Book Review-The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird

My reading list has been described by many, including my wife, as positively boring. I read about so many topics that most people would use to put themselves to sleep. However, this book is different. This book is about my positively all-time favorite aircraft. It flies (or flew) faster and higher than missiles. Growing up, I’d hear stories of the “Blackbird” and I was in awe. That’s why I read The Complete Book of the SR71 Blackbird – but there was a twist.

The twist was that I needed to verify a comment that I had heard long ago. That comment was that the SR-71 leaked fuel like a sieve while on the ground. There was some discrepancy about whether that was truth or not, so I had to find out for sure. But before I get there, I should explain how the airplane came to be.

Russia and the U-2

It was 1956 and Kelly Johnson’s team at Lockheed had created the most sophisticated reconnaissance plane ever known: the U-2. It flew so high that it was thought that ground-launched missiles wouldn’t be able to reach it – at least for a few years. It was only a few years later (1960) that a U-2 was eventually shot down inside of Soviet airspace. It was quite an incident in Cold War history. However, even before the U-2 was shot down, Kelly Johnson’s team was at work on the successor.

If you know your aviation history, then you know that Kelly Johnson took a team aside and separated them from the main bureaucracy of Lockheed, and ultimately took on the moniker of Skunk Works. This was an adaption from the comic strip Li’l Abner, by Al Capp, where Skunk Works was a dilapidated factory. The advanced development program’s (ADP) initial location was near a malodorous factory, and eventually the combination of the smell and the popularity of the cartoon caused the nickname Skunk Works to stick.

The initial aircraft from which the SR-71 was adapted was the A-12. This was to be the replacement for the U-2. Instead of just staying one step ahead of the enemies, Johnson and the team decided to innovate in multiple areas to give the aircraft the ability to be serviceable for the long term. They did that. The first flight of the SR-71 was December of 1964, and its last military operational flight was in 1997. A 33-year run for a spy plane is beyond impressive: it’s unprecedented.

Higher, Faster, Less Visible

The way that the aircraft managed to be serviceable over such a long period of time was that the innovations drove it in three key areas.

First, the aircraft had a very high operational altitude. In fact, the service ceiling was 85,000 feet. This is well into the stratosphere and the limit for the range of jet-powered aircraft. Missiles had an effective operating ceiling of 60,000 feet. In short, the SR-71 was designed to fly higher than missiles could reach.

Second, the aircraft holds the speed record. Operational maximum cruise was Mach 3.2 (3.2 times the speed of sound). Speeds more than Mach 3.2 were possible by the SR-71; but due to heating of the skin of the SR-71, speeds above Mach 3.2 were rare. Even against the fastest-moving and longest-range contemporary missile, the Soviet R-37, the missile must be fired within 185 km to have the slightest chance of hitting the SR-71. The missile travels a maximum range of 400 km at speeds up to Mach 6. This assumes that the firing aircraft is at the same level of flight and that the SR-71 isn’t over the service envelope of the missile.

Third, the SR-71 pioneered stealth technology. It’s the original way to be less detectable to enemy radar. Its body and coatings gave it 1/10th the radar signature of a F-15 fighter. Even if the missile could get as high as it was flying, and managed to catch up with it, it would have to find the SR-71, which wasn’t going to be an easy task.

These advances made the SR-71 an aircraft that was never shot down by an enemy. Every loss was due to mechanical failures or pilot error. That’s impressive for a fleet of aircraft that logged over 11,000 mission flight hours – and a total of over 53,000 total flight hours.

Vulnerabilities

However, ultimately, the SR-71 was vulnerable. It was vulnerable to politics, budgeting, and the perception that it was cheaper to gather reconnaissance from satellites than from the SR-71. The aircraft that was never shot down ultimately was shut down. In fact, the program was shut down twice. In 1997, the program succumbed to political pressures and funding issues.

Other aircraft and drones were delivering real-time reconnaissance and the SR-71 could not. Its systems were never updated to support real-time transmission of data, and the lag in getting the data back from the aircraft became increasingly untenable in a world where we wanted the information now.

Satellites and drones didn’t risk human life, and they provided quicker access to the intelligence that the military community was now demanding. Besides, the cost of the custom JP-7 fuel was expensive.

Leaking Like a Sieve

To make the SR-71 work, there were numerous challenges; but none more impressive than designing an engine that would work like a jet on takeoff and transition to a ram jet engine in flight. Put simply, a jet uses a fan to compress air and create the literally explosive thrust. Once you exceed a certain speed, this isn’t efficient any longer and it’s not necessary. It’s possible to use aerodynamics to create pressure through the air coming in.

The other interesting aspect of the engine is that it needed a fuel source with a very high ignition point. Flying at Mach 3.2 – no matter how high you are – creates a great deal of friction that will heat the skin of the aircraft. Look at the following figure:

The SR-71 needed a fuel that didn’t have a low flash point. Thus, the development of JP-7, a fuel unique to the SR-71. This higher flash point required an ignition system that leveraged Triethylborane (TEB) which explodes in the contact of air. So in addition to the JP-7, the SR-71 had to have TEB to ignite – or reignite the engines should they stall. In addition, even with JP-7, it was necessary to fill the fuel tank voids with nitrogen to prevent oxygen getting in and creating the opportunity for the JP-7 to ignite.

The net effect of the need for such a high temperature aircraft would mean that there had to be a plan for things to expand during flight, both due to the lack of atmospheric pressure but also due to the heat on the surface of the SR-71. While on the ground, the JP-7 would leak out of many small gaps in the tanks. Thus, the comment that the SR-71 leaked like a sieve on the ground. In the air, these small gaps closed as the materials heated and expanded.

I was looking at my photo for describing the SR-71 in my presentations and realized something very odd that was only apparent to me after seeing other photos in the book. Take a look.

I didn’t initially understand the lighter colorings on the top of the wings, until I realized that this flight, obviously going more slowly so that it could be photographed, was showing the JP-7 getting siphoned out the top of the tanks on the SR-71 by the low air pressure on the top of the wings. The SR-71 leaked like a sieve when it was cold – not just on the ground.

A Dream

I don’t have a prayer of flying an SR-71. Even if the program were still in operation, the people that had the opportunity to fly the SR-71 were the absolute best in the aviation business, bar none. Though it lacked the action that some pilots longed for, it was still an assignment that a select few would be allowed to get. The requirements physically, as a pilot, and psychologically were immense. I have deep respect for those who had the opportunity to fly her.

I’d love to just fly the simulator of the SR-71. While, undoubtedly, I’d not do well, just experiencing what it would be like to be flying in the fastest aircraft ever made would be worth the embarrassment of not doing it well.

The story that I remember most was the one from the reconnaissance mission over Libya after the US had bombed terrorist training camps of Muammar Qaddafi. The SR-71 was piloted by Brian Shul, and it completed its mission despite being fired at by some surface-to-air missiles that we hadn’t knocked out. He literally completed his reconnaissance pass before punching the throttle forward to outrun the missiles. He reported that the aircraft achieved Mach 3.5 while evading the incoming missiles at 80,000 feet.

This story (or the initial reports of it) created dreams of fast flying aircraft that were invulnerable to enemy defenses. It was then that my fascination with the SR-71 Blackbird took hold. It’s 30 years later and I’ve finally read the rest of the story. I’ve finally read The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird. It might have removed the mystery from the aircraft, but it still hasn’t removed the wonder.

Book Review-Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood

It’s been several weeks now since I got to attend a knighting ceremony. The queen wasn’t present and I wasn’t in a castle. It was my friend who was knighting his son. This ceremony and symbolic act of recognizing him as a man I would find out later from a book Raising a Modern-Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood. I was curious what else the book had to say about raising boys, so I started reading and learning about knighthood.

The Meaning of Knights

We’ve all heard stories of knights in the middle ages. They wear shiny plate armor and ride in on a white horse. They joust and play games, they rescue damsels in distress, and they slay dragons. Wait, perhaps I slipped out of history and into mythology and lore somewhere along the way. That’s one of the interesting things about knights. They move from being a real figure in history into a mythical legend.

That seems to be in no small part because of the code of conduct they lived by – the honor that they carried so close to their hearts. Knights learned how to uphold a set of moral ideals that most of the people of the time couldn’t aspire to. As a result, knights eventually became nobility. Like the lords they served, they were set apart.

As a result, knights are the superheroes of the middle ages.

Of Pages and Squires

How does one become a knight? You start as a page. At this stage, you’re instructed on the basics of becoming a knight – not just the mechanics of weapons, but also the chivalric code of honor that a knight is expected to uphold. In this entry level position, you’re trained by squires – until you are promoted into that rank.

Squires continued their training with knights – or, more accurately, one specific knight – who refined the mechanics of weapons and clarified what it meant to uphold the code of honor. In a classic apprentice, journeyman, and master approach, pages became squires and squires became knights. (For more about the apprentice, journeyman, master progression, see my post.)

The moment that a squire became a knight was a big deal – it was a ceremony.

Ceremony

Somewhere along the way we’ve lost our love of ceremony. Teenagers are skipping their graduation because they don’t want to “waste their time.” We treat life transitions as if they’re just something that happen. We don’t demark them with a feast or banquet or ceremony. In our hurry up, get it done and move on to the next thing world, we’re not interested in recognizing others for their hard work.

When you don’t have a clear ceremony to recognize the achievement, how does one know when they’ve achieved a goal? Sure, a piece of paper is nice and it appeals to your logical side, but where is the emotion of accomplishing the goal? Where’s the pride? Even the Buddhists, who are widely regarded as not having an interest in attachment or pride, acknowledge that pride isn’t all bad. (See Emotional Awareness
for more on the views on pride.)

Young men and boys today rightly struggle to when know they become a man. Is it when they learn to drive? Turn 18? Turn 21? Get married? Have sex? The problem with trying to help boys and young men know when they’re a man is that there’s no one defining event that truly turns a boy into a man. There are multiple different yard sticks to be measured on. The challenge is how do you know which yardstick to use?

The Meaning of a Father

It’s no secret that children need their parents – both their father and their mother – and that there’s a large number of social issues that come from fathers being absent. (See Our Kids for more on the importance of fathers.) A son not knowing when he becomes a man isn’t the biggest issue. The biggest issue is a son not knowing what it’s like to be a man. The biggest problem is that our sons don’t know what the code is that they’re to live by. The example that a father sets can serve as a guidepost or a lighthouse as to what they should do themselves.

There are a set of values – unique to each father to some extent – which need to be passed down to our sons so that they can know what their personal code of honor should be. I’ve softened this from the single view of one code of honor because of my awareness that we’re all different and have different values. (See The Normal Personality and Who am I? for more.)

Code of Conduct

Despite the need to apply our own “coat of arms” to the process of developing an honorable code in our children, Raising a Modern-Day Knight offers these suggestions for the foundation:

  • Loyalty “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
  • Servant-leadership “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27).
  • Kindness “What is desirable in a man is his kindness” (Proverbs 19:22).
  • Humility “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
  • Purity “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).
  • Honesty “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
  • Self-discipline “Have nothing to do with worldly fables. … On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
  • Excellence “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
  • Integrity “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9).
  • Perseverance “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9).

This seems like a good place for us to start.

