Thursday, April 26, 2012

Facebook, my Door to WTF

--by Mike Adams

Alright now, this post might upset someone, but sometimes, you gotta scramble a few egg heads if you're gonna promote reasonable-thought.

I just read an entertaining and ...hmmm, scathing blog post by Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel called, "Banning Confederate Flag Dress-Wearing Teen From Prom Was Totally Unfair, Y'all". I have never read Jezebel before today, but I'll be back.

I found this article, because a Facebook friend posted a link to another great Jezabel post, "A Complete Guide to 'Hipster Racism'" by Lindy West.

After reading West's post, I followed a link at the bottom to Ryan's and if Erin Ryan and Lindy West are indicative of the kind of writing that is normal on Jezebel, I'll be checking in more often. I am left to wonder where has my Jezebel been for all these years?

Anyway, back to the topic of race and Confederate flags. I am half Native American, a term that growing numbers of Caucasians dislike, because from their perspective, we aren't native, we walked here and settled the know across the ice bridge 20,000 years ago. So anyway, the argument goes that the term Native American isn't accurate and should be changed.

Well I suppose I have to concede the point that Native American lacks total accuracy, but hey this is America...Is Football an accurate term? What about white people...are they really white? Seriously, and in all honesty, are we actually preoccupied with concise communication as a country?

Anyway, I don't want to get too far off topic with that tangent. I don't actually write or talk about race very often, in fact it isn't a big topic in my life at all. I am half NATIVE AMERICAN, but I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Which is the home of the Atomic Bomb (I'm not making this up). My parents bought me a $2000 LASER when I was in High School and let me setup a holographic lab setup in my garage. (Seriously, I'm not making this up). What I'm getting at is that I kind of grew up as a white kid...a nerdy white kid, with brown skin.

So while someone in my life has probably been prejudiced against me based on race, it never occurred to me that I might have been discriminated against, rather I've had the experience, on many occasions, of dealing with complete idiots. The bottom line is that I go through life asserting white male privilege and I get away with it.

I promise, this does eventually tie in with wearing a prom dress made out of a confederate flag...just bear with me, I'll get there.

But first, I feel it is important to remind everyone that the confederate flag was the rallying point, the symbolic inspiration for an army of US citizens who rose up and waged open war against the United States of America. It is true that confederate troops received full pardons after the war, but that does not take away from the fact that they were pardoned ...for TREASON.

Beyond even that, however, it is important to remember that the Confederacy was not only a group of people engaged in open treason. The Confederacy and the confederate flag represent the legalized tyranny of slavery. The systematic oppression of a whole group of people, based on their skin color.

The Confederacy and it's flag represent hooded terrorists arriving in the dead of night to lynch a man for daring to demand his rights.

The confederate flag represents one of the worst forms of slavery that human kind has ever seen. A form of slavery that institutionalized racism and legally defined a human being as less than human.

So yes, like the Nazi Swastika, the Confederate flag is offensive. So for those who want to, you can wear it on your clothing or put it on your car. In the United States of America, you have that right and I support your right. However, your freedom to display or wear symbols of tyranny do not protect you from being pointed out and ridiculed as an idiot and an ass-hole. So if you are going to assert your right to freedom of speech, you might want to check and see if what you have to say is worthy of speaking, because if you're just being a moron, my freedom of speech allows me to laugh at you and call you a moron, which I will do as best I can.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Search of a plan...

--by Mike Adams

Continued from Something Had to Change - click here to read the first part of this story

My sleep that night, was restless. I awoke late the next morning, but felt neither refreshed, nor recovered from the previous night's binge. I stumbled to the bathroom and for perhaps the first time in working memory, I looked, not at my reflection, but at my true self. I didn’t like it either. What I saw, was a barely recognizable young man bloodshot and drooping, he wore a dour expression, which communicated defeat. I’ve heard that eyes are the window to the soul and if this is true, his eyes revealed a beaten old man whose exuberance for life, if ever he had any, had long since dissipated. He stood there, staring at me, terrorizing me. He was a withered and decomposing leaf, tormenting and taunting me to care, daring me to try and change. My head jerked away, I had to avoid prolonged exposure to the emptiness that had invaded me.

I turned quickly grabbed hold of the shower lever and twisted, setting free a stream of water, which would soon fill the room with steam and provide me with reprieve from the haunting visage in the mirror.

For as long as I can remember, showers have had an almost magical restorative quality. They provide relief to sore muscles, vitality to the sleepy, they can wash away the momentary horror of an uninvited personal confrontation. On this morning, the mixture of hot water, steam and soap did not fail me. I stepped from the shower with a restored sense of acceptance and when I looked in the mirror, the reflection was that of a young man trying to get clean for the day...the dreadful spectre of futility had left and I hoped he would stay gone.

