The trouble with the 1%

There are lots of wealthy people who are being negatively impacted by the consolidation of wealth and the evisceration of the middle class around the globe. Their enterprises serve the citizens much like the democracies governing their countries should.  When their customers (a.k.a. stakeholders) are under or unemployed, nobody wins. Likewise for insufficient education, health care and social services among their constituencies.

Thus I define the 1%, targeted by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, as not merely the most wealthy, but as the most immune to the negative effects of their increasing wealth. If I interviewed them, I would expect to find they have no concept of a middle class, only of "rich and poor" or "winners and losers". They would have no framework for getting the message from the protesters others than "a bunch of sore losers" or "whiners getting the liberal media's attention". I expect they would be extremely focused on making money with money, preventing losses through taxation and revising regulations to increase their wealth. They would assume it's fair game to buy lobbyists and politicians who will help solve problematic losses of wealth spawned by the government protecting the citizens, commonwealth and public interest. They cannot comprehend having negative impacts on the democracy when everyone continues to be entitled to vote.

If the 1% entered into therapy in order to become essential members of a 100%, they would likely learn much about themselves:

  1. Their range of emotional responses is poised toward thrill seeking in material pursuits and coldness in relationships
  2. They lack empathy for others and cannot comprehend other's pain, setbacks and lack of access as opportunities to help out
  3. Their autobiographical narrative is boring and lacking in rich details, hindsights and characterizations of growth
  4. They do not adapt easily or respond flexibly to challenges to their status quo which serves them as fortified comfort zones
  5. They have no interests which could provide alternatives to making more money, only in creating more proof of material success 
  6. Their "left brains" are functioning autonomously, productively and prodigiously
  7. Their "right brains" have been taken offline, rather than being integrated with their left brains and observed by their prefrontal cortexes
  8. They react to challenges by taking them very literally, showing no ability to utilize metaphors or reframe facts with varied viewpoints
  9. They have not begun to fall in love with meaning, having gotten stuck in being extremely objective and factual
  10. They chose careers in banking, finance, law, math, statistics or corporate leadership because those their shortcomings would go unnoticed in those fields

All this suggests to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement is falling on the deaf ears of the 1% and the politicians whom have been bought by campaign contributions and/or lobbyists baiting their collusion. The protesters are "preaching to the choir" who already get the message and validate the objections to current trends. The stalemate will persist until their right brains function equally well and eliminate all ten items on this list.


Falling in love with meaning

When we fall in love with meaning, we become like little kids again. We become curious again. Life seems more mysterious and fascinating to us. We want to know "why?" for every facet of our lives:

  • Why do you like me and why not some others whom I like?
  • Why did that happen to me and not something else?
  • Why did I react that way and not in a better way?
  • Why was I into that interest then and into this interest now?
  • Why am I still doing this and not changing my routine?
  • Why do my family members do what they do and not follow my example?
  • Why do I continue to have that same old hangup and not outgrow it?

The world of meaning is highly subjective. We've left the world of "just the facts ma'am" where evidence must be taken objectively. We use many different lenses to look at the same thing. We come up with different interpretations, diagnoses or stories for the same situation.  As we settle into this love affair, we can allow others to put their own spin on things as well. Everyone appears to selectively perceive and uniquely attribute meaning to their experiences. It sometimes seems we're off in our own little worlds. We're weaving our own tales of who we are, what happened to us and what's expected to happen next. While we're in love with meaning, there's so much to learn from others ways of tripping on everything differently than we do.

Meaning seems much more fluid and flexible than labels and definitions. We realize we can change the story of our lives to seem intrinsically satisfying to ourselves. We get grounded in our own meaning and detach from others' framing us to serve their own interests. Our life story becomes more coherent, sensible to us and capable of giving us a larger purpose. We add richness to our personal narrative which gives us back the feeling of our peak experiences and turning points.

The world of meaning lets us be far more creative. We begin to see "familiar things in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar things in familiar ways". We can gain new insights by applying metaphors to things that seemed obvious before. We can play with what-if questions and imaginary scenarios to explore new possibilities. We can discern unfolding processes which invite us to play along and work with them. We can change the definition of the problem before we start trying to solve it. We can handle more complex appreciations of systems and cycles that overwhelmed us when we were exclusively objective.

