Tag Archives: conflict

What do you see?

By Dr. Ken Larsen (Originally published November 23, 2013)

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant is full of wisdom. Let’s apply this wisdom to the ways that we connect with the world around us and the people that share that world with us. We’re realizing that our mental health and happiness depend on loving and being loved in our relationships with others. This fable can give us insights into what can help us connect. It also shows us dramatically one major obstacle to connecting, and that is the assumption that the way I experience the world around me is the same way you experience our world.

elephant

Each blind man had to interpret the information of his senses and construct an image of the elephant from images formed from prior experience. This is understandable. The problem came when each of them assumed that their perception was the only accurate image of the real elephant. What would have happened had they shared their experience, each reporting on the part of the elephant that he could sense, realizing that the others were experiencing something that he could not. By sharing their individual perceptions, they could form a collective composite image of the elephant. This composite image could then be shared and they would all know more about the elephant.

How many conflicts could be prevented if each of us would make the effort to listen to one another to discover how the other “sees” the world that we share. Once we have an understanding of the perceived world of the other, we can make a choice on how to respond.

This seems preferable to reacting to what is assumed to be the point of view of the other.

The Creative Mind (Part 2)

by Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

hobby-1642907

Many people have learned to use their creative thoughts and behavior to resolve any frustration or unhappiness that comes their way.  They use their creativity to overcome their sadness and depression, anxiety, anger, and to deal with important people in their lives that matter to them.  There are also those who use their creativity to resolve conflict with others in ways that may only slightly ease their unhappiness and frustration but cause other problems in doing so.  We see these behaviors manifested in such ways that are being called, Obsessive Compulsive, relying and becoming addicted to drugs/alcohol, anxiety attacks, mood swings (Bipolar), and other behaviors that seem unusual or “crazy” to anyone who witnesses these behaviors.   Others don’t often see what another person is facing with their frustration and unhappiness.  Nor do they understand that the person’s odd or unusual behavior is serving the purpose of easing that frustration and unhappiness, even if it is only slightly, and created as a result of their “Creativity.”  You can hammer a nail with just about any other hard object if you don’t have a hammer.  Using something other than a hammer is a person’s creativity to get a desired result.  Unusual behaviors are creative behaviors utilized by those who haven’t created a more effective tool to ease their frustration.

Our creative abilities allow for our general happiness.  Some create effectively and others create maladaptive behaviors because it’s all they created at the time.  Our creativity can get us out of many unhappy situations without the need for counseling or therapy or prescription drugs.   Those who have created ineffective behaviors to resolve their unhappiness are diagnosed and judged as someone needing psychiatric help in the form of “brain meds.”  These types of medications inhibit a person’s natural ability to be creative and to be able to create ways to resolve their unhappiness.

When you have weird or strange dreams at night or even dreams that make sense . . . that is your brain being creative.  So if you have dreams that don’t make any sense, does that mean you’re mentally ill?  If your brain is capable of creating when you are asleep, it is also capable of creating when you are awake.

CREATIVITY . . . it’s behind most of our choices of behavior . . . logical and illogical.

The only way to win is not to play!

Dr. Ken Larsen

tictactoe

I remember the film “War Games” where a rogue computer was waging a simulated Thermonuclear war between the US and the USSR.  The outcome was a doomsday scenario where everyone was destroyed.  The only way they were able to get the computer to stop was to entice it to play Tic Tac Toe.  The computer soon recognized the futility of the game, where every move resulted in a counter move with no possibility of a clear victory.  The computer extrapolated this insight into the Thermonuclear simulation and quickly recognized that there was no possibility for either side to win.  The computer concluded wisely, “the only way to win is not to play!”

I believe we need that insight in today’s world, especially in our nation with its upcoming very critical elections.

We’ve looked at the truth of “the world is divided by those who think they are right.”

Yet many of us continue the rancorous battle between opposing points of view without realizing the utter futility of the ongoing argument, pitting opinion against opinion, generating far more heat than light.

What would happen if all of us would pause and reflect on what is good and true and beautiful for each of us?  What do we value, where do we find love and light and life?  What if we were to stop attacking those with a different point of view, accepting that there are differences and that our differences can make up the diversity that makes life interesting?

Maybe we could even talk about what we cherish and value, owning what we say as ours, not trying to be right and make others wrong, but just interested in sharing what is good in life with one anotherOnce we have some clarity within ourselves, we can vote with those values in mind.