The day proceeded as any other. I rummaged the house for sustenance and failing to find breakfast, I walked to the bagel shop. There I drank coffee and ate bread. I sat for hours and watched the patrons come and go. I examined each visitor and considered what tasks their busy lives had in store for them. I envied their sense of purpose and their apparent fulfillment in life.

Two years earlier, I had designed my life to include this free time. I had never intended to sit isolated and depressed each day, rather I had felt it important that I find time to contemplate matters of import. I fancied myself a philosopher, a revolutionary thinker and, at the time,  I had needed to free myself from the constraints of “normal living” so I could focus on “my work”. As it turns out, I was to spend hours in solitude, even when surrounded by friends. “My work” somehow included alienating those who were closest to me and envying virtually everyone I saw.

It didn’t start this way. For a few months, I happily thought about topics of justice and human rights. I considered the minutea of racial inequality and contemplated how poverty entombed our class divide. My intent had been to write a credo, to create a message that could change the world. Within months, my musings increasingly shifted toward the mass of unfulfilled aspirations that a younger version of myself had dreamed. I doubted my ability to complete anything and my focus turned increasingly inward.

So though I had been a vibrant and inspired nineteen year old, two years later, I had thoroughly fermented. My thoughts had shifted from concerns about my fellow humans, to considerations of how I might keep my head above water and booze in my stomach.

The intervening two years, had seen me switch jobs three times, hitchhike to Colorado, try to start a new life there and then quickly return to my old life, my old habits and my old job. The only time I felt at ease, was when I rode my motorcycle through the mountains at dawn or on a moonlit night alongside the Rio Grande.

So there I sat, eating a bagel, when suddenly, I recalled the wrenching anxiety that had gripped me the night before. I remembered with mild horror, the revelation that I was deeply flawed and that something had to change. My words came back to me now, “tomorrow I’ll have to think about what to do next...I’m too sleepy and way too drunk right now!”

So I refilled my coffee cup and tried to recount what had happened. I needed to arrive at an informed decision about how to proceed. I thought for several minutes and then decided I ought to ride East to the summit of Sandia Peak, where my mind might be cleared. I finished my coffee, walked out into the late morning sun, mounted my bike and headed East.

As I rode out of Albuquerque, my mind kept focusing on the phrase, “there is something seriously wrong with me and it has to change if I’m going to survive”. This made me panic and I tried to vanquish the idea with all my will, but it kept crashing through my barriers and invading my conscious thought, insistent and intense, much like an early morning visit from the police.

Periodically, I would become overwhelmed with the high desert beauty, but my reverence was always interrupted with the same invasive question. I rode to the top of Sandia Peak and looked out over Albuquerque. I imagined Buggs Bunny taking a left and began to wonder where I should have gone left.

The summit at Sandia is stunning. You can see the whole of Albuquerque from there and you find yourself enveloped with a surprising number of colors, contrasts and hues. One might think of the desert as monotone, but here in the Southwest, it's as if an artist had skipped and danced about the rocks creating scenery that would stir long forgotten emotions, draw them from deep within our unconscious psyche and move us to tears...that’s just the way it is!

...A person can get lost in rapt adoration of the natural beauty and on the peak, the wind blows making you feel it’s possible to spread your arms and fly. To soar with a falcon above the frail existence of humans below—secure in the knowledge that we are insignificant. It is a humbling experience. It strips away pretense and self importance, so Sandia is where I went to think about life’s important decisions. 

I stood there and gazed out over the city. I saw the volcanoes to the west. They protruded from the earth just past the city basin, where my home sat empty. I looked beyond...into the desert and ravenously devoured the experience. I stood there, transfixed, waiting for a clap of inspiration.

Continued: Sandia Peak, a Plan is Born

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Something Had to Change...

--by Mike Adams

Twenty years ago, I owned a 1971 BMW R75 motorcycle. She was my most prized possession—I spent hours learning to adjust the valves, tune the ignition and replace the clutch.

On a regular basis, I polished chrome, cleaned lines and creases, and generally took great care with an eye towards detail as I maintained my ride. I loved that motorcycle so much, that I even named her Mindy. I had spent a great deal of time considering various names, when ultimately, I imagined Mindy would be the name of an exceptionally beautiful woman, so with that, I named my motorcycle and proceeded to worry about other matters of equal importance.