All this adds up to a life of much deeper satisfaction. Thing happen for reasons that nurture our growth and challenge our preconceptions. Events seem more symbolic and dreamlike. Within the wagon wheel metaphor, we've moved closer to the hub along many different spokes. We've become detached from spinning on the outer rim. We're no longer entangled in the drama with no choices for how to take what happens. We wonder with fascination and choose a way to see it that works for us. We're in love with the meaning of life.


Clean up your act

If you've been told to clean up your act, good luck with that. You may have tried repeatedly and discovered you cannot clean up your act in ways that last for more than a day or two.  That's not a copout or an indication that you're not trying hard enough. There is no solution at the level of how you're acting.

People, who tell you to clean up your act, need to clean up their own acts. They're assuming the ways you're acting can be cleaned by trying. They are showing signs of matching luggage with you. They may be assuming they don't need to change, only you do. They may be projecting on to you what they find offensive in themselves. It's easier to find fault in others than to find what's bugging us deep down inside. They've opted for what's easy by taking cheap shots at you. There may be some truth in putting you down, but no exemplary conduct by them about taking responsibility, looking within or solving their own problems at the proper level.

We cannot clean up our acts because the ways we are acting are fallout from the two-sided condition of our minds. We're torn up about lots of things and not capable of getting it together. The solution integrates the opposing sides. That usually seems unattainable or a very long ways off. It's far from obvious how to change our minds in ways that better behavior falls out naturally. The kinds of thinking we're doing preclude seeing how to change our minds.

For starters, here's some ways to visualize our minds when they are divided against themselves. We may be:

  • full of pride, conceit, hot air, arrogance or over-confidence
  • fixated on cause-effect, linear explanations while deny the cycle we're in or the ways we're feeding the chronic problem
  • finding fault with others as if they bear no relation to what we'll find inside ourselves or where we're coming from 
  • oscillating between two extremes which continually overcompensate for having gone to the opposite pole of the dichotomy 

There's something missing when our minds function like this. Dr. Dan Siegel offers many possibilities from cognitive neuroscience in his book: Mindsight:

  • the prefrontal cortex may be under-developed for detaching and observing the flux of thoughts and emotions
  • the body may flood the mind with panic reactions when touched in ways that evoke painful incidents
  • the left brain and hippocampus may have been precluded from forming an episodic memory of a traumatic incident
  • the right brain may be impaired by an adaptation to significant others' coldness, indifference, intolerance or perfectionism
  • the left brain may address relationship problems with pure logic and rationality
  • the right brain may cling to unresolved dependency, power and respect issues
  • the brain stem and amygdala may overtake the left brain when hyper vigilant about hidden dangers

Fortunately our brains demonstrate amazing plasticity. They form new connections and integrate what's missing as long as there is blood flowing in our craniums. By using our brains differently, we change our minds. Our acts get cleaned up in the process. We've found the level below how we're acting where lasting changes can be made.


Wagon wheel metaphor revisited

In finished reading a wonderful book last week: mindsight - The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. This book confirms everything I've previously written about emotional baggage while taking it all up a level. I've got much to share with you as I distill Dr. Dan Siegel's insights in the coming weeks.

He uses the wagon wheel metaphor differently than the way I explored it a few months ago. He got me thinking in some different ways about this familiar idea - which I love to do! He considers the hub of the wheel a place we can get to in our minds by witnessing the stream of passing thoughts and emotions. For him, the hub is synonymous with mindfulness practices. There's no place in his use of the wheel to imagine the compassionate state of mind his patients realize after years of observing their passing thoughts and emotions.

