Not Again . . .

Do we really want to once again turn social media into weapons of mass destruction, as we express our outrage over the latest political stress?

Below is a last hour insertion into my upcoming book, “The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science.” I hope that it helps you work through your anger productively, as it has for me. Happy trails!

“Yesterday I sat and watched hours of grueling testimony, supposedly part of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Instead, along with millions of other viewers, I was subjected to some of the most outrageous cogjam abuse to date. Not just how an accuser and the accused were ultimately treated, but how the overall process ensured that as many people as possible would be exposed to this florid level of divisive community and fractured science. I can only imagine where it will lead newly oversensitized inner lizards in days and weeks to come.

It also struck me as ironic. Two sworn enemies, politics and media, for once actually got together long enough to create something big and impactful. Unfortunately they couldn’t have produced a more destructive outcome, even if they’d intentionally coordinated effort toward this aim.

This represents a new crossroad for each of our cogjam journeys. Do we let anger over this new piece of outrageousness cause us to act out, taking sides and lashing out at whoever we choose to blame? Or do we let this anger fuel something that will actually make a difference, no matter how small the change may be?

Back when I was repeatedly dragging around heavy luggage, practically keeping my eyelids open with toothpicks to board wee-hour flights to disaster assignments, I couldn’t help but question why I was doing this to myself. The same answer reliably bubbled to the surface: if I made a significant difference in just one person’s disaster survival, it would all be worthwhile. And it always was.

The world can only be saved in increments. When we each do our share, community and common humanity blossom. Thus this new cogjam-fueled anger only strengthened my resolve to publish this book. If the material within makes a significant difference in the lives of only a few, it still has been worth the time and effort taken to produce it. My aim will have been achieved.

And, my own inner lizard can go back and stretch out again on that sun-warmed rock.”

Dodging Political Fallout: Act I

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a crystal ball that told us who’s likely to go ballistic when cogjam-related topics enter conversation? It would definitely be handy for helping us know when to heed the advice of “don’t go there.” Unfortunately, we don’t have such an asset on hand, which would help greatly during Act I of avoiding cogjam moments.

However, science and common sense give us clues that help us take educated guesses, based on how we’ve seen people behave in other social situations.

Unreasonable People

I hesitate to label anybody with any term. In this case, it’s really their various beliefs and behaviors that are unreasonable, not the people themselves. There is much more to people than how they measure up in one area. Individuals we describe as unreasonable can also be quite skilled or gifted.

Nevertheless, certain beliefs and behaviors raise red flags regarding how reasonable you can expect people to be, no matter what the situation. Chapter Twelve of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science, highlights these red flags:

  • Major difficulties with emotional regulation: Their anger or anxiety is both extreme and poorly handled. They go way overboard in comparison to how most people live with those feeling states. Others may refer to them as being a “hothead” or “Chicken Little.”
  • Reactive and impulsive: They often speak and act without thinking. They also may believe their impulsive acting out is only being “who they are,” rather than something for which they have choices and control.
  • Do not anticipate potential consequences: Considering what might happen with a certain course of action requires input from the logical brain. Immediate gut reacting does not allow adequate time or opportunity for consulting the relevant knowledge base. Thus they often find themselves becoming victims of their own poor choices.
  • Poor social judgment: Effectively interacting with others requires more than identifying good guys and bad guys, fighting/fleeing the bad guys, and mindlessly glomming onto whichever herd is doing something agreeable. Therefore their morals and moral behavior are often challenged. They may construct and live by their own moral standards, which largely serve their own gut brain interests. Or, as happens in the case of the psychopath, the moral compass is nonexistent. They end up doing things that hurt or offend others, unintentionally or otherwise.
  • Do not learn from mistakes: When poor choices do not work out, they do not step back and evaluate what they could have done differently. Instead, they view such misfortune as someone else’s fault, which feeds into becoming masters of the blame game. They have extreme difficulty recognizing or examining core beliefs or thought distortions that may lie beneath the surface of their ill-advised choices. Change, and learning itself, are extraordinarily difficult for them.

Compassion to the Rescue

Steering clear of controversial topics while with such individuals is not only healthy for yourself. It is also an act of kindness and compassion. You know how they will react during such discussion. Why burrow down to the cellar and purposely punch their hot buttons? What do you hope to accomplish?

And imagine how much better both of you will feel, if you successfully avoid creating yet another cogjam moment.

 

“They Call Me the Crazy Cat Lady.”