The Fellowship of Knights

Ultimately, it’s more than a father or a code of conduct that helps a boy become a man. A father has the potential to be the largest influence on a boy in his journey to manhood, and the code of conduct that he sets forth will be the foundation for how the son forms his own values; but the influence of the outside world and particularly the other noble men in his life shouldn’t be understated.

I’m thankful for the powerful friends I have who can also help my sons learn how they need to conduct themselves. I don’t mean powerful in terms of money or prestige. I mean powerful in the sense that they have a strong sense of the men that they want to be. I appreciate their friendship with me and by extension their watchful eye over my sons.

While we no longer live in villages where everyone could support the growth and development of our children, it still takes a village to raise a child. It’s just that today’s village is much more virtual. The days when all the neighbors knew where the children were and were watching over all of them are gone. We’re locked inside our own little worlds so it’s not the same, but the need for other powerful men in the lives of our son remains. (See Bowling Alone for being locked away in our own little worlds.)

Recognizing the Need

Fathers: our sons need us. Even when they push us away. Even when they tell us we’re a bad father. Even when they tell us that they don’t like us. They’re still listening and watching. Keep up the fight. Call in reinforcements if you need to, but don’t give up on your sons. If you recognize the need perhaps it’s time to decide how to create your own ceremony, so that you can go through the process of Raising a Modern-Day Knight.

Book Review-The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s

It’s a thief. It steals. It steals the things which everyone holds dearest. It deprives us of what we believed we could never be deprived of. It’s a cruel and ruthless villain without remorse, as it takes the best and brightest among us and clouds them in confusion and contradiction, dimming or diminishing their light before the end of life. This villain is Alzheimer’s Disease and one of our dear friends has become its victim. She is an amazing woman who is being robbed of her identity, her memories, and her history.

That’s what caused me to read The End of Memory: A Natural History of Aging and Alzheimer’s, and what has caused me to decide to continue to seek more information. I want our friend Mary back. Not the shell that the disease has left behind, but all of her. Unfortunately, The End of Memory doesn’t answer all the questions but it does clear up some misconceptions about the disease.

Prevalence

Who is going to get Alzheimer’s disease? That’s a terrifying and confusing question. More women seem to have the disease; however, the disease gets progressively more common based on age, and women live longer than men. It’s estimated that it impacts 10% of people over sixty-five and nearly 50% of those over eighty-five. There are numerous other factors that impact whether you’ll get the disease. For instance, a mutation of “presenilin 1” seems to cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In fact, James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, had several sections of genes where indicators were for Alzheimer’s, so that no one would know what his genetic risk factors were. The risk factors aren’t isolated to one gene or one chromosome. In fact, chromosome 21 – the one associated with Down’s Syndrome – controls the production of Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP), which as we’ll see plays a major role in Alzheimer’s. Presenilin 2 is another marker for early onset Alzheimer’s disease, but genetically speaking it’s far and away from Presenilin 1 – and chromosome 21.

The last and perhaps most interesting gene is apolipoprotein E or APOE. There are three variants of this gene. The variant APOE2 reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s substantially (but not dramatically) for the roughly 7% of people that have it.

While genetic markers can account for a non-trivial portion of Alzheimer’s cases, it falls way short of a majority vote into whether you’ll develop the disease or not. The way that you know if you have the disease – besides the obvious cognitive impairment – is the presence of plaques and tangles.

Plaques and Tangles

Alzheimer’s Disease is notable because, historically, it’s been diagnosed post-mortem. The victim’s brain was examined posthumously, and the presence of what are called plaques and tangles are supposed to indicate the presence of the disease, as it was with patient zero. However, there’s a problem. These plaques and tangles appear in people without any (even mild) cognitive impairment at the time of their death. Conversely, some patients experiencing dementia have no plaques and no tangles. So it seems that most of the disease’s long history has been focused on the artifacts of the disease, but not necessarily the cause.

Plaques in the Intercellular Space

The first of two diagnostic criteria is the presence of plaques which reside in intercellular space (that is, the space outside the neurons of the brain). Plaques are the clumps of discarded amyloid beta proteins. They come together because their shape makes them sticky. However, what is amyloid beta? Well, it’s a part of the amyloid protein that has a variety of uses in the neurons of the brain. In the brain it is rare in that a protein is created and then sliced up by special enzymes. Some of the frequently unused segments of the amyloid are called amyloid beta. The role of amyloid and the amyloid precursor protein aren’t well understood, but it’s clear that there are many functions.

Plaques have been the target of therapies to improve the results for patients with dementia – and presumably Alzheimer’s disease. Some therapies have demonstrated marked reduction in plaques with no change in the cognitive impairment of the patient. This is bad news for trying to point to the plaques as the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. That means that the cause is elsewhere, perhaps in the tangles.

Tangles: Twisted Girders of the Neuron

Neurons have really interesting shapes. They reach out and touch other neurons via axons. Something has to maintain that shape of the cell. That’s the job of tau. Tau is a protein that allows a neuron to form its shape – and therefore its connection with other neurons. Tau is a normally rigid protein that keeps its shape, thereby maintaining the shape of the neuron. However, tau can also be changed to allow neural plasticity. This plasticity can be accelerated through the introduction of phosphorylate. When in periods of higher learning, the tau experience high levels of phosphorylation, and can therefore change shape.

The problem comes when tau become tangled because of too much flexibility. These tangles are like the twisted girders of buildings torn apart by a tornado or a bomb. The original structure is absent, and all that remains is a mess. In the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease tangles – the mess of tau – are the intracellular indicator of problems.

Interestingly, the rate of tangles nearly directly predicts the level of cognitive impairment for a patient. That is, by looking at the number of tangles, you can reasonably predict the cognitive impairment – except in some outlying cases.

Newness of Alzheimer’s Disease

While digging into the disease, the obvious question might be, when did it start to develop? The answer is a bit trickier to understand, because cognitive impairment was historically seen as a natural consequence of old age. It’s difficult to retrospectively look at the historical records and separate the normal from the abnormal.

The incidence of Alzheimer’s has increased p over the last century; but how much of that is improved understanding of the diagnostics of cognitive impairment, and how much is due to our longer lifespans? In the year 1800, Americans of European descent numbered about five million – fewer than the number of patients with Alzheimer’s disease today. By 1900, it’s estimated that 4% of the population was over sixty-five, and population had grown to seventy-six million.

The key challenge is that cognitive impairment was considered normal. It was what was expected when you became old. Instead of it being recognized as a condition afflicting people, it was the normal. So in trying to look at the records to see if 300,000 or more of people over sixty-five had dementia is like trying to find a polar bear in a snow storm.

Due to improvements in medicine and safety, our life expectancy is increasing by about one year for every four years of time. Notwithstanding some limits to this process, such as the Hayflick limit to the number of times that a cell can divide, it appears that we’re increasing the life expectancy dramatically, and as a result will have a greater number of people who can count themselves lucky to be “old.” While this creates a need for care facilities to care for our elderly, it also creates an interest in preventing the cognitive impairment that used to be “normal” for elderly. (See Being Mortal for more on the care of the elderly.)

Correlations and Questions

Through the study of Alzheimer’s, some very peculiar correlations have appeared. One of the most famous studies of Alzheimer’s was what’s called “The Nun Study.” In this study, many of the members of the Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to be monitored for the development of the disease. From a statistical point of view, this was great because so many of the variables of their lives were similar and therefore could be discounted as contributing factors. One of the predictive factors that emerged was a small bit of writing that the nuns did sixty years before the onset of the disease.

Nuns write a small essay about their desire to enter the sisterhood. The density of ideas in that essay – the natural writing with multiple pieces of information tightly encoded into the few words that they are given – is a significant predictor of whether they’ll get the disease or not. Nuns who wrote dense prose were less likely to get the disease than those whose essays were less tightly packed.

While the prevalence of tangles tightly tracks the progression of the disease, this is an early warning sign that spans decades. It’s been well-studied that Alzheimer’s occurs less frequently in patients that are well-educated.

Interestingly, it seems that it may be the case that education forestalls the progression of the symptoms of the disease. So it appears that education may create a sort of cognitive reserve that can hold back the disease for a while. It’s believed now that if patients with higher education live sufficiently long they’ll encounter the disease and the onset of symptoms will be more rapid for them. In my typical glass half-full mentality, I’ll take the reduction of symptoms and rapid onset as a win.

Unrelated to Alzheimer’s, but complicating the measurement of the progression of the disease, is something called “terminal drop.” This is a precipitous drop in cognitive capacity in the months leading up to death. So is a person suffering from symptoms of the disease, or are they approaching death?

Cynics seem to be more prone to the disease, while those who enjoy regular leisure activities – particularly those which cause a person to be mentally active – seem to build cognitive reserve that helps to protect someone from the symptoms of the disease.

Spread of the Disease

With advances in imaging techniques, we’re able to peer into the heads of patients and see in more detail how the disease is progressing than we’ve ever been able to before; and with this, we’ve discovered some odd “coincidences.”

One of the factors of cognitive processing speed is the myelin sheath. Myelin is a fatty sheath that surrounds neurons and makes them more effective at communication. Myelin is produced by the oligodendrocytes, which are found in highest concentrations in the entorhinal cortex. This is the area most impacted by Alzheimer’s and is the interface between the hippocampus and the neocortex. The entorhinal cortex is one of the last areas developed in the brain, and one of the last areas to receive myelin.

It’s the entorhinal cortex that seems to be ground zero for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s where the disease seems to cause the most damage.

Glucose (Sugar) in the Brain

There are some researchers that are calling for Alzheimer’s disease to be called Diabetes Type III. Diabetes mellitus exists in two forms, both of which impact glucose levels in the blood. Diabetes Type I is associated with the destruction of the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, such that the body no longer produces insulin. Type II diabetes is associated with increased resistance to the insulin being produced. Insulin is important to the regulation of blood glucose levels, because it allows for the absorption of the glucose in the blood.

Glucose is the necessary energy component for us to function, but elevated levels of unabsorbed glucose in our blood is associated with a large number of comorbidities. In essence, our bodies function with a ratio of glucose in the blood that falls in a relatively narrow range. Glucose levels in the blood are constantly changing, but an adult should on average have a blood glucose of approximately 100mg per deciliter. This is measured through a test called Hemoglobin A1c or HbA1c. This measures the average glucose over a three-month period. The HbA1c lab values are typically converted back into an average blood sugar using a standard formula.

Diabetes has long been known as a factor in the development of dementia; however, what has been less clear is whether that was the result of the comorbidities related to diabetes, or whether it’s related to the diabetes itself. Because Alzheimer’s is sensitive to vascular issues, and diabetes has an impact on vascular malleability as well as a tendency to increase cholesterol, the relationship seemed reasonable and no specific cause was identified. However, research is beginning to indicate that the brain’s processing of glucose is impaired with Alzheimer’s.

The brain is a power-hungry organ. Taking up two percent of our body mass, it consumes roughly 20% of our glucose. As we learned in The Rise of Superman, it has a maximum sustainable energy use, and because of that, various areas of the brain may be switched off to accommodate the power needs of other parts of the brain. It’s not hard to believe that even minute changes in the management of glucose in an electro-chemical system could have dire consequences.

