpetrators, and only through that might we be able to recognize the warning signs upstream and mobilize interventions to mitigate risk of future violence.

Beliefs matter. Ideas matter. They are relevant to the conversation. Let’s start the dialogue.

 

 

Words matter – in Orlando and everywhere

IMG_9076

I hold my face in my two hands.  
No, I am not crying.  
I hold my face in my two hands  
to keep the loneliness warm –  
two hands protecting,  
two hands nourishing,  
two hands preventing  
my soul from leaving me  
in anger.
                 ~ Thich Nhat Hahn
Words.

Words have endless possibility.
Words can protect. Words can nourish. Words can prevent and limit us.
They connect, and they disconnect.
They are both alive and devoid of life.
They incite to action both benevolent and cruel.

Words matter.

In the wake of the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, yet again our nation ignites with the War of Words – the ceaseless pontifications, saber rattling, name-calling, and catapulting of every citizen with a social media account to expert status on all things foreign and domestic. So many words, and yet so little actual dialogue.

Like some of you, I too am tired of the myopic demonization of any number of issues that arise when we face another tragedy, seemingly so senseless. We all have our flash-fire issues, and as humans have done for millennia we box our complex social ills into nice palatable bite-sized nuggets to hurl at the world, at anyone different than us. We have mastered this game. We are very good at our craft.

Here are just a sampling of the words I see arise at such times. How do they impact you?

wordcloud

AR-15: We see the assault on the AR-15 assault rifle, which is not really an assault rifle by technical definition, and not what the Orlando attacker used. The AR-15 has caused far fewer deaths than handguns of which very few of us are clamoring to restrict.

Conversely, the question remains why are these so readily accessible to those with increased risk for violence, those with severe mental illness, those with clear association to radical terror groups, etc.?

Islam: We see the assault on Muslims, a group who by large measure are peaceful US citizens, whose children cry and laugh and bleed just as anyone else’s. They are us.

Conversely, their religious ideology for right or wrong is being used to wage a global war, a caliphate, and one that outsiders are at significant disadvantage to challenge and reform. It may be a gross bastardization of their religion, but it is a bastardization of their religion. The past 20 years has taught that challenge must come from within, with support from without.

Politicians: We see character assaults on Hillary, and Trump, and Bernie, all who have their staunch supporters, so full of fervor they regress to name-calling and threats of violence.

Conversely, every day in so many banal ways Republicans and Democrats work, break bread, pray, and play aside one another.

ferfucksake-we-were-talking-about-musket-balls-not-133-goddamn-bullets-per-second-president-george-washington-14501397942nd Amendment: We see legal assaults on our Constitution, decrying the liberties to be taken away from us by limiting our 2nd Amendment rights. They are guaranteed by our forefathers, they were established to maintain a society free of tyranny.

Conversely, there is a compelling argument that our forefathers could never have foreseen where we’ve arrived, and our military industrial complex has evolved well beyond anything that an individual citizen with his weapon stash can defend against.

Gay: We see moral assaults on our LBGTQ community from the Religious Right which for many is an affront to our sense of decency and freedom.

Conversely, many of this group are decent God-fearing people that truly believe there is a specific path to redemption and want to share that salvation with others.

Gun Control: We see legal assaults on gun legislation prosecuted by the NRA and other groups, defending against gun control regulations as a slippery slope to government sanction and control, reminding us how such has occurred many times in the 20th century in other lands –  South America, Nazi Germany, Poland, Cambodia, etc.

Conversely, as one aggrieved Sandy Hook parent stated, “When does your right to bear arms encroach on my child’s right to stay alive?” Is there no room for reasonable control measures?

And the list goes on, as does the finger pointing, and the deafening silence of no real dialogue. In the above examples there are points and counter-points to be made, but the problem is we are no longer talking.

As a threat management expert, I can say with assurance that violence is a complex social phenomenon – whether that be Columbine or Sandy Hook, Aurora or Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Paris, or Orlando. Predators don’t fit nicely into our little mental houses. This ain’t CSI or Dexter.

These events represent a host of problems- a radical Islam problem, a crappy foreign policy for years problem, a failure of federal oversight problem, a failure of bipartisan cooperation problem, a disconnected society problem, a mental health problem, a host of other problems, and yes also a gun problem.

The problem is that we as a society cannot find any common ground, least of all cannot accept that these events are multi-factorial and far more complex than our single-issue media and politicians want us to believe, a narrative which we gladly accept.

An old parable says “The Devil’s greatest ruse is convincing the world that he isn’t real.”

I’m not a big religious guy, or a Devil guy for that matter, but there’s something about the ruse and misdirection here that offers insight.

The truth is we think we’re killing each other with guns, or religion, or lack of morality, or our welfare state, or capitalism, or greed, or immigration, or {enter whatever}.

But the real world no-bullshit truth is we’re killing each other with silence.

We are dying and drowning in our inability to actually speak, and dialogue, and have reasonable debate with those we view as “other”, as “different”.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
~ Nelson Mandela

Helpless:  This is yet another word. One we use so often after these tragedies, one which painfully resonates at these times. But lets not forget these are not insurmountable problems. We must refuse to accept that. We have solved world crises of war, hunger, massive feats of engineering, migration, medicine, poverty, human rights, and so many others.

We are the result of a 4.5 Billion years of Evolutionary success. Time we start acting like it, and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

We cannot change anything until we accept it.
Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.

~ Carl Jung

Let us not fall to the darkness. Let us not forget who we are.

