Sunday, January 29, 2012


Kris Wilder and Teja Van Wicklen are very different people. Talk to them in close succession, though and they might be nibbling at different edges of a big problem.

One of the drills I used to suggest for rookies (it's in the Drills manual) is the articulation exercise. Basically, most of our decisions are faster than conscious though. In "Blink," Gladwell described several studies that show that decisions are routinely made before the entire question is even heard. Most of our mental power doesn't go to making decisions. It goes to rationalizing those decisions.

Kris brought out that people also feel a need to rationalize who they are. We rationalize our emotional decisions. 'I feel' or 'I like' aren't enough. We want a reason, and that leads to an ugly dynamic.

I like orange ice cream better than rocky road. I just do. But there is a human tendency to want more. If I like something better, it must be better. If it is better and I see it and you don't, you must be wrong, stupid or evil...

As long as our reasons are enough, the slippery slope doesn't really exist. I like things, you like other things. At the most rational, if I like Islay scotches and you like Highlands, we don't have to share. More for me. Yay. The extrapolation, the rationalizations and the justifications are where people let themselves do truly hideous things.

Our ugliness rarely comes from who we are, maybe, it comes from the story we tell about why. Killing people may or may not be wrong in a given circumstances... but the rationalizations, the ideology that justifies it are where genocide comes in. Where things turn from bad to evil.

Justifications can present laziness as idealism. And that makes it attractive. Or fear as solidarity. That makes it good. So say we all. Hmmmmm.

The level of self-analysis critical to the articulation exercise stops there. How many people, if any, could go deeper? Could peel away the justifications and bullshit rationalizations and see who they truly are? Admit why they really do what they do?

Get this-- I don't think it would be bad. I don't think most people have dark reasons for what they do. I think the truth would be simple, and humans are far more afraid of being simple than being dark. There is more romance and a better story in dark and hidden meanings. I think deep down, most of us are about as complicated as a relatively smart turtle.

Teja's contribution from the other side: Have you noticed that if someone is the victim in an abuse cycle, they never describe what happened as an assault or an attack? Is that why most don't really defend themselves? But if you try to intervene, try to help, THAT is seen as an attack and the defense mechanisms go wild.

Hmmmm. Assault with black eyes and broken ribs is just a misunderstanding, a loss of control...
But asking about it is treated as a threat.

That's some pretty intense mental gymnastics. Lot's of roots of behavior lie in the justifications, the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Just a half-formed thought spawned by good talks with good friends.


Unknown said...

This tastes big.

Anonymous said...

Actually victims of abuse do use terms like "assault" in the early phase, but once it reaches the cycle stage where they have becoume indoctrinated into the pattern of communication they stop.

I've been observing the very pattern you've been describing in arguments for some time now. People just seem to need to validate their opinions to others as "right" rather than accepting the possiblity that as the old saying goes "there is more than one way to skin a cat" when discussing the "how" type questions. The "why" type questions seem to allow more freedom of personal belief or bias being acceptable or more understandable.

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

When you let your mind wander down this path, there's an interesting (disturbing?) place it comes to (at least, mine did).

If a person who gets his/her eye blackened by a friend/family member/significant other doesn't see it as abuse, is it really abuse? I may think it is, but that's my definition, not theirs. I may be able to show them that being on the receiving end of that treatment causes them harm, but I can also point to runners' stress fractures as "something that is harmful," but I'm unlikely to convince any of them to stop running. Like Rory says, everyone has stories they tell themselves for why they do the things they do in their lives, and not only may my efforts to convince someone that they're wrong be completely futile, maybe my efforts are wrong themselves?

Definitions of all of these things are so fluid, contextual, cultural and vague that sometimes I really struggle with whether I should even define them at all.

Sometimes I feel that all I can really do (as a person, a friend, a pediatrician, etc) is try to build up people's innate sense of self (I was going to use "ego," but that sounded wrong) in such a way that they learn to interact in a healthy manner with other people- healthy for themselves and for the other people.

And before everyone jumps down my throat, I'm not trying to rationalize abuse. It was just a weird thought.

(deleted, edited and reposted due to a couple very key words left out of sentences...)

Charles James said...

A "key" to pulling back the layers that hide, to know that what you find is "human" and "normal" in almost all cases.

Failure to see truth as normal and human triggers fear and fear triggers the need for mending all those layers back into the "face" that comforts you most.

Difficult to say the least ..... I wonder just how many humans have or are able to do just this .... Mother Theresa or Ghandi did, I think .....

Anonymous said...

“’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘Tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be…”

Rory, it is difficult to be simple, especially in a complex society. Things get complicated fast. Fear is not what holds us back from being simple.

Rory said “I think deep down, most of us are about as complicated as a relatively smart turtle.” I disagree. A turtle is a reptile. Humans have more going on than just a reptilian brain. Humans are complex creatures.

Rory said “But there is a human tendency to want more.” It is not rationalization that makes evil. The rationalizations come afterwards. It is the “wanting” disease. Rationalizations are just a smokescreen.

On the subject of domestic abuse, the reason the victim does not fight back is a combination of fear, intimidation and the psychological difficulty of attacking someone that is known and loved. What a conundrum! I love him and he loves me, so this must be love? It is an incredible betrayal of trust. It leads to a deep sense of shame. Creativity shuts down until all avenues of escape seem closed.

Anonymous said...

Is it too taboo to suggest that maybe people don't leave abusive relationships because they're just lazy? How about very resourceful? There's a turtle answer. It's time consuming/expensive to start over. It's easier to align with somebody who provides you with resources. Every relationship has its own push/pull and everyone's got a price. Professional boxers get hit to put food on the table. So do some professional victims.

Danielle T. said...

Sometimes, though, it seems like people aren't happy with the simple reason why they do something because of their view of themselves that they receive from others. That sounds confusing, but it's called the "looking glass self", which basically means people actually are affected by what others think of them by becoming (or getting closer to) what others think they are. So for some things, it's as though there has to be a more complicated reason for something, because that's what others would think. And as people get older, they have a more clear view of their "looking glass self", so they find it harder to do things for simple reasons like they want to, or they feel lazy, or what ever the real reason is. That's why looking inward is important, so you can at least try to get closer to your real reasons, and at least be truthful to yourself. Just some thoughts...

Josh Kruschke said...

Barbarra Oakley wrote a book called "Cold-Blooded Kindness".

A good interveiw with her:

Not sure if you read it?


Anonymous said...

Simply Anon: Thanks for your anonymous comments about professional victims. I don't think "lazy" is the real problem. They suffer from "Wanting" disease. I want this, I want that. Many abuse victims want drugs. Why would they part with their supplier?

Nevermind the justifications and reasons for why someone did something evil. I couldn't care less. I care about the acts and the hidden agendas.

Rory likes orange ice cream. Fine. Rory decides he wants to own all the orange ice cream in the world. Problem. Worse yet, Rory decides to ban all other ice cream flavors from the planet because he decides we should only be eating orange flavored ice cream without the fattening nuts. He decides it is better for our health.

Anonymous said...

One more thought regarding my earlier 'professional victim' comment. I think the first image that comes to a lot of people's minds is the 'crack whore.'It's an extreme example, it's not my point and I think people use it to distance themselves from a dynamic they don't see as flattering, but recognize in themselves, at least a little bit. I don't think most people are too far away from giving more than they think they should in exchange for something they need or simply want badly.