Monday, March 28, 2011

A Glass of Water

The Conflict Communication class near Seattle Saturday went well. The material is solid, universal, applicable, simple...all that good stuff.

The reason it works is because there is nothing new to it. No tricks, no new information. It is just putting into words how people interact on a daily basis and why, sometimes, that leads to friction or violence or just gets in the way of a job that needs to be done. Once you see it, it is all around you, has always been all around you. It is predictable and has always been predictable, we just were too close to it to see that.

You all might have noticed that I'm wired a little differently. Raised by coyotes, there are a lot of things about human beings I don't 'get.' Don't misunderstand me: I know these things and understand them, but only because I studied and learned. I never had a voice in the back of my head telling me what 'normal' was or freezing me up with bullshit thoughts about what others would think.

On second thought, 'never' is too strong a word. I remember a couple of times...

Anyway, I studied people when I went to college the way a behavioral biologist or field anthropologist studies a population. And in the end, like a really good n on-native speaker, I understand the rules of grammar and syntax better than most natives.

Then I went to jail, and in that compressed-time, high-stakes world I got really good at predicting extreme behavior. And noticed that the patterns were almost the same as less extreme, less violent behavior. Executing a traitor, spanking a child or counseling a co-worker all vary in the consequences, but the pattern of behaviors that have to be observed first, the steps in the rituals, are very, very similar.

That goes for almost all other conflict behaviors:
There are only a few types.
Each type follows the same pattern.

That makes them predictable.

There were a few very solid critiques from people I respect. Some of the changes are easy and some were already in the works.

One of the critiques is surprisingly hard to fix. Exercises and role-play are generally very important to communication training. I feel the need, but... This class is so based on natural reactions that it seems really hard to induce them artificially. In the course of the class I can reliably induce the "unfinished business feeling" not just in the person I demonstrate with but with every other person who observes. I can trigger a defensive monkey reaction with one simple word that we think we use every day, and everyone in the class feels it.

But role-playing? Every interaction that each student had that day, in class, out of class, before or after, revolved around the elements explained in the class. I get the eerie feeling that after a class on water taught to fish, a class where they learn why they sometimes drift when they aren't moving and sometimes they go slow in one direction (against the current) and fast in the other... that the fish want me to bring a glass of this thing called water to look at.

It is important, though, and a good critique. I'm probably just monkey whining. Time to get creative.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Self Analysis

Some comments by e-mail and on the last blog basically summed up:
"If the type of violence you will face is predictable, what about me?"

Fair question. But damn, people, some day I'm going to do a blog on how to read statistics because almost anything I write will be read incorrectly.

Here's the deal: Unless you are making certain life choices, your chances of being exposed to serious violence are very small.

So what are the stupid life choices? Almost all social violence happens in four kinds of places:
  • Where people get their minds altered. Drugs, alcohol, or even ecstatic drumming, things that break down the social conditioning against violence increase the likelihood of violence. Who'd a thunk it?
  • Where young men gather in groups. An audience plus insecurities about status are a recipe for Monkey Dance violence.
  • Where territories are in dispute. War or the edge between rival gang territory, doesn't matter. Violence is more common and even the types of violence are similar: raids and drive-bys; spray 'n' pray and collateral damage.
  • Where you don't know the rules. Groups have rules and those rules will be enforced. In certain groups, they will be enforced with a look or a word. In others if you refuse to acknowledge your error, the correction may be violent.
So, the first analysis-- do you spend time in any of these situations? The first two, guys are at risk for Monkey Dance and women, in general, at risk for unwanted touching. The third, the violence could be extreme, random, and not even aimed at you. Wrong place, wrong time could put you in front of a bullet.

The fourth is rare, sort of, and not bad, unless you are stupid. Every so often something very, very bad happens when some college kids decide to go slumming at a biker or barrio bar. They don't know the rules. If they had the humility to realize that, keep their mouths shut and be respectful, it's not bad. But that seems to be a rare combination of virtues in that demographic. Some of us go into wildly different cultures with some regularity and make friends. What we have in common is the ability to be respectful and shut the hell up.

There is fifth place, too: predatory violence happens in lonely places, without witnesses.

Second analysis: do you spend time with violent people? If your husband has beaten you in the past he will do so in the future. If you decided to marry your prison pen pal child molester, he will molest your children when you have them. If your asshole roommate gets in fights every weekend and you go out drinking with him, you will get into fights. Predictable.