We have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
~ Robert Frost

Resiliency in a Time of Fear

The Soufan Group, an international intelligence security firm, offered this in their daily intel briefing yesterday, entitled Resiliency and the Terror Threat in Europe:

“On March 27, a group of approximately 300 far-right protesters clashed with riot police near a memorial for the victims of the Brussels terror attacks.  The incident underscored the fear and tension brewing throughout the EU in the wake of the second successful Islamic State-directed mass-casualty attack in Europe in less than six months. In a heightened threat environment, it is common for security concerns to lead to increasingly hawkish and insular policies. 

It is critical that EU policymakers strike a careful balance between strong and effective counterterrorism measures and policies likely to produce the unintended consequence of expanding sympathy for violent extremist causes in Europe.”

Europe just suffered it’s second mass-casualty terrorist event within six months. The Soufan briefing is a call for calm, balance and rationality as Europe, and the world, consider a response and strategy to deal with rising concern of terrorist attacks. That call  is spot on in my estimation. Yet, “balance” does not mean blind avoidance or playing the ostrich with our head in the sand.  Indeed, we should target and call out all acts of group sanctioned violence, including terrorism, for what it is and by the unique qualities that drive, at least in part, it’s goals and methods.  In this case, that is Islamist radicalization, but the nuanced and highly important point that the briefing hits upon is we can call that dynamic out by it’s name while still guiding our response and policies to target those unique aspects, and not subject an entire group of people, here namely non-radicalized Muslims, to unwarranted sanctions and alienation.

So what is this briefing calling for?     Resiliency.

Finding that balance is a type of resilience.

Resiliency: noun [re·sil·ien·cy]   [\-yən(t)-sē\]
Resiliency is a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength.

Indeed, a kind of strength. History is replete with examples of both heroic and cowardly examples of resiliency and lack of, respectively. My mind reflects back to the Blitz occurring in London during WWII, and the steadfastness and tenacity that the Brits showed in weathering a blithering bombing campaign and massive destruction at the hands of the Nazi regime. There are many other examples on both sides of historical conflicts: Germans in Dresden; Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Americans after Pearl Harbour and 911; Chinese at Nan-King; many nations after the 2004 Tsunami.  And so on.

The curious thing about resiliency is it impacts both in it’s presence and it’s absence. Resiliency when present allows us to navigate the pains and challenges of life, to strive forward and find a way through the darkness – darkness which is almost always temporary, and which almost always has a human solution. It allows us to find that strength, balance and rationale decision making that the Soufan briefing is calling for above.

Yet, resiliency, when absent also increases our risk as individuals to resort to violence and hate as the means to solve our problems. Endemic to active shooter and mass shooter profiles is a lack of resiliency to navigate the stressors of life.  It’s NOT the lack of stressors, it’s the inability to navigate them – or more precisely it is the perceived inability to navigate them which leads the individual to objectify an entire group and say to himself (almost always a “he”) “Yes, this group did me some wrong, they don’t recognize my greatness, and my solution is to harm them all because I have no other alternatives to resolve my problems.”

No one starts out there, that is a trajectory that some steadily move towards, but the direction of that path towards destruction and hate is paved by the degree of resiliency we bring to the journey, and the degree to which we allow it to come forth.

Resiliency is easily found in the super courageous stories of survival, such as the story of Louis Zamperini in Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken”, and certainly our Armed service men and women sacrificing everyday. Those are incredible examples of resiliency and heroism, but often difficult to “touch” from those of us not living in those “worlds”. Often in those extreme life conditions, such as combat, we show resiliency, press on, or we die. Not easy, but the choice is more clear cut.

Yet, resiliency really shows when we have the choice to stop living and just exist, but we choose to shine anyway, in the day to day “getting on” with our lives, doing the work, loving as we love, supporting where and when we can.

12219580_10153710936484407_351801005957063096_nFor me, resiliency is best captured in this picture from September 14, 1940, London England.

This bombed out church in England did not stop Fusilier Tom Dowling from marrying Miss Martha Coonig. After the ceremony, Father Flynn, who performed the ceremony helped the newlywed couple over the rubble to exit the church.

We give our veterans much well-deserved thanks for their service, and sacrifice, and heroism, which also often is placed in the context of the Combat theater. But it’s important to recognize the greater sacrifice and challenge, which is their returning home and getting on with their life. Picking up from the ashes of war and continuing to love, and share, and open, and sacrifice in myriad, banal and petty ways every day. That is the real battle so many fight. For me, this picture captures that essence and the indomitable strength of the human spirit to rise again and again.

Hope floats , but it don’t swim. To move forward and join again this bumbling tribe after returning from war, or trauma, or tragedy such as in Brussels this past week – that is true resiliency, that takes real courage.

Resiliency is in all of us, no matter how barren you feel your soil is.  Water it, it will grow.

You see you wouldn’t ask why the rose that grew from the concrete had damaged petals.
On the contrary, we would all celebrate its tenacity.
We would all love it’s will to reach the sun.
Well, we are the roses – this is the concrete – these are my damaged petals.
Don’t ask me why, ask me how.

~ Tupac Shakur

From Brussels to Cyprus – Finding the 1 in the Million Threat

“Risk is like fire: If controlled it will help you; if uncontrolled it will rise up and destroy you.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt

 

A Needle in the Haystack – We only have to find the one needle
Imagine this.  You awake one dry winter morning, feeling slightly tired but not overly so. You have been slightly “under the weather” recently but otherwise your day has not been slowed down. During your morning hygiene you begin coughing and think to yourself you may have a slight cold coming on.  (Here, we insert two scenarios that diverge, but for sake of this exercise we’ll get to those in a moment).  A few moments later your spouse walks in, alarmed, and suggests you get that checked out soon.

