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Archive for the ‘Human Behavior’ Category

The notion that intentionally monitoring and decreasing one’s judgmental thinking increases one’s happiness fits well with a few other beliefs that I hold. I believe that early in life we develop what I call a default yes/no setting.  I call it that because we regularly engage it entirely out of our conscious awareness – we just do it like flicking on a light switch.  We evaluate our ongoing experience of being parented and cared for and before the age of five conclude either that new experience, new people, new situations are generally threatening ad we should be careful until we are sure that we’ll be safe or that new experience, new people, new situations are intriguing and we should move forward and explore them. Either “life is threatening, be careful” or “life is exciting, explore it”.

The ‘be careful’ becomes a default no at least at least until one is sure that one is safe, and the ‘explore life’ becomes a yes at least until something genuinely threatening enters the experience. I believe the development of this default yes/no setting has a huge ongoing impact on or character, our personality, and how we play out our life as adults.  I suspect it is the primary ingredient in determining whether one becomes essentially a conservative or a liberal in one’s outlook on and response to life. Are we more ‘WOW this might be good’ or more ‘WHOA, this might be bad’? Am I more yes until you can provide me with  meaningful evidence that I should be no,  or am I more no until you can provide convincing evidence that I should be yes. So the question to ask yourself is “what’s your default setting?” Are you more yes or more no?

I also believe that we can help ourselves and/or others to disengage our yes or no default settings by consciously employing the doubter/believer stance – a concept I learned from reading Peter Elbow.  It operates as follows:

In any situation where you are looking for the truth, making a decision, or assessing new data, there are two basic stances you can take: the Doubting Stance or the Believing Stance.

The doubting stance seeks truth by indirection:   (this is default no thinking)

  • – by seeking error. (Doubting an assertion or idea is the best way to find the error in it.)
  • – by assuming the assertion is untrue so as to find its weaknesses.
  • – by putting on a negative filter and sorting all data only for what won’t work.
  • – by using an adversarial method, think of ways to attack the assertion.
  • – by being against, apart from the idea or assertion.

The believing stance also seeks truth by indirection:   (this is default yes thinking)

  • – by refraining from doubting assertions or ideas.
  • –  by putting other ideas out of your head and trying this one on.
  • – by putting on a positive filter and sorting all data for the truth in it.
  • – by trying the idea on as though you believed it.  (Not the fullest sort of belief which is commitment and action, but the belief that involves trying to see things as the speaker sees them.)
  • – by being with rather than apart from the idea or assertion.

The doubting stance has a monopoly on legitimacy in our culture, it is the most common default setting.

  • – Socrates, Descartes;
  • – propositional logic;
  • – the scientific method;
  • – ‘rational’ thought process;
  • – “be realistic”;
  • – question everything you hear;
  • – the way to proceed to truth is to doubt everything and what is finally immune from attack must be true.

Doubting stance traits include

  • – extrication
  • – disengagement
  • – detachment
  • – rigidity
  • – closing up
  • – toughness
  • – hardness
  • – aggressiveness
  • – competitiveness
  • – adversarial desire to talk and correct.

The results of only doubting lead from doubt to skepticism to cynicism.

Believing stance traits include

  • – involvement
  • – commitment
  • – softness
  • – opening up
  • – flexibility
  • – cooperating
  • – supporting
  • – adaptability
  • – listening.

The believing stance permits one to explore and discover the value of an idea, and often to adapt it or modify it to fit the needs of the situation. One of the most difficult aspects of taking the believing stance is fighting the itch for closure which the stance may create. The results of only believing  lead from interest to enthusiasm to gullible  naiveté.

Both stances are powerful and important ways of getting to the truth or the best decision.  We need both. We also need to know when we are using which stance and why we are using it at that point in the process of coming to a conclusion.

Using the doubting stance first leads to negativity, mistrust and withdrawal. The values of an idea are never discovered or explored, the believer stance never gets a chance.  Using the believing stance first, however, leads to exploring all the possibilities of an idea.  Then, following up with the doubting stance avoids pitfalls and mistakes.

