Tag Archives: problems and difficulties

Anger #08r The First Eight Emails

Comment: Every eight emails, I add an extra as a review process, an opportunity to pause and assess how you are doing.

MacQuarrie Email Review #1 — The First Eight Emails

So sad.

You have now had the first eight emails of the thirty that I will send you. How are you doing?

Take a moment to write in a journal as to what you are experiencing after one month of these emails. Are they helping? Are you getting swamped? What self-care do you need to give yourself so as to minimize being overwhelmed?

Managing Difficulties

My difficulty is to make the emails concrete enough so that they are useful to you, and not so complex that you want to give up. But be aware that in any significant attempt to change your life, you will encounter times when you want give up — that is par for the course. Your skill is to persist. If necessary, send me an email, describing your difficulty.

If you are encountering difficulties, here are some suggestions:

  • Give yourself breaks during the day; do things that are fun for yourself? And then return to the process.
    • Start what is called a Kid List — write down a list of things that you enjoy, activities that might take anywhere between five and thirty minutes to accomplish, and keep it handy. When you need a break, do one of these activities. Activities could include: watch a sunset, go out in a garden and smell the flowers, hug your partner, read the cartoons in a magazine or on a website, et cetera. Start with ten items (and over time, expand the list).
  • Ask someone to tell you what they like about you — people are often very cooperative with this, and you will be surprised as to what they tell you.
    • Better yet, have them write something in a notebook, and periodically read what they have written.
  • Write a lot (free-flow, stream-of-consciousness, etc.)
    • It discharges energy, and creates clarity.
    • If you are worried about someone reading it, write nonsense or scribble, or start your writing with “This journal is filled with lies — read at your own risk!” Then deliberately put in a few lies (but mark them is some way so that you know they are lies — if you re-read them months from now, you may have forgotten they are lies).
  • Do anything, however small, to make a difference.

The skill is again to persist, and to realize that in some measure, it is a life-time journey.

What We Have Covered So Far

Thus far in these emails, we have covered the following:

  • The need for goals.
  • What are emotions?
  • The primary tools of awareness and discipline.
  • A number of simple ideas:
    • the triune brain,
    • sailors on a ship,
    • the pot, and
    • the blowing out model.

My role is to provide you with information and encouragement. Remember two things:

  • I am an expert in me — I know what works for me.
    • And I am an explorer of swamps, the stuff where other people get stuck. I think I am a good explorer, very knowledgeable of issues.
  • However, I have never explored your swamp. It is your job to explore it, and I can be a guide, but I am not an expert in you. Your job is to become an expert in you.
    • It sounds complicated, and yet as always, it is simply one step after another.

The most important skill of all is that of mindfulness, the discipline of awareness. Emphatically I encourage you to continue to meditate on a daily basis, for at least the duration of this email program (90 days).

And, although I encourage you to study all the tools I am offering, you may have neither the time nor the interest. So, pick at least a couple of tools to use each month, and explore them until you are satisfied that you know how to use the tool.

Then you can decide if the tool is useful, but do not discard the tool until you know how to use it. Remember the first time you picked up a hammer; you were not likely very skillful when you attempt to pound nails — you had to practice, and perhaps ask questions of someone who knew how to use a hammer effectively.

The Wheel-barrel Concept

Finally, remember that a decision is a verb, not a noun — you can change decisions at any time. Language is most fascinating and peculiar in this regard.

  • a noun is any word that makes sense when you say the word “the” or “a” before it
  • an adjective (or adverb) is any word that makes sense when used together with a noun (or verb)
  • a verb is any word that make sense when you say the word “to” before it

Nouns, though, are peculiar. They are either concrete or conceptual. Conceptual nouns are actually verbs in disguise. To tell the difference, imagine a wheel-barrel (perhaps a very large one), and place the noun in the wheel barrel. Can you do so? For example, can you place an apple in a wheel-barrel. Yes — it is a concrete noun. Can you place a decision in a wheel-barrel? No — it is a conceptual noun, a verb in disguise.

Concrete nouns cannot be changed without breaking them. You cannot cut an apple in half, and still have an apple — only two parts of what was originally an apple. In contrast, you can ALWAYS change conceptual nouns — they are actions (verbs) in progress.

So, if you have made a decision to do this course in a certain way or time frame, you can always change how you do it! The decision is a verb, always in transition.

So, don’t give up! You are worth having a better life.

If you are having a hard time, find a friend with whom to talk. Even if you think you have no friends, find a group of people who will listen. For example, even if you have no problems with alcohol, go to an AA meeting or an Al-Anon meeting. People will still listen, especially if you say you feel like drinking just to get away from it all (a little metaphoric emphasis to encourage).

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 4

The need for distrust: betrayal.
Modern complexity is so disruptive of healthy living.

These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of this information disheartens me, but it does offer clarity of the issues.

Chapter 22. Communicator trust. Why the messenger is more important than the message. If words are frames and metaphors are meaning, then the person who communicates them is the most important link. Trust is entirely driven by the emotional brain.

From my perspective, this is the essential dilemma — communication is an emotional process, and the messenger is more important than the message.

Chapter 23. If they don’t understand the theory, talk about it over and over and over again. Why climate science does not move people. Denial is due to a surplus of culture, the community one trusts, rather than a deficit of information. One of the best proofs that information does not change people’s attitudes is that science communicators continued to ignore the extensive research evidence that shows that information does not change people’s attitudes. It is personal story that engages people.

