Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Roots of Male Violence

My colleague, Jed Diamond, an expert on male psychology and male health, wrote a very timely article, "The 5 Hidden Reasons Men Become Violent and What We Can Do About It to Make the World Safer." In the wake of the Ferguson situation, this subject is particularly relevant.

While violence is perpetrated by both men and women, and clearly both men and woman are impacted by violence (and contribute to a culture of violence), more men perpetrate violence and are the victims of violence than women.

Jed defines violence using the World Health Organization's definition:

There are three kinds of violence, all inter-related:

1. Self-directed violence (including suicidal behavior and self-harm)

2. Interpersonal violence involving family and/or an intimate partner

3. Interpersonal violence involving the larger community (individuals involved may be unrelated)

Here are five hidden factors that Jed cites as contributors to male violence:

1. The Male Brain is Not Wired For Empathy

Jed writes, "At its core, violence is a failure to empathize." When we don't empathize it is easier to "other" another human being, turning them into an object, separate from us, rather than someone we are inherently and inseparably interconnected with. Jed cites Simon Baron-Cohen, an expert on violence saying, "When our empathy is switched off, we are solely in the 'I' mode. In such a state we relate only to things or to people as if they were just things."

While most men have a capacity to empathize with others, because of the way men's brains are wired, it is much more difficult to do so than for women. Baron-Cohen believes it is because female brains are wired for empathizing and male brains are wired for building systems."

To help men grow their empathic capacity is conscious work. Placing oneself in the shoes of another person, listening for feelings and resisting an innate desire to problem solve are all parts of this work.

2. Males Have Higher Levels of Testosterone

Jed cites Dr Theresa Crenshaw, a leading expert on how hormones influence behavior: testosterone is a predominantly male hormone that women also have in smaller amounts. After puberty, men have 8 to 10 times as much as women do. Not only is testosterone responsible for men's aggressive sex drive, but also what she calls men's "'warmone,' triggering anger, competitiveness and even violence."

Jed references James Dobbs, PhD, who notes an indirect relationship between high testosterone levels and criminality. Dobbs studied young male prison inmates and found that those inmates with higher testosterone levels were often associated with more violent crimes and more prison rule violations.

To counteract the potential for violence, Dobbs and his wife Mary underscored the importance of keeping fathers involved with their children. Children raised with absent fathers are more likely to have delinquent behavior. Fathers can teach their sons that while "guystuff seems to be about building stuff, fixing stuff and blowing up stuff," it is better to focus on the building and fixing.

3. Males Generate Lower Levels of Oxytocin

Oxytocin, often known as "the bonding hormone," is associated with much of the good in relationships. Higher oxytocin can lead someone to act more generously and more daringly, including with strangers. Jed cites the work of researcher Paul Zak, PhD, who noted that oxytocin makes "people friendlier, more empathetic and more trusting," and that empathy drives moral behavior.

Not only do men tend to have lower oxytocin levels than women, but even more so, testosterone blocks the effect of oxytocin. Jed cites the work of Shelley Taylor, PhD, who suggests the difference in oxytocin release between men and women "accounts for women's greater willingness to reach out for others when they are under stress ('tending and befriending') rather than the male reaction of 'fight or flight.'

If men are going to increase their oxytocin levels, and therefore, their capacity for empathy, they need to engage in oxytocin generating activities, like getting a massage, practicing yoga, and working to increase their bonds of trust.

4. Men Have Fewer Friends Than Women

Jed cites his own personal experience leading workshops, where it is common for women to have 3 or 4 close friends, and very uncommon for the same to be true with men. If men have any close friends, it is usually one close friend, often their spouse. And if there are problems in that relationship, men do not have a network of close friends to turn to for support.

Men are more likely to bond over activities not heartfelt shadings about their lives, struggles and triumphs. Jed cites the work of Herb Goldberg, PhD, noting that men are often out of touch with their emotions and their bodies. By "playing by the rules of the male game plan, with lemming-like purpose," men destroy themselves.

When they are isolated, men often become depressed. When they experience inner pain without proper emotional support, "men often 'act out' their depression and become more aggressive or even physically violent." Helping men learn to have close emotional friendships is no easy task. But it is important to change the dynamics of how men behave in relationships.

5. Men React More Violently to Shame Than Women

Jed defines shame with the words of author Merle Fossum: "feeling alone in the pit of unworthiness." And Fossman believes shame "is much more deeply rooted than most people often believe."

"Shame is feeling bad about who we are, about our very being." And it grows like a cancer. Jed notes the work of John Gilligan. "After working with thousands of violent men, Gilligan was able to get to the core cause. 'I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo that ‘loss of face’—no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.' Jed concludes, "Men crave respect and can become violent when they feel put down."

So, to help reduce violence in men, finding ways to build respect and trust are essential. Only then can men risk sharing their innermost feelings. And without sharing feelings of shame, they will continue to incubate, grow and often drive behavior in ways that impact self and others adversely.

Helping men accept their pain, their difficult feelings, their deeper feelings and then share them with loving others is important to reduce the tendency towards violence--to self and others.

For the complete article, visit Jed Diamond's website,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Being A Lighthouse

As I have been leading workshops on the Power of Voice, a helpful image that I've found myself using frequently is that of the lighthouse. Voice is more than the ability to speak or sing. Voice is actually a sense of who we are at the deepest level: spirit, heart and soul.

