Global Resilience Solutions > Category:manipulation

The Power of “Story”: Understanding Society’s Grip on Your Mind

We’ve talked a great deal about belief and the Law of Attraction.  Stories are the medium that the human race uses to transmit beliefs.  Stories are everywhere, not just in books and newspapers, but in laws, popular wisdom, customs and etiquette, music, advertisements, what teachers and mentors and parents told you in childhood- in short, any medium that tells us something about The Way Things Are.  These stories about the world shape our beliefs, which in turn shape our lives.

In a macroscopic sense, stories are society’s reproductive mechanism- they allow us to create our children in our own image, just as our parents’ generation did with us.  Stories are society’s genetic material.  Nations, conflicts, wars, socioeconomic structures, all are sustained on the power of stories to inculcate beliefs.

 

A Look at Our Stories

 

Many of these stories encapsulate the lessons society has learned over the years.  Unfortunately, not all of the stories have positive effects on us and our belief structures.

Sometimes, there’s a specific agenda behind that belief.  John Taylor Gatto, award-winning former New York State public school teacher, has spent years researching and documenting the beliefs that public education was designed to foster in children.  As we’ve previously written, the avowed goal behind many innovations that are now part and parcel of public education worldwide was to create students who think in similar ways, believe similar things and would generally make tractable additions to the workforce.

 

Let’s have a look at the stories that we gravitate towards for entertainment.  On television and in literature, the current wave in storytelling is quite interesting.  We’ve been acclimatised to think of darker, grittier, more depressing material as “realistic.”  Cop shows, Dramas, Sci-Fi, Fantasy- genre after genre has begun to tell us that “real” means a world where all heroes fall, where people serve their own interests above any higher good, where no one’s hands are clean, where all successful people are unscrupulous, where everyone is bitter and unable to maintain stable human relationships of any kind.  In short, the stories that permeate our culture at the moment show us exactly the opposite of what most of us want to manifest in our lives- and sell it to us as reality.  Now there’s a healthy belief for you!

I’m not saying that fiction shouldn’t encompass the struggles of human life- it absolutely should.  But to be both honest and useful to us, the way to overcome those struggles should be included (by both positive and negative example).  The trouble is, that’s exactly the kind of narrative we seem intent on discarding.

 

Weak Stories

 

In Power vs. Force, Dr. David Hawkins describes the effect of trying to fight or use force against something.  He uses the “War on Drugs” as a prime example.  Trying to fight a phenomenon rather than build up its opposite is the surest way to strengthen it.  A similar effect can be observed in every situation where we’ve been told a conflict-based story.


The world of work and employment is a prime example.  We are told that we are in conflict and competition with other job-seekers, with other candidates for promotion.  We are at the mercy of our employers.  Our success is based on how hard we work and how much crap we will accept- so says the prevalent narrative of our society.  We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, toiling in jobs we don’t care about until we retire (or, more likely with the financial crisis, until we die).

The problem is, none of this has anything to do with how success really works.  Successful people follow their talent and their passion, knowing that they have something to offer- and they succeed, even if only after much trial and error- that is, after eliminating whatever was blocking them from achieving their goal.  (Search “Famous Failures” on Youtube to see some great examples- two of them became American presidents and one invented the light bulb.)

You don’t have to subscribe to all of Hawkins’ theories (and I for one think there are some problems with his methodology) to understand that the low-vibrational energy of conflict-based narratives and beliefs will always be less successful than the higher-vibrational energy of emphasizing the positive.  The same thing applies to the fear narratives that are so prevalent today- whether it’s killer diseases or terrorism, something, it seems, is always out to get you (of course, the fact that you’re still here reading this might be an indication that the threat is just a little overrated!).

 

Vetting These Stories

 

One of the most powerful tools for personal resilience you can master is simply to notice these stories and the beliefs they generate.  I once had a teacher who taught her class to do this with advertising- I have never once to my recollection purchased anything in all the years since simply because it was advertised.  You can start to look at your reality in more objective terms by standing outside the flow of the stories and examining them.  Observe the mentality of the time, the flow of fashion, the changes in thinking, the surge of popular enthusiasm, rather than being caught up in them, and understand that they will pass.  It is much more difficult than you might think.