Indeed — personal story, but . . . . Over my lifetime, there has been a huge move to engage in emotionality, especially emotional opinion, This personal story engages, but has usually been accompanied by a diminution of logic and ethics. In order to be successful, personal story must be added to logic and ethics — an addition, not a replacement. In addition, because everyone speaks from their own frame with their own metaphors, there have been tremendous turf wars amongst the various contenders.

Chapter 24. Protect, ban, save, and stop. How climate change became environmentalist. The worldview of environmentalists creates a constantly reinforced schema by which climate change is detached from the many other issues (employment, economy, crime, defense) that people care most about. Environmental messaging is not deliberately exclusive; it would like to reach other people, but it is not interested in reflecting other people’s values — it thus excludes them!

War  does not create peace! The turf wars simply add confusion — somehow we need to come together in ways that recognize the commonality of our difficulties.

Chapter 25. Polarization. Why polar bears make it harder to accept climate change. Semiotics is the study of nonlinguistic signs. Climate change, an issue that suffers from a lack of proximity, has chosen an icon that could not be more distant from people’s real life.

The polar bear icon is ineffective! It becomes another component whereby climate disruption is an urgent, but not an important, issue, a distant issue.

Chapter 26. Turn off your lights or the puppy gets it. How doomsday becomes dullsville. There is no easy answer is to how best to communicate the serious threats contained in science in a way that people respect, understand, and heed. In addition, most people in Western culture have a large mental library of failed prophecies of collapse, and thus lose interest in another proposed collapse.

As well, guilt is not a great motivator. “How best” requires personal contact in a manner that the recipient will trust; this is very difficult to achieve in the immensity and complexity of modern culture.

Chapter 27. Bright-siding. The dangers of positive dreams. The downside of positivity, the idea of challenge and ingenious creativity, is driven by a terrible insecurity which requires a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities. Bright-siding may promote an aspirational high consumption lifestyle while ignoring the deep inequalities, pollution, and waste that makes that lifestyle possible.

Indeed there are incredible possibilities offered by climate disruption, but the complexity is immense, and essentially requires a major change in our cultural models.

Chapter 28. Winning the argument. How a scientific discourse turned into a debating slam. Political theory is never a good venue for having a rational argument.

Politics is emotional, and usually a morass of turf wars, attempting to preserve the system. Neither scientific discourse nor current politics is prepared for the changes required.

Chapter 29. Two billion bystanders. How Live Earth tried and failed to build a movement. In the absence of a clear objective and a movement that can galvanize an audience into action, concert media creates a global bystander effect, with the audience waiting for us to see if somebody else will do something.

We need a cultural narrative that will motivate.

Chapter 30. Postcard from Hopenhagen. How climate negotiations keep preparing for the drama yet to come. “Setting the stage” is a narrative frame that means that, even when the meetings do not do anything, they are still preparing for the great drama to come.


To be continued.

Anger #08 The Blowing Out Process, Part 2

Blowing Out the energy, as in a candle

Comment: In emotional issues, the primary requirement is safety; ultimately we need to resolve the underlying difficulties to a place of peaceful resolution.

MacQuarrie Email Program #08 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 2

In the previous email, I introduced the Blowing Out process, and noted two essential features.

  • We get stuck because we do not manage our emotional energy.
  • Ultimately we need to resolve the conflict so as to be at peace with the issues.

Frequently we believe that we need to resolve the conflict before we can resolve our emotions. I suggest that this is nonsense — we can easily reduce the intensity of our emotions without dealing with the conflict directly, and in so doing, we are in much better position to manage the conflict.

Your task for this email: Answer the following question in your journal — How badly do you want to resolve the conflicts of your life? What follows requires that you sort your own contribution to conflict from that of the other person(s), and become accountable for correcting yourself, as well as apologizing for your own actions. Did I say this would be easy? No, just effective!

The Blowing Out Process, in detailSo, the rest of the Blowing Out Process.

The first part of the accompanying diagram is a repeat of what I presented in the past email. But note what follows!

To repeat, create safety; discharge the energy. This is overall a 10-minute process if approached skillfully (in later emails, I will be addressing issues such as time-outs and the specifics of how to release energy).

The Message

At this point, learn the message of the energy. When the energy is released, the mind becomes clearer. You are now able to recognize one of two states:

  • either the energy somehow has seemed familiar (“I’ve been here before”) — which means that an issue of powerlessness has been tapped, or
  • the behaviors of the other have somehow been inappropriate (They said they would do something, and they didn’t; or they lied; or some such). Such states are the issues of true conflict!

This learning of what I call The Message is key. Usually the distinction is quite clear cut: it might be 90% one and 10% the other; but seldom is it a 50-50 split. If it is, begin with the issues of powerlessness. There is an appropriate statement in the Bible (incidentally, the bible is a great manual of therapy): Deal with the log in your own eye before you deal with the splinter in your neighbor’s eye (you see better!). alternatively, in an airplane decompression event, put on your own mask before you put the mask on your companion. The work is then easier.

If it is indeed a self-issue, that of powerlessness, it may require extensive work, perhaps with a therapist. In any event, apologize to the other. Tell them, for example, that you have been caught in your own issues, and truly apologize. Indicate that you are working on changing the issue, and if necessary will keep them informed (especially needed if the issue is with a life partner). And get on with it — your own difficulties will recur until you have achieved some kind of resolution.

Notice the thick line in the diagram. I put it there to emphasize that everything above that line is 100% your responsibility, and within your power to change. Everything! Spoons do not cause carrots! Spoons only bring carrots to the surface.

What about the conflict?

True conflict means that in some fashion the behavior of the other has been inappropriate. (It may well be that your own behavior has also been inappropriate. If so, revert back to what I said about powerlessness. It is time to apologize, and correct your own powerlessness.)