Going along with the surrounding flow is a major force behind how we’ve found ourselves stuck in political cogjam.
The following short vignette is a more whimsical example of how unwittingly going along with group-held beliefs sometimes has us doing or thinking things that miss some important internal logic.
Enjoy! See if you can set aside the political, and appreciate the cultural irony. That in itself represents a major step beyond cogjam.

IF CAT LADIES RAN THE WORLD

They call me the crazy cat lady.
You betcha. Crazy like a fox, believe me.
Nobody can have too many of those furry little friends. But rules and regulations turn our lives into a disaster. How do you peacefully settle in with your collective with rule-mongers pounding on your door, insisting on knowing what’s in there? It’s as disgraceful as constantly hounding presidents to reveal the status of their stashes of choice.
We have a right to privacy. And we should be free to expand our collectives as we see fit.
I could support an even larger family if cat food and cat litter weren’t so spendy. As a dedicated collector my taxes should rightfully be cut from 35% to 15%. It would promote even more of my faithful stewardship. It’s only right that people like me and the wealthy be entrusted with such advantages. We truly appreciate the value of our collectives. Others only squander them.
They simply do not understand. Like when those who are blessed with new litters only give away those sweet balls of fluff, who are soon neutered into an unproductive stalemate. Where is justice? It’s no better than so-called “philanthropists.” Many gather collectives even larger than Mr. President’s. Then they give away huge portions, requiring little or nothing in return. They just don’t get it—the worthiness of expanding, the critical overriding principal of “more.”
My invitation to the White House will turn up any day now. He owes me, you see, for the faithful counsel I’ve tweeted him over the years. In return, I plan to be so bold as to seek his counsel. There is a conundrum he has escaped, and I have not.
You see, treasuring my collective has earned me the distasteful label of “hoarder.” It’s true I’ve got more kitties than fit in my lap at once. In that respect, I suppose one might propose that my collective is bigger than what I personally can fully take advantage of.
Impressive collectives like Mr. President’s are likewise more than he could ever need. But for some reason, he and those like him have no need to hide their continuing pursuit of wealth. The approach is the exact opposite of the philanthropy mindset. And they’re quite open about their seeking more.
Yet nobody accuses them of hoarding. More often than not, people seem to applaud them, or say they wish that they too could hoard such a collective.
Hopefully our future Oval Office tea for two will include discussion of that bit of genius, whatever it is that spares the financially wealthy such scrutiny. And then perhaps, just perhaps, we cat ladies can more openly run the world.

Does Cogjam Really Qualify as a “Disaster?”

Coping with today’s political stress is no leisurely stroll through the jungle. Chances are, over the last few years of community tension, you’ve noticed changes in others. You may also have picked up on changes in how you yourself feel, or how you interact with others.

This is because our gut brains are on constant high alert. We are too uncertain about what might be coming next. Our feelings and choices of behavior reveal this regularly.

Why Cogjam Really Is a Disaster

But does that really ramp cogjam up to disaster status? Here’s how Chapter Two of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science, justifies identifying cogjam as a disaster:

“What makes cogjam a mental health ‘disaster?’ For that matter, why is anything defined as a disaster? We hear those ruled by black or white thinking use the term to describe anything they find at all unfavorable.

For the purpose of this discussion, the definition of disaster is the one established by emergency management and other groups who step in when communities are in distress.

Disaster is an adverse incident that significantly disrupts community functioning. It results in material, human, infrastructural, environmental, and/or other losses that go beyond the community’s ability to cope by way of usual means. Addressing vital needs and getting day-to-day functioning back to normal usually requires assistance outside of usual community resources and practices.[1]

Disastrous incidents can be naturally caused—such as hurricanes, floods, pandemics, wildfires, earthquakes, and tornadoes; or manmade—such as bombings, explosions, releases of hazardous materials, and arson activity. Note that manmade does not necessarily mean intentional. War, mass shootings and the like, yes. But much of manmade disaster is purely accidental, unfortunate by-products of our fallible humanbeinghood.

That’s what cogjam is about: a man-made disaster, but for the most part unintentional. Yes, there could be abusive sociopaths out there who purposely try to perpetuate it. It would certainly be a good way to keep others sufficiently traumatized so as to be able to manipulate them.

But the majority of cogjam more likely stems from communitywide struggles to cope with multiple conflicting perspectives, generated by so many advanced cerebral cortices.

Cogjam therefore fits within the definition of disaster thusly:

  • It has released a landslide of mental health impact on our communities.
  • The resulting stress or trauma has excessively challenged most individuals’ ability to either cope well with or overcome it.
  • It disrupts and at times overwhelms community functioning.
  • Exceptional effort is needed to overcome its breadth of impact, beyond usual means of coping and mental health resources available.