My familiar use of the wagon wheel metaphor regards the movement on the wheel as a lifetime journey. The place in our minds for witnessing the passing stream of thoughts and emotions is on any spoke perpendicular to the rim of the wheel. We get off the rim of continual motion to observe the movement from a place of stillness. When we're on a spoke of the wagon wheel, we are unaware of how the rim forms a complete circle. We are witnessing one experience, encounter or condition in our lives. There's no obvious connection to other facets of what we're dealing with now. For example, we assume:

  • the way we relate to our significant other is separate from how we related to our primary caregivers
  • the job and career path we chose is disconnected from how we've been seen and treated in our childhoods
  • our experience of conflicts with others nowadays is unrelated to our history of painful and traumatic episodes
  • the issues we have with our siblings, offspring and neighbors has nothing to do with how we adapted to our shortcomings

In my view of the wagon wheel, we come to see this dismissed connections as we move along each spoke. We get on separate spokes whenever we detach from being upset, entangled or captivated by the drama on the rim. There's a predictable process for advancing along each spoke which eventually converges at the hub in the center. Along the way, we realize each segment is part of one big wheel. We feel centered when we see things that way, rather than frightened or overwhelmed by the possibility. To get to that outlook, we first explore the opposite of our positional stance on the captivating rim.  We face our alter ego and the flip side of every idealized trait we cling to with pride, fear and guilt. Here's some examples of that "shadow work" that gets into our personal dark side:

  • I used to think I was an impeccably honest person until I faced how many lies I tell unconsciously and how often I deceive others to avoid confrontations or hurt feelings
  • I assumed I was a good person that did good all the time until I dealt with how much turned out badly or exposed me as a selfish, manipulative or inconsiderate individual
  • I claimed I knew the right answer all the time which meant others we're consistently wrong or stupid until I saw how wrong it was to see the difference between right and wrong that way
  • I presented myself as unfortunate anytime others had more power than me until I realized how fortunate I've been in those situations from a different perspective

These kinds of realizations advance us on each spoke of the wheel. As we move toward the hub, we then "fall in love with meaning" and rewrite our personal autobiography with a new point of view. We tell our own story in ways that feels free of others' expectations, narrations and deletions. We cultivate a deep sense of self respect which lets others live their lives as they see fit. We close to the hub in the counter of the wheel when we find this freedom in our minds.


Who are the 99%?

With the increasing number of cities experiencing occupations (#ows), I've been pondering who are the 99% that perceive a 1% unlike themselves. Here's how that 99%/1% split makes sense to me so far.

How many are feeling the effects of foreclosures occurring in their neighborhoods, housing markets, school districts and public spaces? 99%?
How many are driven to insist on foreclosures in lieu of mortgage refinancing or rent-to-own interventions, as if there is no pain to be felt? 1%?

How many medical professionals and insured patients are impacted by the millions of uninsured/underinsured along with the soaring costs of health care services? 99%
How many have no choice but to raise prices, decline coverage and allow health care to deteriorate while profitability gets protected? 1%?

How many parents, siblings, friends and employers are feeling the pain of recent graduates with staggering college loans and little or no income to pay them off. 99%?
How many see the benefits of raising the cost of tuition, textbooks, campus services and college loans to better save their financial interests? 1%?

How many retirees, and those nearing retirement, are feeling betrayed, abandoned and jeopardized by the enduring decline in their investments or pensions? 99%?
How many are profiting from Wall Street's comeback and are feeling no pain from staggering losses? 1%?

How many public employees who keep us safe and educated are seeing cutbacks, furloughs and layoffs which leave us in danger of increased crime, fires and ignorance? 99%?
How many want to privatize all public services to prevent freeloaders from getting something for nothing? 1%?

How many see the massive military expenditures as weakening the country, depleting its infrastructure and hijacking the democracy? 99%?
How many want increased military spending to strengthen our defenses and avoid any sign of weakness on in the international stage? 1%?

How many of the disadvantaged, disabled and displaced are traumatized by the disappearing safety net and support services? 99%
How many are cutting those services, regardless of the human toll, in order to reduce taxes which amount to theft of earned income? 1%?

How many think the political/economic system has become rigged in favor of profitability and polarization? 99%?
How many think the system fairly benefits those who work hard enough to win and lets the losers suffer the consequences of their laziness? 1%?

How many think the democracy has been hijacked by lobbyists and campaign funding sources which override the voice of the citizens? 99%?
How many think the democracy has been adapted to better serve the economic prosperity of corporate titans and shareholders? 1%?

It's no wonder there's no single issue being promoted, no legislation getting drafted and no spokespersons claiming to represent the 99%. Let those with ears to hear listen to this cacophony of pain and diverse pursuits of changes.