I worried about how to live life, you see, life was a constant struggle in those days. I was unhappy with my personal life and I felt that my work as a front desk clerk for a local hotel was horribly under appreciated. I had dreams of wild financial success coupled with incredible acts of philanthropic generosity, however, I thoroughly lacked the wherewithal to complete college. In fact, I enjoyed distilled spirits entirely too much, while I despised work too zealously to have any chance of fulfilling on my grandiose dreams. I drank every day, skipped sleep regularly and couldn’t force myself to attend class when enrolled in college.

Though I was a talented and intelligent employee, I brought with me the same lack of dependability that had ruined my college career. I was filled with a poor work ethic, and a boundless reservoir of self doubt.  All of this was covered with a flimsy facade of self assured arrogance, which often worked against my interests and prevented me from meaningful self reflection. I couldn't tolerate solitude, but lacked the necessary social graces required to be around other people. All of my money was spent at a local bar named Chez What, where I sat alone each day.

Chez What was a quiet bar, with a good selection of beer. I liked the surroundings and particularly, I fancied the waitress, Sarah. I often thought, “tonight I’ll ask Sarah out”, but always, I ended the night by leaving the bar, too drunk to walk straight, having dodged the embarrassment of asking Sarah out in the midst of a drunken stupor. I would stagger to my motorcycle, climb on and ride home. In retrospect, fate must have smiled broadly on me for countless occasions as I rode home without incident or accident.

One night, after I finished work, I walked out and looked up into the open and broad New Mexico sky. New Mexico's night sky is an awe inspiring scene—a cornucopia of overflowing stars, each heavenly body adding to the inebriating magic, which is on no small part responsible for the state's phrase, "Land of Enchantment". The breathtaking scene, a humbling experience of beauty, can capture a person's imagination, leaving them forever changed.

On this night, I looked up, paused for several moments, sighed heavily—expressing a mixture of profound reverence and futile solitude, I shook my head, mounted my motorcycle, and rode off, ready to patronize my regular watering hole.

Arriving at Chez What, I sat at my usual table, and drank till my thoughts ceased or at least slowed enough that my mind could pretend to be at rest. This was a daily routine and though I sometimes would alter my drink orders, I usually started with six or seven gin and tonics, then maybe a few jello shots, and ultimately I’d finish with numerous beers. This pattern had become a well established rut and though I didn't often contemplate the futility of my life, I knew that the numbing effects of alcohol saved me from this grating existence. I was under the dominion of a despotic ruler ceaslessly destroying my future and shredding my hope.

So night after night, I sat there drinking and watching as happy couples or boyant groups of college friends cycled through the bar. I wondered about their lives, what were they like during the day? Could they possibly be as happy as they seemed? Always, I watched Sarah serve them and wonderd if perhaps tonight I'd work up the courage to ask her out.

Then, she’d bring me a refill, I’d smile and pass her some money and keep drinking until last call, when I’d order several more. I'd finish my drinks while the staff cleaned up and finally, the bartender would flash me a smile and say, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay's closing time.”

On this particular night, I stood up from my usual seat, said goodnight to everyone and walked out to my motorcycle. I don't know what came over me, perhaps it was my communion with the night sky from earlier, perhaps it was a revelation that more was available to me. Whatever it was, I had a very distinct thought that night, which told me that something was very wrong with me...that my life was unacceptable and that something drastic had to change. I was immediately overcome with a sense of conviction and profound anxiety. I didn't have the slightest idea what to do, but I knew that something big had to change and it had to change fast or or I might lose my mind.

So I went home, curled up in my bed and went to sleep, thinking that I'd have plenty of time to figure out what needed to happen the next day.

Click here to Continue ...In Search of a Plan

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Parenting - Remember the Tiger Mom?

--by Mike Adams

Last January, Amy Chua published an article in the Wall Street Journal, which the editors titled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. Chua’s article examines her views on what she sees as the big difference in how “Western” and “Chinese” parents view their children. She explains that Chinese parents think of their children as strong and resilient. Capable of excellence and capable of hearing blunt feedback in service of fulfilling on their potential.

By contrast, Chua suggests that “Western” parents are overly concerned with their children’s self esteem, thinking their children fragile and unable to endure criticism. Chua, says that “Western” parents could go a lot further in trusting their kid’s resilience in pushing their kids to succeed and flourish. Essentially, she says that in the West, we fail to point out when our kids are being lazy or selfish.