The value in this observation is that we can train or reprogram ourselves to adopt the doubter/believer stance as our default setting and convert our ‘yes’ or ‘no’ default setting to a useful tool to be utilized as part of our decision-making process which, in my experience has resulted in a higher degree of happiness in my day-to-day life.

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I had an interesting insight the other day.  I went through a period of about fifteen or so years (early eighties to late nineties) when I practiced a good deal of Vipassanna mediation.  I meditated daily, was in a mediation group that met weekly, and attended quite a number of formal meditation retreats – six or seven ten day retreats, ten to twelve three and five day retreats and a number of one day or half day retreats.  With that extent of involvement and time expenditure it is evident that I was certainly getting something out of it to keep me coming back.

About three years into it I became aware that I was often experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life.  I gladly accepted and appreciated that change and allowed that was the main enticement which kept me coming back for more.  I often wondered and reflected on what it was about the mediation practice which lead to an increase in the degree and frequency of feelings of well being and happiness.  What was the connection?  And therein lies the source of my insight of the other day.

Early on in my mediation retreat attendance I learned (as nearly all people who attend such retreats seem to learn) that I (we) often have remarkably little control of my own mind and am frequently unable to sustain a single minded focus on something as simple as keeping my awareness on my own breath. The meditation terminology calls it monkey mind – a good name for it – and I was blown away by how easily and frequently I am judgmental about others – [If she’s going to breathe so damned loud why do she have to sit near me!  My god will they stop whispering and just shut up!  We must be fifteen minutes past the lunch break – why haven’t we broken yet?  Does he ever bathe? –  Or outside the retreat environment – Where did he get his license to drive?  Is it against the law to use directional signals in this state?  Perhaps after that woman chats with the cashier for another twenty minutes we’ll make our purchase and move on.]

Upon reflection I concluded that I conducted about 98% of my judgmental fault finding as internal dialogue and relatively rarely expressed my verdicts aloud.  (Good thing or I’d have had quite a hard time maintaining friendships.)  I have since initiated a campaign to become much more consciously aware of when I’m engaging in judgmental thinking and strive to use it only when it is a necessary and useful tool for reaching a rational decision.

The connection I made, my interesting insight the other day, is that becoming aware of and intentionally restricting my running string of judgments about what’s going on around me in my immediate environment, my social milieu, and the larger world has lead directly to my experiencing a higher degree of happiness in my day to day life.  My conclusion is that while judgmental thinking is a very useful tool in decision making, when used inappropriately and unnecessarily tends to sabotage joie de vivre.  It seems that bringing it into my conscious awareness and reining it in has had a very positive pay off for me.  Thank you Vipassanna mediation.

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For the most part, the health care debate (debate?)  has been sufficiently inane (death panels, birthers, rampant socialism) and lacking rational dialogue about real issues we are facing that I’m feeling somewhat embarrassed about being a citizen of country that actually elects to congress some of the members that have been public supporting the false irrelevant drivel that has so intrigued the media.  I am acutely aware that ranting such drivel only encourages others (including me) to rant responses.  I’m also aware that the only change that ranting produces is a change in one’s blood pressure level.  I have therefore decided that it is time for me to post a blog that makes a simple straightforward statement of what it is I want from my government.

Regarding health care I continue to support and want a federal income tax supported single payer system.  This would likely require a rather substantial increase in the income taxes that we pay. Be reminded that we are at once the richest nation in the history world, and the lowest taxed industrialized nation. To that end, I support tax increases necessary to provide appropriate health care, education, social security and other social safety nets.  (For an outstanding assessment of the value and importance of competent government read Mario Cuomo’s Reason to Believe published in 1995.  Reagan was wrong, government is not the problem, capitalistic greed is the
problem.)