The gut brain can’t ignore the uncertainty, frustration, and fears generated by such a huge amalgamation of conflict. But the gut brain is the wrong tool for surviving cogjam. So we suffer similarly to those living through other disasters—not because of lost homes, lifestyles, loved ones, physical health, or neighborhoods, but as a result of the nationwide drop in sense of wellbeing, both jointly and individually.”

. . . Yet We CAN Overcome Its Effect on Us

Escaping the impact of today’s version of political stress takes active, focused effort–not to try to change the world in one fell swoop, but by:

  • Assuring our gut brains that we are indeed able to cope.
  • Making a difference in our own corner of the world, one human interaction at a time.
  • Employing compassion and understanding with those around us who struggle, rather than withdrawal, groupthink, defensiveness, or retaliation.
  • Aligning ourselves with common humanity, and in so doing reap the rewards of social connectedness and post-traumatic growth.

Like all other disaster survivors, we are resilient.

[1]FEMA (2017). National Disaster Recovery Framework. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/national-disaster-recovery-framework.

 

Roaming with the Herd

Blaming cogjam entirely on all the adrenalin percolating away would be the easy way out. But adrenalin is not the only ingredient of fight or flight chemistry that is playing a contributing role.

Cogjam is a joint activity, a community-wide line dance that at times leads us directly toward the edge of that infamous cliff. This falls more within the realm of another neurochemical that highlights its presence during high stress: oxytocin.

Oxytocin and Herd Instinct

Here’s what Chapter Five of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Community Divisiveness and Fractured Science” says about this unfortunate case of social bonding gone awry:

“Oxytocin is an ingredient of our neurochemistry that promotes social bonding. Its presence is associated with love relationships, childbirth, and other social attachments. Interestingly, oxytocin is also released during states of high arousal.

When I first learned of this it brought to mind an acronym that turned up on the disaster trail during high-stress assignments: DII, short for “disaster induced infidelity.” I also recall packed neonatal wards in Portland, Oregon area hospitals about nine months after Mt. St. Helens blew. Then, of course, there’s the baby-boomer population that turned up after World War II. Being collectively thrown together for heavy-duty stress appears to strengthen at least one type of social bonding among those who endure it.

 

But in addition to encouraging attachments to specific individuals, oxytocin promotes bonding within groups. In disaster world, we called the instant joint efforts of workers and community members “disaster bonding.” Similar ties develop in other groups that regularly deal with emergency, combat, and other high-stress positions. The friendships that form in such scenarios may last a lifetime. Continue reading

Compassion? For Politicians?

Compassion is key to getting beyond cogjam–for others, ourselves, and even politicians. Yes, it’s true that much of today’s socio-political stress is fueled by politicians’ commentary and actions. But look at where they sit, as compared to the rest of us.

Book Excerpt

Chapter Four of my upcoming book, “The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science,” explains it this way:

“Opposing political opinions rarely involve the immediate life-or-death circumstances for which the fight or flight response was intended. We’d never know it, though, considering how politicians so often let gut reasoning take the lead. But look at it from their perspective. As far as their careers go, opposing political opinions may well represent life or death. Given the complexity and expense of election campaigns these days, our representatives no longer simply look out for the interests of their constituencies. They are in the unenviable position of also needing to satisfy those who finance their campaigns, which usually isn’t individual voters. Plus, they need to walk the line of party affiliations.

The needs and aims of these three factions may not coincide. The resulting conflicts of interest hack away at politicians’ increasingly precarious stumps. It’s a no-win situation, and probably terrifying for any elected official who values staying in office. The temptation to give in to gut reasoning must be profound, indeed. And as long as the status quo for election campaign practices continues, it’s a safe bet that cogjam will always be riding shotgun. Continue reading

How Does Rationalizing Set the Cogjam Trap?

We all have our hypotheses about why events around us happen the way they do. However we also need to take care to validate our hypotheses before we accept them as being reality. This often doesn’t happen when we’re overstressed. If we jump in with both feet and indiscriminately accept hypotheses as we create or hear them, confusion and missteps often follow–as we often see with cogjammed thinking and behaviors.

Book Excerpt

Here’s what Chapter Four of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science,” has to say about letting rationalizing win out over more effective reasoning:

“As with fear-based behavior, interpretations and conclusions drawn when we’re all worked up may or may not be our best. When battling through the heat of the moment, the temptation to accept a logical hypothesis as reality rather than something to be checked out can be powerful indeed. But putting the cart before the horse in this manner is actually a form of rationalization.

 

Continue reading