Saying “Goodbye” To the Terrorist Within
Welcome to stren #60. As we discussed in the previous stren, when an individual puts a rabbit into a hat and pulls out a cat, we call that person a magician. The portion of the brain that makes us human, our cerebral cortex or freedom organ, routinely performs such magical feats. It converts physical energy into the mental energy we call consciousness, assigns meaning to symbols that transform energy into another form, and then reverses the process. The transformed mental energy is turned back into physical energy, only modified. Today’s stren focuses on our human brain’s most important magical feat – transforming the harmful energy that resides within us into constructive energy, specifically turning resentment and hate into a loving lifelong friend.
Are you familiar with the voice within that is impossible to please? That can be counted on to let you know you are not quite the way you should be, and never will be? That convinces you to punish yourself with putdowns, guilt, and for some, even physical harm? This is the same terrorist who instinctively blames others but has been taught to bully you. Would you like to say “goodbye” to the terrorist who lives within you? This stren shows you how. Turning resentment and other forms of harmful aggression into love is our greatest magical feat because this knowledge creates world peace and insures our future. You need to first understand the destructive aggression within each of us that characterizes our history and how this terrorist comes to turn on ourselves.
Resentment and hate are inevitable; self-endorsement and love are optional
For 3½ billion years of life on earth, destructive physical confrontation has been the law of the land. Can you imagine what life was like for our ancestors when housing and the cultivation of food were non-existent? Survival of the fittest meant eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. Destructive aggression is a basic means by which our ancestors excelled in order to survive in a savage environment. The genes of the most aggressive warriors, who succeeded for millions of years through their destructive prowess, program us for physical superiority. This predator instinct is not “evil”; it is nature’s means to survive in a savage environment. Consider the hawk, predestined to take its prey without remorse, mindlessly acting according to nature’s commands. We, like the hawk, also inherently act to serve our self and those identified as our family or tribe, irrespective of the harm to others. Just observe children’s insensitivity; teens are notorious for their bullying.
With the gradual development of the cerebral cortex, our ancestors became increasingly intelligent. They discovered the universal rules of cause-and-effect and began replacing trial-and-error learning with common sense knowledge. Experimentation with civilization got a boost 50,000 years ago with the introduction of sophisticated language. The creation of language is the source of immense power. By assigning meaning to symbols, we acquire, store, share, and pass knowledge forward to grow our constructive and destructive power. It is appropriate to expect that our intelligent cerebral cortex will first be introduced to language that biases us to serve the predator instinct and the competitive traditions proven to be previously effective. Our nurturers, influenced by the long chain of their nurturers, sustain our innate competitiveness. Harmful aggression will remain prominent until we collectively teach ourselves to recognize that what was adaptive and necessary in our past has now become maladaptive and even dangerous.
Because common sense is so limited for our first decades, our nurturers have no choice but to direct us using simple, two-category either/or explanations of the world. We remain helpless while we are immature, and we uncritically accept whatever interpretation of the world our nurturers provide us. Our first experience with language biases us to serve the pre-judgments and prejudices of instinct and our nurturers. The world must first be understood in two extremes – good or bad (evil), right or wrong, O.K. or not O.K., friend or foe, safe or dangerous, value or denigrate. But while this early two-category processing of data is necessary, it is also the major source of bigotry. You get the idea. Hatred, resentment, jealousy, greed, and other forms of mental aggression become the symbolic replacement for physical aggression. If our way, our family, our kind, our flag, our leaders, our religion are good and right, then what is not us must be bad and wrong. It is O.K. to demean those who are not us, even to demand that not us come over to our way or be punished. With repetition, this either/or way of thinking becomes habit that controls our beliefs, feelings and actions. The culture of our society is an expression of our collective habits.
We’d like to think we are beyond this two-category either/or thinking, but the evidence does not support it. The harmful outcomes of either/or thinking are evident in our daily life. Our TV, movies, and games clearly distinguish the good guys from the bad guys; countries are friends or foes; our popular sports events enourage us to cheer the hero and boo the clearly identified villain; our laws require us to plead innocent or guilty; we adhere to two-party politics where party dominance is often more important than collaboration for mutual benefit. In any confrontation, we commonly glorify our side, demonize and dehumanize the other side, and justify their need for punishment. Even our gods take sides, and we commonly pray for them to favor our designated teams. As a psychiatry resident, I heard a lecture by Brock Chisholm, first director of the World Health Organization, who described the disbelief of Canadian soldiers during WWI when they discovered that every German soldier had inscribed in their belts, “Gott mit uns, God is with us.” Didn’t they know God favored the Allies?
Now that we are arming multiple tribes with ultimate destructive power, we have much to learn and little time to succeed. The outcome of sustained blaming predictably results in escalation of negative feelings and harmful confrontation, as documented by our history. When most tribes have weapons with such ultimate destructive power that they provide no second chance, survival of the physically fittest is likely to result in all losers. The weak and “have nots,” frustrated, first target the strong and the “haves.” The long established “might is right” tradition becomes suddenly fatal. Love, forgiveness, collaboration, cooperation, and compromise are the new champions of surviving and thriving. We must selectively update the trial-and-error solutions, instincts, and traditions that have long been effective but have now become dangerous. We need to deal with the terrorist we each harbor within us. We are up to the task if we first teach ourselves to forgive and negotiate rather than demonize and destroy those we perceive as enemies, i.e. who or what deviates from our dictators. In short, our time is short!