Third analysis: What kind of target do I look like? Big guys who look tough are Monkey Danced on more than little guys. Win or lose with the big guy, you score points on 'heart'. Win with the little guy and you just beat a child-- no rep in that. Worse if the little guy beats you. People who are uncomfortable in their own skin (reads as weak) and labile (literally translates as 'lippy' but a psychology term for showing emotion) are bully targets.

People who, again, are uncomfortable in their own skin, awkward, inattentive and hesitant, are primary targets for predators. Resource predators, the most common, are just in it for the money.

This is the part where you need to understand statistics. Even in a war zone, actual violence is not 24/7. Most people who go to war do not die or get injured and many never even see action. Because you can predict the type does not mean you can predict the event. I am fairly certain that if 130 people died on a jet plane, the cause was probably a plane wreck... but that is no indicator that any given plane will wreck.

Lastly are the outliers, and this is important. There are types of violence that do not follow common patterns. Sometimes that is deliberate. An insecure member of a violent group may do something completely outside the rules of normal social violence to get a reputation for being 'hard' too crazy to mess with. It is often a display of extreme violence against someone who would not normally be seen as a legitimate target-- like stomping a baby.

If you have betrayed a group with a propensity to violence, that can trigger an extreme response... but this one is predictable, too.

There are random acts of group violence as bonding. Very, very rare but very, very violent. There is no victim profile for this.

Home invasion crimes, schizophrenic episodes... This stuff is rare and that makes it less predictable but raises the stakes. Obviously I concentrate on defending the high-end unpredictable stuff, because the predictable stuff is preventable.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Going to try to put this into words. It's pretty much a complete thought, but...

You can look at almost anyone and see what kind of violence they can expect. There are outliers, sure, and often training time has to go into the high-stakes/Low-frequency stuff. I'm actually looking at it from the other direction.

Lawrence works stadium security. He's a supervisor. That means he has a lot of experience with putting down college-age kids. Usually bigger and stronger than he is, but drunk and stupid and inexperienced. Also, he is usually drawn to the action, which means he has a little time to mentally prepare and he is coming in with the coolest head.

That doesn't denigrate his experience. It is a valid place to have concerns about safety. It requires real, not imaginary skills. I'd rather have his advice in a soccer riot than anyone else I know.

There's a bouncer look that some people go for: shaved head and sometimes tats and a little bulky... that very look almost guarantees that ninety percent or more of the violence they will be exposed to will be, again, a drunken college age man. Someone who will challenge directly, "You don't look so tough!" And will give plenty of warning.

M doesn't have that look, though he was in that life for a while. He's old enough that he won't get challenged often by the young bucks. If he is attacked it will be by an old enemy and it will be silent and brutal and from behind. Side effect of the world he lived in.

S is a tiny woman, very pretty. She risks an unguarded moment and then a hand on her arm an someone showing her the knife or the gun, "Come with me. Don't scream. Don't make me hurt you."

Another woman lives with high risk behavior and spends time around high-risk people. She will become used to, even expect, certain types of violence. hen it happens it will be direct and close range from someone stronger, faster and more vicious and it will happen while she is trying to manage the potential conflict in a social mode. Maybe apologizing or placating or even tentatively attempting to set boundaries.

There are outliers: Home invasions which can suck no matter the victim profile and may or may not have been researched by the criminal (most will be). A mugging may be anything from displaying a weapon for money to a brutal, quick pack attack...or even a not particularly brutal pack attack. The victim profile for those ranges, but hits close to a basic risk/reward equation. A bonding-style group monkey dance can hit almost anyone...

When we, as instructors, pretend that our experience extends everywhere, we're probably snowing ourselves even more than the students. An officer who has responded to calls a hundred times with armor and weapons and back-up on the way may not be able to really understand, much less prescribe answers for, the college girl locked in her dorm room with a guy who may not be as compatible as she first hoped.

Even those of us with experience got a specific type of experience. There is not a lot of experience with the most dangerous stuff because it is damnably difficult to survive enough to figure out what works.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I actually have a lot to write about, things I want to hash out-- storyboarding a video (YMAA wants to film two in September and there is a third I'd like to do) designing a two day cop class intended to integrate with two other exceptional instructors, stuff like that. But a thought just hit hard.

I'm in Central Oregon, visiting family. People I genuinely like. I had a heaven thought.

I don't believe in or really care for the concept of heaven. I'll go so far as to say that, in the christian sense, belief in heaven is the original sin, not disobedience, but that's for another time. Heaven just makes for a convenient shorthand in our culture.

What could you do forever and not come to hate it? Mark Twain pointed out that even the most beautiful voice in the world can only hold an audience's attention for two hours.