Chua first received national attention on this topic with the publication of her book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. I haven’t yet read Chua’s book, but a quick perusal of her site reveals complicated and nuanced person, Chua explains that she wrote this book as a way to try and save her relationship with her youngest daughter who was in full rebellion. She wrote the book as a form of family therapy, a way to work things out and figure out how she lost her way. Chua says, “Jokes aside about A+s and gold medals (much of my book is self-parody), in the end for me it’s not about grades or Ivy League schools.  It’s about believing in your child more than anyone else – more than they believe in themselves – and helping them realize their potential, whatever it may be.

Well, that quote about sums up who I want to be as a parent. I don’t do the Chua regimen, I do the dragon Daddy regimen and whether that puts my kids on the wrong end of a seething mythical dragon from the Hobbit or in the good graces of a gentle Eastern dragon is kind of up to them...and how things went at work today, and sun spots, and how much sleep I got...did we run out of coffee, etc...etc...

Point is, I love my kids and I’m imperfect...really, majorly imperfect! Just check out my post on “Parable of the Demonic Feline” to see exactly how imperfect I might make you laugh and hopefully make you think.

Anyway, Amy Chua has sort of slipped off the radar, but I’ve been thinking about some of what she said and letting it germinate in my psyche for more than a year now.  I have to confess, I love Amy don’t misunderstand, this is no romantic, sending notes and flowers sort of love, rather, I love the controversy she started, I love the vitriol her book and her article in the Wall Street Journal have inspired. I love that people are thinking and discussing. It is true, the bloodsport of controversy can be entertaining, but what I love here is the fact that for the first time in my working memory our society’s conversation about parenting is in flux. Questions have been raised and they aren’t going away.

I love that things are being said, which were strictly taboo only a few years ago, I love that people are being pushed out of their comfort zone and that opinions, which have have gone unquestioned for years are finally receiving scrutiny. In short, I love the creative synthesis that can occur inside of this sort of controversy. I love that we collectively have the opportunity to emerge fortified, armed with new ideas and ready to continue blazing that path of parenthood, which is more art than science.

If there is one thing that drives me crazy, it is someone acting like they’ve got this whole parenting thing figured out. They know all about ADHD and school and homework, etc.... Because, guess what people, no one has it all figured out. Remember in the 80s when they kept telling us that we’re each a unique snowflake...well this is where that cheesy conversation is really useful. My kids don’t react the same to various kinds of encouragement or discipline as someone else’s. In fact, they each react differently than each other. Basically, what worked with my fourteen year old when he was six...That does not work my current six year old.

I remember one day, my wife and I overheard someone say that they didn’t really approve of our parenting. Tara was a bit concerned about this and later she asked me what I thought they might be complaining about. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “either they think we are too strict or they think that we are too lenient...who knows?”

Basically someone is always going to think there is something wrong with my parenting, but why do I care what they think...I have to live with my kids, not them, so I’ll determine how best to navigate my relationship. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll lose my temper sometimes, but in the end, my kids all know that I love them, that I would do anything for them, that I am proud of them and think they are the best things since Amy Chua. This whole being human thing is messy and awkward, and if that aint bad enough, being a human parent is even worse, but I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because I’m a parent, I have a unique opportunity to try and learn how to be a better person. More importantly, I get to watch these beautiful, fascinating and brilliant people grow into adulthood and unleash themselves on this world...what a miracle!

One final note, the Tiger Mom's daughter, who was admitted to Harvard wrote this rebuttal to the vociferous criticism her Mom received, who apparently received some death threats (my how we love to go way over the top in society). Please read:

Monday, April 9, 2012

One of the Most Difficult Days in My Life

--by Mike Adams

It was spring 1979 and I, a confused, seven year old little boy, could not fully comprehend my circumstances.  I had just entered a polished and elegantly furnished room.  The finished oak, and exquisite wall patterns were complemented by flowing curtains filling the space with a sense of dignified solemnity. My Mom, Grandparents and extended family entered the room first, followed by both my sister and I. In contrast to the decorous surroundings we were a bit skittish.  I had abandoned “good behavior” and bounced chaotically about the room, periodically attempting to swing on a curtain or clamber over furniture.  

Several relatives tried to gently distract or restrain me. However, no one showed anger or frustration, the situation simply wouldn’t tolerate that.  My sister and I would soon confront a difficult and life changing experience. Thus our efforts at distraction were accepted with kindness.

My mom and Uncle spoke at length with the man in charge, after which, we moved towards the front of the room.  There, the family paused as my sister and I stepped forward and gingerly peered over the edge of a grey box, where we confronted the remains of our father, Kirby L. Adams.

