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In his commentary on the PBS News Hour last night, New York Times columnist David Brooks made a compelling observation about the state of our national nervous system. The topic was the increasingly bitter and rancorous political divide that’s finding expression in conspiracy theories and a growing sense of threat and menace from β€œthe other side.” People, he said, are scared socially and economically.

β€œThe problem with all the paranoia and the conspiracy theories is that you can’t talk people of out it. The psychological research is super clear on this: if you try to fact-check people out of their incorrect β€˜facts’ you only entrench them in their beliefs. You can’t talk people out of an emotional state.” One possible way forward, he said, is for people in what he termed the β€œexpert class,” who tend to live in metropolitan areas, to have more contact with those who live in rural areas. There’s something disturbingly stereotypical about his comment, but it also contains an accuracy that echoes in my experience. There’s nothing like contact to dismantle a barrier.

Later last night I attended a virtual concert by a friend, Peter Mayer. He ended by saying: β€œI close all our concerts with this request: This week, do something good and kind and loving for someone you can’t stand. It’s the only way we’re going to make progress and find healing.”

I think the intersection of David’s and Peter’s comments is profoundly true. And burdensome. And frightening. And life-giving. You don’t need a keen eye for detail to notice that the desire for dialogue isn’t universal. The wounds from this last election are too fresh. So if there’s a path ahead it’s going to be blazed by those of us who are willing to venture out and risk.

That’s why I’m grateful for this group of like-hearted people who are committed to weaving a better and stronger fabric of life together. I’m convinced there are brighter days ahead. As we create them, it’s reassuring to know kindred souls are in my corner. I’m happy to be in yours.