Once you’ve started to notice, there are a number of tools you can use to vet the stories that underlie your own mental programming.  They should be fairly familiar to you:

 

  1. The Ws: Who told the story?  Why did they tell the story?  What beliefs did the story generate?  Where have these beliefs led those who hold them?  When did this story start?
  2. What is the emotional level of the belief?  How does it make you feel?  Is it confrontational and conflict-based?  Does it ask you to fear something in a way that is disproportionate to the danger?  How does it cause you to act toward others or when approaching a particular task?
  3. How does the belief square with your core principles?  Does it help you of hinder you in manifesting these principles in your life?
  4. What other stories have been told on this subject in other times and places?  What were their effects?

 

The most important and indispensable tool, of course, is a genuinely open mind.

 

What do we mean by an open mind?

 

An open thinks, “I know, at most, parts of the truth.  The totality of truth and knowledge is too big for my mind to grasp.  Therefore I will accept what seems to work and seems to be good for me, regardless of theoretical and ideological infighting, until I find something better, and I will also assume that I may be partly wrong.”  This approach does not deny the existence of bedrock principles and beliefs- it merely acknowledges that they are greater than the mind that is thinking about them.  Ideology, like relativism, is the enemy of truth.

 

Application

 

By noticing the connections between the stories you absorb throughout your life, the beliefs they encourage (or discourage) and the effects of those beliefs in your own life, you gain not only a tool for changing your own belief structure in order to improve your own life, but an inner barometer for all stories.  By their fruits you will know them, as the Gospel of St. Matthew says.  If the fruit of the story, the beliefs that it feeds, have a positive impact upon you and your life, keep it around.  If not, you need to start asking questions of that story.

 

 ~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Recognizing the FEAR Dynamic

How many things are you afraid of? How many times have politicians, officials, corporations told you to be afraid of something? How much of the media coverage you see or listen to reinforces those fears? All leadership and all marketing begins with a narrative, a story that impacts people and gets them to mentally organize the world in a way that is helpful to the leadership or product campaign.

Fear is the classic fallback narrative for most defective leaders and marketers throughout history, from dictators to insurance salesmen- and we’re swimming in it. One of the most helpful things you can do for your own personal resilience is to learn to step back and identify the narrative of fear before you internalize it.

There is such a thing as rational prudence – the public awareness campaigns about sanitation at the turn of the twentieth century leap to mind – but too little of modern fear-mongering has such a rational foundation. The campaign to market flu vaccines strives to persuade us that getting inoculated each year against one possible strain of flu that may come around is a better use of our money than doing what it takes to develop strong immune systems in the first place. Pharmaceutical companies advertise through fear – specifically, the fear of symptoms – to encourage us to treat our illnesses like a game of whack-a-mole, hitting each new symptom with another drug as it appears. Cosmetics companies teach us to fear social shame and disguise our physical imperfections with more products.

Terrorism is less deadly in the developed world than car accidents, aviation accidents, smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, ordinary crime or any of the leading diseases, and yet for the past decade it has been the supreme focus of public anxiety. It has been used to tighten surveillance, to increase the paramilitary component of the police, to circumvent ethical and legal prohibitions, to invade countries and to sustain the most costly wars since World War II. Imagine putting that kind of effort into any of the other leading causes of death, here or in the developing world. We didn’t do this…. not because we are in more danger from terrorism than any of these other factors, but because we can be made to feel more vulnerable – not only are the images more striking, but we weren’t yet desensitized to it.

Fear has the property of bypassing reason and provoking action – after all, the fight-or-flight response exists for situations in which there is no time to think. For that reason, it is an effective call to action. But in the long run, it impairs our judgement. It floods our bodies with adrenaline on a regular basis, and our energy focuses on survival rather than personal fulfillment. Everything I’ve written before about “survival mode” applies here. It is to the advantage especially of mediocre leaders and corporations to have a population locked into survival mode, because it means that every issue will be examined through the lens of fear.

Capable leaders, on the other hand, promote narratives of hope, courage and personal and community fulfillment. Listen to any speech by Churchill or Roosevelt in World War II – they’re all about courage and hope. Hope and courage are always more powerful than fear, both on a vibrational level and in terms of what they can achieve when used effectively – the 2008 US presidential election was a vivid illustration. But there’s a catch. Hope makes a claim. It needs to back it up. I am not aware of any pharmaceutical cold medicine ad that has ever promised to cure a cold. Why? Well, they can’t. All they have to trade on is fear of the symptoms. If you provide hope, you have to make something happen. If you trade on fear, you don’t even have to make something not happen – you just have to be able to claim that it happened less than it otherwise would have. And if the fear is of the imponderable or intangible kind, so much the better.