Also note the distinction between resolution and solution. Solution means that the problem goes away; resolution means that all parties are at peace with the outcome (the difficulty may still exist, but it no longer bothers people).

Note two very important considerations:

  • most life issues (~70%) are not solvable; all of them are resolvable.
  • because I can manage my energy, I can always choose to cooperate. I don’t have to like cooperating in order to choose to cooperate; what I want is resolution.

The choice now comes down to whether or not the other is cooperative. (NB. If you do not apologize for your own inappropriate contributions, the likelihood of the other being cooperative is small. Other people listen better when you first account for your own contribution — so step up to the plate! You will frequently be surprised by how effective if you sincerely apologize.)

If the other is cooperative, I maintain that human beings are not stupid — just habitual. Explore together what are the issues, and plan possible resolutions that work for both of you (if it is not successful for both of you, one of you is sure to sabotage the efforts). It may require a number of trial resolutions, but persist, and manage your energy in the interim. This is what is called win-win solutions, and will be explored further in a later email.

If the other is not cooperative (and here, actions speak louder than words), attempting to make them cooperative will not be successful (more on this later). My standard is that I will make two attempts to elicit cooperation, and if unsuccessful, I then will shift to other skill sets. Again this will be the topic of a later email.

A hint: the skills of managing non-cooperative conflict are very different from the skills required for cooperative conflict. Bottom line — overall, I will not violate others (I will not dump my energy on them), but I am not a doormat either — I do not easily tolerate people who will not cooperate with me (more later!)

Coming next: Gathering data — the John James Game Plan

(as well as a review email of the first eight emails)

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 3

distrust03These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. Much of this information disheartens me. Given we are reaching the capacity of our planet to hold our numbers, our limitations as a species are clearly showing.

Chapter 13. Them, there, and then. How we push climate change far away. The timeline of climate change is a creeping problem. The lack of a definite beginning, end, or deadline requires that we create our own timeline — we do so in ways that remove the compulsion to act.

Not an easy problem. Again, as indicated in Chapter 10, we are poorly evolved to deal with creeping problems. Partly it is our inability to cooperate in large groups; partly it is our ability to accommodate to slow change. The metaphor of how a living frog responds to being slowly heated in a pot of water (becoming cooked), although not accurate in the real world, is however so accurate as to how we respond to this issue.

Chapter 14. Costing the earth. Why we want to gain the whole world yet lose our lives. People give an overwhelming priority to the short term over the long-term. However, they will willingly shoulder a burden provided they share a common purpose, and are rewarded with a greater sense of social belonging. If climate change is regarded as an unavoidable condition, we will become resigned to it; if however, it is regarded as an active and informed choice, there are no innocent bystanders.

We need an effective narrative, one that allows us to come together as a common species, and we do not have that yet; we still live our lives with national identities (I’m a Canadian, et cetera), not easily identifying with the commonality of being human. Witness, for example, the issues of cultural identity: Muslim, Christian, Syrian, Mexican, latino — many of which now generate major angst in immigration issues.

Chapter 15. Certain about the uncertainty. How we use uncertainty as a justification for inaction. Uncertainty occurs through many mechanisms: the very meaning of uncertainty varies, and in the view of the public uncertainty means unsure or lacking confidence, whereas for the scientific community, uncertainty means not yet determined with sufficient accuracy]. Depending on the issue, crises are exploited as a means to centralize power and subvert democracy.

The disinformation processes of the past 50 years have been so destructive to our ability to come together; yet even a major sceptic Richard Mueller converted to agreeing that “climate change … [is] based on extremely strong argument” and “is “caused by humans.” And global warming is now a major part of military planning; it is so incongruent — we are such a strange species.

Chapter 16. Paddling in the pool of worry. How we choose what to ignore. Risk can be evaluated by the rational brain, but worry is an emotional perception. What we choose to ignore is just as important as what we choose to attend to, and it is this skill that enables us to cope with the information-saturated modern urban environment.

Indeed — information overload; and the attempt to respond to global warming is often seen as just another piece of information, something else to become numb about.

Chapter 17. Don’t even talk about it! The invisible force field of climate silence. The elephant in the living room is a meta-silence in that we don’t talk about the fact that we don’t talk about it. Ignorance is not knowing, denial is the refusal to know, and disavowal is the active choice not to notice; non-knowledge refers to information that is deliberately not acquired because it is considered too sensitive, dangerous, or taboo to produce. The discussion of information must be balanced by the need for discussion; a series of complex feedbacks mitigates against the discussion of the C-word. The shifting of public attitudes often requires a prolonged struggle by dedicated social movements, often with the central tactic of confronting a socially constructed silence.

Climate Silence! Challenging this is one of the major precepts of The Climate Mobilization — make a commitment to talk about it. This chapter is fascinating, and perhaps the most important chapter fo the book. How do you prepare for a threat that cannot be named? The multivalent nature of climate change makes it very susceptible to avoidance in the numerous ways that human beings have for managing anxiety. The author notes “The lessons of history show that this [global warming] is winnable, but it could be a long struggle.” Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a long struggle.

Chapter 18. The non-perfect non-storm. Why we think that climate change is impossibly difficult. Climate change is exceptionally multivalent; it enables a limitless range of self-serving interpretations; and it is uncanny, creating a discomfort in the discordance between the familiar that has become dangerous. As such, climate change has become a [super-]wicked problem.

“Climate change is very difficult, but don’t perfectly difficult.” Again the multivalent nature of the problem. Unfortunately we use every excuse in the book, not as excuse, but usually as the unconscious patterns of avoiding anxiety. This is especially so in that as human beings we have caused the problem, and therefore we might be [are] hurting the ones we love. Climate change is also an uncanny condition, a problem that is familiar enough, seemingly recognizable and yet dangerous in every aspect.