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Exactly. Where we find those "experts" might be deceiving. I also can think of a way to get the commingling going. The truth is, this idea of what to do - it isn't new - it just isn't ubiquitous enough yet to have the impact needed.
There is one international level sub culture that's kinda got going on what's needed. Funny thing, a new thought minister type attempted to generate something of this kind of ubiquitous co-mingling back in the 1930's. The closest he got was not at all what he imagined, but it certainly did take root and holds many of the principles of his idea and what's needed - Alcoholics Anonymous.
Anyone know the name of the man I am talking about? Ernest Holmes. We don't associate him with the program because he pulled away when the other founders veered toward a society for those addicted to alcohol. He also had some issues with some of the details. What he did understand, which is what I think Roger can align with, is you can't make someone change - so the program was built on the philosophy of choice and attraction, versus promotion.
Ernest Holmes idea was influenced by the flurry of research and insights being generated by the intellectuals who fled and/or endured the likes of Stalin and Hitler and all that horror and came together to establish the field of social psychology. He also was a huge fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson and like Emerson took issue with the way greed corrupted the good intentions of religion, so he was aiming at fanning a non denominational deconstructed fellowship movement that was small group and experiential. He wanted to create something that had no hierarchy. He also believed sermons were not the best tool for building one's moral character.
So what if we ignited a peer based, volunteer driven, community & resiliency building movement? We don't want just to bring folks together, we want to create an experience and environment that is safe and also broadens world views and builds critical thinking skills and inclusive leadership behaviors.
There is a professor of psychology and philosophy that introduced a "critical reflection" practice to San Francisco State University back in 1984. I am one of probably 20,000 who participated in this fun and effective peer practice over the decades. It's a structured story telling kinda meditation practice (I kid you not). Using five prompts in small groups (5-10), everyone "weaves" together a reflective story built on getting present and reflecting, objectively observing their own subjective experience by shaping a story about one valuable event within an experience - of service! - from the prior week. It's a hoot! And it works. It's a dialogic process and the way Dr Cochrane figured out how to squelch piggybacking and criticizing is pure genius.The experience, as a result, builds listening and acknowledging and embracing diversity and that open state beyond "agree or disagree"...and also devoid of spewing beliefs about abstract ideas.
It's what's needed now. Just like Roger pointed out, it doesn't work to debate someone who is fixated, prideful and emotional (what Stanford's Dr Dweck describes as the pervasive fixed mindset in our culture). That is not how you create a growth mindset. However, As Dr Kahneman's Nobel winning work, Thinking Fast and Slow, points out - a pride based fixed mindset is a by product of our casual, system 1 thinking. We need a slow thinking movement.
When we are stressed, we can quickly lose access to our capacity to reflect...and some people are stressed pretty much all the time. I don't know how many of you have developed that capacity to be calm in a group and observe and facilitate, but I do know, if you can do, you know it is a skill and something that can be developed.
Jung described the problem of stress after WWI contributing to the rise of Hitler. People were angry, betrayed and had no sense of belonging, lowering their ability to see clearly, thus being susceptible to the con. Then, the con man applies this psychological warfare - a real Sun Tzu, Art of War tactic (remember Trump published Art of the Deal), by being provocative, sensation seeking and throwing everyone off (and if you've ever tried to read Heidegger's Being and Time, on the throwness of 1930's Germany - it's way easier to read right now since we are living through the same experience).
So thank you Roger for seeing that there is a way out of this pickle we are in. We just have to recognize that just because we can't simply point out to someone who is reasoning emotionally and deriving a false sense of belonging by aligning with a psychopath like Trump, that there isn't another way.
There are three components to accomplishment: commitment, competency and systems. Like Einstein pointed out, we have to take on our own throwness and stress to stop doing the same thing over and over again in response to the dangers we see and expect it will eventually work. It never works. It strengthens the problem.
Notice how many people are talking and writing and trying to fix the problem by talking and writing about it. Let's get out of that box. We get stuck in this vicious cycle because we are stressed too, that's all. The good thing is, eventually, we start opening up to wondering if there is another way! At least some of us!
Also, the thing that is needed, well, if it existed, we wouldn't be in this pickle. Like Dr Chang's research on what people do when they have a difficult decision to make, they tend to look around and see what other people are doing.
We (and by we, I mean it in the most universal sense - more than just who is reading this) might not be buying into the predator's con, but we can be vulnerable to the stress. Resiliency building means keeping one's head on in the face of adversity. This is what we can address.
Let's recognize that in many ways we are like POW's imprisoned in this psychological warfare. POW's do resiliency building. So do college students. And San Francisco State? Well, this is one of the most diverse student populations in our higher learning system. A third of these students are first generation - college students and Americans. So of course San Francisco State (whose mission is to build multicultural competency and motto is experience teaches) has invited an education reformer like Dr Cochrane to build community and resilience through a direct learning practice. Of course this is where we are going to find experts and people who are motivated. Let's help them integrate it into the public sphere. How? I can think of so many ways. Now is the time. People are wondering what to do. Also, this idea aligns with so many goals that are important and being supported right now - passing the miic to the marginalized. I wouldn't be surprised to see college students from prestigious campuses supportive and engaging in a practice led by the marginalized leaders in our culture.
This is a win win win proposition too, because critical reflection is a protective factor. This is a healthy coping mechanism. It's a way to address the stresses of physical distancing during the pandemic.
Okay. Look, I have a 30 page meta analysis going on in my head, so let me pull out of my science research and wind down here!
The beauty of Dr Cochrane's program? It's transportable. Its a simple system that builds competency and drives commitment - because it's that much fun. It builds fellowship and socio emotional skills. At San Francisco State, the program was run by undergraduates. Dr Cochrane was like the Wizard of Oz, haha, while this whole diverse society of students ran the program.
Chris Quinn
Thanks Roger for lifting up the work of David Brooks and Peter Mayer.  David has written/commented extensively lately (NY Times, Atlantic, PBS News Hour, etc,) about our divisive cultural dilemma,  His thoughtful observations and suggestions for remedies have been helpful to me, and I appreciate his willingness to challenge us to facilitate the change we desire.
It is also wonderful to connect with a fellow Peter Mayer fan.  I have followed Peter's beautiful creative soul for many years as he has stayed in my home, and performed in the Bieroc Cafe, our community acoustic music listening room.  When we are able to gather again for a live concert, if you get a chance to spend an evening with Peter Mayer l urge everyone to do it.  His musicianship, melodies, and thoughtful poetic lyrics will serve as a healing force for pandemic recovery.  Until then, enjoy him where you can find him online or buy his records.
Dale Dueland
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