So what can we, as consumers and citizens, do about this? Well, in previous posts, I’ve talked about learning to manage your own thought patterns to improve your emotional and spiritual freedom. It’s exactly the same here. If you can see how they’re trying to sell you, you can go back to the first principles of resilience and ask, “Is this emotion good for me? Is it necessary? Where is it leading? Can it back up its claims? How do these claims stack up in the broader perspective? Are these facts correct? What are some other facts that are being ignored?” Whether or not you ultimately accept the message, the moment you ask those questions, you go from being a participant in a kind of crowd psychology to an independent agent.

The attached video is from a British political comedy called Yes Minister, which I heartily recommend to anyone interested in understanding how government really works (or doesn’t). In this clip, the minister is being sold on something through the logic of fear. Note the pattern – if we try to fix one wrong thing, we’ll open a can of worms, jobs will be lost, the government will fall, and then where will we be?

Fear is an implacable master. If you let it run your life, the life you’ll create will not be to your liking, and that I can guarantee. So resolve now that you’ll take at least the first steps to liberating yourself from this cruel enslavement. No one can do it for you – you and only you need to make a decision.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Intellectual Resilience: Why Today’s Graduates are Less Educated, Literate and Sophisticated than their Great Grandparents

We often hear that educational standards are slipping, but news media coverage often gives the impression that the problem lies with inadequate testing requirements or sloppy teaching.  The unfortunate truth is that it isn’t anything so simple; rather, it is the symptom of a vast cultural shift in teaching, intended to produce a more standardized and homogenous citizen.  In other words, the education system is designed to stop us from learning, and thinking, on our own.

John Taylor Gatto, three-time New York State Teacher of the Year, has researched the history and development of illiteracy in America, and his findings are astonishing.  In the 19th Century, the United States was probably the most literate country in the world.  Works of literature sold like hotcakes, newspapers sprung up by the hundreds, and even in the absence of a public school system, literacy was seen as the way up in society.  Even those who hadn’t been educated would still make the effort to learn to read.  Education, in short, was based on wide reading, and discussion and interpretation of that reading, and so the level of cultural discourse even in popular media was quite high.

With public education came school textbooks, and textbooks, Gatto maintains, are not designed to make children think, but to make them think in the ways that the publisher and educational authorities approve of.  The texts are doctored and carefully selected, the questions at the end of the chapter all have set answers.  The same applies to standardized tests, and teaching students how to take these tests (usually involving injunctions to avoid critical thinking or any deviation from the norm) has come to take up an ever-larger proportion of classroom time.

“Old-fashioned” classical education was structured as an exercise in thinking.  Colleges required their students to learn philosophy and history to fill out their knowledge, and taught rhetoric so that the students could articulate their insights.  Learning was based on the reading of great books.

The “scientific” approaches that replaced classical education eliminated philosophy and history and rhetoric from the average curriculum, and later, the classical method of teaching English.  Students were the subjects of scientific study for the production of tractable citizens.  This philosophy of education was laid out by University of Wisconsin sociologist Edward A. Ross as far back as 1901 in his book called, not coincidentally, Social Control.

The reason, according to Gatto, is simple:

“If you think about it, schooled people, like schoolbooks, are much alike. Some folks find that desirable for economic reasons. The discipline organizing our economy and our politics derives from mathematical and interpretive exercises, the accuracy of which depends upon customers being much alike… People who read too many books get quirky. We can’t have too much eccentricity or it would bankrupt us. Market research depends on people behaving as if they were alike. It doesn’t really matter whether they are or not.”

As H.H. Goddard, architect of standardized testing, put it in 1920, the purpose of schooling is “the perfect organization of the hive.”  He advocated standardized tests explicitly as a means for the lower classes to confirm their own inferiority.

The United States Army tests its inductees for literacy.  A soldier must be able to read maps and signs and instruction manuals, at about a fourth grade reading level.  These tests, because of their practical focus, change less than standardized tests.  In World War II, 17.28 million of the 18 million men conscripted passed the test, a 96 percent literacy rate.  By the time of the Korean War, literacy in the draft pool had dropped to 81 percent.  By the end of the Vietnam War, it had dropped to 73 percent.  This is perhaps the clearest evidence that something was going terribly wrong.  Back in the 19th Century, data from numerous states suggests that functional literacy was usually above 90 percent.