I subscribe to our country moving in the following directions:

  • Advocate and financially support and the UN taking the lead in international crises,
    including the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, (At this point the best known international humanitarian organizations estimate the total war on terror deaths at 3.4 million. – Does this mean we’re winning?)
    Rely on diplomatic and economic measures rather than military ones in confronting terrorism,
    Accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court,
    Sign, support, and carry forward the Kyoto Protocols,
    Adhere to the traditional interpretation of the UN Charter,
    Give up the Security Council veto,
    Avoid use of force except in self-defense against an ongoing or imminent armed attack.
    Comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which we have signed.
    Comply with the Geneva Convention Treaty which we have signed.
    Comply with the UN Genocide Convention Treaty which we have signed;
    Sign and comply with the Ottawa Convention agreements banning the use of antipersonnel mines.
    Reestablish habeas corpus .
    Repeal the Patriot Act
    Cut back sharply on military spending,
    Dramatically increase social spending,
    A federal income tax supported single payer health care system that includes coverage of preventive, mental and dental health.

And I continue to advocate compulsory voting for all national elections! Let’s hear from everyone!

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In 1936 A.M Hocart the eminent English anthropologist who wrote extensively on Polynesian cultures published a book entitled Kings and Councillors which anaylized in depth the tribal structure of the Fiji Islanders.

He points out that the tribal chief was considered divine and thereby had access to the gods and how to plese them and thus invoke prosperity for the tribe. Hocart goes on to say “if the harvest was good the people were prepared to put up with a moderate amount of tyranny.”

How profoundly similar to the situation in which President Obama now finds himself!  Times haven’t changed much over the centuries.

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Thought for the week

I believe the basic premise of the Enlightenment  is that there is nothing in man or nature which would prevent us from taking some control of our destiny and making the world a saner place for our children.  That being the case, how  do we continue to manage to stop ourselves from doing just that?

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Default Settings

My thoughts this morning are back on our species being meaning rather than instinct driven.  A few things come to particularly to mind.

First, my belief that by the age of 3 or 4 we all develop a default setting of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to new experience. Yes leads to explore it, find out more, this is interesting, and No leads to be careful, back off  a little, this may be harmful to me.

The difficulty with this default setting is that it goes off or engages or comes into play almost immediately upon assessing new sensory input and it does so below our level of awareness. This difficulty is compounded by a secondary default setting which I’ll call ‘proving I was right’.  Once our yes/no decision kicks in we proceed to sort any new information based on how will it fits and supports our decision. So we easily get ourselves trapped into making information fit our decision (even if we have to bend the information a little) rather than making our decision fit the information.

Ernest Becker had a good deal to say about this particularly in his book The Birth and Death of Meaning in which he points out that while we are meaning driven and thus have the capacity to rationally sort through new information and come to a logical conclusion, we are also psychologically programmed by our culture and our parenting long before we have matured to the point where we can think rationally.  So when we reach that point (which I suspect is around the age of 6 or 7) the deck we have with which to play our hand has already been stacked.

This yes/no default setting has an enormous impact on how we relate to one another, be it personally, professionally, politically, or any other way.  It shows upregularly in our daily news with the republican response to Obama’s stimulus package (solidarity of outrage because of disagreement with 1% of the suggested expenditures) or Cheney’s determination that we must continue to keep Guantanamo open and engage in torturous forms of interrogation.

The up side of all of this is that while it takes an effort and some self training, we do have the capacity bring out default settings into our awareness and intentionally look at all sides of an issue or situation or experience or suggestion before coming to closure on where we stand and what we want to happen next.   In that context I’m reminded of the doubter/believer stance handout that I made a few decades ago inspired by the writings of Peter Elbow. Here’s what the handout said:

In any situation where you are looking for the truth, making a decision or assessing  new data, there are two
basic stances you can take: Doubting Stance and the Believing Stance.

The Doubting Stance seeks truth by indirection:

  • by seeking error.  (Doubting an assertion or an idea is the best way to find the error in it.)
  • by assuming  assertion is untrue so as to find it’s weakness.
  • by putting on a negative filter and sorting all data only for what won’t work.
  • by using adversarial  method, think of ways to attack the assertion.
  • by being against, apart from the idea or assertion.

