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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Guys like Dan

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where an individual enters a room and based on their dress, hygiene, and appearance, you begin evaluating, judging them, and drawing conclusions?

Have you ever found yourself involved in a conversation with someone that you disagreed with, or perhaps didn't like their verbal delivery method, and thus decided that this person had no value? Or made some decision that they were superior or inferior to you intellectually?

I cannot speak for anyone reading here so let me raise my hand and say, "Yes, I have done all of that ridiculous judging and thus assuming. That I intuitively think I know who you are based on some of the slightest information, a brief snapshot or moment in time, or your appearance."

Do you know how insane that is? How incredibly stupid, childish, and ego driven that is?

I do.

Let me furnish an excellent, albeit extreme, example.

About 6 months ago, I saw Dan for the first time. He is young and kind of short. He dresses poorly because he in fact- is poor. For now. But what separated Dan from us, is that he has piercings everywhere. I am not sure how many exactly, but he has huge gauges in his ears, piercings through his cheeks, lips, nose, eyebrows...metal sticking up everywhere. All of these piercings draw attention to him. I found myself sneaking glances at him when I thought he wasn't looking.

And what do you suppose I was thinking as I viewed him initially? I was thinking how stupid that looked, how a kid like this ever thought he was going to get a job looking like that, and to be honest... he kind of scared me a little bit.

Now all of that thinking of mine was validated as I listened to others talk about him. In fact, they made a lot of cruel and disparaging remarks about Dan. They judged him on his appearance. Just as I did.

Over the intervening months I have had an opportunity to listen to Dan many times. He is reasonably smart and emotionally aware and intelligent. I was baffled. I didn't get who he was. Smart people just don't do what Dan does. That is my faulty belief system in action. Until one day, we talked for a few hours. When I say "talk" what that really means is that Dan talked and I listened intently. I wanted to understand.

I queried Dan at great length about his childhood and listened. And what do you suppose he told me? Go ahead and think about this for a minute. *play Jeopardy tune in head

In broadstrokes, Dan may have been emotionally abandoned as a child. He did not feel connected or loved. He felt marginalized and unimportant. Not worthy of attention. And as he grew and acquired those belief systems that we acquire, he began to believe he wasn't as good as other kids, he didn't measure up to the other people in his life. And the only attention he received, was negative attention. And that was better than no attention at all.

And because those are his perceptions that then becomes his truth. It is true.

And you see, those piercings give him an identity. They say "Hey, look at me!" "I exist, I am nuts, and I do things like this!" And in that way, Dan's ego has claimed an identity. A sort of fearless, crazy, middle finger to the world identity, which for now has satisfied his emotional needs.

At the surface, he celebrates what he has done to his body. Deep down, the real Dan may be scared and unsure whether or not he has value or has used the appropriate tactics. I want to hug him every time I see him. Why? Because I got a glimpse of what it is or what is was... to be Dan. Not some assumption or judgment based on a superficial view after a brief or casual glance as he entered a room. All Dan craves is to be loved, to be needed, to be listened to. The same things we all want. To have value, to be understood.

He just tries harder than most of us.

Guys like Dan have forced me to examine myself and these ridiculous belief systems that I have. This unconscious ego of mine that says that it's ok to draw assumptions about people based on scant evidence. It is ridiculous and insane.

Last year, I pierced both ears. My ego demanded that I do it. I wear Fleur de Lis earrings for my beloved rebirth and love of New Orleans and the Saints. The reviews? Not so good. For a macho guy that spent all of his life confronting, overcoming, and wrestling bad guys... this is just too inconceivable to the people that know me. They think I am stupid or just plains nuts. It doesn't fit that neo conservative hard knocker assumption they had of me. You see, they make the same assumptions that I always have. We all got raised in the same classroom. I can't wait until my father sees them. Probably carve me out of the will.

In the end, I find that Dan is not much different than all of us. That Dan fears an invisible existence based on what he has perceived so far. Dan has learned that society bases it's opinions on superficial assumptions. That's too bad. That he has learned not to do the same based on that experience, gives him a leg up on a lot of folks.