What do you do?  Do you cancel your day and immediately see the doctor, or disavow the concern?

Well, its depends on the concern doesn’t it, and your feeling about the concern, and what data you have about the apparent problem.  Now let’s add some more data, and back to the scenarios.

Scenario A: You cough a few times, blow your nose and a minor trace of blood is in the Kleenex tissue. You’ve seen this before on dry winter mornings.

Scenario B: You cough a few times, followed by several retching coughs and find copious amounts of blood on your tissue, in your hands, and splattered on the vanity. You have not seen this before.

You value your spouse’s input, do you take their input blindly or does it depend on the scenario? At what point on the continuum of possible “scary signs” from scenario A to scenario B do you take action and seek immediate medical consultation? When do you simply say “it’s nothing” and go back to your morning coffee?

Here you are walking that fine line that threat management professionals do every day – determining what risk factors are present, how serious are the risk factors, and what course of action should or should not be taken, and at what “cost”. In the above situation maybe you know that esophageal cancer strikes roughly 1 in 23,000 people per year in the U.S., or maybe you don’t and you’re guessing at odds more like 1 in a Million. Arguably many of us apply the same logic to risk of falling victim to violence as we ask “What are the odds?” and “What is reasonable to protect myself?”

Surprising as it may seem we are living in the most peaceful time in recorded human history, by history standards so to speak. Steven Pinker unpacked this counter-intuitive notion in his masterpiece work The Better Angels of Our Nature. Yet, at the same time we are also living in a time when any single person with ill intent can do the most damage given our technological advancement. (For a terrifying divergence into how easily accessible nuclear fissile materials are to obtain, read yesterday’s NYT article here, and bring some comfort food.)

The Statistics Problem and Why We Need a Structured Approach
In either case, the statistics are misleading, because 1 in a Million sounds like a very rare chance, and it is in the aggregate.  The problem is that violence doesn’t occur in the aggregate,  violence occurs in the up-close personal space of our daily lives, and it is eruptive and (for most of us) it throws us into a space that we have never been before. What 1 in a Million means in the personal space of violence is that 999,999 people are 100% safe, and 1 person is 100% in danger. Are you the “1”, is this situation the “1”? To flee, or not to flee? That is the question.

That relationship between the 1 and the Million is not without a judgment call.  In our lives and in our society we have to decide on where we fall between False Positives (FP)  (concluding there is a risk when there is actually not one; i.e., false imprisonment of an innocent person; going to the doctor only to waste a visit and your co-pay) and False Negatives (FN)  (concluding there is not a risk when indeed there is a risk; i.e.,  releasing a violent person to kill again; not going to the doctor when indeed you have cancer). There is a sadistic little trick the universe has played on us in this regard – when we decrease the chance of FPs, we invariably increase the chance of FNs. We can’t have it both ways.

As societies our decision making in mitigating violence risk falls on a continuum, with two   fundamental choices on each end:FN and FP pic

  1. Minimize the chance of FNs (such as releasing killers to kill again) and erring on the side of locking more people up, even innocent people;OR
  2. Minimize the chance of FPs (such as locking up non-dangerous people), and erring on the side of setting more free, even would-be assailants.

Navigating this continuum is not easy and requires a balanced approach. We all intuitively understand this. Most of us would agree that a “3-strikes” ruling that makes mandatory life sentencing for even minor drug offenders seems overboard. Here we intuitively want to minimize FPs such as excessively imprisoning people who pose no real or lasting danger.

Yet we may see it differently in other cases, particularly those of child sex offenders, or in the case of parricide or familicide. Such as the case of a 12 year old boy who killed his parents and siblings, and sentenced to minimum of 7 years in juvenile detention; or the case of 14yo Lionel Tate in Florida, sentence to life without parole for killing a 6yo relative while emulating professional wrestling moves. Here we intuitively may not be so forgiving.  Although arguably we may still think the sentence is excessive, we are more open to longer sentences to “prevent future harm” given the heinousness of the act.

Here’s the rub. Our intuitions are correct about the minor drug offender, as they show low risk for violence into the future.  But our intuitions are wrong about parricide, those offenders show lower risk for future violence than even the general population (See Cornell).

Intuition and “gut feeling” can be useful to identify early screening signs which require more investigation, but should never be a key component to any rigorous assessment of risk where the stakes are high and lives are in the balance. Gut feeling is just too inaccurate. In fact, confidence in clinical judgement or “gut” is inversely correlated with risk assessment accuracy – the more one feels confident in their gut feeling, the less likely they are to be accurate in estimating risk (See Murray).

The job of threat professionals, and increasingly the job of civilized societies , is to maximize finding that 1 in a Million, and doing so upstream when there is still time to prepare and proactively respond in order to save lives. We maximize the accurate hit rate of that search by using what is referred to as a Structured Professional Judgment (SPJ) model– a method that uses well-established statistical actuarial risk factors, which are applied through clinical judgment to the unique context of the case at hand. It is the best our current science has to offer in combining the statistical and clinical models.