Sipping coffee with my mom would be on the list. Smart and fun and interesting and tough, she is a cool person. And other things, too. Holding hands with K. I half expect to die that way, if I die peacefully. A memory of a breakfast in Baghdad, a moment of perfect serenity that could easily transition to eternity. A dinner in Boston with good friends. Sitting near a rushing river, looking at the stars with my daughter. There are a few brawls that I remember the sadness when they ended because the perfection had been so intense. A hookah bar in Boston with good friends, watching a Haifa video. Sitting around a campfire with Toby. Telling and hearing stories at the August Babies bonfire with old comrades and brothers.

There are many things I enjoy and love, but only a few that in the moment feel timeless. Talking to my mom this morning was one of those.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Small Town Boy

Everyone is a miracle. Out of the billion or more genetic combinations that you could have been, only one could be you. Each experience, whether an accident or a decision, changed you in some tiny way. Change one factor, one time you got lucky when you didn't deserve it or the light hit something just wrong or just right and... no more you. Someone very like you, maybe.

At the SF seminar I got this sudden wave of...something. I don't know if nostalgia has a separate feel for you. It does for me. Missing something or just reminiscing has an entirely different feel to the thing I equate with nostalgia. This feeling in San Francisco was not quite nostalgia. It seemed like every few minutes I was bringing up a connection to what we were doing that few people could connect with:

"When you skin a deer, right, and you see where the white tendon goes kind of filmy before it blends into muscle..." to describe a way to find pressure points.

"Humans are direct register animals, like cats..." a tracking reference to show how to disguise a certain type of irimi.

"It's like free-solo climbing, you bet your very existence on being able to bring mind and body together..." but with an extra, social component and social resistances in combat.

Okay, I should have expected an audience from SF not to get the skinning reference, but about the sixth timeI brought up a connection, something that had really informed my combative practice and almost no one got it, I felt that nostalgia-like wave. It's not a bad thing, and everyone in that room has experiences of their own and can make their own connections. Many of those connections will be better than mine (if they look to themselves. They've already heard what I had to say.)

When I was eleven, we moved to a town so small that I was salutatorian when I graduated but wasn't in the top ten percent of the class. Bill was the top sixteen percent all by himself.

I was a bookworm, shy, practically a stereotype. Didn't make friends easily and didn't know why I should. I was also the smallest boy in the school. Not in my grade, in the school, and I was until my senior year. I turned seventeen the summer after I graduated. I broke five foot tall and 100 pounds as a senior. I was tiny. (For that matter, I was 5'8" and 154 pounds when I started corrections.

My junior year, the school was in a special place. We could, for the first time in years, have a football team. We had enough possible players to make the state-required nine players to play B-league eight-man football. If I played. Only if I played.

I wasn't a jock. Won't go so far as to say I hated sports, but I hated team sports. As a sixth grader in my old school I'd already been assured a slot on the high school varsity gymnastics team. This new school was way too small for gymnastics. Or wrestling. Or... but we could have a football team for the first time in a long while. If I played.

I was tiny. Couldn't catch or throw and at first I was afraid of getting hurt. Couldn't keep my head in a scrimmage, too much going on and I'd never even watched football so I didn't know what was supposed to be going on. But we had a good coach in Bob Nelson and he set the bar.

I found out I could take a hit and get up and keep going. Found out that if I deliberately picked the biggest guy and slammed him with everything I had I'd get knocked in the dirt but if I did it again...and again...and again eventually he would flinch. And if I could get him to think I was crazy, that I wouldn't give up and find that flinch moment I could knock him down and keep going. Found out that on defense, even guys too big to stop could be misdirected by an elbow upside the helmet. Found out a lot of things hurt and most of the time the pain meant nothing. That the person who was willing to get back up was the toughest. That there was a limit to size and strength but there was no limit to your willingness to pick yourself up and hit the bastard one more time.

Several of the guys we played with and against outweighed me by 250%. I was eighty pounds the first year I played and 220 wasn't big for some of our farm boy seniors. I never got good. Not really good. But in two years with a good coach I could hang in a crowd I had no business being in.

There was other stuff going on, lots of things were miserable at school and at home; playing patty-cake with a rattlesnake; solo climbing and vision questing and long runs through the desert at night (I don't think I was running from or to anything, just running) but two seasons playing football was probably, at least martially, the biggest impact on who I became.

And no where else but such a dinky little school could an eighty-pound, four-foot-eight junior have ever gotten a chance to play varsity football.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Sidestepping the Monkey

A good person creates a shitty product, then asks me what I think. With time, I try to find the words that will get the message across without hurting feelings.

"Why?" My daughter asks, "As long as it's true, why should feelings matter?" She's wired like me, this one is, so I have to try to teach her what I learned by trial and error that other people just seem to 'get.'