You can learn a lot about yourself courtesy of guys like dan. Or not. It's all up to you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drawing the Short Straw

I haven't posted on the site in awhile. Not for lack of material, but because of travel and web connectivity. Sometimes life just gets in the way of my writing.

I've wanted to write this piece for quite some time. It's about an observation that I have made. I find it absolutely fascinating. But please read it all the way through before arriving at any conclusions.

The single greatest asset, skill, that I have acquired is my ability to listen and evaluate precisely what someone is trying to say to me. While I have always had some skill in this area, listening was often only connected to my old line of work. And I must admit, I did far too much talking to be an effective listener. Effective listening occurs when you devote all of your energy to hearing, evaluating as you listen to what you have just been told and why. I have made an enormous leap in this arena. And effective listening brings about fatigue; far more so than talking.

For the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to work with several men from prison. That these men have committed various serious crimes goes without saying. That virtually all of those crimes involved alcohol and drugs is by no means- earth shattering either.

It was during the course of last year that I made a startling observation.

But please allow me to set the table appropriately. Many of these men are fairly rational and some are quite intelligent. They vary in age and some have college degrees. I cannot claim the intellectual high ground here and even if I attempted that feat, it would be flawed and of dubious value to the point I am about to make anyway.

What distinguishes me from my prison counterparts? Luck.

Huh? You see, most of these men drew the short straw. They were not born to Ward and June Cleaver. They were not born into loving households where both parents loved each other and stayed together through thick and thin. Most of these men came from all kinds of abusive situations. Single parent families. Abandonment. Mothers, fathers checked out on drugs and alcohol. Verbal abuse and shame. Some were physically abused. Others were sexually abused. And the extent of this abuse did not occur here and there during a few petty arguments. It wasn't limited to a an isolated scolding or a spanking. It was pretty much a daily fixture in their lives.

In fact, a few of the men that I work with thought that abusive and dysfunctional behavior was not only normal or perhaps marginally acceptable, but that they engaged in the same practices with their own children. They establish faulty and unconscious belief systems that they accept as true based on the only experience that they have- that which they learned as children at home.

Some of them think striking their children or shaming them is appropriate discipline. And thus they continue to pass along the same faulty belief systems.

As simple as that sounds, that is hardly rocket science either. Nor is it the revelation that I want to discuss.

Now while I am far from perfect, I must admit that the straw I drew was longer than those of the men I have been working with. I was luckier than they were.

Now you'd think that by the time these men went to prison, it might occur to them that society was sending them a message. Your conduct is unacceptable. You must change the way you live your life. That message sounds pretty simple and accompanied by a jail cell you'd think they would get that memo. In fact, you might presume they might even be a little humble.

Not so. Not by a long shot. In fact, once they exit prison they revert to the only thing they know. Many of those that I try to help actually criticize my actions or blame me for their failings. Now I understand that type of victim thinking but what I marvel at is their inability to examine and change those faulty belief systems that were installed in them.

It's not that they are stupid. They simply don't know anything else. They have never been shown love or kindness, tolerance or understanding. They distrust virtually everyone.

I don't get angry with that because I understand it. But just how do you convince someone that they have an operating system that doesn't work anymore?

I'm not sure you can.

They have cognitive change classes in prison but these guys were imprinted with some very faulty belief systems and they cling to them for survival. They may survive with those beliefs but they cannot thrive. If they cannot grasp the enormity of those faulty belief systems they cling to.. they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes that landed them in prison in the first place.

Remember that flashy thingy they used to erase peoples' memories in the movie, "Men in Black?" I need that thing desperately.

Here's the good news. Cognitive change is in fact... the answer. The faulty belief systems of the men and women in prison are the direct result of the poor parenting that they received as children. Exceptions to this rule are rare. It is as simple as that. They drew the short straw. I get it.

So how do we convince these people that they are as potentially good and useful as anyone? How do we convince them to eliminate those faulty beliefs and install a new and updated operating system and get rid of that Commodore 64 system they are using? How do we eliminate ego and do this without diminishing them or claiming that we are intellectually superior?

That is the conundrum. But I'll tell you what. If I ever figure out how to do that, I am gonna set the prison system on it's ear. I am gonna walk thru that gate with a handful of straws that are about 3 feet long and say, "It's time to redraw, boys and girls."