An SPJ model has 6 key components, which I will review in more detail in subsequent blog entries.  For now, those components are:

  1. Identify the Presence of key risk factors
  2. Consider the Relevance of risk factors
  3. Develop a Risk Formulation
  4. Narrow the Context of increased violence risk scenarios
  5. Offer Recommendations to mitigate risk
  6. Communicate findings clearly

These components, when used systematically across multiple data sources narrows the window of error in assessing risk, increases defensibility in legal challenges, and increases the chance of honing in on that 1 in a Million risk. Another shift in the risk assessment area has been to de-emphasize static historical risk factors (male gender, childhood abuse, early poverty, etc.) and emphasize behavioral pathways that are indicative of one’s movement on a trajectory of violence (approach behavior, active violent ideation, energy burst activity, weapons acquisition, etc.). That will also be addressed in detail in a future blog, but for our purposes here it highlights the importance of knowing what to look for and where to look for it, as the events unfold and as the risk factors emerge.

From Brussels to Cyprus
On March 22, 2016 at least two radical Islamist terrorist assailants, Ibrahim and Khalid El Bakraoui, attacked two separate targets in Brussels, Belgium- the airport and the Maalbeek Metro station.  As of today the death toll has risen to 35, with more than 300 injured, additional possible assailants are being pursued and investigated. This was a sophisticated and coordinated attack, with various degrees of warning signs which may or may not have been known to authorities (investigation still pending and new information emerging daily).  The human, societal, and political toll was immediate and very Brussells attack Brothersimpactful. Leslie Bolt, a consultant with Crisis Care Network, does a solid examination of the human impact and response, and The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins examines the political response (or lack of). The Brussels attacks are the 1 in a Million situation that many are crying in outrage that we “should have seen coming”. There is mounting evidence that the warning signs were there, that we should have seen more, but there remains debate about  what was reasonable to have noticed and to have done. More security? More infringement of civil liberties? More profiling? Less tolerance and more exclusion? And so on . . .

Then there is yesterday’s hijacking of EgyptAir Flight MS181, which was taken over by Seif Eldin Mustafa,  claiming to be wearing a suicide explosive belt. There were many tense moments Egypt hijackerin this encounter. Mustafa boards the plane, shows some kind of belt with wires coming out of it, claiming it is loaded with explosives. A fugitive and convict, he was on the run for 5 years when for reasons yet unknown he decided to take extreme action. In the current global culture, it was easy to assume another terror attack was underway, albeit slightly dated in its methodology of a plane hijacking. In the end the belt was fake, the man had a note written to his estranged wife, and he reported his motives were to see his estranged family. Arguably a distraught, if not mentally ill, individual was at work here. This was not the sophisticated coordinated attack we saw in Brussels or in Paris.

“Collecting intelligence information is like trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant. You know, in hindsight it’s great. The problem is there’s a million dots at the time that need connection.”
~ Louis Freeh, Former FBI Director

Hindsight is most people’s favorite sight, and everyone is an expert on their last crisis event. At face-value, both of these events look the same leading up to and during the actions, and both needed to be taken seriously. Yet despite appearances, the underlying motives, the behavioral indicators, and full context of the changing dynamics required very different responses pre-event, during, and post-event. Both events challenge us to weigh the pros and cons of the FNs and FPs, among safety, societal freedom, and respect for our fellow citizens and humans.

At it’s core risk assessment is about understanding human behavior, and the trajectories that human behavior can show on the path to violence. Each of us do that intuitively every time we walk through a dark parking lot alone, or drive through a high-crime neighborhood. But to do that effectively and accurately as a professional, one needs the proper training, experience, and methodology to minimize errors, avoid any FNs to the extent possible, and reduce the FPs to the extent feasible.  Risk assessment and threat management work, when the methodology includes proper assessment protocols and management approaches to mitigating the potential threat.

“With violence, as with so many other concerns, human nature is the problem, but human nature is also the solution.”
~ Steven Pinker, Cognitive Psychologist/Author

Keeping Hope Alive in a Cynical World

In the American film classic, “Shawshank Redemption”, Andy Dufresne says late in the movie to his best friend, Red . . .

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of all things.”  

This post won’t be a patient profile, an attempt to open us up to some inner reality of the mentally troubled, and then lift back out to find some larger lesson.  Those posts are like Aikido moves, coming at you in different directions, and then moving in others, culminating towards some goal which I often only have some vague semblance of when I set out to write.  No, this post is more of a straight bar-brawl shot right at the target.  Although all of my posts are written with my children in mind, this one is particularly salient.

Sophia and Lambros,

I struggle, more than you or your mother realize, with how to convey the correct and proper messages about the world.  How much to shape and guide, how much to let go and allow to happen.  Any decent parent does the same, and there is no proper parent guide although many have tried and came up wanting.  But as of late a sort of storm has been brewing in me, subtle yet growing, not yet clarified, compounded by stress and mid-age and a decreased ability to recover quickly from a long night with good friends and good wine.  In short, getting old.  And I’ve struggled to clarify and crystallize what was the growing malaise.

And then I saw a short docu-synopsis of the 2012 Kony video, and the campaign by a humanity organization called Invisible Children.  I hope by the time you read this Joseph Kony will be a distant memory from the collective consciousness and a footnote, a bad one, in the annals of history- another asshole psychopath that decent people and decent nations had the balls to imprison or take out.  I hope that.  But as it stands now, that is not the case.  And this is not a post supporting that cause, which has had it’s controversies that need no comment here.