I suspect that the impact on our personal and on our collective mental health and happiness would be profoundly positive.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, peaceful acceptance of one another has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.

I’m willing to try this.  How about you?

Who built the world you live in?

Dr. Ken Larsen

We live in a world of our perceptions.  Our encounter with the real world outside of ourselves is filtered through our total knowledge, our values, our experience and what we have learned.  All these things are held in memory and shape how we relate to the real world as we journey through life.  Our mental health and happiness are largely dependent on how effectively our perceptions enable us to meet our needs.

Our perceptions are formed by what we learn about life and our place in it.  I’m going to draw a quick comparison between two ways that we learn.

Indoctrination is one way we learn.  The definition I am using for “indoctrination” is “To teach someone to fully accept the ideas, opinions and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.”  When we learn by indoctrination our world is interpreted for us by some external source.  We are enjoined to conform to this externally interpreted world and to avoid exploring alternative ways of thinking, often going so far as to threaten sanctions for “stepping out of line.” One such sanction was the practice in the middle ages to burn those whose beliefs and behaviors were inconsistent with the predominant “doctrine”.

group

Another way we learn is by education.  I am going to define education as an “enlightening experience.”  The way I see it is that education enables us to interpret our world for ourselves; learning, evaluating and comparing what we experience in the real world with our own system of values and beliefs.  Education is a quest for truth and applying that truth to knowing ourselves and knowing others and to apply that knowledge to meeting our needs and living together in harmony with others.  My personal experience of “education” is that it is a process that works best when linked in some way to a respected someone older and wiser.  Someone whose values, beliefs and world view have demonstrated a nobility shaped by growing in truth, goodness and beauty.  For me, and for many of us, Dr. Glasser has been that older and wiser influence in our education.

It seems to me that we are in a struggle between indoctrination and education in the ways we think and live our lives in today’s world.   Can you identify places in your life where your experience of indoctrination (political, religious, philosophical) are in conflict with what you have learned through your “enlightening experience” of education?    Does this conflict affect your mental health and happiness?  How do you resolve this conflict?       

 

 

Creativity & Madness

By Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

The 1960 movie, “The Magnificent Seven” was a box office hit staring Yul Brynner, playing the role of Chris Adams, and Steve McQueen, playing the role of Vin Tanner.  In one of the scenes, actor Eli Wallach, playing the role of Calvera, a Mexican bandit who was terrorizing a Mexican town’s inhabitants, asked Steve McQueen:

Calvera: What I don’t understand is why a man like you took the job (freeing the town) in the first place, hmm? Why, huh?
Chris: I wonder myself.
Calvera: No, come on, come on, tell me why.
Vin: It’s like a fellow I once knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, “Why?”
Calvera: And?
Vin: He said, “It seemed to be a good idea at the time.”

How many times have you found yourself having done something that afterwards you asked yourself, “Why the hell did I do that?”  Looking back on it, you are amazed that you would have chosen to have done such a thing.  Your thoughts might be:  “Boy, was THAT ever stupid,” or “I can’t believe I did that.”

I recall a time many years ago when I dove head first into a water fountain in the town’s roundabout while wearing a 3 piece suit.  I wasn’t in conflict or frustrated at the time.  I was merely under the influence.  Alcohol can make one really stupid. After landing on my head and sitting in a lot of water with blood running down my face, I never once thought it was a good idea at the time.  I just always wanted to do that after years of driving around that fountain for years.  However, I do recall thinking to myself after I did it, “What a (blanking) dumb thing to do.”But that’s not the kind of dumb choices I wish to describe.

I’m referring to the times when you were under extreme duress and felt like you had no place to turn.  A few examples might be:  Going through a divorce or breakup; losing a job with no prospects for work due to your age; the death of a child or some other loved one; feeling you can’t please someone who is putting demands or expectations on you; someone who is behaving in a way in which you disapprove; someone dear to you who is nagging, complaining, blaming, criticizing, threatening, punishing, or even bribing you to get you to do something they wanted you to do that you didn’t want to do or didn’t know how to do it.

The reason why you may have ever done something “crazy” was because, at the time, it seemed like a good idea.  When faced with a particular situation in which you have no prior experience, and after all your efforts to resolve it with all of the tools you have learned to use in the past have failed, you get creative. . .  you devise new ways to resolve your unhappiness that you have never used before.  Your unhappiness may be so frustrating that any new idea that you devise, regardless of how insensible it may be, seemed like a good idea at the time.  Everything you had tried, so far, was unsuccessful in making your perceived unhappy situation match the happy image of what you wanted in your Quality World.