Unfortunately, this is where the trail ends at the moment. There is a belief that the disease may be triggered by changes in insulin resistance. There’s a higher rate of dementia in patients with elevated glucose levels (but not yet meeting the threshold for diabetes), but we don’t understand yet how changes in blood sugar impact the processing of glucose in the brain.

Power Loss

A few years ago my wife and I were showering together when she fainted. It was a terrifying experience for me. I’d never seen someone faint so closely. (It’s a small shower.) More than that, I saw the biological equivalent of what I see in my technology work. When a computer reboots, it goes momentarily silent as all power is lost and the fans stop. After that, the fans are on at 100% for a few seconds, and then things resume their normal median fan speeds. My wife’s breathing eerily took on the same pattern. She stopped breathing for a moment, breathed at a high rate of speed for a few more moments, and then settled into a normal breathing pattern. It was my first experience that technology sometimes follows biology.

When meeting with Mary, I was struck by a similar correlation. When a computer has a power supply problem – when the power supply isn’t able to produce all the power the computer needs – the computer is running along fine until you do something taxing to it. Once you ask it to do something which requires just a bit more power, it will reboot. It momentarily goes blank and starts the process of booting up again. Mary’s responses to me looked like this pattern. She’d get triggered into recalling a memory or making sense of the input she was receiving, and would fall out of that train of thought. Moments later when rediscovering the same novel stimulus, she would return to the train of thought and fall out of it at nearly the same place. Even in technology, there are a lot of variables that change the exact place where things fail, though the failure seems to happen at nearly the same time every time it cycles.

While this is a single observation by a non-clinical observer making a relationship to something man-made that has very little to do with the functioning of the human brain, it’s led me to wonder: what if what we experience as dementia is really just the inability of the brain to make the connections it once used to because of insufficient energy?

I don’t believe we’ll know whether the glucose hypothesis is right in time to help Mary. However, it’s something that I’ll continue to be interested in. I don’t want to accept The End of Memory. I’ll keep Mary’s memories and her memory alive in me as long as I’m able.

Book Review-The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful, Resilient, and Connected Teens and Tweens

If you want to get into a real conversation with someone, talk to them about their teenage children. Move past the pleasantries of “they’re fine”. Leap over their accomplishments. Dwell for a bit on how the parent struggles with what their child is doing, what lessons they’re learning, or how their relationship is. I guarantee that this conversation is the most real conversation that a parent will have in a day. I’ve never met a parent that isn’t concerned for their child. (Thank God!) Most of the time as parents we’re wandering in the dark trying to figure out how to not mess our children up too much.

I’m by no means an expert on how to raise teenagers, but a few years ago I got the opportunity to get a crash course on it as I gained six additional children (three of which were teenagers at the time) in one fell swoop. For all seven of my children, I want to be available and appropriately supporting. I want to be what John Duffy calls the “available” parent in his book The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful, Resilient, and Connected Teens and Tween.

Defining Availability

What Duffy calls availability, I might call connectedness. In a world where electronics are the king and being connected has more to do with Internet service than relationships, I can see why availability might be a differentiating term. However, for me it’s all about having a connection, a relationship, with your teenager – no matter how hard this can be at times. Thomas Phelan, author of 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12, wrote a foreword and said, “Staying in touch is the essence of what Dr. Duffy means by availability.”

Friends, Parents, or Both

One of the ongoing debates about parenting is whether you should be friends with your children. Actually, it’s not a debate. Everyone agrees. You have to be a parent. You should be a friend. The questions arise when you have to make the decision between whether to be a friend in the situation or whether to be a parent. (See Who Am I? for different value systems in conflict.)

Duffy gets it right. You have to be a parent first. You have to fulfill your responsibilities to be a parent before you’re a friend. Of course, this is easier said than done when you fear that your child will come to hate you – as you may secretly feel about your own parents.

Handling the Hate

I expect my children will tell me they hate me. I expect that they’ll tell me I’m a bad, awful parent. I do this because it makes it easier when they do tell me these things. Knowing that it’s natural for children to have moments when they don’t like that I’m doing my job as a parent makes it easier when they lash out at me – and I know they will. When I don’t react when they try to explain their hatred for me, I steal the power that was there to disrupt the conversation.

The truth is that we are all frustrated with our parents when they discipline us. The bible says, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) and, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24) While some people attempt to take this literally, it’s more of a figurative statement about understanding how to establish boundaries with our children and to instruct them in the ways of right and wrong. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Nowhere in this does anyone say the child will like it or love you for it – but they’ll respect you for it, and that’s a good place to start.

What’s My Fear

Too many parents are afraid of what other parents will think. Too many parents believe that their children are a direct reflection on them. If I didn’t raise my child to be a rock star, an all start athlete, or a four-star general then I’m not a good parent and I have to be a good parent – like my parents before me. Without granting innocence, parents do the best they can to raise their children in a sea of influences they can’t control. That is the world isn’t an excuse for how children turn out but it is a factor that parents can’t control. How the children turn out isn’t a statement of their value as parents or as people.

One of the techniques I used with my son when he was younger and he was being disobedient was I forced him to sit on the floor and calm down before we’d proceed. One day he was disobedient in church and I sat him on the floor “right in front of God and everybody.” Many of the parents walking by appeared appalled that I’d make my son sit on the floor at church. However, it was effective. I didn’t have a problem with him being disobedient for long.

Too often parents are wrapped up in their own fears of inadequacy, and those get projected into their relationships with their children, and the result is an ugly distorted version of reality. Some of these fears aren’t fears about the children at all, but are instead fears that they’ll never become what they hoped they would become. It’s the death of their life’s hope. (See more about hope in The Psychology of Hope.)

My Life 2.0

It was a spring morning in a high-rise office building in New York. I was there to help implement an ecommerce system. It was a short engagement designed to get the client through some tough spots. I was sitting in one of the manager’s offices at lunch and he shared with me that his daughter was playing soccer. When I asked him about her interest in soccer, he responded that she was playing soccer. It turns out, he had narrowly missed a soccer scholarship to his prized university and was bitter about it. As a result, he was going to live his life out vicariously through his daughter. He had already decided that she’d love soccer. She’d go to the college that he didn’t get to go to. She was going to be his opportunity to capture the things that he missed. (See Peak for what can happen when parents push their children too hard into something they’re not passionate about.)

Too many parents treat their children like this. Junior is going to accomplish what I didn’t. Susie will be the beauty pageant queen that mom couldn’t be because her family couldn’t afford the dresses. Instead of living their lives, they’re stealing their child’s life from them.

Holding Environments

There’s a single reference in the book to a holding environment. There’s a single reference to a set of words that have great meaning for me. My friend Paul Culmsee wrote about it in The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices by quoting Ron Heifetz, “A holding environment gives the parties involved a protected space in which they can develop the behaviors necessary to adapt to the specific situation and environment they are in.” A holding environment is a safe space. It’s a safe space to fail. (See Play for the need to be safe to learn.)

This is what we need to do as parents for our adolescent children. We need to create a space which is safe to fail. We need to create a place where it’s ok for us to be disappointed. They need to be able to try and fail. They need to be able to make mistakes, run into parked cars, and learn from them.

Scoop them Up

The way that Terri and I’ve come to discuss how we approach the mistakes that our children make is that we come and scoop them up. We don’t pick them up. We don’t dust them off and ignore what happened. We scoop them up. We lift them up. While there are consequences for falling, they’re not too large, and they never mean that we’re going to abandon them. In fact, if there’s one consistent message that we have is that we’ll always love them – even if we don’t always agree with their choices.

Here, I think there’s a caution. If you completely eliminate the consequences of the action, you risk depriving your child’s ability to learn from the incident. We’re not talking about interfering with the natural consequences of their decisions. Instead we’re talking about how do we demonstrate our love for them while accepting their need to feel the pain of the consequences?

Taking Risks

We need our children to take risks. We need them to stretch. (See Peak for more about peak performers’ need for stretch, and Flow for more about how to get to the highest-performing states you need challenge.) There’s an appropriate concern on Duffy’s part about parents who are “always there for their children” – who don’t allow their children to feel some pain, and therefore they never learn.

Circus performers learn their performances with a net. They know the net is there to catch them. This allows them to take risks and learn new routines. By the same token, they learn not to depend on the net if they don’t have to. Nets can fail. (Just like parents can fail.) They learn that they use the net to learn, but the net may not be there for the actual performance. They need to use the net to learn, not keep the net around forever. It would be ridiculous to see an adult riding around town on their bike with the training wheels still attached.

This is the very real concern about children today – that parents aren’t ever willing to let them scrape their knee by taking risks.

“He Makes Me So Angry”

One of the things that makes me smile a wry little smile is to hear someone say to me, “He makes me so angry!” I shouldn’t smile but I do. I realize that no one has power over another. No one can make me angry. I can choose to be angry in response to their behavior, but they don’t MAKE me be angry. (See Choice Theory for more on the choices that we make.) If we unpack this, in Buddhist thinking, anger is disappointment directed. (I first heard about this through Destructive Emotions.) It’s our choice to be disappointed in someone or something. It’s about the expectation that we’ve created. It’s not about the other person at all.

All too often parents are focused on what the behavior of their teenager is doing to them. While there are certainly situations where the child’s behavior causes direct financial impacts and impacts on your time, however, they shouldn’t be causing your feelings. If your child has this power of controlling the emotions of others, including you, perhaps you should consider signing them up to be one of the X-Men.

Put On Your Own Mask Before Helping Others

During the safety briefing in an airplane, you’ll hear about the oxygen masks and invariably a statement that says, “Put your own mask on before helping others.” This is good practical advice. If you’re spending all your time helping others before putting on your own mask, you may black out before you get your mask on. Caring for teenagers is like this. You have to focus on your own emotional health and how you’re doing before you can help your teenager.

Many parents are focused on helping their child be better without first accepting that they need to work on themselves. Realizing that there are things about your well-being and emotional health that aren’t right is hard. Our ego seeks to defend itself. (See Change or Die for more on The Ego and its Defenses.) It’s hard to admit that we’re not perfect. It’s hard to admit that we’ve got flaws and bruises and hurts. However, we all do have them. We’re all imperfect.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the problems of our children. It’s too easy to see the ways in which they can improve. It’s too easy to see their problems and not see our own. That’s a mistake. Not that you should give them a free pass because you have your own issues, but that you should acknowledge and accept your part in any of the communications problems that you’re having with them and work on it. Admittedly, your part in communications problems with teenagers may be small, but if you look hard enough you can typically find some.

Emotional Bank Account

In your bank account, you typically try to deposit more money than you withdraw. This leaves you some reserve – and it keeps the banks happier. However, somehow we don’t think about our relationships in the same way. We don’t consider that we need to put in positive investments to be able to extract withdrawals.

The kinds of things that represent deposits vary by person (as Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages points out). Deposits are things which create positive affinity. It’s the kind of interactions that John Gottman recognizes are essential to intimate relationships, as he discusses in The Science of Trust. These deposits create a balance that you can draw from during tough times.