Summary #2. We scan information for cues as to whether we should pay attention to it or not. Without salience or social cues, climate change lies outside the analytic frame; we respond to our socially constructed stories, and as such, we have no effective overcome.

The complexity of our patterns is amazing, especially our cognitive biases. In reading this book, I am deeply impressed by the incredible sophistication by which we humans manage information (or actively ignore it). Amazing, but in this particular issue of global warming, not necessarily to our advantage, and quite frankly to our disadvantage.

Chapter 19. Cockroach tours. How museums struggle to tell the climate story. Museums struggle to find ways of talking about climate change that are interesting, engaging, and truthful to the science, yet able to navigate the politics. In the age of information overload, they attempt to create a sound-bite. Unfortunately, most of their funding comes from the fossil fuel industry.

Sad! Museums (at least some) could be so much more. What I have noticed in my years is that museums have shifted from places of information for adults to places of entertainment for children. Generally I won’t go to museums anymore — the emotional atmosphere is too frenetic.

Chapter 20. Tell me a story. Why lies can be so appealing. Stories are the means by which the emotional brain makes sense of the information collected by the rational brain. As compared to the complex multivalent reality of climate change, people will accept a fictional story if it has narrative fidelity (that is, based on whether the quality of the information it contains hangs together or not).

Narrative fidelity! I can’t help but be amazed again — we are so sophisticated, and yet so gullible. No wonder the advertising (and disinformation) systems are so powerful. Perhaps I am naïve, but I like to believe that advertising was originally meant to provide information so as to allow reasoned choice — it certain no longer does that in the modern world.

Chapter 21. Powerful words. How the words we use affect the way we feel. Words are heard within defined frames of meaning. False friends are words that sound the same but mean something different, and thus engage different frames. They can create considerable confusion in any kind of communication. For example, global warming was shifted to climate change because it sounded less emotive, and had less connection to the burning of fossil fuels. The second major building block of narrative is metaphor; through metaphor, we engage our most available previous experience to make sense of new information. Metaphors then engage the frames that allow us to think about the next issue.

Indeed words are powerful, and so sad that we have subverted human intelligence to consumerism.

To be continued.

Anger #07 The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

Comment: I suggest the Blowing Out process to be the essential means by which human beings can be both safe and emotionally authentic, without being trapped by the issues.

MacQuarrie Email Program #07 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

The Blowing Out Process, Part 1Two more emails (plus a summary email), and then we start the process of skill development as to how to explore and manage your anger. I hope by now you are starting to recognize that the concepts thus far allow you to get a handle on your anger, but I also imagine you want more specifics — this email is part of the specifics.

As mentioned, the concepts of the previous emails became the process I call Blowing Out®, a method of utilizing unpleasant experience so as to create positive outcomes. For most people, when something unpleasant happens, they get stuck. The something reminds them of their past (their values, beliefs, memories, expectations, what I call their VBMEs), and they feel powerless. They label the something as some kind of conflict, and they don’t feel safe. Perhaps they are angry, or some such emotion, but lacking safety, they are also afraid or say to themselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way” — the sailors in action. So they stuff their energy — but eventually that doesn’t work, and they become a time bomb of some kind (the pressure cooker). This goes on over time, and eventually they explode outwards (family violation or social massacre) or inwards (depression or suicide). Not a pretty scene, but common in our society.

Safety for all is absolutely essential.

In my personal pain, I too recognized that this process of getting stuck did not work, and that the most important aspect was safety — for all! Instead of blowing up or blowing down, I discovered that I could blow out, like blowing out a candle — but instead of blowing out the light, I could blow out the darkness of my pain (the basis of my first book Blowing Out The Darkness).

We get stuck essentially because we mismanage our energy! First, because we are not safe (both with ourselves and with others around us), and second because we do not safely discharge our emotional energy — we generally dump it on someone else in some inappropriate fashion. We somehow believe that we have to resolve the conflict before we can manage our energy.

Not only is this nonsense, it is also a recipe for disaster. We hold the energy inside ourselves; the conflict is outside. We can separate ourselves from the conflict, and manage our energy — in so doing, we can then decide if the basic issue is what others are doing (the conflict), or is it what we are doing to ourselves (our powerlessness) because we are caught in issues from our past.

I indicated in the previous email (The Pot), that as the pressure builds up, three things happen:

  1. the high energy interrupts the ability to think (we become very intense, and foggy).
  2. further intensity results in our not feeling safe, and we shift to Lizard Brain, and
  3. we lose the ability to distinguish what is happening outside (the spoon) from what is happening inside (the pot), thus shifting to “the spoon has caused the carrot.”

Don’t take my word for this. Think about how you feel and act when you get to the edge of your rage. In some fashion, is this not how you act?

Task: So your task for this email is to think about what else you could do with your energy. And test out these possibilities; don’t just think — act! safely! An important adage is: You cannot think your way into a new way of acting; you can act your way into a new way of thinking!

Re-read Email #2 What is Anger? so as to really get No SAD and STOP. (You have probably noticed that all the tasks I assign are really focused on observing yourself — not for the purpose of self-criticism, but for recognition of how you actually create your own experiences. Over time, this will become your most important skill.)

Some hints: you can discharge energy silently, or you can make lots of noise. You can discharge privately, or you can do it in the presence of others. But if you are going to do it when others around, those others must agree to the parameters of No SAD and STOP — otherwise, they will not likely be secure, and because of that, you will criticized (or worse)! As such, it is very likely that you will shut down, and the time bomb scenario will resume.