When we run out of choices, we create new choices.  

Many times, we look back on those choices and say, “That was a really dumb thing to do.”  But at the time, in your frustration, it made perfectly good sense.  You had to try it.  You never thought of it before.   Maybe, just maybe, it would work.  Then to make it even worse when it failed, someone says to you, “Just what the hell were you thinking?” canstockphoto0527001

Being too embarrassed to admit to our perceived stupidity, we reply, “Sheesh.  I don’t know.  I must have been out of my mind,” to which the other person is more than happy to agree.  But now, we have an excuse.  We were temporarily out of our right mind and not stupid.

I am often asked, “what about those people who keep doing crazy things over and over, like Obsessive Compulsive behaviors, anxiety, depression, schizophrenic behaviors of hearing and seeing things that aren’t there?”  People do what works to ease their unhappiness, in some way or another, or they wouldn’t do them.  You just don’t see the how or the why of it.

These behaviors serve to ease their frustrations, even just a little bit, because they have learned that if they didn’t do them, their unhappiness and frustration would be much more intense than it is. Their seemingly crazy behaviors are the result of their creativity to find something that works.  All they know is that when they do them, they feel better than when they don’t do them.  Whatever their unhappiness or frustration is, it is something that is occurring right now, in this present time.  And if it has been a long term pattern of behavior, it will be found to have roots in an unsatisfying relationship with someone important to them.  Very few situations arise in our lives that lead to depression or anger that don’t involve conflict with someone important in our lives (including conflict with ourselves).

Remember your state of mind when you chose to do something that seemed like a good idea at the time that now, in retrospect, was totally out of character for you to have done?  More than likely, your frustration at that time didn’t last for any long term of several months or more and you got your senses back.  But think about the person whose frustration has been an ongoing for many months or perhaps years.  The behaviors that you see as mental illness in others are no different than the behavior you exhibited during your own frustration.  The only difference is that you may have found a more socially acceptable way to deal with it than they have.  While you may not hear voices, hallucinate, or shoot people, you may be depressing, anxieting, obsessing, bipolarizing, and/or resorting to drugs, alcohol, indiscriminant sex, gambling, or excessive spending.

Regardless of the behavior, it is still the result of a person’s creativity to deal with unhappiness and frustration of trying to control things that are beyond their control.  It will mostly be the result of an unsatisfying relationship with an important person in their life. When someone fails time after time to get their happiness needs met, they discover or create the first behavior that affords them some modicum of relief.

Once a person comes to the reality that there is nothing they can do to change another person and they eventually accept their situation as “it is what it is,” and by no longer trying to get what they can’t make happen; by no longer wanting what it is that they have been striving to make happen will they no longer have a need to rely on the behaviors they have developed to ease their frustration and unhappiness.

Who was/is the person with whom you were/are not having the relationship that you wanted to have when you jumped into the cactus patch?  You weren’t (aren’t) mentally ill.  You were/are not as mentally healthy as you could be. You were emotionally upset and seeking relief or resolution.  Since there is no medical, bio-pathological cause of what is being labeled as “mental illness,” there is no pharmaceutical cure for unhappiness.    Change what you want or change how you behave when you don’t get what you want.  There are no other successful or effective ways.

 

It may be real, but is it true?

Dr. Ken Larsen

Centuries ago the prevailing view was that the earth was the center of the universe.  This was a real belief and it dominated the thinking of scholars and the church.

boatIt was also largely held that the earth was flat and that to go too far, was to fall off the edge.

Through the ages certain beliefs have directed our thinking and influenced our behavior.  All of those beliefs were real.  Many of those beliefs were not true.

Copernicus and Galileo did a little investigating to verify the then established “truth” that the earth was the center of the universe. We know what happened next.  It nearly cost Galileo his life to dare to point out the truth that the earth was NOT the center of the universe.  Christopher Columbus dared to defy the prevailing “truth” that to sail too far, was to fall off the edge of the world.

As I think about human history, I wonder how many of those real beliefs that are not true remain in our collective thinkingWe know that our beliefs shape our thinking which in turn affects our behavior which further impacts our relationships with our world and the people in it.