When you criticize, condemn, or complain, you’re making a withdrawal. You’re making yourself feel better at the expense of the person that you’re speaking with. That isn’t to say that every difficult conversation has to be a negative. You can go through Crucial Conversations (as they are called by Patterson and Grenny) with a greater admiration and respect, but that takes skill.

What Kind of Example

Paul Tough, in How Children Succeed, highlights the powerful influence that emotional intelligence and delayed gratification create for children, and how their success is substantially better predicted by these factors than by their intelligence quotient. Duffy agrees that these are key factors in the development of a child. The interesting question is how you teach these skills. The answer, it seems, may be observation. Children – even adolescents – learn substantially more from their parents than they sometimes let on. They learn their values from our values.

They’re also quick to point out where we’re being inconsistent in what we’re doing from one moment to the next, or how our words and our actions don’t appear to match up to them. (Sometimes our actions do – and sometimes they don’t – match our words.) The best way that we can teach our children is to model the behaviors that we want to see from them.

If we want our children to be available to us, perhaps we have to model to them how to be The Available Parent first.

Hurtful, Hurt, Hurting

I was in a discussion recently where someone mistakenly assumed that I was still hurting because of some hurtful things that were done in the past. Interestingly, the person used the word “hurt” in their message. However, the context was the present tense, and hurt is mostly a past-tense verb. It’s about something that has happened and not something that is happening.

I realized that the difference between hurtful, hurt, and hurting were subtle but important distinctions that had helped me to heal. I wanted to share how I’ve had others do hurtful things to me, how I was hurt, and how I’m no longer hurting.

Hurtful Actions

If we were to be completely transparent, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. Whether we were vindictive, or we were simply inconsiderate of another person, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. My ex-wife chose my 40th birthday to file for divorce. (The same day that she threw a surprise birthday party for me.) I won’t ascribe intent; rather, I’ll assume that she just didn’t consider, or fully consider, the impact of this decision. Certainly there are less spectacular examples of how we have been angry and have harmed others. I’ve done it myself.

Hurtful things are hard because most of us recognize that this is not the person that we desire to be. (Unless your need for vengeance is very high – see Who Am I?
and The Normal Personality for more on the desire for vengeance.) We recognize that we create the harm that we want to eliminate in the world through our own behaviors. We can acknowledge that sometimes we do vindictive things – or careless things – and simultaneously recognize that these don’t represent the person we want to be. Said differently, this isn’t what we want to see on our tombstone. We aspire to greater virtues.

It’s been said that hurting people hurt people. Often we lash out at others because we are ourselves hurting. (The Anatomy of Peace talks about the “boxes” we get in – our hurt – and how we hurt or disregard others when we’re in the box.) Learning to be less vindictive and more compassionate to others often starts with managing how we’ve been hurt.

Predicting Hurt

Strangely enough, there’s not a direct relationship between hurtful actions and someone being hurt. Certainly a large percentage of hurtful actions lead to someone else being hurt, but some hurtful actions don’t harm the other person. Sometimes people feel that their anger and resentment will harm another person, but Nelson Mandela said that, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Sometimes our efforts to be hurtful to others only hurt ourselves.

On the other hand, people are harmed even when the actions are the most loving and considerate. What one person attempts to express as their love or consideration may in fact be harmful to the other person, either because of misperception of the actor, or an undiscovered and covered wound of the recipient.

Despite all of the values and desires-based models for understanding other people, we still can’t accurately how they’ll respond to someone being hurtful – or helpful. Consider an adult whose parents taught them that to accept the help of others demonstrates that you’re weak, and that weak people are to be detested. So a well-meaning person holds the door open for this adult, and they are insulted. Certainly holding a door open for someone shouldn’t hurt them – but it can.

Perhaps more powerfully, there are situations where there is no malice and yet we are hurt. My dog died because of cancer and my brother was killed in an airplane accident. Neither of these hurts that I suffered were caused by someone else, but they were hurts that I felt none-the-less.

Responses to Hurt

People react differently to being hurt. Some people shut down and try to defend themselves from the world. (See Intimacy Anorexia for more on isolating the world from our true selves.) Some people get angry and lash out. Anger is disappointment directed, so they’re focusing their disappointment into a direction. (For more on anger being disappointment directed see Emotional Intelligence or Destructive Emotions.) Some people have become so comfortable with being hurt that they simply walk through it and immediately set on the path of healing.

Those who choose to respond to being hurt by shutting down are creating a pressure cooker. They’ve focused the energy of the hurt internally. The problem with pressure cookers is that there has to be a release valve – something to release the pressure if it gets too high that it becomes unsafe. Unfortunately, all too often pressure cooker folks don’t have a good way to blow off steam, and ultimately explode at the person who has hurt them or is hurting them. The resulting explosion can be productive but frequently is not, as the actual message about the hurt is lost in the response.

Turning the hurt inward isn’t all bad. When used with appropriate safety valves to blow off steam – like good friends or other mechanisms of self-care – it can be a powerful way of dealing with hurt. By capturing the energy from the hurt, it can be leveraged for change in our own lives. It can be removing a toxic, hurtful person from our lives or, more importantly, it can propel us towards self-improvement to make it harder for others to hurt us.

This, too, can be positive or negative. If we do self-improvement to minimize the hurt that others inflict us, that’s good. If we shut down and block other people out, that is bad. Humans are designed to be in relationship with others. As Emotional Intelligence mentioned, isolation is “as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” We can internalize our hurt if we’re able to leverage the energy of the hurt to our betterment and strengthen our ability to connect more authentically with others.

Another approach to hurt is to act out. For some, this is anger and pounding fists on the desk. For others, it’s engaging in activities that release dopamine. (See The Rise of Superman for more on neurochemicals and their purposes.) The activities can be positive, life-giving activities like exercise, or they can be destructive, shame-cycle-inducing activities like compulsive shopping, alcohol, or drugs. These activities numb and hide the pain for a time, but ultimately fade and leave in their wake a toxic cloud of guilt and shame. (See Daring Greatly for more on the difference between guilt and shame.)

Acting out can also be an immediate call to make things better. It can be to immediately evacuate the situation and find a safer place to be. As a result, neither “bottling up” our hurt nor “acting out” our hurt is a best way to address our pain. We have to find our own path to healing that may include components of both – and hopefully avoids the toxic side effects that keeps us hurting.

The Meaning of Hurt

Hurt is a signal that damage is being done. Our muscles hurt after a workout because they’ve been torn apart. However, the pain from our muscles fades in time as the muscles heal themselves. For most of the experiences in our lives, being hurt doesn’t mean that we’ll permanently be in pain. It is simply a temporary signal for us to recognize what is happening.

We describe hunger pains and yet most of us in the US are far from starving. Our hunger pains aren’t “pains” as much as they are signals from our body that it believes there’s a need for more food. It’s our digestive system’s way of telling us that it has capacity to process more food and increase our energy levels.

All that we consider “hurt” aren’t necessarily pains. Some of the hurts that we experience are simply signals. Signals that we need to consider where we are – but not necessarily that we are irreparably harmed.

Recovering from Hurt

No matter who has hurt you, it’s you that are responsible for healing your hurts. It can be your parents, an ex-spouse, a friend, neighbor, or a stranger – no matter who it is, you’re responsible for your healing. No one else can do that for you. (See Bonds That Make Us Free and Changes that Heal for more on healing our own wounds, and Compelled to Control for what can happen if we don’t.)

When the pain is large it isn’t necessarily that we’re going to recover all at once. Recovery is a process. We can start to recover then pause – and come back later. There isn’t one path to recovering from hurt – but whatever path that you choose, it’s healthy to walk the path of recovery

Still Hurting

What happens when you fail to heal yourself – or the hurt is too new – is that you’re still hurting. The length of time that someone will continue to hurt is dependent upon several factors, including the magnitude of the hurt, the general health of the individual, and the efforts taken to resolve the hurt. In the death of another, it’s hard to heal. (See On Death and Dying for the grieving process, and High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for recovering from this kind of hurt.) Betrayals are also particularly difficult harms to overcome. For more on overcoming betrayals, see my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.

These types of hurts are hardest to recover from because they leave scar tissue. In our human bodies, scar tissue is tissue that didn’t heal quite right. Sure we’re OK and we’re not hurting any longer, but that tissue is particularly sensitive to further damage. Whether it’s a knee that didn’t quite heal right, or a scar on our arms, it’s an unavoidable result of having been hurt.

When you lose someone close to you, you feel their loss at anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and any special thing that you and they shared together. Some of those situations you learn to anticipate and brace yourself for the hurt that will wash over you. Sometimes you won’t see it coming, and you’ll feel the hurt again – but it will be a little less painful each time.

With betrayal it’s hard, because the voice of doubt that we all have in our heads is hard to silence. When I wonder if someone is upset with me and in the past they’ve lashed out at me, it’s harder to stop those thoughts and remind myself that that isn’t the way that they behave. Once trust has been broken, it’s no longer possible to say that this is something that they would never do – because they have, in fact, done it.

The tricky part of being in the spot where you’re still hurting is that if you rush the healing too much, you end up with more scar tissue – that you’ll deal with for years to come. If you linger too long in the hurting, you run the risk of becoming bitter and living in victimhood. Finding the right amount of time to allow the hurt is both personality-dependent and situational. There’s no one time that you should stop hurting and move the pain into the past.

However, the extremes are always bad. If you move past hurt by ignoring it – by stuffing it – you’re still hurting, you’re just not acknowledging the hurt and this causes more hurt to yourself as you’re betraying yourself. It tends to cause your emotions to lash out at you by creating illness or anxiety that’s impossible to locate. It turns out that the relationship between our rational rider and our emotional elephant is critical, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis for more.)

Victimhood

There are stories that we tell ourselves about our behaviors and the behaviors of others. These stories are natural but aren’t necessarily good for us. We tend to frame stories in terms of three actors:

  • Victim – This is the person who is harmed.
  • Villain – The person (or entity) that needlessly inflicted the harm.
  • Rescuer – The person who lifts the victim out of their despair.

Permanently assigning one of the roles to ourselves or others (i.e. type-casting) isn’t helpful for us. We need the ability to grow and change. (See Mindset about changing our mindset.) If we decide that we are permanently in the victim role because we’ve been hurt, we’ll be stuck.

Victimhood isn’t a bad place to visit from time to time, particularly as we’ve been victimized, but it’s an awful place to live. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

Everyone has been hurt and will be hurt again. The best thing to do is learn how to deal with it better.

Book Review-House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth

What would you do if you worked in a profession that ignored its own best practices? What if your industry claimed to be able to do things that they simply couldn’t do? How could you move a profession forward when you knew that most of your colleagues weren’t in the know? I’m not talking about one of my professions, software development, instead I’m talking about psychology and the spot that Robyn Dawes found himself in. (Most software developers haven’t bothered to pick up a single book on software development theory or practices.) Dawes’ response as a concerned professional and an educator was to focus on what he knew is right in his classrooms and to write a book about the problems with his industry – House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth.

I’ve personally seen the good and the bad of psychology. I’ve reviewed The Heart and Soul of Change which focuses on what works in psychotherapy. I’ve also seen the dark side as I reviewed The Cult of Personality Testing and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology.
I believe, as Dawes does, that there are ways to help people through psychology; but I also understand that the difference in efficacy between those who are substantially trained and have years of clinical experience compared those who are only minimally trained is trivial. In short, even though we have built a profession around psychology, it’s not a profession whose techniques drive performance forward – at least not yet.