This is about what I witnessed when the video went viral several years ago, both pro and against the video and it’s campaign.  The campaign has been around for years, the video came out in the Spring of 2012. It went viral, and then out came the critics attacking Invisible Children on everything from financial irresponsibility, naive geopolitical awareness, Euro-centric imperial thinking, and warmongering, among other criticisms.  Type in “Kony 2012” and any search engine will yield a dozen such critiques, many of which are thoughtful and have good points.  And there is also the response from Invisible Children on their own blog.

I’m not here to debate the pros and cons of this campaign, yet I do support it’s basic goal- to capture Joseph Kony, stop his killing and atrocities, and assist those affected by his war crimes.  The deep sadness I have is the immense and immediate cynicism so many gravitated towards, and the enormous lengths so many went to in forming arguements against this campaign- which at its fundamental center seems to have been about bringing a war criminal to justice who has targeted women and children for 20 years.  The magnitude of the cynicism was huge and expansive and immediate.  And having reflected on that then, and now, it struck somehow that malaise I had been feeling for some time.

Just now I’m listening to Sting sing All this Time with the line

“Father, if Jesus exists, then how come he never lives here?”

And I tink yes indeed, synchronicity a bit.  WWJD?

We live in a cynical world (sadly, Jerry Maguire got it right).  We live in a world where superstitions and, yes, religious beliefs that historically comforted us, guided us, and provided a sense of hope, are quickly being eroded by the findings of Science and Humanities and Philosophy and Morality and Psychology.  More and more people are asking questions that the Bible cannot sufficiently answer, and they are searching elsewhere.  We are doubling our knowledge of the world and human beings at an alarmingly rapid pace, exponentially.  For 2000 years our belief systems hardly evolved, and for the most part that worked for us humans (mostly for us White humans, and certainly not so good for animals or the planet), and it fit our little view of the world, but that has sharply changed in the past 200 years, and very rapidly within the past 50 years, and extremely rapidly within the past 20 years with the internet and the explosion of globalization.  And with each passing decade that knowledge base is accelerating.

A very real and unfortunate side-effect of this “intelligence” and “science” and “critical thinking” (all of which I welcome), is an equal dollop of cynicism about everything.  That is the ugly cancer that is always at risk of sprouting up when we think freely as individuals- the loss of blind faith, and so often with it the loss of hope.  To be clear, I’m not stating religion has no value- I think our religious beliefs and institutions have much to recommend them, but that’s another debate.  Believing in God and Religion are not the same at all.  I also don’t think you need God or Religion to have Humanism and Morality (my athiest friends are some of the most caring, humanistic, thoughtful people I know), also another debate.  But when we cave to cynicism, when we give up on hope, we sharpen our ability to nit-pick any and all causes and by doing so justify inaction.  As we navigate down that slippery slope, we become intolerant of others, of ideas, of products, of places that have the slightest blemish.  Our critique is our defense mechanism, a way to rationalize inaction, a way to rationalize accepted ignorance, a way to rationalize blind and unsupported certainty.

Our past generations resisted that move, they lived at a different time, yes a simpler time.  They could have said the Nazi Party is strong and dominant, and therefore there is no reason to take out Hitler, he’s only one man and he’ll be replaced, and so on.  Yet, our Allied Forces knew better that taking him out was a strong decisive blow and a symbolic one.  And the real poetry here is that they DID think, and write about, and share those thoughts, but it didn’t kill their sense of purpose or hope or the over-riding sense of what was right.  They could have just walked away and said, “It ain’t perfect, so I’m out.”  But prior generations did not do that, they held the cynicism in check, they thought critically and freely but still with hope for larger purpose than themselves.

It’s analogous to imagining you’re on a cruise ship, 100 people go overboard, you only have 10 floats to throw out, what do you do?  Do you say- we don’t have enough to do it correctly, so why bother?  We don’t understand the complexity of the victims, or the ocean currents, or maybe they jumped willingly, so not sure if we should save them or not, and do they even want to be saved? Who are we to assume they want or need our help?  What if some are psychopaths or terrorists, we shouldn’t save them and shouldn’t intervene?  Do you conclude that simply throwing a float is so naive, you’re not considering the ramifications of the trauma they’ll have, and arguably some will die so those saved will have survivor guilt, so let’s think this through before we act?  Yes, a simple and somewhat silly example, but also poignant because this is basically what is happening with the Kony 2012 campaign, albeit with more sophisticated arguments.

Your grandfather’s generation did not hesitate to act on the side of good and just causes- some were naive, some were misguided, but they acted and in so doing made the world a far better place for it.

We have kind of lost that.  Sadly.  There are so many today who fear being wrong, who fear being corrected, who fear being “taken”, that we pull support at the slightest blemish, the slightest odd or off fact, the slightest imperfection.  Rather inaction than Wrong action.  That is a fallacy.  Apathy is our biggest enemy in a globalized world.  We live in a world of immense abundance (see Peter Diamandis talk on TED), yet are too overwhelmed to act,  thinking nothing we can do will help.  With 24 hour news media needing to feed itself and produce ratings, this spin towards the negative will only worsen, coupled with further erosion of prior comforting notions of our world as scientific knowledge propels us forward, and as globalization forces us to confront the “other person” from the other side of the world and their “other” culture.

THIS is the world you will inherit, and you will have to decide how to respond to it.  You will also inherit all of the optimism that comes with adding about 2 Billion + people to the global interactive “grid”.  Now THAT is exciting!