I’m thinking in particular about those beliefs that separate us as humans and which ultimately have an impact on our mental health and happiness by keeping us separate and apart from one another.

Through our evolution we were bonded to our tribal groupings, which fostered a “them” and “us” outlook.  “They” were the potential danger to us and we needed to separate from and guard ourselves against them.

For many of us our tribal connections are history, yet our conditioned beliefs about “them and us” often remain, causing a residual prevailing suspicion that leads to conflict, division and strife.

We see this in many of our interpersonal relationships, where some of us look at others of us and see “them” rather than recognizing the deeper level of our connections to one another.  This separation makes it easy to blame “them” for our problems, tragically leading to animosity and violence against “them”.  Of course “they” have similar beliefs about us.  And the whole thing just keeps on keeping on.

Can we realize that the world is divided by those who think they are right?  Can we further realize that all this “being right” ultimately leads to some big “wrongs” that continue to feed the hatred and violence that have afflicted our species for far too long?

I believe the collective angst that hangs over us is one of the major obstacles to a more complete experience of mental health and happiness.  The international tensions and conflicts and wars have been a dark cloud hovering over us, keeping us in a constant state of uncertainty.

What can we do?  One suggestion is to begin a process of investigating those beliefs that bring us into conflict with one another.  Can we be honest enough to realize that many of those beliefs have been handed down to us?  Can we be courageous enough to aggressively ask ourselves “is this true?”

If we start with those things that are interfering with our mental health and happiness in our personal relationships, we can establish a foothold in progress.  We can do this by asking ourselves in all our relationships, “is what I am doing or about to do bringing us closer together or driving us further apart?” At that point we can make a choice to make a difference.

 

 

 

 

Blind Men and the Elephant

By Dr. Ken Larsen

The ancient story of the blind men and the elephant is full of wisdom. Let’s apply this wisdom to the ways that we connect with the world around us and the people that share that world with us. We’re realizing that our mental health and happiness depend on loving and being loved in our relationships with others. This fable can give us insights into what can help us connect. It also shows us dramatically one major obstacle to connecting, and that is the assumption that the way I experience the world around me is the same way you experience our world.

elephant

Each blind man had to interpret the information of his senses and construct an image of the elephant from images formed from prior experience. This is understandable. The problem came when each of them assumed that their perception was the only accurate image of the real elephant. What would have happened had they shared their experience, each reporting on the part of the elephant that he could sense, realizing that the others were experiencing something that he could not. By sharing their individual perceptions, they could form a collective composite image of the elephant. This composite image could then be shared and they would all know more about the elephant.

How many conflicts could be prevented if each of us would make the effort to listen to one another to discover how the other “sees” the world that we share. Once we have an understanding of the perceived world of the other, we can make a choice on how to respond.

This seems preferable to reacting to what is assumed to be the point of view of the other.

Now if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is…

By Dr. Ken Larsen

My wife Sheren and I have been married for over 50 years.  We have learned to live together in peace with no conflicts.

And, dear reader, if you believe that I have a fantastic deal on the Golden Gate Bridge.

We have, however, learned ways to work through our conflicts.  Following is one example.

kenlarsenWe have a home theatre system that is kind of elaborate, with multiple speakers and surround sound and all that sort of thing.

I enjoy listening at a level that Sheren finds unpleasant.  We tried turning the sound level down to a lower level.  That worked for Sheren, but not for me.

Sheren, in her loving wisdom, came up with a solution that works for both of us.

Ear plugs for Sheren or a headset for me.  We actually sort of alternate. This is a very simple but effective resolution to the conflict.

I can conclude from this experience that for us, mental health and happiness is not based on being free of conflict.

It is based on maintaining a loving connection while we work through the conflict.

If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

Dialogue or Diatribe?

Dr. Ken Larsen

The world is divided by those who think they are right.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  This familiar quote from Gandhi is an invitation to make our world a better place.  There is a parallel saying and that is “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  Like the Miss America contestants, we all want peace in our world.

diatribe

I suggest that the absence of peace is conflict.  While there is little I can do about global conflicts, there is a lot I can do with the conflicts in my relationships.  One place to start is in our conversations with one another.  Dialogue is the free exchange of ideas and experiences.  It is a chance to see the world through the eyes of the other.  The most fundamental element in dialogue that leads to mental health and happiness is to make understanding the foundation.  Too often interpersonal communication ends in disagreement and conflict based not on understanding, but on a lack of understanding.   Each person in the dialogue has a legitimate point of view.   If one tries to deny the experience of the other and try to control the other to see things his way, we have a serious breakdown in the conversation and in the relationship.  If we agree that disagreement has no right to take place until understanding has been achieved, we are making progress.  It’s OK to “agree to disagree” but in order to have any integrity it is important that each person understands the point of view of the other before moving into disagreement.