Now for the biggest of all payoffs from our magical ability – saying goodbye to the terrorist who lives within and becoming our own best friend.
The transformation of blaming-out to blaming-in: We, like other species, are genetically programmed with energy to physically harm others. Unlike other species, however, we also convert physical aggression into mental symbolic expression, such as resentment and hate. Humankind excels in a new category of mental aggression I label blaming-in. Blaming-in, which includes self-putdowns, learned guilt, and self-demeaning talk, is not innate like the blaming-out action pathway, but is a skill we are taught by our nurturers. Learned guilt and the wide variety of self-putdowns serve as a powerful method to insure compliance with our nurturer’s commands. With decades of rewards when we conform to our tribe’s perspective, and punishment when we disobey, the two-category manner of processing information becomes indelibly inscribed pathways to action. Indeed, blind obedience to our dictator’s “shoulds” – such as, don’t go in the street; never touch the fire; don’t go with strangers – are required for our safety and survival. Failure to uncritically obey the commands of instinct and our nurturer’s commands, which have been proven to work by trial-and-error-experience, can result in individual or species extinction.
However, when carried beyond our stage of helpless immaturity, this early way of thinking supports mental slavery to instinct, tradition, and human dictators. Learned guilt and putdowns sustain our dependency and helplessness and lead to feelings of inadequacy. You will get the most important wisdom in this stren when you say, “AHA, these self-putdowns, guilt, and blaming are like diapers, once helpful but now a bit ridiculous; I can now replace them with what makes a lot more sense.” You need to selectively unlearn those dictatorial commands that once were effective but have now become dangerous. You do so by adding more fulfilling pathways to direct your energy, because habits don’t go away; habits remain with us, ready to take over whenever opportunity permits, whenever we fail to intervene.
The harmful mental aggression to punish ourselves for what is not acceptable to our tribe is rooted in our early two-category prescriptive language. Who can avoid living up to all the shoulds, have to’s, musts, and ought to be’s we are taught? We are so far superior in intelligence to any other species that we excel in quickly learning the blaming-in mental action pattern of putdowns, guilting, and demonizing ourselves. We are experts in recognizing how we are not O.K. We are taught that our tribe’s goals are the only good and worthy ones, and that if we deviate we have sinned and deserve punishment. The thinking, feelings, and action pathways others program into us become expressed as the voice of the terrorist within. The terrorist’s main function is to let us know that we must comply with the rules inscribed by instinct, tradition, and human dictators. Unless we submit to their authority, we deserve blame and punishment. We each harbor a terrorist within us whose main function is to maintain blind obedience to authority. Might makes right; might gets rid of evil in us by punishment. This blaming-in behavior is prominent only in humankind. In stren #62, I will elaborate on why suicide is only prevalent among humans and explain the most important antidote against bullying.
Fortakeness is natural; forgiveness is learned with common sense wisdom!
We each harbor within us a terrorist whose main activity is demeaning, guilting, and putdowns. By recognizing that self-centered behavior, lack of respect, and insensitivity to not me or not our tribe is nature’s way, we more easily learn to forgive ourselves for being what we are taught is unacceptable and deserving of punishment. Until you forgive yourself for the destructive energy you don’t like in yourself, you will remain a servant to instinct, tradition, and human dictators, unable to fully assume your opportunity to love yourself and thereby love others. The first step to love others is acquiring skill in loving yourself. Understanding that harmful aggression is within each of us enables us to be more tolerant of the annoyances we see in others. We are more likely to perceive the other as in need of education in civility and limit setting instead of a personal attack deserving of punishment. Understanding makes it possible to forgive, love, and offer help rather than express the “retaliation” that escalates our negative energy to destructive confrontation. Problem-solving is more effective than punishment.
Forgiveness is a new human quality compared to the traditional fortakeness expressed in various forms of harmful aggression; our intelligence is initially designed to enhance our warrior/terrorist biology! Forgiveness is the secret ingredient we require to create authentic love, to generate the self-endorsement that frees us from instinct and tradition. We can’t give away what we don’t have! We will continue to have great difficulty giving love to others when we lack it in ourselves, when our factory space is dedicated to blaming. This is why I emphasize self-endorsement strens. As powerful creators we are as fully capable of teaching ourselves to create love as nature would have us manufacture harmful aggression.
O.K., let’s come back to our starting point, the magician who puts a rabbit in a hat and pulls out a cat. Each of us can acquire the magical skill of transforming fortakeness and other forms of harmful aggression into love and helpful aggression. But before we can engage in the many self-endorsement skills that enable us to create love, we need to overcome the negative emotions that resist giving of ourselves to benefit others. We must create a quantity of the magical ingredient – forgiveness. Forgiveness allows us to create love-making space in our mental energy factory.
