Sunday, November 16, 2008

Completing the Past

Those involved in serious personal growth endeavors soon encounter a distinction associated with maturing one’s perspective on the traumas of one’s past. Humans construct ontological frameworks/lenses through which experiences are interpreted based upon past events that produced suffering. These start around the age of five. Prior to that, we live remarkably free of worry, guilt, jealousy, resentment, hatred, humiliation, and those other emotional states adults get to enjoy.

I’m not saying a four year old can’t suffer. Still, a baby can scream its lungs out, but once the issue is resolved, the baby moves on and forgets all about it. All is forgiven without a second thought. While others tend to their survival, babies can enjoy this luxury. As we shift from infant to toddler we acquire the ability to interpret events and infer significance. We cross a line, and that which causes suffering, like when we throw sand in our sister’s face and it gets in her eyes, or we squash a frog in the garage, or we get beat up and cry in front of our first grade peers, transcends what actually happened into a profound significance that becomes part of the foundation of a fabricated set of beliefs about ourselves and the world.

The boy who squashed the frog and saw it convulsing in a pool of blood experienced soul deep trauma and convinced himself he was bad. He became a priest. You are more likely to defy gravity than get this guy to smoke a cigar. I know a man who at the age of seven looked up and saw his four year old sister floating face down in the pool. An adult rescued her, but in those torturous few seconds he crucified himself for his self-diagnosed lack of preparedness. Know what he’s like today?

Summarizing an involved dynamic, something bad happens, and we spend the rest of our lives making damned sure it never happens again. Career choices, mates, lifestyles, habits, the whole enchilada including cheese on the top is organized to make sure THAT never happens again.

Confronting one’s existential architecture distinguishes the framework through which one interprets impressions and allows one to replay experiences and reset the inferences created. The automatic framework remains, but once distinguished, we have the framework, while before the framework had us. The transformations can be so extraordinary that friends are jaw dropped shocked, "I’ve known John for 22 years, but I do not know the person at the front of that room."

The same phenomena can occur with the collective psyche of groups of people unified by a commonality: towns, states, nations, Catholics, Jews, or Yankees fans. Ever been to Georgia and mention the Civil War? When I first started work at IBM in the 80s, I shared an office with a worker from Spain. Guess what he wanted to talk about? The Spanish American War and the Maine. The reader can imagine my preoccupation with said topic as an engineer fresh from college. He talked about the Maine for fifteen minutes after I agreed that Spain probably had nothing to do with its demise.

Perhaps no collective conscious has the life-shaping and psychologically potent ontological filter as that now possessed by Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. Of course I speak of Shoah, the holocaust, an event that crystallized energies already growing for the creation of the state of Israel. When and how Jews would acquire a country to call their own without the earth shattering events of WWII will remain a matter of speculation. That said, like the boy molested by the priest at seven or the girl raped by her uncle at eight, the trauma is multiplied beyond the facts however horrible. I am not saying Spain should forget about the Maine, the South should forget about Dixie, or the girl should forget what her uncle did to her. Being informed by the past is distinct from being programmed by the past. What I am saying is that the conditioning produced by pivotal traumatic experiences produces automatic responses that are limiting and sub-optimal, and that it is possible to distinguish the conditioning and obtain access to additional insight and options. In the case of the girl, consciously forgiving the uncle is an access to a higher place for its own reward. What the uncle deserves has nothing to do with it. In the case of the South, what is authentically behind the persisting resentment? Fear, yes, but fear of what?

Israel is prone to sub-optimal decisions to the extent it applies Nazi paradigms to the Palestinians. Of course Ehud Olmert understands intellectually that Syria, Jordon, or even Iran could not begin to construct and operate an Auschwitz in the 21st century. Grasping it ontologically is another matter, and teasing out the actual 2008 threats and the reality of Ahmadinejad (versus the hype) is more difficult than drawing interpretations from an inherited framework. When Khomeini called the United States the "great Satan" in November 1979, and when Osama Bin Laden spoke of destroying America, we reacted differently from the way Israel reacts to such language. Critical to understanding these ideas is clarity that the automatic is not wrong, only limiting.

Of course Israel faces serious threats, but the Jewish people are not going to be herded into freight trains ever again. For more regarding the application of this to Israel, consider reading Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Israeli parliament:

The Holocaust Is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes


Blogger The Navigator said...

AntiSemitism remains a very potent cancer in humanity and while I agree it is highly unlikely any effort to actually "round people up" for execution could ever happen again, I can understand their resolve.

I haven't read that book, but I can appreciate the concept. What I don't see, and I wonder if he discusses it, is the HOW to move on. It's not like they can go to group therapy. How do you alter the collective conversation of millions of people about something like Auschwitz?

Speaking of therapy, how does this mesh with PSTD and EMDR? You say that the childhood traumas apply to everyone. Clearly PTSD does not. Is PTSD what occurs when the trauma passes a certain point and the normal "never again" programming is usurped by pathology?

11/17/2008 9:47 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

What I am talking about is completely different from PTSD. I am talking about events that are traumatic because of what a very young mind makes them mean. It could be nothing more than criticism by a parent or not being invited to a party by a friend. The child draws a painful conclusion such as "Nobody likes me" and then organizes around that.

EMDR is not necessary to distinguish the significance ("Nobody likes me") from the facts (Joe's mother forgot to include me").

PTSD is completely different. EMDR works by providing the emotional center (they still don't know how, but it works) a means to re-process the data. EMDR is terrific for PTSD, but it can also work for painful events like an excruciating divorce or the death of a loved one.

11/18/2008 1:10 PM  
Anonymous Mariana said...

I don't remember the details, but the story is true and I'll share the bits and pieces I can recall.
When: a few years ago
Where: a very small town somewhere in USA, probably Midwest; a place where everybody attend the same church and nobody ever saw a Black or a Latino ; as for Jews, they never heard of them.
Who: Two kids go to college, face the real world and learn about the Holocaust for the first time. They graduate with teaching degrees and go back to their little town.
What: The two young teachers talk to the school administration and the church leaders and get approval
to teach a class about the Holocaust as an extra curriculum activity. Students AND parents attend. In order to help the kids understand the enormity of this tragedy they start collecting paper clips to match the death toll. I guess they are still counting.
My conclusion: Yes, we can.

11/22/2008 10:54 AM  

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