Finding one's voice is another way of saying, discovering and knowing who you really are. As you connect inside with your heart, soul and deepest knowing, your sense of self will seek forms of expression. And the pathways of expression, be they speaking, singing, drawing, dancing, writing, inventing....or anything else...are your unique gifts or your unique frequency that you project out into the world.

In this way, as we become clearer about who we are, and can sense the frequency we resonate on, we become a lighthouse, with a unique beam of light to cast out into the world. If we let our light shine through our words, deeds, actions and being, we will naturally attract people, experiences and opportunities that are truly meant for us. Shining our unique light into life's larger harbor allows those "boats" who are seeking this frequency of shelter, protection or light to find us. If we don't know who we are, we can't shine our light. And if we are afraid to shine our light, then the people, experiences and opportunities we are meant to meet and have cannot find us.

To be able to connect with our unique light takes courage, and often skillful facilitation. It also takes patience and trust. Once we have found it and connected to it, life can feel more fulfilling and empowering. Trusting that we will meet who we are meant to meet and that our light is needed by others who seek to find us is an important part of developing the faith to walk a spiritual path in life.

Some people worry that if they shine their light, others will turn away. There is some truth to this concern. However, it is actually a liberating truth. Not everyone WILL resonate with who you are or need to connect with you. And that is okay. The more we live as lighthouses in the world, the more places of harbor will be available. And then trusting that we will be able to give harbor or shelter to those who need our frequency of light...and those who need another frequency of light will be able to find their safe harbor where it is meant to be found.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Forgiveness Prayer

Grant me the will to want to forgive... Can I even form the words Forgive me? Did I even look? Do I dare to see the hurt I have caused? I can glimpse all the shattered pieces of that fragile thing That soul trying to rise on the broken wing of hope But only out of the corner of my eye I am afraid of it And if I am afraid to see How can I not be afraid to say Forgive me?

Is there a place where we can meet? You and me The place in the middle The no man's land Where we straddle the lines Where you are right And I am right too And both of us are wrong and wronged Can we meet there? And look for the place where the path begins The path that ends when we forgive?

From "The Book of Forgiving" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

Gridlock, Complexity and Overwhelm

Doesn't it seem that gridlock on the highways is getting worse? Rush hour seems to have bled into most any hour of the day. And whether it is road construction causing slow downs or seemingly more cars of the road, gridlock seems to extend to more places as well as more times of the day. And more "gridlock" experiences seem to be popping up in more parts of life: trying to call an automated phone number for a business transaction, waiting in a longer phone queue with a credit card company, bank or utility, trying to navigate the claims department of an insurance company....Add in climate change, ISIS and constant news reports of the Ebola virus and our fear of it taking over New York City or Boston or most anywhere leading to a catastrophic situation for all, and it seems like the world is rapidly spirally downward. Feeling overwhelmed and stuck in something beyond our control is happening more often to more people every day. As sociobiologist Rebecca Costa studied civilizations that collapsed ( including Mayans Khmer, Romans, Ming and Byzantine societies), she noticed, as my colleague Jed Diamond summarizes in his ManAlive newsletter, "the first symptom of impending collapse was that they all experienced gridlock when the magnitude of the problems they needed to solve exceeded their abilities. In other words, they hit some cognitive threshold where they could no longer understand or manage their biggest, most dangerous problems." As the cultures became overwhelmed they passed their problems on from one generation to the next. In her research, Costa began to ask why. And what she concluded was a simple but powerful force: complexity. In our current, as in past times that reached the brink of collapse, more information was being generated than the people alive were able to process and comprehend. Jed Diamond cites Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, as saying that every 48 hours we produce as much new data as we generated from the dawn of humankind to 2003. As a result, at any point in time, we need to make decisions with only a fraction of the available information we might ultimately need to make the best decision. When there is so much data out there that it is just plain too time consuming and overwhelming to find it and analyze it all, we work with what we can handle, which might mean missing some critical pieces. Diamond writes, "when things become too complex, we have way too many options to consider. The number of wrong choices exceeds the number of "right" choices, and we enter a "high failure environment." Think of yourself when you are stressed. What kinds of decisions to you make under that kind of pressure? Compare your decision making under high stress to your decision making when you can take the time and space to thoughtfully consider a decision. Too much information to consider creates a kind of mental gridlock, and one bad choice leads to another in a domino effect. What do we do to take care of ourselves in a climate of gridlock? How can we keep ourselves from getting overwhelmed and overstressed? 1. Realizing that gridlock is not just a matter of being on the highway at rush hour, but a culture condition, is a good first step. Consciousness allows the possibility for behavioral change. 2. Slowing down and turning to meditative and introspective techniques can help us ground ourselves in the moment and discern more intuitively what is true. 3. Turning off the tv, radio or getting off the computer can help us move away from the information and sensory overload of our media-oriented society. 4. Reaching out to connect with friends and loved ones face to face grounds us in our interconnection and the shared experience many of us have of life today. 5. Pet your dog, take a walk in the woods, sit by a pond or even on a bench in the park. Reminding ourselves we are part of a natural world, and not just an information world can help us ground ourselves and reduce overwhelm. As we slow down, reconnect and simplify, we can step out of the gridlock, even for moments or hours. And sometimes that change of perspective makes all the difference!