The Believing Stance also seeks truth by indirection:

  • by refraining from doubting assertions  or ideas.
  • by putting other ideas out of your head and trying this one on.
  • by putting on a positive  filter and sorting all data for the truth in it.
  • by trying the idea on as though you believed  it. (Not the fullest sort of belief which is commitmentand action, but the belief that involves trying to see things as the speaker, sees them.)
  • by being with, rather than apart from the idea or assertion.

The Doubting Stance has a monopoly  on legitimacy in our culture.  It is our default setting.
o Socrates, Descartes;        o propositional  logic;
o the scientific  method;        o “rational”  thought  process;
o “be realistic”;               o question everything you hear;
o the way to proceed to truth is to doubt everything and what is finally immune to attack must be true.

Doubting Stance traits include:  extrication – disengagement – detachment – rigidity – closing up – toughness – hardness – aggressiveness – competitiveness – adversarial – desire to talk and correct.

The results of only doubting  leads from doubt to skepticism  to cynicism.

Believing Stance traits include:  involvement – commitment – opening up – softness – flexibility – cooperating – supporting – adaptability – listening.

The Believing Stance permits one to explore and discover the value of an idea, and often to adapt it or modify it to fit the needs of the situation.

One of the most difficult aspects of taking the Believing Stance is fighting the itch for closure which the stance may create.

The results of only believing  leads from interest  to enthusiasm  to gullible naivete.

Both stances are powerful and important  ways of getting to the truth or the best decision.  We need both. We also need to know when we are using which stance and why we are using it at that point in the process of
coming to a conclusion.

Using the doubting stance first leads to negativity, mistrust  and withdrawal.  The values of an idea are never discovered  or explored.  Using the believing stance first leads to exploring all the possibilities  of an idea.  Following up with the doubting stance avoids pitfalls and naive mistakes.

In closing this little blog I’m reminded of Ernest Becker’s suggestion that sociologists regularly evaluate organizations, institutions, agencies, schools and government decisions with the critria of moving toward decisions that most enhancethe standards of individual freedom and social harmony, and away from decisions that retard those two standards.   Becker even suggested that public schools teach its students to do the same.  Not only am I in favor of that, but I’m aware that Pinehenge School which we founded some forty years ago did comply to those standards as did Summerhill, the school upon which Pinehenge was based.

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I’m in West Paris, Maine visiting my daughter and grandkids. About 5:30 this morning I sat down with a cup of coffee and read the local newspaper, the Lewiston Sun Journal. I found the lead front page story most distressing. A picture of a 10 year old boy at Army Hoo-ah camp in Gilead, ME. This is a summer camp for children age 9 – 14 that “exposes youngsters to military training and survival skills.” 24 campers, all but one of them boys.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the newspaper article: “Wearing camouflage face paint and armed with water guns, campers stood around Alpha Company leader Garrett Sanborn, 14, waiting for instructions. Their mission at Army Hoo-ah camp Thursday was to liberate a building from the evil Plankton, enemy of SpongeBob Squarepants.” ” They’re going to be throwing water balloons at you,” Sanborn coached. “We can’t go in the building. Shoot through the windows and doors. I’m going to divide you into two teams.” Six would attack from the front, six from the sides.”

Will they be ready and willing and eager when their turn comes to go “defend our freedom” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, or some other remote country that is no threat whatever to us? Is the main message “Wait ‘til you get your chance?”

With a Supreme Court that reaches five to four decisions to protect the right of every individual to pack a sidearm. With an administration that lobbies to legalize torture, refuses to give up the use of land mines, and incarcerates hundreds of people for years without pressing any charges against them, that violates the very international treaties we have signed, that engages in ‘pre-emptive’ strikes against distant countries alleged to be some kind of fabricated threat to our national security. How many of our sons and daughters must die on foreign soil while we have citizens of the stature of Allan Greenspan publicly stating “Its about the oil.” and foreign policy strategists stating “What we need is another Pearl Harbor.”? What are we teaching our children? What are the values our culture is installing in them?

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