Hate -10 -9 -8 -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 -0- +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10 Love
Forgiveness ⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒ Love
Forgiveness has been described as a higher energy expression of love. When we already feel offended enough to experience resentment, we require greater energy to create mature love because we are already functioning at a negative energy level. Whether the perceived injustice was valid or not, the negative feelings need to be neutralized before we can create the positive feelings that benefit us and the world. Clearly, letting go of resentment is harder than creating love. Directing our fortakeness energy to forgiveness, to constructive aggression, is a skill that must be cultivated, unlike the destructive bent that has been pre-wired into our thinking through genes and habit. We come to appreciate the joy of giving, which is greater than that of receiving, through experience.
Forgiveness is the magical ingredient that empowers us to transform the negative emotions in our hat and pull out loving energy. We have seen, especially in the last 100 years, that human selection is joining natural selection in deciding who shall live and who shall become extinct. At issue is personal responsibility. During our early “magic years” things seemed to automatically happen without our help and we could not make much of a difference in our lives. Our path was directed by others. We were more in a position to rebel against others than to initiate our own creativity. This early experience makes it difficult to recognize we must create what we want in our life. Human selection has suddenly become the powerful force that is determining the condition of our planet and the fate of the life it supports. Unlearning blaming is a difficult but necessary task.
I, and you, and our world all benefit by every individual who frees their willpower from fortakeness and magically transforms its energy into forgiveness. “Magically” is not really magic; it is a skill based on applying practice to knowledge; ask any great magician. I hope this stren will motivate you to attend to the skills of love and forgiveness. Even though we have come to abhor physical slavery, we still support mental slavery. We allow ourselves to blindly follow the demands of instinct, tradition, and the human dictators that tell us what we must believe and how we must think, feel, and act. To the extent we do so, we forgo the marvelous opportunity to become the wise creator of the peace we wish and pray for, and we fail to protect our loved ones from the ultimate destruction that our generation is making widely available. Let’s apply our “magic” and transform short term gain for long term pain into short term gain and long term bigger gain.
We have the knowledge and the means to rapidly educate our populace in the newer way of thinking that stresses common sense, love, and forgiveness. Certainly, during the time it will take to achieve this goal, we must maintain our vigilance. We need to continue to set limits on those who promote destructive aggression. We still must continue to use muscle to delay the otherwise inevitable unleashing of weapons of ultimate destruction. But we can no longer remain stuck in the perspectives of instinct and two-category thinking. The one permanent solution to world peace is spreading the newer way of thinking that teaches us to act with knowledge and wisdom instead of relying on the authority of dictators.
The self-endorsement skills first provided in these strens and on our Internet site, anwot.org, will equip you to create the love and forgiveness that you require to fulfill your own needs; you will enrich others with what spills over. Forgiveness is the most advanced state of love. Your freedom organ is most impressive when you provide it the wisdom to transform the raw destructive energy you and every person harbors within into love and forgiveness. You can and must if your choice is “to survive and move towards higher levels,” as Einstein advised.
Let me give you one illustration of the magical capabilities of our freedom organ to create a newer way of thinking. Lisa Gibson’s brother was among the 270 who died when a Libyan terrorist bomb brought down a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. What came out of Lisa’s hat did not fit our usual expectation. Rather than crying out for vengeance, Lisa founded a nonprofit corporation to promote humanitarian and educational reconciliation between the U.S. and Libya, and fosters cross-cultural activities. Get her book, Life in Death: A Journey from Terrorism to Triumph (Xulon Press, 2008) to learn what response she received to her letter of forgiveness to the terrorists. Reaching out with forgiveness and celebrating our oneness is our best hope for lasting peace.
To the dictionary definition of love, “the intense affectionate concern for another person,” a second is added: “the benevolence, kindness, or brotherhood that man should rightfully feel toward others.” I would prefer to change “should feel” to “would wisely feel” toward others. I prefer to consider love and forgiveness as an act of free will rather than a “should” imposed on me by some authority. Forgiveness is defined: “to renounce anger or resentment, to excuse a fault or offense.”
Forgiveness is not a natural act; it is an intentional act of our own creation to invest our energy to help rather than harm. Nature has prescribed the universal survival of the physical fittest rule in each of us through life’s history. Tradition, which consists of the wisdoms that have been effective in the past, resists change, even when the new way is supported by common sense. The emotion linked to tradition commonly trumps our intelligent awareness of what is wise. Our will power will remain biased to the perspectives of instinct and tradition until we teach ourselves to add positive emotion to a newer way of thinking that respects common sense.
The overwhelming majority of our informed citizens have told us to expect the use of weapons of ultimate destruction unless we take urgent action. The question becomes apparent: Who can determine that the universal rules for survival have changed? Who can determine what is wise to change? The answer is just as obvious. Intelligence and knowledge have created the change and the most informed of us are now responsible for wisely managing our new knowledge.
What process of change can we expect? First there will be defectors from tradition. It will be tough going. Tradition resists change and makes it difficult for “deviants” like Christ, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi. It is a very mature skill to graciously invite contradictions to the assumptive views that we assign value, and it can have a powerful affect on the world. Is there any more powerful newer way of thinking than teaching forgiveness and love?