Crystal Balls

The greatest challenges to psychology don’t come from therapy. They don’t come from how the profession helps people – though, as mentioned above, the efficacy differences are minimal. Where the greatest challenges come from is when psychology oversteps the bounds of what is known and what isn’t known. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, “psychology experts” testify about the future behaviors of subjects. They state that they know how people will behave in the future even though the research proves this isn’t possible.

Perhaps they have the magical crystal ball that can see into the future, and they’re hiding their prize possession, cloaking it in the mysticism of psychology. In truth, there is no absolute predictor. Anyone that states that they know with certainty the future behavior of another person is a liar. They’re either lying to themselves and others or they’re just lying to others.

Though Dawes goes into length about the problems with the projective techniques that many psychologists use to make these predictions, I won’t reiterate the problems with projective tests – I’ve got rather complete coverage of these problems in The Cult of Personality Testing.

However, one thing that’s important is discussing the limits of identifying personality types. Even comprehensive systems of cataloging values and their relative importance, such as Reiss’ system covered in Who am I? and The Normal Personality, don’t have the predictive power. Paul Ekman explains in his work with micro expressions that you can identify the emotion but not the cause. (See Emotional Awareness for more on Paul Ekman’s work.)

In other words, even the best models for people – either based on values or on observable phenomena – aren’t able to predict behavior in the future. The reality is that we all have scars from our past. We have places of brokenness. No tool, conversation, or therapy can discover all of these wounds. We can’t even discover these wounds ourselves. We have to simply live life and confront our wounds as they surface. When the wound is triggered, the person will seek to relieve that pain – often unconsciously. However, stating what an alcoholic will do, whether they will take a drink or call a friend when they’re struggling is just a guess., It’s not a guess that anyone should take seriously.

Licensing

Every state has been licensing psychologists since the 1970s. The fundamental idea being that the licensing procedure protects the public from charlatans and con men who would trick them out of their money and provide no value. The requirements are generally high: a doctorate degree and years working with a licensed provider. The model resembles the medical model in that there is a sort of residency (supervisory period) but that’s where the similarity ends. There’s scant evidence that the residency (supervisory period) is useful.

Instead of protecting the public and insisting that professionals behave in ways that are consistent with best practices, professionals are allowed to continue to utilize techniques which have been repeatedly disproven. The licensing process serves to create a barrier to entry, but it doesn’t serve as a way of ensuring a level of performance.

I was having a conversation with a psychologist friend some years ago, when I shared with him that I enjoyed being of help to others, and that I was lightly considering the idea of becoming a licensed psychologist. His advice: “Don’t do it.” When I probed on the issue, I realized that he didn’t feel like his peers did anything with the licensing process except make it difficult. This, he felt, was to protect their revenues. His suggestion was that I pursue “coaching”. Dawes points out that you can’t prevent people from providing assistance to others for a fee, so consulting and coaching are always an option.

Coaching, as it turns out, is a very viable alternative. In fact, another friend who was previously licensed marriage and family counselor but decided to let his license lapse has become a coach – because it’s easier. The only disadvantage to not being licensed? You can’t accept payments from third party payers, including insurance and the government. In most cases, this isn’t a kind of payment that psychologists want even though it can be lucrative.

To reform psychology, it seems like it may be necessary to change the licensing procedure from the ground up, to require that psychologists only use research-supported techniques, or tell their clients when they’re not. As it turns out, I’ve read the ethical guidelines from the American Psychological Association (APA). While their standards state these things, it appears that, in practice, their members and the licensed psychologists in each state are rarely held to these standards.

Licensing as a Minimum Bar

The key to licensing is the same key as to certifications with which I’ve had a lot of experience. A certification is most simply defined as “meets a standard.” The question that should be in everyone’s mind is, what standard are they meeting? In truth, standards for IT tests are based on a group of purported “experts” – some of which, I can assure you through my direct experience, are not – who create the desired skill set. The next step after the skills identification is question writing. When this is done, a beta testing period is created. During this beta period, candidates complete the test without receiving their scores immediately.

Psychometricians then process the data and eliminate questions that don’t meet standards for consistency – either because the supposed right answer doesn’t match the answers given by the most highly qualified candidates or the highly qualified candidates didn’t get it right often. Then the passing score – and thus the standard for the test – are set using psychometric methods designed to provide a reasonable pass/fail rate. Ultimately this process is designed to establish the minimum bar for what certified professionals must know.

The hidden challenge here is that it’s an average standard across all of the testing objectives. There may be certain areas where the candidate has zero skills. This is particularly common when testing scopes are set too broadly.

The reality of IT certification testing, which I’m familiar with, is that it’s far more predictive of the desired skills than the kinds of tests created for state licensure. That’s because of the much larger pool of candidates that can be drawn across the country than could possibly be pulled for the psychologists in a single state. After all requirements for taking a beta test would be the same high requirements of licensure.

While all certifications and licensing has some value, it’s unclear how one could determine what the minimum bar is that the licensure is measuring.

Learning and Experience

What do stock traders, politicians and psychologists have in common? The fact that getting good, reliable feedback about their solutions is very hard. This lack of good feedback creates an illusion of good practice where none exists. It creates the illusion that you’ve discovered a way to help folks solve a problem, when differences in performance in any of these categories is minimal and random.

The key problem with psychologists isn’t that they’re not good people. The key problem is that the dynamics of the environment make it hard for them to become better. By interrupting the feedback cycle that we all need in order to learn, they’re losing their ability to improve their practice. Because psychological services are unique, and monitoring would be required to have others improve their practice, and such monitoring is difficult and can interfere with the therapeutic effects, very little is done. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for the relative impact of patient-therapist alliance.)

The other barrier to learning (as discussed in Peak) is that there isn’t a clear set of standards as to what constitutes the principles of practice. With bad feedback cycles and a lack of clearly defined principles of practice, psychology is missing the requirements necessary to get better.

American Psychological Association

The APA is the functional equivalent of the American Bar Association (ABA) for lawyers. Lawyers are admitted to the bar in each state by demonstrating professional competency, and in order to practice in the state they must be a member. While states don’t necessarily require APA membership to be a licensed psychologist, in most states the ethical standards that are used are the standards of the APA.

The APA has a history of well-intended, visionary leaders who had the desire of making help available to everyone. This well-intentioned interests poured fuel on the self-help movement, as was discussed in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Through the years, there have been leaders who have tried to elevate the practice of psychology through the power of the organization. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough attention to the transfer of knowledge from the researchers who are doing research about efficacy of treatments and the practitioners who are seeing patients.

A more challenging concern with the organization is that it seems unable (or unwilling) to ensure the standards of practice are being met.

Statistical Probability

Everyone needs to feel like they’re unique and different. That in some way they’re special. This is a part of our need for acceptance: the balance between being similar enough to be liked and different enough to be special. This desire to be special means that we’re often pushed into believing that the statistical norms don’t apply to us. At some level that’s true. Averaging people tends to eliminate their differences, which can be a bad thing when it leads to unexpected results (see The Black Swan.) However, from the other perspective it allows us to say what works for most people in most situations.

The value of using statistics to record probability is that it allows us to know what seems to work and what doesn’t seem to work in most cases. In short, it allows treatments to be identified as useful or not. Studies have proven that psychologists who rely upon the statistical probabilities of treatments, and who treat patients in the manner which is statistically most likely to succeed, do in fact get better outcomes.

Despite claims to the contrary by experienced psychologists, their predictive capabilities are limited by their imperfect and skewed experience with poor feedback, and as a result, their results with patients are poorer than if they trusted the statistics and went with them.

As a pilot, I’m trained to believe my instruments even when my feelings and beliefs are different. Obviously, I have to cross check instruments to make sure there is no error; however, I’ve learned to trust my instruments more than I’ve learned to trust myself. Most psychologists haven’t been taught this important lesson.

Alleviating Distress

Psychology is supposed to be about eliminating mental distress. However, the evidence points to greater distress today than there was in the past. In fact, according to Leading from the Emerging Future, suicide rates in the last 45 years are up 60%. Other statistics are equally concerning. If psychology is effective at reducing mental destress, at the very least we know that its current levels of efficacy aren’t sufficient.

We know from studies that there is some level of effect conveyed by psychological help, though the effect size still appears to be relatively limited. As House of Cards says “If treated, a cold will go away in seven days, whereas if left alone, it will last a week.” In other words, there seems to be little impact on treating a cold. Many of the psychological symptoms that people come in to seek help with have similar profiles.

The Necessity of Guilt

In Changes that Heal, Dr. Cloud asserts that guilt is a major barrier to growth. There I disagreed, and since then I’ve spoken about the difference between guilt and shame while discussing Brené Brown’s work. (See The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong (Part 1 & Part 2) In short, shame is “I am bad”, and guilt is “I have done bad”.

Dawes makes a point that a society without guilt (as some people propose would be good) would be a society of psychopaths. If we didn’t have any guilt for our actions, how would we maintain the standards of society? If we felt no pangs of pain, because we didn’t feel guilty about the things that we’ve done or the people we’re harmed, we’d do only what is good for us – and would have the behavior of a psychopath.

The Psychology of Victimization

Dawes makes the point that much of what is done to convince people that they’ve been abused through intensive therapy trying to recover these memories (which can’t be recovered) only creates the perception that they were abused, whether that is truth or not. Further, he indicates that, once people believe they’ve been abused, they’ll behave as if they have been abused even if they never were.

The challenge with this is that the focus on the abuse is the victim component. This has the effect of immobilizing people and preventing them from taking action. I’ve discussed before how problematic victimhood is. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly and Change or Die.)

Only Rational Thought Can Be Responsible

Perhaps the problem is that psychology hasn’t decided what it’s doing yet. I’ve stated that I love the Rider-Elephant-Path model to describe the relationship between emotional and rational components of our thinking. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on the model.) However, psychology hasn’t figured out how to address the periods when the elephant is in control. Whether it’s called irresistible impulses or temporary insanity, there are places where psychology hasn’t figured out what to do. Maybe you can get a clearer picture if you read House of Cards.

Book Review-Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

Compared to the average joe I read a lot. Books that I read (all non-fiction) tend to fall into one of two broad categories. They’re either helping you understand a problem, or they’re providing a recipe – a set of questions, actions, and behaviors that you can do to get the results that you want. When I read (and reviewed) How Children Succeed a few years ago, it definitely fell into the former category. There were great points, however, there was very little guidance. Paul Tough followed up on that book with Helping Children Succeed, which tilts the scale much more into the direction of a how-to book without completely forgoing his sense of necessity about knowing why things work.

In my heart, I want to help everyone realize their dreams. I want to help every child become a happy, healthy, well-functioning adult. While I accept that I can’t help everyone be successful, I’m always on the lookout for ideas and materials that can help more people be successful. Helping Children Succeed is another tool in that toolbox – ideas and techniques that lead to more success.