Just like Andy Dufresne, you’ll have good days and bad, you’ll be on the roof drinking ice cold sodas one minute, and then having to crawl through 300 yards of shit the next, and in the end you’ll have to make sense of it all.  Yes as the old saying goes “hope floats”, but it don’t swim, it takes care and attention, and discipline to keep it afloat and move it in a productive direction.  You will have to make a decision to keep hope alive, to nurture it, to do so critically but not cynically, to think and yet remain feeling and connected to your fellow man, to avoid the banality of evil, and find a sense of purpose and meaning when the sun goes down.

An Open Letter from a PTA Mom to Mike Huckabee: A Message for Those Who Long for God’s Presence in Schools

I came across this several years ago.  In the light of presidential candidate Mr. Huckabee’s grandstanding with Kim Davis in KY, and his underwhelming debate performance, he is once again in my field of view.

But, sometimes others capture the point so well,  it’s best to just shut up and get out of the way.  This is extraordinary in it’s accuracy, humanity, and clarity.  Thank you Kimberly Burkett.

http://educatefortexas.com/open-letter-to-mike-huckabee/

 

 

 

 

Words

Jenny awoke with a start, leaning up on her elbows, alert and still, slowly scanning her room and her bed.  There was her TinkerBelle, there her Woody, Buzz, and Jessie, there her Knuffle Bunny, and there was Dora, and there an array of Beannie Babies.  All looked in order.  But so silent, so very silent was the house.  An unfamiliar silence, the kind of silence that suggests something is off, something wrong, something perhaps not safe.  The way birds grow silent just before a tornado hits, or dogs before an earthquake.  She sat motionless, trying to discern sounds in perfect silence, the way one tries to “see” imaginary shapes with eyes closed in the black of night.  The unease grew and she ventured out, tiptoeing down the hall, and the smell of burnt matches and something slightly sweet permeated the air.  Opening her brother’s door slowly, bathed in half light from the NY Jets night light on his dresser, strange shapes slowly came to focus.  It must have been a minute or longer from when she saw it to when she allowed herself to see it, and what was frozen in anticipation now was frozen in fear, and trauma.  He lay on his side half off the bed, left hand dangling down touching the floor, just off to his side the handgun, still smoking.  She stared at those details for some minutes, frozen in place, and then scanning up saw the blood and the bits of something on the wall, and then slow and deep like rumbling thunder came the shrieking, “Mommy, Mommy . . .”

The next moments came as a blur, a line of staccato images one after another, devoid of feeling in a strange way monotonous.  Those of us not touched by severe trauma have glorified Hollywood conceptions, but in fact in these moments the psyche enters shut down mode rather quickly, deflecting all of our energy (physical and mental) to more important fight or flight instincts.  So what seems like a hyperarousing event often quickly becomes a monotonous serious of single small events one after another . . . disjointed . . . disconnected.  And the moments passed over her – mother yelling at her for waking her up – mother realizing – mother pushing her aside and crowding over the body – mother screaming – frantically looking, wide-eyed,  for the phone – yelling at dispatch “Stop telling me to calm down!” – holding his pillow behind his head to stop the bleeding – crying her mantra . . .

“No, no, no . . . not this, no . . . this is ok, this is ok . . . he’s ok . . . he’s gonna be ok”

And as mother began to realize the gravity of the situation, the trembling in her voice worsened until she couldn’t speak.  Jenny snapped out of her daze, picked up the phone and told dispatch where they lived.  Followed was a continuous blur of strange images- blue flashing lights, paramedics running, words like “STAT” and “IV” and “compression” and “hang on God Dammit!”, the officer holding mother back from the ambulance, the paramedics neutral blank-faced look as he lifted the sheet over her brother’s head, the numb look of neighbors standing on the sidewalk.

Jenny already knew he was dead, she knew it when she entered the room, she knew it before when she awoke with a jolt.  She knew.  At such moments the knowing comes in small gradations, not absolutes, and the knowing grows towards confirmation, but the knowing was there long before.  Children are perceptive of such nuance, they must be to navigate a world run by adults who control that world in so many ways yet make so little effort to truly understand them.  Children are master readers.  They haven’t honed the ability to self-delude so easily yet.

Three weeks later, mother has fallen depressed, on the bottle again, can’t go on.  Jenny finds her one night, drunk, holding the same handgun, sitting on the couch.  Again, she calls the police, and both are brought in on emergency custody.  It’s a quick evaluation, a “slam dunk” as we say in the callous tone used by emergency personal- perpetuated as a defense mechanism allowing us to maintain our intellectual and expert focus, by trampling the immobilizing humanity of these moments. Mother knows she needs help, Jenny says almost nothing.  Mother is involuntarily committed, and as I walk Jenny away she casually says to me, numb . . . monotone . . .

“It’s my fault, you know?”

“You’re fault” I ask, “Why do you say that?”

“Mommy only got a gun because she kicked Daddy out after he tried to touch me, and he wouldn’t leave, so after he beat her up and then left, she got the gun from Uncle Jimmy, she got it for our protection.  If I never told on Daddy, she wouldn’t have the gun.  That night I was yelling at my brother for messing up my room, and taking my iPod, and I called him a jerk, and a dork, and said that’s why none of the girls at school like him, and they all think he’s a loser.”

We walked on in silence for a few minutes . . .

And then she turned to me, and finally some subtle emotion broke, and she asked with full sincerity “How do you say sorry to your dead brother?”

Fade to Black.