The second most important aspect of Blowing Out is that the conflict must be resolved. Even if you discharge your energy, all that you will be doing is emptying the pot. It is essential that you then stop the pot from filling again.

The Importance of Blowing Out

My stance is that I can empty the pot in 10 minutes (I likely need another 10 minutes to process what happened that the pot was stirred — powerlessness or conflict?). Stopping the pot from filling again may take weeks or months of work — but I can keep the pot empty while I do this work! I need not stay stuck with a full pot — ever!

The goal of this portion of the Blowing Out process is to empty the pot, such that:

  1. everyone is safe
  2. I can think more clearly about the issues, and
  3. I can distinguish the spoon from the pot, the present from my past.

Most important though, as I empty the pot, I start to recognized either that this experience feels familiar (my powerlessness), or I recognize that the other is behaving inappropriately (a true conflict exists). The message comes through even though my thinking may still be fuzzy.

A reflection of mine: I’ve worked with thousands of people using the Blowing Out method. It is effective. But in my experience, when first presented with the Blowing Out process, less than 5% of people really want to engage with it. We are incredibly conditioned in our society to avoid violence (yet we are a violent species — war, domestic assaults, football, et cetera).

I make a huge distinction between violence and violation. Violence is sudden force to create an impact. Violation is restriction of freedom without permission beyond public safety. What we call family violence is actually family violation (frequently the violations are not even violent). Blowing Out can be violent; it is not a violation. We can be safe with violence (e.g., pounding a nail in a wall is violent); we are not safe with violation.

The bottom line: you can be safe (with yourself and others), and you can be at a place of internal peace. The price tag is doing the required work.

Coming next: The Blowing Out Process, Part 2.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 2


These posts explore a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014), starting 20170122. In reading the book, I was surprised by some of the research that he encountered. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

Chapter 6. The jury of our peers. How we follow the people around us. We watch the behavior of others to identify an appropriate response to situations (the bystander effect or pluralistic ignorance). If no one is responding to a crisis, then it must not be a crisis! However, caution must be noted with the slippery we.

Again — trust! But in attempting to generate inclusion and response (the ‘slippery we’), it is easy to alienate those who do trust the “message.”

Chapter 7. The power of the mob. How bullies hide in the crowd. According to self-categorization theory, we seek to establish similarity with the groups that we identify with, and differences against the people who are not like us. This leads both sides to under-estimate the diversity of views within their own ranks and those of their opponents. One of the consequences is that the in-group often develops a sense of superiority. The advent of the Internet has produced entirely new areas of communication, and has allowed frequent outright bullying of the out-group because of the anonymity provided.

The noise of our culture distracts from awareness. Here, for me, Marshall identifies one of the major complexities of modern living — we have too many people, many of whom are  formulating logical and ethical difficulties (of which a major one is global warming) as emotional issues. And in so doing, they add huge noise which confuses the system.

Chapter 8. Through a glass darkly. The strange world of climate deniers. For conservatives, climate change has become an issue at just the right time to replace the Red Menace bogeyman that had so long been the mobilizing enemy.

Disinformation! Marshall suggests that a major transition in the climate denial store occurred with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is a fascinating hypothesis, and one that is consistent with the emotional issues.

Chapter 9. Inside the elephant. Why we keep searching for enemies. In the end, many struggles come down to there being identifiable vested interests; however, we usually forget that we are participants in those interests. The real difficulty is your own immaturity, especially our inability to deal with our own shadows.

In a super-wicked difficulty, we are the participants. This is the central thesis of this blog — that the major issue is our acedia, our unwillingness to engage in the painful struggle to maturity. For me, Marshall correctly identifies that we “need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests, and our common humanity.”

Summary #1. Those who passionately accept or passionately deny climate change have one thing in common: they are regard each other as a major threat. However, in between these two conflicting groups, the vast majority of people find it difficult to give any importance to the issue at all; they happily identify that there is a problem, but otherwise, they give it a little  consideration.

An accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 10. The two brains. Why we are so poorly evolved to deal with climate change. Our psychological evolution has prepared us to respond strongly to four key triggers (PAIN): personal, abrupt, immoral, now. Climate change triggers none of these. We can understand the difficulty of climate change with our rational brains, but this does not trigger the emotional brain into action. Climate activists maximize the data without impacting the emotional brain; climate deniers activate emotions, and minimize the data; whereas the group in the middle are aware of the data, and are waiting to see the emotional responses generated as social cues.

Again, an accurate assessment of the complexity.

Chapter 11. Familiar yet unimaginable. Why climate change does not feel dangerous. There are two main drivers of risk perception: 1) dread risk, intergenerational and irreversible, a sense of powerlessness in the face of involuntary and catastrophic impacts, and 2) unknown risk, invisible and unprecedented, an anxiety that comes from the uncertainty of new and unforeseen danger. Because climate change does not have the stigma of attack, and extreme weather events have a degree of familiarity, the uncertainty of climate change does not instill dread or danger. Rather, there is leeway to “believe what you want.” Climate change does not feel threatening, unless you choose to feel that it is.

See the next comment.

Chapter 12. Uncertain long-term costs. Why our cognitive biases line up against climate change. Climate change lacks salience: it is abstract, distant, invisible, and disputed. It requires the acceptance of short-term costs to mitigate higher but uncertain losses in the far future. In addition, disinformation has created uncertainty. To mobilize people, an issue needs to be emotional; it needs to have immediacy and salience — our decisions are directed by largely intuitive mental shortcuts (cognitive biases). It is possible that no amount of psychological awareness will overcome people’s reluctance to lower their standards of living.