Children and Poverty

Tough’s work is focused around younger children – effectively birth through elementary school grades – and how their situations impact them. He’s keenly aware of the impact that poverty has on children, both directly and indirectly. Understanding the societal changes that have occurred, such as the fact that over 50% of children in America were classified as living in homes with “low income” in 2013, is just a part of the broader tapestry of the changes that have made it more critical that we identify the barriers in children’s way and we teach them how to navigate those barriers. Robert Putnam, in his book Our Kids, carefully mapped out the differences in child rearing between affluent and non-affluent families, and concluded that the issue with poverty isn’t just the lack of financial resources, though that plays a part, but is instead about the time that parents have to spend with their children.

The answers that Tough found for compensating for these deficiencies are a set of programs that are designed to supplement or supplant the parental involvement if they don’t have the capacity to support the growth of their children. Just like Sesame Street was designed to help bridge the learning gap in the 70s between higher and lower income kids entering schools, the programs that Tough found are designed to reduce the gap in non-cognitive skills to help children succeed better. (See “G” is for Growing for more on Sesame Street’s goals, methods, and impacts.)

Non-cognitive skills are the kind of skills that others might call non-academic. They’re the grit or perseverance when obstacles come up. It’s the emotional intelligence to understand oneself and those around you. (See Emotional Intelligence
for more on emotional intelligence.)

The starting place for these programs was changing the environment in which the children lived.

What Determines Success in Life?

Before we dig into how to help children succeed, it’s necessary to pause and talk about what constitutes success in life. While this is a topic in itself, there are some tenets that we can subscribe to that will allow us to guide children to success.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that what’s important for one person (or child) isn’t important for another. (See Who am I? and The Normal Personality for more on classifying what’s important.) Certainly it would be a tragedy if we defined success solely as high-income. However, there’s a certain amount of income that allows you the freedom to enjoy life and to pursue other interests. Nearly every hobby requires some level of finances to support it. Every act of philanthropy is a gift of time or money or both, and therefore requires a stable base.

So, while success is often measured on earning potential, that isn’t because that’s the end game, but rather because it’s a predictive marker, and a way to ensure that some of the negative reinforcing loops that constrain people to poverty are eliminated with a moderate income.

Second, however we define it for someone, success should move society forward as a whole. That is, it should be helpful to their neighbors, their children, their community, and their world. It’s one thing to want to be a free spirit, but it’s another to live off of the toils and gifts of others.

Third, while most of us, myself included, want people to be happy, happiness is a difficult thing to quantify. There’s certainly a difference between hedonistic happiness (happiness for the moment) and value-based, or philanthropic-based happiness which is more enduring. (See Hardwiring Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness for more on the different kinds of happiness and how we struggle to know what will make us happy.)

Because it’s difficult to define the specific end goals for every person, and they themselves won’t always be able to define what their goals are or how to be happy, we have to put some stake in the ground. One thing that we can define as not-success in a general sense is academic achievement. Measurements like Intelligence Quotient (IQ), which predict academic achievement but don’t seem to correlate with success in life, won’t be helpful.

Success is the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that lead to a healthy self and a contribution to others, but that requires a healthy environment.

Behavior as a Function of Person and Environment

Kurt Lewin said that behavior (what people do) is a function of both the person (their core makeup) and their environment (what’s provided for them and expected from them.) What Kurt didn’t point out is that, over the long term, either of these factors will influence the other. In the context of our children, this means that the environments that we create are critical to shaping our children.

When we create loving environments, where it’s safe to try and fail to later succeed, we create in children a willingness to live out their curiosity. (See Rising Strong [Part 1] and Changes that Heal, and Creative Confidence to learn more about making it safe to fail and the importance.)

It turns out that the biggest influencer of personal development from an environment is stress. As Tough discussed in How Children Succeed, early and repeated stress can turn up the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and cause children’s “fight or flight” response to almost always be on – thus preventing rational thought. The result of frequent or high stress is to suppress the higher-order executive functions of the brain.

It’s these higher-order functions that allow children to develop persistence and grit, to delay gratification, and to develop the skills that are the most important to success in life. (See Willpower
for more on delayed gratification.)

Environment as Relationships

So what do I mean when I say “environment”? Am I talking about plains vs. desert? Apartment vs. home? As it turns out, the answer is neither. Environment isn’t where you live, it’s the relationships that you have with other people. Are they responsive to you? Do you perceive them as safe? How do they nurture your development?

Certainly children in low-income situations have physical safety issues to be concerned with. I don’t want to minimize this or the negative impact that it has on their development; however, that is a factor that’s hard to address directly. How do you address the physical safety issues for every child? It’s easier to address the one-on-one relationships with adults that children have, and their ability to relate positively with those adults in their lives. Many of the programs that Tough discusses are focused on introducing relationships into the children’s lives that are positive and nurturing.

While these relationships are great, the interesting question is when the relationships need to occur in order to counteract the effects of the lack of positive experiences that children are getting.

Scaling Relationships

One of the challenges which Tough aptly points out is that, in our technologically-driven world, we have a tendency to try a bunch of things, and then take the one that is the most successful and scale it up. While this in theory is the right answer, when the programs are built upon the relationships that the program workers have with the program children, this can be difficult to do.

Scaling up programs that work aligns very well to the recommendations for marketing and sales and life in general. It just makes sense to take the small-scale pilots and use what works and shut down the rest. However, much of what works in these programs may be non-program specific effects. That is, the program may work not because of the specific approach or methodology being attempted, but rather due to things that are unique to the workers. In research terms, these are factors that aren’t considered as a part of the program for testing, but have a potentially large impact. This is why researchers replicate others’ studies. They are attempting to see if what the person thought were the active effects were enough to produce the results when tried in another environment.

Replicating research is one thing, but doing moderated scale-up of seemingly effective programs isn’t as easy – or successful – as it seems. Often, even very successful programs may not know exactly why they work. For instance, looking at the adult side of the world, take a look at the Delancey street program for individuals convicted of a crime. (Note that I’m being careful not to label them as criminals since the effects of labeling are particularly toxic.) The stories of the program told in the books Influencer and Change or Die are relatively different. Who knows what are the necessary, essential factors for making the program work? Maybe someone does, but getting to that answer is difficult for every program.

Shutting Down Fear of Failure

There’s one thing that’s certain. If you don’t try, you won’t fail. Then again, you won’t thrive either. The problem that gets set up in the minds of children (and adults) is that they can’t be punished for failure if they don’t try to do anything. The unspoken rule becomes, don’t do anything so that you’re not punished. However, this is a limiting mindset. (See Mindset for more on limiting beliefs.) It creates walls and barriers between people and what they can be.

Shutting down because of the fear of failure shows up everywhere in innovation and creativity. (See Creative Confidence for more on the impact of fear.) As we in the United States as a nation are relying more on our ability to innovate and create new and interesting solutions to challenges, the fuel that we need to use is creativity. That fuel is siphoned off by our fear. Flow, the highly productive state of engagement, specifically shuts down the inner critic, thereby enabling greater creativity and better problem solving. (See The Rise of Superman for more on flow and its ability to shut down the inner critic.)

High Expectations

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be good things when they’re high expectations. It turns out that children who have high – but obtainable – expectations set for them will rise to the occasion; where children who are perceived to be inferior won’t even do the level of work that they’ve already demonstrated that they’re comfortable doing. The impact of this is that you should set expectations with children as high as possible without destroying their belief (or hope) that they’re able to meet them.

Setting the right tension between the student’s skills and the challenge can get them into flow (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more). Flow is the high performance mental state that can help them achieve their goals.

Dunbar and Groups of Fifteen

As I mentioned in my post High Orbit – Respecting Grieving, Robin Dunbar came into some folks’ consciousness through The Tipping Point, but most folks only know the idea of a maximum number of stable social relationships for humans is around 150. What is interesting as you dig in deeper are the rings of connection that Dunbar explained, including the circle of the “close fifteen”. These are the folks who you are close enough to that their loss will hurt substantially.

In terms of creating programs to help children succeed, this has an important implication. The implication is that the upper end bound to a “small group” is fifteen people. Recapping Dunbar’s work we have the inner five – these are the folks whose lives you’re entangled with. The next ring out is the close fifteen and beyond that the interesting 50.

In an attempt to develop close social relationships, you have a group with a maximum of about five – of which many of the slots are already taken – fifteen, or your relationship lands in the category of “interesting” – a relationship that you monitor and manage, but one which doesn’t have substantial swing in your relationships. If you want to create a group that has influence on someone – one that creates a tight bond – you’ve got to get the entire group (or most of it) to fit into that 15 slots of the close circle. That necessarily constrains small group sizes to less than fifteen.

Once the group size is set, the next trick is to keep the group together and keep it relatively stable. It’s this stability, structure, and familiarity that put the pieces together to allow the relationships to form.

Crowd Management

While serving in cub scouts, I learned a few things about crowd management. These crowd management skills, it turns out, are very effective at helping kids learn. My first lesson was presence. If you have a set of children who aren’t following instructions, listening or being respectful, go sit among them. I’ve never found anything as effective as sitting among a bunch of children who were previously not paying attention. The magic of this for me is you don’t have to say a word. The children just all start doing what they should be doing.

I also learned that setting clear expectations has immense power. By explaining clearly what the rules are and what the consequences are, the number of challenges that we had were substantially reduced. In any activity with young children, there’s both the defined boundaries – the things you talk about – as well as the undefined boundaries. We knew what things were critical to explain to everyone – and what things we could allow to evolve to the point where we needed to establish the boundary.

Most frequently, the thing we allowed to evolve was play. Boys sometimes do subtle escalations of their play to the point where it’s no longer “safe enough” for the leaders. There we had to help deescalate the play – or, depending upon the children, stop it all together. There are no clear expectations you can set for play. The boundaries aren’t clear enough to define in advance. You have to negotiate these boundaries.

Sometimes, it turns out, the best way to help children succeed is to manage the crowd better. When the guidelines are well-known, the number of times that you have to intervene is fewer, and you can focus on the educational tasks – or the development of non-cognitive skills.

Learning and Taking Risks

All learning involves risk-taking. All learning and growing is accepting someone else’s view of the world as valid. Learning is about changing who you are in small ways; and making changes to who you are and what you believe is an unsettling process. In order to learn, you’re necessarily taking these risks and sometimes it’s these risks that can freeze, paralyze, or immobilize children and adults alike.

When we experience a high degree of variability in responses, negative events associated with learning, or embarrassment that we believe something, this creates a barrier, or at least friction, to the learning process, whether that learning is cognitive or non-cognitive skills.

No matter the type of learning being encouraged (cognitive or non-cognitive), we must be mindful of the barriers that inhibit children’s growth and seek to fill in the gaps in their experience or patch over the rough spots so that they’re capable of learning.

Interesting and Challenging

Once you’ve removed the barriers from learning, it’s time to pull children through the process. This pull-through should be extrinsically motivated at first with the intent of transferring to intrinsic motivations. While this may sound easy, in practice it’s anything but. We’ve been conditioned to believe that education should be dull and boring. If we spit out the information, children will just accept it and regurgitate it for the test. However, as Tough points out, this may be the wrong approach.

James Hiebert notes that math classrooms in Japan follow a radically different script than they do in the United States. Instead of the teacher at the front of the classroom being the all-knowing oracle that spits out the right answer, teachers in Japan are more likely to behave as facilitators. They facilitate the classroom reaching the right solution to a problem. The teacher may crystalize an idea and create clarity around it, but it’s the students themselves that are learning.