______________________

And the short answer is, “You don’t kid, you don’t”

What you can do is say sorry to yourself, and to those you affected, and in a righteous world maybe they’ll say sorry back.  Sorry for putting you in a situation where you had to tell on your Daddy for touching you, and setting in motion a chain of events where he beats your Mommy, then leaves, then Mommy feels she needs a gun for protection, in a house with two young kids and a mom with two jobs.  Sorry that our society doesn’t have checks in place to prevent this shit from happening.  Sorry that you need a license to drive a car, do someone’s taxes, or even catch a fish, but no such regulation on bringing children into the world, and more importantly parenting them.

 

Sophia and Lambros,

There are a long line of sorry’s, some we owe, many owed to us.  That is a real tough lesson for an 8 year old.  And I hope neither of you, at age 8 or age 38, have to learn that lesson in that way.  But you will learn those same lessons somehow, the lesson that we’re all on limited time and we’re all vulnerable to the tragedies of life, although admittedly some have the cards stacked against them.

I recall a great TED talk by the conductor Benjamin Zander.  A great talk, funny, witty, informative, and so very hopeful.  At the end he shares a story about a woman he met who was an Auschwitz survivor.  She was 15 and her brother was 8, they were on the train on the way to the camp, their parents were already gone.  She looked down to notice the brother lost his shoes.  It was bitterly cold, and snowy, and she reprimanded him for losing his shoes, “You idiot, you’re always losing things, how could you lose your shoes now.  You’re so stupid.”  And they arrived at the camp, and were separated and she never saw him again.  He didn’t survive.  She told Zander that once liberated she made a decision . . .

“I’ll never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I ever say.”

Powerful words to live by.  We have to live with our actions and their consequences, and our words ARE actions and they have consequences.  I don’t blame my patient Jenny for the death of her brother, that is a complex issue with many factors.  But she blamed herself, and likely still does.  And in the end analysis, we have to live with our actions, and our words, and decide when and how much to forgive ourselves.

But Zander also says something quite hopeful as well, reflecting on Nelson Mandela’s time in prison, and comparing it to the composing of Frederic Chopin, he says that both have to focus on the “Long Line” in the trajectory of their work and what they are doing.  Much like looking at the big picture, and that’s hard to do amidst trauma and youth, and so many other painful moments in life.  But Zander’s line speaks for itself  . . .

“This is about the long line.  Like the bird who flys over the field and doesn’t care about the fences underneath.”

As pain and tough decisions and joys and sorrows and triumph and vulnerability all come your way, and they all will, remember the Long Line, and try when you can to muster the courage and the strength to be like the bird taking flight and transcending all the feeble fences that life may throw your way.

The Delusion You Know

Delusion: de·lu·sion \di-ˈlü-zhən\   

1:   the act of deluding : the state of being deluded

2:  a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated

      b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the

contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs.

She stood before me, young 30s, rather slim, smartly put together, hair done up in a tight bun.  She was distraught.  Her husband you see, how to say this . . .he was dead, had died 3 nights ago, and now because I was questioning this I was trying to steal his soul.  I, and the detective who was called to her home earlier today when she reported  her husband  kidnapped and murdered, and the elementary school principal who “let that strange man” pick up  her daughter.  The only problem is that her husband died about 3 times a month, and has been doing so for the past few years.

We were not in a crisis unit, sure it looked as such, but this was purgatory and we all were trying to take her husband’s soul.  Flashes of Sarah Connor from Terminator come to mind, “You’re Dead!  You’re already dead!”  Would you fight for your spouses soul in such a situation?  How badly would you fight?  Like Robin Williams in the movie What Dreams May Come, she was going to fight against the seeming reality she KNEW wasn’t real.  She was going to fight dammit.

And she did, and more than once throughout the night, the quiet room was used, and restraints were used . . . and after she’d calm and settle she’d return to the general unit, and after time escalate again and the process repeated.  And fortunately no one got hurt, no one physically got hurt, but each time she said her own soul was harmed and in retrospect I’m not so sure she was wrong about that.

She was internally logical and goal-directed, as we shrinks like to say.  She made internal sense, meaning, if you crawled into her world and accepted her basic propositions her arguments flowed and were internally consistent.  She didn’t stutter, she didn’t stammer, she used big girl words.  The rub?  She was completely out of touch with her one small segment of reality, and scared shitless about THAT version of the world.  If you talked to her at a Starbucks you might not notice this at all, but if stumbled on the topic of her husband you’d be in for a wild ride, and probably finish your coffee quickly and scamper away.

My logical and verbal appeals went nowhere, the man who lived with her was not her husband but a cyborg  of sorts, a cloned replica.  He had been down this road a few times and was active in our intervention and helpful, so I brought him in and we all talked together.  We presented marriage pictures (photo-shopped), a birth certificate (forged, just like the President!), joint check book and credit card statements (identity theft), and even a phone call to her own parents  whom she trusted (“they love me so much they’re  lying to protect me” and “they obviously got to my parents too!” ).  She was polite to him, found him attractive and appealing, but was fearful as well “that’s not my husband.”

She suffered from a Fixed Delusion, which distinguishes itself from the more acute paranoid delusions we often see with Schizophrenia and some Bipolar conditions.  In the latter, your thought, your actions, your behaviors and your full functional capacity is markedly compromised.  In a Fixed Delusion, you generally can function well, but you have one particular belief which you can’t shake, which you hold on to as if life depended on it . . . and it does.  And it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

–          We were conspiring against her and detaining her against her will- check, technically correct;

–          People were treating her strangely and with disrespect; check, also correct stemming from her  increasing bizarre behaviors;

–          She recently lost her job because of her husband; again, technically correct but  due to her increasingly odd behavior not due to some conspiracy;

–          No one is listening to her; in essence, yes, check, she had blown credibility and the  more others didn’t listen the more she felt an urge to plead her case.