Dr. Glasser talked about “external control” as a major contributor to conflict, unhappiness, and breakdown in relationships.

The way we circumvent external control is to recognize that I can only control my behavior.  When I slip into seeing my point of view as correct and the other’s point of view as wrong, we have a problem.  This may result in an “Archie Bunker” kind of diatribe against the other, insisting the other is wrong while you are right.  The result of this behavior is a growing hostility and enmity toward the other.

I mentioned earlier that there is little I can do about global conflicts.   But, if I understand the value of dialogue as a way to see the world as the other sees it, maybe I can have a small impact on what is going on in our world.  If I recognize that the diatribe often associated with condemning the other is based on ignorance I can make an effort to become informed.  I can seek to see the world as the other sees the world.  And in that process, maybe I can find a common link that we can build on.

In my own life, I have made an effort to get to know others who are different from me.  With respect and healthy curiosity I have found truly delightful opportunities to see the world through the eyes of people from other cultures and background.

We know that our attitudes and behavior toward others is based on our experience and beliefs about the other.  When we allow our beliefs to be formed by the unexamined opinions spoon fed to us, we have given away something of ourselves.  When listening to a media report on the “news” can we ask ourselves the simple question, “Is this true?”, or is it pre-digested propaganda that we have accepted without question?

In our relationships and in our world, there are differences.  That is what diversity is all about and it is good.  There is also common ground that we can use to build bridges between us.  Let’s build some more bridges.

For a short two minute video illustrating these principals click here

http://youtu.be/_0cdIQmZxWY

The Miracle of Dialogue

Dr. Ken Larsen

About 40 years ago I read a book.  The Miracle of Dialogue  written by a pastor, Reuel Howe.  It’s out of print but you can sometimes find a used copy.  The book has had a profound influence on my life.  I’ll share with you   Dr. Howe’s  opening paragraph.  It is rich in meaning:

“Every man is a potential adversary, even those whom we love.  Only through dialogue are we saved from this enmity toward one another.  Dialogue is to love, what blood is to the body.  When the flow of blood stops, the body dies.  When dialogue stops, love dies and resentment and hate are born.  But dialogue can restore a dead relationship.  Indeed, this is the miracle of dialogue: it can bring relationship into being, and it can bring into being once again a relationship that has died.”

We have come to realize that meeting our need for love and belonging can only happen when we connect with another.  There are many ways of connecting, but the ability to communicate and share our meaning with another is paramount.

If dialogue is so important, why do misunderstandings and conflict arise among us?  I submit one major obstacle is that each party in the dialogue has a  different meaning for the same experience.

horns

What can we do to overcome this obstacle?  I believe it starts with what we want from our dialogue.  Are we just waiting for the other person to shut up so we can tell it like it REALLY is?  Sadly I see that sort of thing happening a lot.  We start out with the compulsion to be understood and we will push our point of view with that end in mind.

What if we would turn that around?  Rather than being preoccupied with being understood, why don’t we make the choice (Yes, it is a choice and it takes effort) to start with working to be sure that both parties are understood and that a meeting of meanings has occurred?  Dialogue is possible when there is common ground.  It takes a certain level of determination and patience to find that common ground.

conflictingmessage

Let me share an example I had with one of my daughters a while back.  She was an English major and had been reading a biography of Lord Byron.  I was involved in some project and Naomi came into the room wanting to share what she was reading.  “Dad, did you know Lord Byron’s heart was buried in Greece?”  I blurted in response, “Why would anyone want to bury a heart in grease?”

She looked at me funny, knowing that something wasn’t connecting in our exchange.  She caught it first, “Daaaad (you know how daughters can make that one syllable word stretch out a long ways)  it wasn’t bacon grease, it was the country of Greece.”  We both started to laugh.  After that exchange I began to wonder just how many misunderstandings and conflicts have started with just such a simple missed meaning.

To enhance our mental health and happiness, let’s agree that disagreements have no right to happen until there is agreement that both parties have the same meanings for the same words.