There’s not a reliance on rote memorization or repetition. The reliance is on creating a deep understanding of the processes involved. We’ve “known” about Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, and other frameworks that explain the need for us to create more understanding and mental models, but in most classrooms in America that doesn’t happen.

In many ways, the approaches we take to education continue to be challenged. For instance, in Schools Without Failure, Glasser points out the value of collaborative classroom discussions. His work was published in 1969. Similarly, Knowles et al.’s work on The Adult Learner hints at the need for children to learn differently than we currently teach them – while carefully avoiding directly stating the need for education to change. The first edition of this book was published in 1973.

As we’re creating programs that are designed to help children succeed, we need to acknowledge that learning, whether cognitive or non-cognitive, requires a set of skills that are different than we’ve come to expect. We have to pay attention to the interest and motivation of the children we’re teaching, and design activities (not lectures) that students can engage in at their own levels. Science fairs and their much maligned parental involvement are the kinds of project-based learning that children need to internalize a subject and to build the mental models that will serve them for their entire lives. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

The best way that we have of Helping Children Succeed is to create activities that are hospitable to children of different levels, which allow and encourage them to challenge themselves. Engaging activities with an element of stretch drive children to more effort and thus build a virtuous cycle. Maybe you can start the cycle for yourself or the children you care the most about by reading Helping Children Succeed.

Book Review-The Dance of Connection

It was through reading Brené Brown’s work Rising Strong (See my posts Part 1 and Part 2) that I came across the reference to The Dance of Connection. The reference was to over-functioning and under-functioning in stressful situations. Having seen different strategies for dealing with stress in my family, I was intrigued as to what Harriet Lerner would have to say about this. What I found is more than I expected about how to connect with other people. Having recently read The Power of the Other, I was reminded about how connections are important and how we can have no connection, bad connections, pseudo-good connections, or true connections.

Right or in a Relationship

In my review of The Titleless Leader I mentioned that you can either be right or you can be in a relationship. This is at the heart of the “dance” of connection. That is, the dance is about being able to speak our true, authentic voice and at the same time to do it in a way that honors other people and allows us to stay in a relationship with them. When we hold on too tightly to our righteousness, we are unable to allow space for the other person. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about the need for allowing.)

Kids on a playground can be mortal enemies one moment and favorite friends the next, because they’re willing and able to let go of their righteousness in order to live in a relationship. This can be healthy or unhealthy depending upon the degree to which we’re bending. Cloud and Townsend spoke of the need for boundaries in Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries. There is a certain amount of give that we should have for others, and a certain limit to which we’re willing to bend. Getting clear on where this is can be very healthy.

The Screams of Silence

Connection happens through conversation and dialogue. (See Dialogue for more on what makes dialogue special.) As we try to connect with one another, we need these conversations to help bring us closer together – to form a connection. While most conversations can be positive, there are times when conversations may be difficult– which, admittedly, most of us would like to avoid if we could. (See Crucial Conversations for more about the hard conversations that people want to avoid.)

While there may be times that we want to avoid conversations, that doesn’t mean we should. John Gottman’s work makes it clear that, in intimate relationships, avoiding conversations isn’t a good thing. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s work regarding communication in couples.) Stonewalling – or preventing conversations — is one of the “four horsemen” of the relational apocalypse. Intimacy Anorexia calls upon the weapon of stonewalling as a way to prevent further communication and can rip a marriage apart.

The silence of one person in a relationship or in an attempted relationship, may yield screams on the part of the other party; in either case, the result of silence is a lack of connection.

The Gap Between Same and Different

One of the great challenges in America is the conflict between our rugged individualism and our innate nature as social creatures in need of connection. We believe that we’re “self-made” and “original”, and at the same time deny the love and support poured into us by others. (Even if it wasn’t enough.) We long for similarity and connection, and at the same time seek to be different, unique and original. In our quest for being different, we deny our need for connection, that anyone could possibly understand what we’re going through.

Whenever I can get honest in a group – whether it’s a church group, a recovery group, or a mastermind group – I find that the other folks in the group can identify with what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, and how I’m struggling. On the one hand, we are unique and different; however, on the other hand we’re all made up of the same elements. We’re a different organization of protons, neutrons, and electrons – or a different organization of atoms – but at our hearts we’re all made up of the same stuff. We all have fears. We all have dreams.

We connect to others through our similarities. We connect through common activities, interests, and beliefs. We need to set aside our belief that we don’t need anyone, that we can be “self-made,” or that we can survive by ourselves. If we want to be happy and fulfilled, we need to accept that we’ll need some other people. (See Spiritual Evolution for our need to be in relationships.)

Logic and Intellectualizing

I’m sometimes accused – rightly so – of not being in touch with my emotions enough. When I hear this, I think of the Rider-Elephant-Path model that Jonathan Haidt discussed in The Happiness Hypothesis. In the model, our rational rider sits on top of the emotional elephant, firmly entrenched in his mistaken belief of control. I think about this because, in my own experiences with horses, I know that there’s a point when the horse and the rider have such a relationship that the rider can lean down and effectively hug the horse to say thank you for the ride or for the companionship.

The visualization I have is that my rational rider is reaching down and patting the elephant on the side of the neck to say thank you. Occasionally I visualize the rider off the elephant resting a hand on the elephant’s massive upper leg. In both of these cases I’m visualizing the relationship between the rational, logical rider and the impassioned, emotional elephant.

There are times when my rational rider has to tell my elephant that it will be OK, and for the elephant to trust the results will be OK, even if the current circumstances feel very awkward or bad. The rider has to tell the elephant that the only way out is through. And, more importantly, the elephant has to trust that the rider is right. That’s the power of logic: to work with the feelings – to accept the emotion – and move through them.

This has a very different feel than intellectualizing (which I do as well). Intellectualizing denies our feelings. It’s whip that the rider uses to snap the elephant into submission – at least for a time. Men are typically better at compartmentalization than women. However, compartmentalization isn’t a skill to be lauded. It’s one that comes with very dangerous consequences if it’s used for too long. Our health and our relationships with others can both suffer if we lean too hard on compartmentalization and its larger cousin “stuffing”. (See I’ll Have Some Emotional Stuffing with That.)

Relationships are emotionally-laden constructs. Every relationship has some level of emotion attached. It’s foolish to believe that we can logic our way through emotions. However, it’s equally foolhardy to believe that we’re able be completely emotional without applying some level of logic.

Stepping in, Stepping Back

As we “dance” with our connections with others there are times when we need to step in. That is, we need to do our absolute best to create the best circumstances for a healthy relationship. This is particularly true of family situations where the other person “isn’t going anywhere.” We sweep our side of the street and clean up all our garbage. We approach the other person with as much respect and dignity as we can. While assuming the best possible posture doesn’t ensure that the other party will definitely give us the response we want, it is the part of the equation that we can control.

In this stepping-in process, we have to let go of our expectation that the other person will change. In truth, people rarely change substantially. Our goal can’t be for the other person to suddenly start responding in completely healthy ways; instead, our goal can only be that we’ll respond in healthy ways.

The opposite of stepping in is quite obviously stepping back. However, stepping back isn’t running away or leaving the relationship potential behind. Sometimes stepping back is giving the other person room to grow. If you’re never allowing them the space to behave in better ways and to grow, then – well, they won’t. There are times when it’s appropriate, and even necessary, to expect more of others than they can do today, and to create the additional space they need to grow.

Safety

In today’s society it’s obvious that, if a relationship isn’t something that’s physically safe, then it shouldn’t be pursued. It’s obvious that we need physical safety to be in a relationship lest it become abusive. However, the lines are much less clear when it comes to emotional and mental safety. We tolerate negative people. We accept insensitive comments. However, when we do this we don’t feel emotionally safe.

Safety is critical for our leaning and growing. (See the role of safety in Play.) Ultimately, we have to be safe to feel vulnerable so that we can build intimate relationships. (See my post on Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more.)

Anatomy of an Apology

When we’re in a disagreement, and when we’re faced with people we don’t trust, it’s very hard to apologize. Apologies, we believe, show our weakness, and we don’t want to expose our weak spots to our adversary. It’s a natural response, but it’s also one that isn’t based on our best thinking. It’s based on an earlier, dog-eat-dog world, when showing any kind of weakness might mean extinction of our genes.

The problem is that apologies are “a regretful acknowledgement of an offense or failure.” There’s no admission of weakness in an apology. There is only regret. The twist here is that too many people believe that a failure means that they are a failure. As a result, apologizing means they’re a failure. It means that they’re imperfect and weak. (See Find Your Courage for more on ascribed meaning to failure)

Apologizing falls into two categories. The first category are those things that are under our control or influence. That is, we have some responsibility for the outcome. This might take the form of “I’m sorry I forgot about your piano recital.” In this case we’re wholly responsible for our inaction.

The second category of apology is compassion or sorrow. It involves things outside of our control. It might take the form of “I’m sorry your dog died” (given that you weren’t personally involved in the death). This still takes the form of “I’m sorry”; however, the context is different. In this case, we’re not accepting responsibility for the situation.

Over the years, I’ve had people who have felt me as insincere, because I would apologize for things that I couldn’t control. They discounted my regret because they didn’t understand that there are two different kinds of apologies.

There are two very liberating thoughts here. First, that just because you failed, you aren’t a failure. Second, I can apologize even if I couldn’t have had a direct responsibility. When these two are put together, they form a powerful combination that helps me be less resistant to apologizing to others. This is the first step on the road to repairing a relationship with them.

Social Norms

In every Cheers episode, Norm Peterson (George Wendt) would walk into the bar and be greeted with everyone shouting “Norm!” in unison. That’s what I call a social norm. While begging apologies for the pun, it was the standard. When Norm walked into the bar everyone shouted Norm! Though it was a fictional TV show, I’d expect that in any bar where that actually happened, eventually people who didn’t know Norm would start to shout out his name as he entered. That’s because this was established as the social norm. It’s just what you did.

Imagine your confusion if you and your spouse walked into a bar in their home town and suddenly the assembled masses would should out his or her name. In your world, no one knows your name when you walk into a bar, much less calls it out when you enter the bar. Your spouse would be unfazed because it was the norm, while you’re sitting there trying to figure out if you’ve just slipped into the Twilight Zone, and Rod Serling is about to jump out from a dark corner and talk to you.

However, that is what relationships are – the blending of social norms. One family might watch TV during their once-per-week family dinner. The other family might ban all electronics and require attendance at nightly family dinner. Neither are right or wrong. They’re just different. There is so much of our experience that we simply take for granted. Take, for instance, a simple question. What side of the mall do you walk on?

Without being told or instructed, you’ll instinctively walk on the right side of the mall if you’re raised in any of the countries that drive cars on the right side of the road, and on the left if you were raised in a country that drives on the left. Certainly there’s no right or wrong to which side of the mall you walk on. However, if you make the wrong choice you’ll feel like you’re having to swim upstream.