The decline of sophistication in popular cultural production parallels the decline of reading: 19th Century “popular” literature is something only the literate elite of today dare to tackle.  As Gatto wrote about Last of the Mohicans (1826), such books were “a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays.”

The decline in the level of popular culture has inevitably led to the decline in sophistication of political discourse.  When former French president Mitterand passed away, the incumbent President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, appeared on national television to announce the death of his predecessor.  Chirac’s ten minute discourse and tribute to his former political opponent was of such intellectual sophistication and nuance that no public figure in contemporary North America would dare to replicate it.  Sadly, almost none of our own politicians have anything like the education or cultural sophistication to do so even if they wanted to.  Most remarkable, though, is that the French public and the broader European public still expects their leaders to be people of demonstrable intelligence, whereas on this side of the pond, even an obvious village idiot can find himself in the White House.

The public acceptance of an educational system that dumbs people down leads inevitably to the public acceptance of mediocre and agenda-driven leaders of low personal integrity who make disastrous decisions and yet are barely even reprimanded for it.  In other words, the lower the educational level sinks – and with it, the levels of popular culture and political discourse – the more easily manipulated the society as a whole becomes.

As you think about your children’s education, or even your own, be conscious that this is not a system that is trying to make you smarter.  It is trying to make you tractable, measurable, sortable, and most of all, uncritical and ignorant – in other words, easily manipulated.  The good news is that the solution is available at your local library, and you won’t have to write a test afterward.

If you want your children to become genuinely resilient people or you wish to become such a person yourself, then start with your own level of education.  Start reading more, especially non-fiction.  Read widely in fields such as personal development, health and wellness, history, political affairs and current events, finance and economics, theology and spirituality, etc.  The more you know and the more you carefully analyze and think through what you’ve learned, the less easily manipulated you will be.

And when you DO tune in to the popular culture in 2013, whether it be television, radio, newspapers or online, be aware of the various corporate, political, religious and ideological agendas that are being systematically pushed on you.  Education, literacy, cultural sophistication and awareness are a KEY ELEMENT of your personal resilience, so make the decision now that you’ll use 2013 to cultivate yours.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Liberation from the "Shame, Blame and Guilt Game"

Few psychological conditions in life are as debilitating as what I call the “shame, blame, guilt game”.  As you’ll see below and as you may have experienced in your own life, the emotion of guilt can lead to chronic anxiety, mental anguish, depression and worse.
Yet many cultures live on a steady diet of shame and guilt.  Sometimes these are religious cultures, sometimes just individual family cultures.  Whatever the case, though, if you’ve been a victim of this kind of psychological manipulation – and all chronic guilt-tripping is a manipulation designed to gain and maintain control over you – then you need to know how to free yourself from it.
On the other hand, guilt can also be the inability to forgive yourself for something you’ve done or failed to do.  That’s when you feel like one of the characters in this amazing video…