He appeared to be sleeping, so I reached out to nudge his face, hoping he would wake up, smile and hug me.  When my fingers touched his cheek, I was jarred by his cold skin.  It seemed to send an electric shock racing through my arm, to my stomach, where it inspired a convulsion before continuing to the focal point of my emotional life.  There is crashed through any obstruction, releasing a flood of grief and anger, for which I was completely unprepared.  

My legs crumpled and I fell towards the ground.  My uncle raced over to lift me, at which point, I pushed free with all my might and darted into an adjoining room.  There, I collapsed into a chair, I was overwhelmed with grief, sobbing with every fiber of my being.  I cried because my Daddy was really gone, I cried because for the first time in my short life, something truly terrible had happened and I could do nothing to change it.  I cried because, despite uncountable dutiful prayers, God had turned his back on me.  I cried because there was nothing else to do.  I was filled with a limitless reservoir of pain, which would never empty.  I thought I might cry so hard that I too would die and be laid to rest with my dad, but this didn’t happen.

I have no memories from the rest of that day. The only thing I’m sure of is that I couldn’t believe he was gone.  I couldn’t accept that neither my sister nor I would ever cuddle up on his lap while he tickled us or imitated Donald Duck.  My Daddy was gone, he could no longer make me feel safe, loved or important, He was really gone.

For months, I suffered intense grief, periodically bursting into tears, while at play with my friends or watching TV.  Slowly, I adjusted to life without Dad and months passed, turning into years as grief was replaced by fond memories.  

It has been more than thirty years since those events took place and today they occasionally seem as fresh as this morning’s coffee, while on other occasions, they are more like a movie or book about some sympathetic character, whom you want to reach out and comfort.

I recently noticed that when I think about my father’s death, I usually think of myself as I am now.  Meaning, I remember those events through the filter of a grown man, with all the wisdom, knowledge and capacities that I have today.

I can’t truly remember the small child or how he felt. That young innocent and trusting soul is a stranger to me. He has become, dare I say romanticized, though a romanticized part of who I am today.

Several years back, while visiting my Dad’s grave, I watched my then seven year old step-son speed around the premesis.  He pranced about, lackadaisically hanging from trees, and intermittently chasing his little brother. I stood at my father’s grave, simply remembering. When suddenly, I realized how young I had been. I saw that little seven year old boy gallivant about the cemetery reflecting the sun's jubilance, oblivious to the significance he played in my life on that day.

For the first time in many years, I began to cry over my deceased father. Not due so much, to personal grief, but rather out of compassion for that young child, whose world had been torn asunder some twenty eight years earlier. I cried for his I watched my step-son play.

And I realized that though he was a part of who I am as a grown man, I am in no way a part of who he was. That little boy is unknown to me and I will likely never really know him.  He is gone, grown into an adult, a father and husband, transformed by life into who I am now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bullying...We Still Tolerate It, WTF?!??


--by Mike Adams

As we begin this exploration, I must warn you that this is a topic about which I am somewhat bitter! This topic makes me feel, sad, disgusted, worried and just plain angry PISSED OFF! Bullying is like that for me.

A short while ago, while scanning my email inbox, I noticed an unusual subject line for a Gracie Insider email.  Usually Gracie messages offer examination of various jiu jitsu tactics used in a UFC competition or information about upcoming classes.

On this particular morning, however, the lead story read, “Another life lost to bullying.”  This caught my attention, particularly because in Middle School, I was a victim of bullying.  In fact, I had recently published a blog post about confrontation, which explored my experience with being bullied in Middle School and more importantly how, years later, Tae Kwon Do changed my life.

I followed the link and began reading a news article about fourteen year old Eden Wormer, of Ashland Oregon, who had recently killed herself. My emotional stress spiked, as I read how Eden had tried in vain to gain acceptance from her Middle School peers until finally, she decided the torment was too great. One night, she hugged her father and said “I love you, good night,” then she went in her room and hanged herself while her family slept.

Anger, bitter sadness, resentment, disbelief...I was overcome with a deluge of powerful emotions, which I had to keep in check, owing to the fact that I was at work. I wanted some light at the end of this tunnel to offer guidance and hope.  I wanted a shimmer of meaning to erupt blessing humanity with beauty. But ultimately, there is no positive spin for Eden’s tragedy. She was too young, her life was too precious and this should never have happened. Her father will never see Eden graduate from High School or college, her older sister will never spend hours talking with her about a crush or a teen romance.  Eden's brother will never dance with her at a wedding or visit her as an adult and fondly revisit childhood memories. Those possibilities are forever gone and I find that to be reprehensible.