The social norms within someone’s family of origin are unique to them and their family’s function. There’s nothing right or wrong with everyone planning on hunting or fishing after Thanksgiving dinner, unless you’ve grown up where you (like most) watch football after Thanksgiving dinner – or fall asleep pretending to watch football. These different expectations can be the source of frustration or potential amusement. More importantly, they can often come between people when not seen for what they are.

Defined by Dysfunction

Holding folks accountable – including oneself– is tricky business. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge the fact that you missed a goal or expectation; conversely, you have to acknowledge that it doesn’t define you. Someone who is struggling with an addiction through a 12 step program is encouraged to identify themselves as an addict. However, once you get past the introduction and the start of the program, these same addicts are encouraged to acknowledge the parts of their personalities which are positive and life-giving to others. It’s not that this excuses their behavior. Instead, it’s designed to create an integrated self-image that acknowledges that everyone has good and bad parts of their personality – even non-addicts. (See Part 1 of my review of Rising Strong for more.)

When you’re under the weight of feeling defined by a dysfunction, it’s hard to see your value – and therefore the reason why you should change. If you’re focused only on your dysfunction, it’s easy to lose hope. (See The Psychology of Hope for more on the importance of hope.) Being focused on dysfunction is focusing on the shame that you’re not good enough to conquer your dysfunction. (See Daring Greatly for more on the impact of shame.)

Balancing or Dancing?

One of the interesting messages embedded in the title of the book is the idea of “dancing”. Dancing is about being in a relationship with another person. It’s about managing the gap between you and being connected to the music.

Often when we’re speaking of multiple conflicting ideas or priorities or needs we talk about balance. The only thing I know about balance is that you never keep it. There are always forces that are trying to pull you from your balance and there’s constant work to keep in balance. When I speak of balance, I speak of it in general. It’s not so much the question about whether I’m in balance right this moment, but whether overall I’m maintaining a balance. You can’t measure one moment in time because you may be relaxing with family or at work slaving away. It’s only when you take a step back from it that you can see if the ratio of one to the other is appropriate.

I believe the metaphor of dance is a better one than balance, because it provides a perspective of the entire song –measuring across time, as well as the awareness that you’ll be at different places at different times. Sometimes you’ll be very close and other times relatively far away. It’s only in looking at the whole dance can you say how good – or bad – it was.

There are times when it’s appropriate to hold people’s feet to the fire and label them with their dysfunction. There are times when you need to allow grace for failings and to build them up in their understanding of their inherent and apparent worth. Relationships are a dance.

The Solar-Powered, Motion Detecting, Light-Emitting Mini-Barn

In suburbia nearly every yard, it seems, has a mini-barn. It’s the place where the lawn maintenance equipment is kept along with the other things that don’t quite fit in the house any longer. These last bastions of hope for sheltering your tools and other belongings stand against the elements. However, mini-barns by their nature generally have no electrical service. This generally isn’t a problem unless you need to get something at night or you need to jump the lawn mower battery.

Having a need for a random project that has a clear physical return, I decided to purchase a set of solar panels, a charger, some 12V lights, and a battery. As it turns out Harbor Freight has a relatively inexpensive kit that includes everything you need, except for the battery, for less than $200. It’s only a 45w kit so it doesn’t have a lot of power available, but it’s more than enough for the basics.

Solar Power

In my yard, there’s a relatively complete tree canopy. There isn’t a ton of sunlight that makes it down to where the mini-barn is but I did find a small patch of ground that the mini-barn could sit on that would have some sunlight most of the day. I know that I’m not generating a lot of power from that spot but, again, it’s enough.

The three panels in the kit I got are 15w a piece. A high performance panel can deliver 100w from a single panel but, again, that’s more than I need. So I’m using the panels that came in the kit for my power source.

Power Uses

Once you’ve collected some power, the question is what to do with it. The lighting for inside the mini-barn was a given, as was an inverter to allow me to plug in things that expect household 110V AC power instead of the 12V DC power that the solar panels create and the battery stores. However, there were two other uses which became interesting.

Fans

Most mini-barns have an odor somewhere between sweaty socks and underarms – mixed with gasoline. The collection of chemicals and gasoline-powered equipment generally makes the air inside the mini-barn just short of toxic. My solution to this problem was to add a set of fans to the mini-barn to pull air through once the temperature reached a certain point. Conventional computer fans are 12V, have a long duty cycle, and have a relatively low power consumption.

In deploying the fans to the mini-barn, the thinking was that if the temperature was high, then there would be sunlight on the panels, and running two fans to pull air through the mini-barn would be OK.

This mostly worked except for the days when it was so warm outside but cloudy. It turns out that the batteries would be depleted after a few days because I was consuming too much power with just the fans. Now I plug them in when I’m going to be working out there to clear the air and unplug them when I’m not going to be there. Eventually, I hope to find the time to finish the design of a cut-out/cut-in circuit that will effectively engage the fans only when there is excess energy that can’t be stored in the batteries – but that’s a project for another day.

Security

Motion detector lights on your house are relatively standard these days. They are an effective way to provide lighting when you come home and to deter burglars from wandering on your property. Having security lights on your home can impact the perception of your security if not the actual security itself.

We have several of these lights on the house. The areas around the house can be lit up fairly well. However, in the back of the yard where the mini-barn sits, there’s no way to get the house security lights to reach. So I outfitted the mini-barn with motion detectors and LED lights so that, should an animal or a person end up in the back of the yard, the mini-barn will light up.

At some level this seems crazy (and it is), but in another way it’s great: when the dogs tear off into the back yard after some unknown creature, I know that I’ll automatically get light on the situation soon enough.

Costs

So if you want to put together something similar, what will it cost? Well, the solar panel kit was $200 as I mentioned. You can figure $100 for a battery. The inverter cost varies based on the wattage you want, but you can pick one up for under $50. The computer fans are roughly $10/ea – I used two of them. The motion detecting lights ended up being about $10/ea for the light, $10/ea for the motion detector, and $10/ea for the box and miscellaneous hardware. In truth, I’ve got less than $400 in my solar-panel-driven mini-barn electrical project. Certainly not cheap but also not expensive for what it is either.

I’ll Have Some Emotional Stuffing with That

Occasionally, I’m afflicted by the curse of knowledge and I’ll use a term without really defining it well. One of those words is – apparently – “stuffing”. That isn’t the kind of thing that goes in a pillow or even the kind of side at a turkey dinner. Stuffing is short for “emotional stuffing”, or denying our emotions. This is an attempt to explain what it is and why it’s bad. However, before I get there, it might be good to start with a helpful, related technique called “compartmentalization”.

Compartmentalization

Some call it focus. It’s the ability to block everything else out of your mind – for a time. It’s a natural reaction once you can get into the state of flow. (See The Rise of Superman for more on the changes the brain goes through in the state of flow and Flow and Finding Flow for more on the state.) Men are – appropriately – called out for their obliviousness. They’ll walk over the dead body in the living room as they make their way to the kitchen if they’re involved in something. Some women would say that they’ll overlook the filth of the house just because they don’t want to help clean it up. While this may be true of some men, the ability to focus and compartmentalize is a real function of the way men’s brains evolved.

Compartmentalization is simply the ability to keep things out of our mind for a while. I can remember finishing up an engagement in New York the day I found out my grandmother had died. This particular client wasn’t one I knew well. I was in to do some “surgical work”, where I’d know them for a few days then likely not talk to them again. It was just the afternoon of the last day and I was leaving at 4PM for the airport. Through a great deal of work, I was able to compartmentalize the death until I could process it later that evening when I returned home.

We see this in the movies when one character calls out to another that there will be time to mourn the dead later. When they say this, in effect, they are saying that there is a reality that they can’t fully process at that time. This is a useful and evolutionary necessity. Losing your friend Bob to a lion attack is impactful but at that moment survival depended upon being able to fight off the lion or run away. (This reminds me of a bad joke about how I don’t have to run faster than the bear. I just have to run faster than the person I’m with.)

The ability to focus allowed us to gather up all our resources to focus on one thing. We could use every ounce of our willpower to hunt and kill an animal so we had food. Conversely, women were conditioned to be ever-vigilant to threats to the family and themselves, and as a result got wiring towards not compartmentalizing things into neat little buckets.

Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn speak of another analogy in their book For Men Only. It speaks of a women’s thought process like sitting in front of a computer with multiple windows, each vying for attention. They’re always popping up and interrupting about going to the dry cleaners, or planning the meal for tomorrow, or one of a hundred other things that are randomly competing for attention. Men, on the other hand, can be like the old DOS operating system where there is only one thing running – or like a modal dialog that captures the attention of the entire screen.

I tend to think of compartmentalization like pressing pause on an old VHS video cassette recorder (VCR). There would be lines of interference and then ultimately the VCR would shut down to protect from wearing through the tape. In the VCR, there’s a physical process where the head is literally rubbing against the tape when paused, and if it were left on too long the head would quite literally wear through the tape. In other words, compartmentalization is good when you need it, but isn’t something that is designed to be sustained forever.

Ripping Stuffing Apart

The problem with stuffing is that it relies upon the same evolutionarily useful tool of compartmentalization, but it presses (or stands on) the pause button. It’s taking compartmentalization and allowing it to happen for too long. It’s refusing to acknowledge the feeling exists, or it’s saying that the emotion isn’t important, or that I don’t have time to deal with it right now.

In the Rider-Elephant-Path model (See The Happiness Hypothesis), the rational rider only has control while he’s active – when attention wanes, the elephant does what he wants. That’s the easy part. However, what’s harder is the understanding that the rider is never in control. The rider has the illusion of control as long as the elephant allows it. When you deny the elephant what it needs – processing of the emotion – eventually it will stop listening to the rider. Eventually the relationship between the rider and the elephant will become so strained that there’s an all-out battle happening. We have the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The schism that splits the person is going to come out somewhere.

All too often medical doctors are the ones that find it. There are strange and elusive auto-immune diseases that no one can pinpoint, or chronic pain without a defined cause. Sometimes it’s standard illnesses like the common cold at a rate that’s abnormally high. We believe that our brain and bodies aren’t linked, but the reality is that our bodies need the control functions of the brain. When the brain isn’t functioning right because it’s been asked to do something unnatural, like stuffing emotions, bad things happen to the body.

Safe Processing

One of the key reasons why people stuff their emotions is because they never feel safe enough to be vulnerable. (See my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.) They never perceive that anyone would accept them, including their weaknesses and frailties. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.) Whether this is true or the result of adverse childhood events (ACE) doesn’t matter; the reality is that the perceived safety is missing. (See How Children Succeed for more on ACE.)

On Death and Dying described an emotional framework for the changes that people go through as they learn that they are dying. What is remarkable about the work is the acknowledgement that people need the space to process through things on their own terms. There’s no specific timing for going through each phase. There’s no one way of grieving. There’s only the acceptance that the struggle exists and being willing to walk through it with folks.

Passing on the Stuffing

There are so many random, unexplainable things that happen when you’re not able to be true to yourself and process your feelings in a healthy way, that it’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to do emotional stuffing. That is, unless the idea of stuffing your emotions was passed down to you. Many of us have members of our family for whom emotions aren’t safe things. Because they’re not safe, they’ve passed along the idea of stuffing to us.

It’s time to take a pass on stuffing and find a way to process all of the emotions that life has to offer.