"You want my answer? Or normal people's answer?"

"Just yours." Anyone else would have said 'both' almost reflexively, but her mind works with very particular and efficient logic. She knew which answer would help her most. She saw no reason to waste time on the other.

I tell her both anyway. That's part of her education, too. Most people avoid hurting feelings because they don't like getting their own hurt. They instinctively feel it is wrong to hurt unnecessarily. Even high functioning autistics need to learn this. It's not automatic. That's all good. My reason:

"If you hurt people's feelings, they quit listening."

What this gets to is a big part of Conflict Communications. People personalize the world. When you say, "Trina, you made a mistake" Trina hears, "Trina, you are stupid." What was intended to help becomes an attack, and the help won't be accepted or even heard until the social/emotional reaction is satisfied.

Part of being a sergeant was telling people they screwed up. If I was too direct about it, people would assume I was angry. They would sometimes spend weeks saying, "Sorry about that screw-up sarge, but everything is alright between us, right?" It had never not been alright. I was paid to, sometimes, point out problems. It was only after watching I realized that many people, even experienced supervisors, couldn't directly confront unless they were angry. So people expected anger.

The tribal and emotional parts of the thought process are intertwined. Maybe there is no separation at all. When you see things through tribal filters, the logical part of your brain isn't even engaged, no matter how much you think it is or how logical you sound to yourself. The surest sign of being in your tribal brain (we call it 'the monkey') is emotion. If your blood pressure goes up when you think about those bastards on the other side of the line (doesn't matter if it is political parties or religions or sports teams) the part of your brain that distinguishes you from a chimp isn't even engaged.

If you choose words that hurt feelings, you automatically put the other person in chimp mode, and all the logic in the world won't help. Worse, no matter how logical you are sure you are being, his chimp mode almost automatically triggers your chimp mode. You have lost control.

(And this is putting certain people into chimp mode right now: how dare he allege that anything I'm passionate about is coming from the limbic system! I care about TRUTH! Thing is, that whenever in your experience y0u saw two idiots arguing, both of them thought there was one idiot and one reasonable person...and that includes most of the times you were 'debating' as well. A discussion between two intelligent people working together to find a solution doesn't have the emotional aspect of two people using the argument to either establish dominance or defend identity.)

You can pick any internet dust-up or argument and analyze it: it becomes an argument because, at some point, a statement is taken as an attack, an opinion about an idea is felt to be about the person who holds the idea...

The tribal and primate roots are there to see. More importantly, they are predictable. If you can't see a thing, you are at the mercy of that thing. Once you learn to see it...

Predictable is preventable.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Blast From the Past 2

I am overwhelmed with writing projects and sleep deprivation right now.  Fortunately, I found some old writing that might be fun to cut and paste.  This one is from 2002:

I Ran Like A Rabbit


A nasty, foul, dirty, stinky guy with one arm in a splint, no teeth, complaining of a broken arm and late stage cancer, no more than 140#s, is screaming, yelling, jumping up and down and kicking the walls...

I entered his cell and advised him to calm down.

He shrieked, yelled, screamed and threatened, obscenity after obscenity...

"Sir," I said, "I can get you some of what you want but you don't get anything until you calm down. Do you understand?"

"You don't understand you *&($& piece of (%$&&$^!! You'll do what I tell you and you'll do it now mother%@#(*&!!"

"No sir, I won't. You need to calm down."

"You want some of this?! Is that what you want?"

I smirked. "No, sir. I just want you to calm down."

"Alright," he snarled, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do!" He squared off with me.

"Sir, Don't be stupid..."

Then he started fumbling for the buttons on his pants.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm gonna throw my colostomy bag at you you worthless ^%&*$(@!"

I stepped out of the room and shut the door. Quickly.

(Recently threatened by a colostomy bag, still nauseous but laughing)

Addendum: The old guy never did calm down the whole shift and spent much of the night squirting the contents of his colostomy bag under the door of his cell.  Ick.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Drills E-Book

I'm happy. Plowed through all the formatting and got "Drills: Training for Sudden Violence" up on Smashwords. David at YMAA is cool with me putting out an e-book first. Plans for a print version (which will have pictures and I'll expand some sections) but that won't be available until late 2012 at the very earliest.

The picture on the cover is of Melisa in one of the harshest scenarios from the first Oakland seminar. What the picture doesn't show is how a few seconds later I was face down with hammer fists slamming into the back of my neck. She set a bar on that scenario that is tough to beat.

Maija, Terry- Thanks for the ideas and feedback.