Sad! As I look around at this very moment on a cold but sunny day in Canadian winter, I do not feel threatened, and I can easily fall into the numbness of “what’s the big deal.” Yet, intellectually, the complexity of the issues overwhelms me, and I truly believe we are shortly destined for extinction. We do not seem capable of managing such complexity.

To be continued.

Anger #06 The Pot

Comment: The metaphor of this email, that of the mind being a pot of stew, is very useful for recognizing the origin of most of our thoughts and feelings, as well as the options of how many people become pressure cookers. It blends well with the previous metaphor of Sailors On A Ship.

MacQuarrie Email Program #06 — The Pot

angry06a-thepotMy father (who eventually committed suicide) is supposed to have said: “Never go to a psychiatrist who is less intelligent than you are.” I think it is probably true that he did say this, because I strongly have come to believe: “Never go to a therapist who is less emotionally intelligent than you are!” I say that because, early in my own therapy, I recognized that I could easily out-think most therapists.

I also learned that, frequently and inappropriately, many therapists are prone to tell clients what they should be doing. Even if that were effective (which it is not), I can simply read what I should be doing in a book.

I needed someone who would challenge me to act differently!, not just think differently. Fortunately, I found this. I found therapists who would assist me in becoming an authentic person, with a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, and the ability to contribute to others. And I’ve made my mis-takes, many of them. And I learned from them — generally more from my mis-takes than from my successes. (Notice how I spell the word mis-take: a take that missed — that is all it is, nothing more, and certainly not a place for personal judgment.)

Most importantly, l learned some simple metaphors that have allowed me to act differently, as well as think differently (as noted, the action is more important than the thinking). Examples include the metaphor of Sailors On A Ship discussed in the last email — in a future email, I will show you how to use this metaphor for effective action. (Sorry if I seem to be shifting back and forth between past and future emails — I am attempting to build an integrated model for you.)

The Pot

In this email, the metaphor I want to emphasis is called The Pot.

Imagine a pot of stew, sitting on a stove being heated; only the ingredients in this pot are your VBMEs (values, beliefs, memories, and expectations). The heat is the Current Stressors of your life (financial worries, relationship stresses, home and work situations, plus the many issues that bother you when you watch TV. et cetera). It is a pot of energy, waiting! It is here that your sailors become active — determined by your VBMEs, and activated by your Current Stressors.

The contents of the pot percolate from the heat; stuff moves under the surface (the other-than-conscious mind) and on occasion something comes to the surface (the conscious mind). When it does, you call it an emotion, a feeling, a thought, a belief — some name that allows you to recognize it. If the “something” surfaces with enough energy, it pops out of the pot, and you call it a behavior. Note that behaviors reduce the energy in the pot!

Then somebody does something (the Spoon) that stirs the pot. What comes to the surface are more emotions, and what comes out of the pot are more behaviors, all partly determined by what the Spoon has done. But more importantly, your emotions and behaviors are determined by what is already in the pot.

Consider: if this was an actual pot, and the spoon brought a carrot to the surface, would you say that the spoon caused the carrot? Weird, eh. But that is what you are saying when you say: “She made me angry!” or “He made me do it.” Yes, others can stir, but they do not cause your emotions or your actions — they are your choices, even though they originate with the other-then-conscious mind.

What happens when the pot is full, or stirred?

Actions empty the pot, but stuff gets added every day. And when the pot gets full, i.e., when the energy gets high, three things happen:

  1. the high energy limits the ability for information to get to the human brain — you start to lose choice.
  2. if the energy is really high, you act from the lizard brain — survival mode.
  3. you lose the ability to distinguish what is in the pot from what the spoon is doing — you lose the ability to distinguish past pain from present issues. You begin to feel unsafe.

A full pot, not thinking clearly, not safe (for yourself and possibly others). So you say to yourself (or some else says to you): Put a lid on it! Question: What happens to a pot of stew, on high heat, when you put a lid on it?

angry06b-thetimebombIt becomes a pressure cooker! From my perspective, there are four kinds of pressure cookers:

  • panic attacks: a loose lid
  • explosions: a tight lid
  • implosion: a sealed lid (de-pressure-is-high!)
  • a time bomb: no escape valve

It is as a time bomb that the many violent massacres of our society occur — someone is so caught that they eventually take a shot-gun or semi-automatic and blow people away!

This is not a psychiatric model; this is a sociological model, and for me, is a much more accurate description of what happens in our society under today’s cultural conditions.

Task: Relate what I have written here to your own life. Especially note when you blame others  because they have brought a carrot to the surface — and recall, the carrot was already there, waiting.

From all this, I developed the process I call Blowing Out®, the topic of the next two emails.

More On Problems

problems1Previously, I written a number of blog posts on the nature of change, and the distinction between difficulties and problems (they start here as of 20160630). I need to add to that, especially with a highly useful concept ( concerning logos, ethos, and pathos) that I encountered somewhere in my career, one attributed to Plato (I’m currently searching for a specific reference).

Anyway, the distinction is that between logical issues (logos), ethical issues (ethos), and emotional issues (pathos). An example will help.

Suppose my toaster is not working, and I want toast.

The Difficulties: In theory (the Logical), I (or someone else) could take the toaster, determine what is the difficulty, and with the right parts, simply fix the toaster, returning it to its functional state. This is the logical approach to a technological difficulty. (Logical resolutions work best with technological issues.)

However, in our culture, it is much more likely I would put the toaster in the garbage (increasing the environmental load), and go to the local store to purchase a new toaster. I bypass the logical.