Bullying in various guises has perpetrated numerous tragedies in recent years. In November of 2009, a seventeen year old boy was shot in the head at close range by a boy he reportedly bullied. In September of 2011 estimates are that 10 kids committed suicide as the result of bullying. In fact, according to, there is a strong correlation between teen suicide and being bullied. What may surprise you is that there is also a correlation between teen suicide and being a bully.

Enough with the statistics though, each statistic is based on a human being, for every number in any of those figures, there are parents crushed with grief and children lost to our world. In 2012, 14 year old Eden Wormer hanged herself, while her family slept. In 2011, 14 year old Jamey Rodemeyer hanged himself outside while his parents were at work. In 2010, 15 year old Justin Aaberg hanged himself while his family slept. In 2007, 13 year old Sian Yates hanged herself with a belt from her bunk bed.  In 2006, 16 year old Desire Nicole Dryer killed herself, despite a loving family and bright future. In 2003, 13 year old Ryan Halligan hanged himself while his family slept. I ask again, what are we doing wrong? 

Why haven't we taken any real ground with this issue? Why do we continue to see kids bullied and tormented? What have we missed? I believe the root lies in our collective preference to see bullying as something of an anomaly, a sort of “one off case,” in which only a few “bad apples” participate. However, according to a 2006 article in the Washington Post, 60-90 percent of children report having been bullied and 20 percent admit to having bullied someone else.  I recently read a blog article by Hogan Sherrow on the Scientific American web site, which examines the prevalence of bullying around the globe and finds that bullying is a human phenomenon, common to all cultures, though it is more prevalent in cultures that honor aggressive behavior and discourage nonconformity. In fact, Hogan shows that bullying behavior is found not only in all human cultures, primate groups, but also in all groups of mammals.  This indicates that bullying is part of our genetic makeup.  A hardwired part of being human.

What this says to me is that we need to stop pointing fingers at others and standing back as if were innocent bystanders. As far as I can tell, we all participate in bullying to some degree, sometimes we’re the bully, we say or do things meant to hurt and intimidate others. Perhaps our motives are to facilitate some kind of behavior and on other occasions we simply feel upset, frustrated or angry and we lash out at someone who is unlikely or unable to retaliate. Sometimes we’re the silent bystander, perhaps we're afraid to speak up, perhaps we think the victim is receiving their just deserts, whatever the case, we offer approval with our silence. We communicate to the victim in that situation that what is happening to them is ok and unimportant to us. And on other occasions, we’re the victim, maybe we're too afraid to say STOP, we don't feel we can stand up for ourselves.  We duck our heads and wait for the torment to pass, thus communicating to our tormentor that they can do this without concern and reinforcing our own belief that we aren't worthy of respect and dignity.

In the end, we are all collectively responsible for the fact that bullying continues. We are the perpetrators and we are the solution. What irks me is this collective pretense that we want to stop bullying and we just don’t know how. I think we do know. I think we know when we should speak up in someone’s defense, when we should say, "hey cut it out...leave her alone." I think we know when we ought to extend a hand in kindness to someone who has been trodden upon and I think we know when we have failed to do this, because perhaps they seem like a dork or they are homeless, perhaps we've seen them bully others in the recent past. But ultimately, we know that doing the right thing means extending our hand in kindness.  It means communicating to a victim that they are a fellow human being, deserving of respect and dignity. I believe we know these things and we know when we have made good choices or when we have been ruled by fear. We all know these things and we choose to feign ignorance, we choose to pretend we are powerless, we choose apathy!

So what is the solution, we are!  Every single one of us.  We do know what we should do and when we should speak up. We know when someone needs are kindness, so lets do what we know to be the right thing. It may take courage, it may place us in the cross hairs of a bully, but in the end, we’ll sleep better. We’ll know we were right and our values will be not only intact, but fortified for the next time we need to stand up and say “NO MORE!” or the next time we need to sit down and say, “you didn’t deserve that, why don’t I buy you a cup of coffee?” 

Never forget, we are the solution!

Bully Free Zone

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Parable of a Demonic Feline

--by Mike Adams

My story begins at two in the morning on a weekday night several years ago, when thankfully, for perhaps the first time in weeks, my toddler slept. He had managed the slowest recovery from chest infection in history. This meant that each night, for more than a week, I had awoken to the sounds of his gentle sobs and wheezy coughs. At intervals of several hours apart, I had risen from bed to comfort and care for him until he dozed in my arms. This repeated night after unrelenting night and each morning, my alarm bellowed, pitiless, and demanding, insisting that I rise and leave for work.

...On this night, however, my little one slept.