Religious Guilt Culture
The epitome of neurotic guilt culture in the West has certainly been the Roman Catholic Church.  Here are just a couple of abridged accounts from emotionally abused “recovering Catholics”:
1. From a young woman:
“I experienced this guilt most intensely during high school. Every morning I would wake up with the most painful guilt. In my mind, I would walk back through the day before trying to remember what I had done wrong, but I could never come up with anything. Then I would get in the shower and say the our fathers, hail mary’s and glory be’s until the pain had passed. At the time I had no idea why I felt so much pain and guilt.
“I’ve been trying to understand better how the Church operates psychologically. It most certainly makes claims to Truth where questioning Truth is coded as sin / evil.  And the weekly embodied ritual seems to embed Catholic doctrine into people’s psyche in a way that people can’t explain. The mass also provides an embodied ritual which is meant to both teach people that they are sinned while at the same time relieve people of this sin.  It is this aspect of the mass that creates a kind of addiction – I’ve heard some people state that they just have to be Catholic and receive the body of Christ each week – but they can’t explain why. It seems that it is this imparting and relief of guilt and sin that people feel they have to get through the mass each week.”
2. From a young man:
“I consistently beat myself up, and put myself to shame, and live with debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety.  Not because of anything I’ve done, but because I have thoughts and feelings…  natural thoughts and feelings that the Catholic church of my upbringing would have called ‘sinful’. 
“I was raised Catholic of course, and I went to 12 years of Catholic school, during the 70’s and 80’s.  I believe that much of what we were taught to believe can only be described as insane and medieval.
“Let me just say that the Catholic Church has done many wonderful things, in ways of charity and meeting the physical needs of people.  Things like creating hospitals, homeless shelters, food-shelf’s, etc.  But when it comes to meeting the emotional and psychological needs of people, the church has done tremendous damage and abuse to the psyches of millions (billions?)of people.
“And I was taught that to even think lustful thoughts was the same as doing the act.  I was a teenage boy, coursing with hormones and natural impulses on a regular basis.  I’ve read that research shows that young males have sexual thoughts and impulses roughly every 30 seconds or so, and I was certainly no exception.   At 15, all it takes is for an attractive girl to walk by, the hormones jack up a bit and boom, mortal sin, eternal damnation, the fires of hell… it’s all there.  To be able to feel that I was safe from the fires of hell would mean that I would need my own priest following me around so that I could make constant confessions.    Not having this accommodation, I concluded that I was doomed… that my soul was destined for hell.  Unless I could somehow shut off all of those impulses and feelings, and feel nothing!!!  So, I became a robot. 
“The only logical way to save myself from eternally being on Satan’s This is the definition of spiritual death and being un-human.   And an ironclad recipe for chronic depression, anxiety, self-loathing, self-abuse and self-punishment.  In short, not much less painful than Hell.
And to top it off, we were taught that to suffer here on earth, was a GOOD thing, something to be STRIVED for.  We were to be martyrs, living in self-induced pain and suffering.”
You’ll Be Shocked to Learn Where This Came From…
The origin of Catholicism’s rampant guilt culture is not Christianity itself and proof of that is the general absence of the neurotic guilt complex in the history of the Eastern Christian tradition (a lot of my own pastoral work as an Orthodox priest has been cleaning up the emotional messes left by the rampant guilt culture).
The guilt culture has theological roots that stem directly from Augustine’s teachings on “original sin” back in the fifth century.  Basically, he taught that all human beings have in some mystical way participated in the sin of Adam and Eve, and are therefore automatically “guilty” from birth on.  In other words, guilt is a condition you inherit!
Where did he get this absurd notion?  Amusingly enough, from an error in biblical translation!  You see, Augustine didn’t know Greek and had to depend on St. Jerome’s translation of the New Testament into Latin.  Just one problem…
Jerome made a minor error when he translated Romans 5, verse 12.  By translating a single conjunction as “in whom” instead of “because of which”, he accidentally provided Augustine with the basis of a wrong theology that has screwed up the lives of countless millions of people ever since. 
That’s why the original Christian tradition regards the whole notion of original sin / inherited guilt as lunacy.  You can’t be held responsible for something you didn’t do (seems pretty obvious, right?).  And, of course, Augustine’s theory requires a judgmental God who condemns your failures, as opposed to the God of direct mystical experience who, as the original tradition says, “only bestows blessings and never does harm”.

Remember, though, that an individual family culture can also be based on chronic guilt-tripping and other forms of dysfunctional manipulation that may or may not have a religious basis.  Whether religiously motivated or not, your task is to find your way out of that culture and undo the damage to yourself.  So how do you do that?  This way… 

Freeing Yourself from the Shame, Blame, Guilt Game
If you’ve been a victim of this form of crass psychological manipulation and realize you need to break free, there’s a simple 3-step process to follow.  It may still take some time and effort, but the steps will certainly help you get there:
1)    Recognize it!  Take stock of the full extent to which it has impacted your life.
2)    Treat it!  The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is certainly one excellent tool you should always have with you.  There are also support groups available, and you may derive some value from talking to a therapist or counselor.  Be sure to find the help you need!
3)    Resolve Not to Play!  Identify those people in your life that use this guilt against you and take steps to terminate or minimize contact.  If you can’t avoid them entirely, learn to recognize their behavior and call them on it.
We are all “guilty” of many things, for sure – that’s part of the human condition.  However, we’ll never get anywhere unless we free ourselves from the chains of guilt that bind us emotionally.
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger



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