Thinking about spiritual problems

We think about physical problems without even trying. We so good at that, we think about most spiritual problems as if they're physical ones. Many of us don't even have the concept of spiritual problems which call for a very different approach. When we regard spiritual problems as physical problems, we make more costly problems for ourselves.

Physical problems call for defensive action. We may be in danger of getting suffocated, burnt, frozen, starved, poisoned, stabbed, choked, crushed, or dismembered. The threat is physical so the effective solution is equally physical. The kind of thinking we do in these situations it literal, reactive and focused. We launch into taking immediate action that attacks the problem with a vengeance. This is no time to take a longer or more nuanced view of the dangers. There's no tolerance for solutions which rely on our imagination, creativity or divine inspiration.

Spiritual problems, on the other hand, call for defenseless action. They present evidence of conflict between two or more living intentions. Solutions can be found in the spirit of connection, common interest and fearless faithfulness in invisible sources of solutions. The opposing interests need an approach that blesses it, shows no resistance to it and extends peace to it. The solutions come to minds which are calm, receptive and expectant. The solutions work for both living intentions in ways that cannot be foreseen by defensive outlooks.

In my personal experience with spiritual solutions, they often involve:

  • letting go of my own one-sided interests and my fearful belief in the conflict
  • understanding the conflict as a lesson for me, a wake-up call or an opening to a bigger understanding
  • denying the evidence of conflict in favor of an imagined resolution, freedom for all and transformation of the situation
  • getting underneath the opposing demands to their underlying issues, concerns and secondary interests
  • framing the other side as predictable when it maintains the conflict and as mysterious when it makes peace
  • making a unilateral concession to change the tone, de-escalate the context and demonstrate my intention to collaborate
  • giving the opposing interests permission to persist until they come to more disturbing realizations

Spiritual solutions like these do not come to mind when we assume we're dealing with physical problems. We become far too tense and reactive to receive this kind of inspiration when we being defensive. We're assuming we need attack the problem with a vengeance, not surrender to it. We have no faith in any ongoing process, invisible assistance or influence when we're out of control. It's only when we're thinking the problem is spiritual that we can acquire the harmonious sense to do the right thing for all the interests.


Thinking about being right

It's unusual for us to think about being wrong unless we've acquired the emotional baggage which insists that we're always wrong/never right. We usually want to be right at all cost. To be wrong can feel devastating and dangerous. Psychologists label those dreadful feelings: "cognitive dissonance". We feel exposed to others' abuse, putdowns and rejection when we're wrong. It feels like the rug has been pulled out of our confidence, composure and our ability to comprehend others.  Thus, we feel the urge to be right even when our rational minds think better of it.

This insatiable need to the right becomes a prison. We're captivated by our chronic insistence on never being wrong. There's no escape when can detect in our thinking about being right. It's obvious we could admit to being a clueless idiot, total loser, or worthless individual -- but where's the sense in that? We've got blinders on our panoramic vision. We're looking through a peep hole from our prison cell unaware of our huge blind spots and tunnel vision.

When we're thinking conventionally about being right, we're trapped in an ideal of self-righteousness. We see others wallowing in blatant wrongfulness. We're exalting ourselves in a way that will be our ultimate downfall. We cannot imagine how to get off our high horse or to eat a slice of humble pie. We're stuck on ourselves and cannot get unstuck without being unglued and crazy.

There's another way to think about being right which does not make others wrong. We find there's some significant freedom in thinking about being right. We can be right about there being:

  • more to learn, discover and explore
  • more common ground, shared interests and parallel agendas
  • more partial understandings to combine with the other side of the coin
  • more processing, conversing and comparing viewpoints to do together

We then abandon our positional stance and switch to trusting an unfinished process. We give up knowing everything already and become curious again. We stop trying to save face and intentionally face conflicting ideas with receptivity and compassion. We're right about how others' being right can help us become better informed, broad minded and creative. We're thinking about becoming right while being partially wrong for the time being.