Meaning, I too could rest. So there I lay dormant in my bed, sleeping like a battle-weary veteran, when suddenly, I was awoken by the tortured wail of an injured feline.

I stumbled forth from the warm embrace of my bed with the same automaticity that drove me while I tended to my sick child. Down the stairs, into the dark living room, off to rescue the, Super Mike was on the scene. Our cat had managed to drag himself to the back door, and as I approached, he let loose a blood curdling screech, which filled me with concern.

I searched for a switch and ‘click’...the light revealed a cat with no outward sign of injury nor obvious physical distress. Apparently, he had simply hit upon a new and unpleasant way to use his voice.“Great!” I snorted, “The only thing he needs is to go outside...right now! I can’t believe I woke up for this!”

The next morning, I let everyone know what had happened and carefully explained that the cat would not be permitted inside after sunset. My two older sons, however, sharing both the compassion of Albert Sweitzer and the lack of interest in rules common to all children of their age, had other plans. They continued to let this demonic beast into our house.  Every evening, while I was upstairs tucking in my little bug-a-boo, they granted entrance to our cat, who would secret himself away, stowed underneath a table or behind some furniture until two or three in the morning, when he would announce his desire to leave, with torturous volume. This infuriated me, so after a week of sleepless nights, I finally threatened to wake everyone in the house if the cat was let in again. The kids relented and each night, this underworld fiend was ejected from our house, so that Dad could rest and his tirade could cease.

Life resumed normalcy and Marmalade Lion would vocalize an occasional yowl, but generally, he was pleasant, maybe even cute. The problem was that he had found an effective tactic and those are never easily forgotten. M. Lion would, with increasing frequency, employ his demonic yowl to get what he wanted. His wail, which could aptly be described as half strangled kitten and half of a choleric demon, would inundate my senses, pushing me towards a precipice of blind rage. On and on this continued, day after grinding day, until that moment of inspiration, when Ivan Petrovich Pavlov’s notion of “conditioned reflex” dawned on me like the loving embrace of morning’s sunlight, gently caressing the cold, hard earth. I had just explained the history of Pavlov’s dog to my then eleven year old son, when it occurred to me that with the deliberate and consistent use of a well aimed spray bottle, I might train our cat to use a more pleasant sound when making requests.

With high hopes, I undertook this project in secret. I would not be thwarted by the Sweitzer-like instincts of my wife or kids, who never once woke up to deal with cat. I proceeded to administer a squirt to our feline on any occasion that his voice assaulted my serenity. Just one squirt, simple and consistent, this experiment continued for more than a year. I pitted my stubbornness against his instincts, betting on Pavlovian conditioning to carry the day. Each day, I would spray and each day, the cat would yowl. I sprayed again, and he yowled AGAIN. This cycle repeated, until our cat was reduced to a pitiful, sopping wet mound of fur and I, a defeated man, with little faith in the rational nature of life.

Ultimately, my cat learned the wrong lesson. To him, I became the Overload of Terror, the Man of remorseless Spray, a tormentor to be feared. He never associated the spray bottle with his vocalizations. Rather he hid whenever I entered the room and, from his shelter, his serenade courted ghouls.

Finally, I relented. I accepted that he would not be trained, that his vocalization must be hardwired and I could not change it. This was a blow, but I knew I had been wrong. Let me assure you, I did not undergo a thorough change of heart. I still dislike Marmalade Lion, but I do regret having traumatized him. If I had it to do all over again, I’d perhaps, search for a cat muzzle...or perhaps, just leave him alone.

This article is not, however, about my cat. Rather it explores what I have learned from him, about myself. I have learned that through me, Pavlov has tormented not just one slightly barmy feline but also my children, my wife, my co-workers and countless others. Like a merciless scientist, I have, periodically lashed out with this idea of “conditioned reflex” and wounded those who are closest to me, leaving them hurt and confused. Always, this has followed some incident where I interpreted their actions as cruel or callous. Usually, they were simply trying get something done as best they could and they had no more intent of malice than my cat had when he wanted out.

Frankly, this bothers me. I could easily conclude, based on this insight, that I am a thoroughly rotten person. That I have little or no self-control. That there is something seriously wrong with me. But my conclusion would be erroneous, my reactions are rather typical.  It seems, that virtually everyone has a bit of Pavlov in them. His retribution lurches forth from our bruised feelings and inflicts emotional pain on others. This leaves us in the position where either we confront our mess and try to offer a meaningful amend or we justify our cruelty, placing blame solely on those we love.