The difficulty here is that we somehow believe it to be less expensive to do this than to find someone, as above, who has the necessary skills and necessary parts for the repair process. In our complex culture, there is a certain truth to this (it is much less so in a third-world country where many people make their living with such simple repairs — but we are not a ‘third-world’ country!).

To find someone in my city who would be willing to do such repairs and who had the necessary parts (likely needing to be back-ordered rather than immediately available) would take much searching and massive effort as well as considerable time — in the past when I have gone to electrical stores, they have simply said it is cheaper to buy a new toaster.

So with difficulties of this nature, such as the toaster, I therefore do not bring a logical resolution to the logical problem. It is ‘too expensive.’ Instead, I move to the Ethical: I go to a store for a toaster.

In buying the toaster at the store, probably as a very cheap price (because the many environmental costs are ignored), they will give me a warranty for the new toaster — an ethical statement that the toaster is new, and will function without difficulty for a certain period of time. Let’s assume the warranty is good for 90 days.

So I take the toaster home, and enjoy my toast for the next few weeks. But then, the toaster fails, at day 89. I go to the original store where I bought the toaster, together with my original purchase receipt. Then give me a replacement toaster, a new one — mine has crashed within the warranty period, and the warranty guarantees a replacement (meanwhile the failed toaster goes into the garbage — more garbage). This is an ethical resolution to a logical problem (repeating again, as above, that a logical resolution is ‘too expensive.’)

But suppose I have had a busy week, and I do not get back to the store until day 91. What then?

I tell the store that the toaster failed two days ago, on day 89 (and of course, explaining that this was within the warranty period), but I have had a really busy week. So what is the store manager to do?

On the one hand, I’ve brought the toaster back on day 91 — it is out of warranty! It is beyond the ethical resolution!

But on the other hand, thinks the store manager, “if I refuse to give this guy a new toaster, he will leave the store disgruntled, and likely complain to his many friends as to how unfair my store policy is, and I might lose 10 future customers as a result. I’ll give him a new toaster — it’s a cheaper solution.”

So I get a new toaster again. But this is not an ethical resolution — it is an Emotional resolution.

Over the years of my career as a therapist, this distinction between logical, ethical, and emotional has been one of the most useful concepts I have encountered! When I have a difficulty, I ask myself:

  • Is there a logical issue here? What will be require for resolution? Is there a known process that can be brought to bear on this issue?
  • Is there some kind of written (or even verbal) agreement (the ethical) that applies to this difficulty? If so, to what have we actually agreed?
    • Fundamentally, this is the concept of fairness — do we have an agreement as to how we will act when difficulties arise. It is fair that we keep this agreement, and unfair if one of us does not.
    • And if we do not have an agreement, fairness has nothing to do with the issue at hand!
  • And finally, what are the emotional issues within this difficulty? No known process to be applied; there is no agreement as to how we should act. So now I have two further options as to how to act . . .
    • I can do a transaction for payment — how much is it going to cost for resolution, to me, to the other? And if I don’t get paid, I resent — for which there are likely to be future consequences!
    • Or I do give a gift of my time and my effort. No payment necessary, not even a thank-you. But gifts are paradoxical — when I gift to others, somehow they recognize this, and they want to gift back (or they gift forward!).
  • But beware: the major problems of living arise when I am not clear about the distinction between gift and transaction! I resent ‘gifts’ when they are actually sneaky transactions.
    • The store manager above needs to be clear; otherwise he or she will become very dissatisfied.

Keeping all of these distinctions in awareness is perhaps difficult initially, but with time, very rewarding:

Logical? Ethical? Emotional?

Transaction? Gift?

Anger #05 The Other-Than-Conscious Mind

Comment: Most of us live with many internal conflicts — for me, the metaphor of this post is highly useful as a frame for this style of conflict. Unfortunately, for most human beings, especially those who have not exposed to the skills of living necessary in our complex culture, the other-than-conscious mind is a place of mystery and mutiny. It can be managed, and when successful, the conscious and other-than-conscious can be a powerful team.

MacQuarrie Email Program #05 — The Role of the Other-Than-Conscious Mind

Sailors in mutiny
The internal mutiny by which we live.

Much has been written about the other-than-conscious mind (the OOC mind — I don’t like the term unconscious; it is too confusing and misunderstood). Some of what has been written is actually very valuable, but relatively little has been written about the value and importance of integration of conscious and other-than-conscious. Together they are a powerful team.

So, in this email, I’m going to introduce you to some of the most important metaphors I use about the OOC mind (remember please that a metaphor is simply a way to think about something else). Also please note that two images are attached to this email.

Task: Your task associated with this email is simply to watch yourself in all you do, checking out to what extent the following ideas are useful to you. I suggest you read this email several times a day, especially before you undertake the daily practice of awareness as described in a previous email. I’ll expand the ideas in later emails.

The first image Sailors On A Ship [above] is based on a loose interpretation of the writings of Plato, and as a metaphor is over 2000 years old. Imagine an old-fashioned sailing ship (sails only, no fossil-fuel based engine):

The human mind is very much like a ship where the sailors have mutinied, and locked the Captain … in the cabin [brig]. Each sailor believes himself free to steer the ship as he pleases. First one sailor and then another takes over the helm, while the ship travels on a random and erratic course . . . these sailors cannot agree on a goal and, even if they could, they do not know how to navigate the ship to reach it. . . . The task of the individual is to quell this mutiny, and release the captain . . .  Only then is he free to choose a goal, and steer a direct course to reach it.