Thinking about others

Yesterday, I finished reading Ori and Rom Brafman's latest book: Click - The Magic of Instant Connections. Their new book is loaded with great stories of people feeling like they clicked when they first met. It shows the benefits to thinking differently than we are usually doing when we don't click with someone. Rather than summarize the message of this useful book, I'll extract the lessons in it for the ways we can find freedom by changing how we're thinking about others.

1. When we think we're in danger of being criticized, rejected or mocked, we get defensive. Rather than let our guard down, we put up walls of self-righteousness. If we think in the opposite way, it's likely we'll click with the others. To make ourselves vulnerable, we need to use humbled thinking which admits we might be wrong or disappointing. We show them respect by valuing their assessment or our qualifications, worth or contribution.

2. When we think we're too far apart to seem recognizable or familiar to others, we create that experience. We assume we're a stranger to them when we pass by. We fail to smile, say hi or start a conversation. When we think in the opposite way, we create the contrary experience. We think we've been close enough for others to regard us as familiar. We offer a knowing smile, friendly hello and start of conversation that can generate an instant connection.

3. When we're struggling with what to say and do, our panicked thinking makes us seem to others as aloof, insensitive and self-obsessed. We put others off with our insecurities. When we're in the zone and flowing with a inspired sense of what to say and do, we naturally click with others. We create the impression of being in a great place that includes the others without any apprehensions.

4. When we dwell on our differences, we create more evidence of how dissimilar we "really" are. We shoot down the possibilities of what we have in common. We see others as "them", not one of "us". When we think we have a lot in common, we see proof that makes us right about that. We get how similar we "really" are. We speak and act on that basis which generates lots of rapport.

5. When our struggles are private and our pain is strictly personal, others keep to themselves as well. We assume nobody cares enough to trouble them with our heavy burden. When we think we're in the same boat with others, we naturally share what we're going through amidst our common adversity. We comfort others and lend them a hand in light of our intimate familiarity with their struggles, pain and limitations.

6. When others look to us as predictable, we relate to them routinely. We go through the motions of making conversation with them and find there's nothing new to explore. We create superficial and boring conversations. When others appear mysterious, fascinating and unpredictable to us, our upgraded thinking comes true. We find there is so much to discover and connect with as we cover new ground, pose new questions and relate to new facets of their lives. We learn a lot which fuels our further explorations in follow-up conversations.

Perhaps you're recognizing a pattern here. We always have a choice between different ways to think. Some ways are better than others in giving us freedom from unwanted experiences, emotions and thinking. Every way we think creates self-confirming experiences. We get to be right in our own little worlds even if it's lonely and we're feeling misunderstood. We can get out of those enclosures of self-torment by changing our thinking.


Many kinds of thinking

Most of us assume that thinking we do is simply thinking. It is what it is. There does not appear to be different ways to think, only more thinking to do. There also seems to be no way to stop the thinking that fills our minds and steals our attention.

Contrary to all these assumptions, there are many different kind so thinking we can do. We can change the kind of thinking we're doing. We can also stop thinking and experience the present moment with joy and inner peace. Here's eight kinds of thinking to help you better choose and change the thinking you're doing.

  • Hysterical thinking goes overboard with complaining by "awfulizing", "demonizing" or "catastrophizing" a minor incident into a big upset.
  • Even-handed thinking finds fault in oneself as well as others which translates complaints into more insightful views of others and oneself.
  • Stinkin' thinkin' rationalizes self-destructive behavior with a mixture of denial of the costly consequences and justifications for the toxic behavior.
  • Humbled thinking admits to the toxicity of the behavior and cost of the consequences without yet knowing how to change.
  • Irrational thinking ignores the actual facts and indulges in wild speculation with a paranoid imagination to become extremely apprehensive, belligerent or defensive.
  • Rational thinking faces the facts and applies logic to define the problems accurately and decide on further actions.
  • Panicked thinking goes into flight or fight mode in the face of danger, jumping to conclusions while dwelling on dichotomies.
  • Creative thinking considers different ways to see what seems obvious while inventing new possibilities for what is far from obvious.

Now you can assume you are doing one of many kinds of thinking at any given moment. Rather than simply do more thinking, you can see the possibility of doing some better thinking. You may even find ways to do less thinking and occasionally stop thinking altogether. Peace be with you.