The person with a fixed delusion is a master weaver, who takes whatever incontrovertible material you hand them and weaves it into their pre-made tapestry of delusional belief.  I gently confronted her delusions, which is  all you can do.  For some, the delusional belief can be very strong and imbedded into their fundamental sense of self- to destroy the delusion is to annihilate the self, to paraphrase Heinz Kohut (another shrink).  Imagine you woke  up tomorrow and  some  great ruse was played on you, not unlike  that  played on Michael Douglas in the  move The Game.  You are convinced of a reality for which others, ALL others, negate.  For  those  of us not in this territory almost need to take the example to an extreme- you wake up, everyone has  one  eye like  a cyclops, they speak a foreign  language, they are not hostile but regard you with a sense of curiosity and  wonderment, there are 3 Suns hovering in the sky not 1, the day is on a 39 hour schedule, you dont’ know where you are, you’re not sure who you are.

Now, in this predicament you have two choices

a) you can doubt who you are and  crawl into a general state of paranoia, avoidance, fear, aggression (in some cases), slowly decompensating and withdrawing from the world; essentially questioning the Self and allowing the discrepant  data to slowly annihilate the Self.  In this scenario you completely surrender to the “data” coming at you, voices, paranoid thoughts, you have no defenses, no rudder, no main mast to hold on to and thus you lose grip with reality as a whole; or

b) you can remain emboldened about your view of things and sure that everyone else is wrong, still generally able to function but unable to see different on that one idea.  In this scenario you completely adjust  reality data to fit your view of the  world.  You are ALL defense, a main mast ONLY but without a sail, cut off from any wind, any  influence by the shared reality within which we all live.  Your only saving grace is your cut off in one pocket of reality.

The former is Schizophrenia, the latter is more akin to a Fixed Delusion.  She is adamant she met and married her husband on the same day in 2010, and he died 3 day ago.  We show her a picture of her and her husband at Obama’s innaguration- they are clearly at the Capital, the setting is clearly in the background, you can see the President at the podium behind them in the picture.  She acknowledges that  IS the President, that they ARE there.  Her resolution?  “Wow, so my husband was able to time travel all the while and never told me!”  Everything is subservient to the fixed delusion, all data is malleable.

It is a very tragic disease, to be in a mental prison that locks from the inside and not yet realize we have the key.  Yet, aren’t we all in such a place to this and that extent?

We all suffer from a bit of fixed Delusion, be it in relgious belief, politics, convincing ourselves that our  spouse isn’t cheating, ignoring the harsh reality that we will all die, ignoring the cold reality of loose nuclear fissile material in the Balkan States, and so on or whatever your particular poison is.  A little self-denial goes a long way and can be a nice buffer against the ugly onslought of daily life.  I mean, shit, we can’t worry about all of this stuff all day long, for then we fall into Depression.  In fact, a number of recent studies suggest that Depressives have more realistic views of the world and their impact on it then those who are resistant to falling into depression- see, a bit of denial can be helpful.  But when it becomes obsessive and starts to take over all of our behavior, then we have a problem.  The tipping  point is when we start filtering data from the world to support and feed the delusion, vs. allowing data from the world to modify our view of it.   So, that is  what  I’m up against, typically a difficult prognosis.  One manages a fixed delusion, you don’t really fix it.

The Archetypal Psychologist, James Hillman, once said “The key to life is seeing the metaphor that you’re living in, and not taking it too seriously.” It’s all metaphor at some level, all of it.  From religion to philosophy to quantum mechanics, it’s all a view of the world, a way to approach experience.  Yeah it’s real, but again it’s really not real.  And when we take it so damn literally, that’s when we lose focus and start shooting each other and blowing each other up, all in the name of God or whatever master we’re serving.  And how we view, and through that with which we view, shapes the view itself.

Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn’t exist.”  At some level  it’s all spin and it’s all marketing.  In Nazi Germany, and Rwanda, and other times in history the “delusion” became the norm, fueled by genius propaganda machines.  Yes, madness can go big and go viral too, and when it does and when it runs unconsciously it gets really ugly.

And one of my favorates, Tyler Durden in Fight Club, “Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

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Sophia and Lambros,

This  entry is a bit more philosophical, more big picture, and it will be years before you’ll read this and gain some insight or understanding of it (with my writing style, my assumption you’ll have any is itself an illusion), but I hope you take it to heart when your ready.

We all live in layers of delusion, and to me the  key to life is deciphering the gradations as we go and coming to peace with them.  Allowing the world to enter us, open our perspectives, change our views, but not so much as to render us a rudderless ship.  Like so much else it is a delicate balance, and yet so many of us epically fail to find it, instead running and hiding behind ideologies and -isms.  That is an easy route and it is paved with a life of self-assurance and easy answers and not too much wading into the deep end of the life pool.  It’s like riding the ferris wheel, it’s fun, it’s safe, and it sure is a pretty view isn’t it.  And I sincerely hope you say “Fuck that!” and go the other route, and board the roller coaster, and struggle, and strive, and wrestle your angels, and come out on the other end wanting, and open, and deeper, and a better human for it.

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”     ~ Friedrick Nietzche