Most people can easily recognize that this metaphor describes their daily life in detail — that they make plans, and then sabotage themselves in various ways. Over subsequent emails, you will learn much more about these sailors, and how to manage them. Eventually you will develop a powerful Captain.

shipatseaThe second image is called A Ship At Sea. Again, imagine an old-fashioned sailing ship, with sails, helm and rudder, potentially managed by an effective Captain and a crew of well-organized Sailors. What would happen to such a ship if there were no helm or rudder? It would drift with the wind. Or such a ship without sails? It would go nowhere. No wind, and even with sails and rudder, it would flounder. Plus the ship needs a good Captain and a well-trained crew.

Now — considering yourself as the ship, what within you corresponds to the rudder and helm? the sails? the wind? a Captain? the sailors? My answers — please check your own answers (further details will be developed over the course of this program):

  • the helmsman-helm-rudder system: the conscious mind, able to guide the ship once effective decisions are made (and mutiny is no longer an option).
  • the sails: the other-than-conscious mind, that component of myself that actually does the work, the source of my life energy and my vitality.
  • the wind: from whence comes the origin of my life energy. Depending on interpretation, this could be a deeper realm of the other-than-conscious, or it could be an interface with Spirit/Creator/… (your choice).
  • the sailors: principally the means by which I are aware of my other-than-conscious mind. The transformation of the sailors from that of mutiny (this is a very common situation for many people) to that of an effective working crew is one of the major skills to be developed in this email course).
  • the captain: essentially my decision maker, ideally my wise one. Who would you be if you functioned in the way which really satisfied you, a person with authentic personal power? Potentially that occurs when you have developed your own Captain, that part of yourself able to integrate all parts of this ship into authentic living.

Please note in all this the goal is that of integration of conscious and other-than-conscious (much can be done in 90 days, and it is a life-long task).

Coming next: The Mind — A Pot of Stew.

Why We Ignore Climate Change, Part 1

distrust02I’m going to spend the next few posts examining a précis I did of George Marshall’s book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change (2014)[1]. Marshall has been a major figure in the international environmental movement, and his book seeks to answer the question of “why, when the evidence is so strong, and so many agree that this is our greatest problem, are we doing so little about climate change?[2]

I encountered his book last year when I was attempting to come to my own answers about this question, and I was surprised by some of the research that he himself encountered. Unfortunately, amongst other sources, the book has only added to my sense of how deeply we are stuck as a society.

However, if we do not find a way through the morass of global warming, the outcome is less than desirable. Hence, I believe it important to disseminate his findings.

I do it also because The Climate Mobilization group to which I belong is developing a process called Crisis Reading groups, providing reading to explore the morass. Although this book is likely too long for this process, a précis of the book might be useful to them.

There are 42 short chapters in Marshall’s book; here in this blog I intend to cover 8-10 chapters per posting, and hence there are likely to be six or so posts on this topic. As format, I shall first list the notes I kept on a given chapter, and then follow each note with reflection as to what I believe to be its importance.

So . . .

Chapter 1. Questions. How is it possible, when presented with overwhelming evidence, that we deliberately choose to ignore something while being entirely aware that this is what we are doing?

As a culture, we both demonstrate awareness of the problem, and ignore the necessary action. In spite of all the rhetoric and disinformation, I continue to believe that the evidence is overwhelming, and that the major problem is the complex nature of our acedia. But understanding is the booby prize. We are currently on a tightrope between disaster and response; I wonder when we will overcome the massive difficulties of response, as well as what environmental disaster will be needed to initiate this mobilization.

Chapter 2. We’ll deal with that lofty stuff some other day. Why disaster victims do not want to talk about climate change. Following the survival of threat, people choose to emphasize the positive, and minimize the negative.

Obviously a survival mechanism, and an useful one for acute issues. The fact that “we survived,” then means that we can feel good about our resilience and the likelihood that we can deal with the next issue. However, it makes it difficult to recognize that there is an underlying chronic problem — a narrative of recovery is more hopeful than impending doom.

Chapter 3. Speaking as a layman. Why we think that extreme weather shows we were right all along. We interpret events in the light of our prior assumptions and prejudices (confirmation bias). We fail to recognize that weather (short-term experience) is different from climate (long-term pattern). Because we are familiar with weather, we tend to interpret climate in a manner that confirms the current weather. For example, cold weather means cold climate; however, periods of cold weather are simply part of the instability of global warming.

Familiarity confuses us! The convincer for people is their own interpretation, confirmed by discussion with the group they trust. It is so difficult to create change because the need is to change the pattern of trust, not the kind or amount of information.

Chapter 4. You never get to see the whole picture. How the Tea Party fails to notice the greatest threat to its values. For many Republicans, the nature of climate change fits perfectly into a set of pre-existing ideological grievances about the distribution of power. They are outsiders driven by their values, defending their rights, and deeply distrustful of government and corporations.

They too want change! Marshall maintains that Republicans, even those as entrenched [my intentional wording] as members of the Tea Party, are seeking the same thing as staunch environmentalists [who, of course, are not entrenched] — they want good information in an age of information overload. Personally, despite having six university degrees, all of them in some kind of science, I do not trust modern science — for me, it is so entrenched in scientific materialism.

Chapter 5. Polluting the message. How science becomes infected with social meaning. Attitudes on climate change have become a social clue as to which group the individual belongs. [NB: the TIC model.]

Science, as imperfect as it is, is not a social issue — it is one of our best attempts at truth. I’ve previously written about Whom Do You Trust, and the TIC Process whereby people are entrenched in their own trust issues. One of the ways, then, of dealing with information overload is to use social cues to group (and assess) information, thus creating a bias of data based on the group presenting the data. Again, trust is the basic issue.

To be continued.

[1] Marshall, G. (2014). Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

[2] Marshall, G. http://climatedenial.org, accessed 20170121.