Now, when things get ugly and we’re looking at poor behavior, there is almost always someone thinking, “This doesn’t really pertain to me.” More often than I care to admit, I am that person. So, if you find that you are having those thoughts, take a moment to reflect on these typical sorts of human interactions:

A parent says to their co-parent, “DON’T talk to the kids that way! You ask why I snap at you and criticize? That’s why! You make me so mad. Stop talking to the kids OR me like that, and I’ll quit snapping at you.”

To which the first parent responds, “Give me a break! You can’t possibly pretend ignorance to the fact that your constant negativity and criticism angers me to the point where I get mean. Why don’t YOU stop?!”

Meanwhile, somewhere else, a married couple has the following exchange, “exasperated spilled that drink down the front of the cabinets and walked away? Do I have to do everything around here?”

The other spouse says, “Do everything...seriously? If you could trouble yourself to reattach the lids to juice bottles, vitamin containers and spice jars, we wouldn’t have so many spills. I don’t know why I should clean anything up! Maybe if you did a bit more, you could figure out how to close containers properly.”

I think we get confused. We forget that we’re talking with someone important, like our spouse, our best friend or our children. Instead, we act as if we are dealing with some sociopath, or a rabid Nazi.  We act like Pavlov, remorselessly harming the subject of our experiment.


One of my favorite definitions of insanity, has been attributed to several professional athletes, to Albert Einstein and finally to Benjamin Franklin.  It is frequently quoted in 12-step recovery groups and it reads “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

Doesn’t this seem to describe us?  From my perspective, we humans have a strong tendency in this direction. We seem to have some pathological streak that compels us to believe it is not only OK, but advisable to treat people like this:
Wait a minute, that person just acted like a jerk!
I better make sure they know it.
Maybe I can teach them a lesson while I’m at it...They’ll never do that again!
Then, I’ll forgive them...comfort them...and love them.
I am such an enlightened soul!”

This never really works out, but we persist in it anyway. You can see it play out in every theatre of human interaction, spanning the gamut from our close interpersonal relationships to our international policy and cultural diplomacy.

In my life, this oft repeated drama plays out after dinner, during clean up. Each one of my kids is unusually distractible. In fact two of them have a diagnosis of ADHD. So every evening, right after dinner, we all head into the kitchen and begin the cleaning cycle.

It is important to note that when I say “We all begin cleaning,” what happens, is that I begin cleaning, while the kids saunter around our small and crowded kitchen not cleaning. My frustration mounts as I repeatedly ask them to look please at their chore lists. If I’m not careful, this is is where I become possessed of a fury. I begin barking orders and cause all pleasantry to dissipate as I plunge our kitchen into drudgery.

This usually ruins the entire evening, so recently, my wife and I agreed to try and characterize dinner cleanup as time spent with our kids…a time to talk with them and enjoy their company.

To be honest, this takes a considerable effort on my part. I often force a smile and say, “yeah that’s pretty clever...say, how much is left on your chore list?” A few seconds later: “pretty funny, but I don’t think you should be putting the dish towel in your mouth.  Oh that reminds me, how’s that chore list coming along?”

I understand no one would be reminded of chore list, because they see someone chewing on a dish towel.  This communication tactic is effective, thus my kids have never noticed the transition...shhhh!

I suppose the reason I’m sharing this with you is that it points to something I think is important. For a few years now, I have been writing these sermons and delivering them to groups, which are filled with people, who can make a difference. At some point, I had to contrast my actions towards those closest to me with the values about which I speak so passionately. “Parable of a Demonic Feline” is the result of that insight.  I believe that humanity’s ability to coalesce around anything important is rooted in how we treat each other. I am worried about the world we are leaving the next generation. I’m worried about our debt, our pollution and our tendency to constantly be engaged in some military action. All of this seems so overwhelming and truth be told, I will not be able to change the world!

I can, however, try to inspire the best in those around me. I can share my shortcomings, my struggles, my hopes and my dreams. Perhaps, if I’m honest enough, if I share enough hope, enough inspiration and enough passion, then, someone else might do the same and share their dreams. Together, we might start a chain reaction, we might inspire more dreamers and cumulatively, this could cause humanity to change this world.

So I am publishing this article, because I believe that you can make a profound difference for future generations. I believe that you are the agents of transformation. Though I am an atheist, I have faith in my fellow human beings.  I have faith that, despite our Pavlovian tendencies, we humans are miraculous, capable of the most astounding beauty and incredible charity.

You are my teachers, my heroes and my inspiration.  I am writing to try and mirror back to you, your own greatness. I am writing to try and inspire you to walk out into this world sharing that greatness.

I hope my message is well received and I thank you for taking the time to read.