Monday, March 11, 2013

Collectors of Pain - The Future We Build w/ Self Respect

I love talking to gentle people who hold disparate ideas from myself.  When I can engage in a conversation in a gentle way, I can spot false assumptions more easily, and have the freedom to explore their source and ramifications in an environment which is respectful and non-confrontational.

This morning a conversation turned towards fire/rescue personnel.  My discussion partner said something which sparked a flame in my mind.  When talking about rescue personnel it was said, "They give so much (in their work.)"

My mind started churning immediately; I have special knowledge of emergency personnel.  Back at Carnegie Mellon University, I was a volunteer First Responder who was on call 24 hours a day for days at a time.  I knew all too well the life of an emergency responder.  The highs and lows were unforgettable.  Hours and hours of nothing happening followed by an intense hour or so of activity assisting those in very painful situations both physically and emotionally.  It was exhausting.

I extrapolated my experience to empathize with those that do that work professionally.  Long durations of little to do followed by bursts of hectic activity.  I thought of the hours of dead time with its constant struggle to stay mentally awake, followed by an instant demand to be fully on task with vital attention.

"They give so much..."  They do indeed.  But they also take.  They sit in wait, tensely anticipating someone in pain, then rushing to respond.  The rush to the scene of a bloody situation full of emotional torment and quickly try to help others by relieving the pain.  But  this is not without personal effect.  In reliving others pain, the inevitably choose to expose themselves to that pain.  Their entire choice of profession is waiting around for pain and then swoop in to participate in and then hopefully alleviate that pain.

I thought of gamblers and drinkers, riding the lows and elating in the highs.  I though about what a traumatic life that would be.  I imagine what a traumatic place these men and women have come from that they wish to live that life every day.  What would it mean to want to run towards painful traumatic situations every day?  It is one thing to want to be sure those in need are helped, but it is another thing to want to put yourself personally in the path of pain.

I posed an intriguing question to myself, "what if there was almost no one who wanted to subject themselves to those highs and lows?"  What if large numbers of people wanted to be sure those in need had assistance, but also wanted to keep trauma away from their lives?

Would more people become first responders?  My training was only 60 hours, yet I could respond to 95% of the situations which arose.  What if no one wanted that job personally?  The need would still be there.  What amazing innovations would be invented if no one wanted to run towards pain?  What emergency kits would be developed in the age of instant information, and micro electronics   Swarms of tiny robots who could treat burns, set bones, stop bleeding?  Head mounted communication systems for first responders so a trained expert could guide them in what needed to be done in that moment?

There is an analog to this which is stark and powerful.  For 100 years individuals were happy to own slaves in this country.  Pain and trauma was accepted as the way to most effectively pick cotton.  As pain and trauma started to be come less and less acceptable, supporters of slavery said, "but without slaves, who will pick the cotton?"  Well the pain and trauma did become unacceptable, and almost instantly an amazing thing happened.  With no willing participants in the pain, the need for a solution to the problem of cotton picking was suddenly urgent.  And the profit to whoever could solve the problem would be enormous.

With large rewards, comes large impetus for innovation and within a generation machines to pick cotton automatically were developed.  Looking back, it seems obvious that giant machines running on juice refined from plants crushed millions of years ago is a great answer, but it took people standing up against trauma to bring it to light.
Photo Credit:

I am inspired by the possible, and inevitable future.  As more and more people become enlightened and healed from our past traumas, less and less of us will seek out to repeat our traumatic past in the present.  As more and more of us demand self-respect, consistency, and fulfilling lives, more and more painful and mundane job functions will be replaced by such fantastical, yet obvious solutions.

I choose to help push us towards this future, by echoing across my connections the virtues, freedom, and happiness of self-empathy, self-respect, and self-confidence.

I do hope you will join me...

Success in Themed Design - A Personal Message to A Young Designer

Following a passion for no one but myself...

In my position as a design manager for Walt Disney Imagineering, I am often approached for advice by those looking to make a career in creating theme park designs.  In my responses, I in no way speak for the Walt Disney Company.  I instead present the thoughts and feelings which have propelled me the most in my life, and relate those which have resulted in the amazing position I have made for myself not just at work, but in my life as a whole.

I was asked for advice recently on what resources a first year architectural student should investigate on their path to becoming a theme park designer.  I wrote back about a shift of mindset of which I have only recently become consciously aware.  I hope you find this insightful.  I welcome any feedback you may have, or any thoughts which this may inspire within you.

You asked about what resources to look at in regards to architecture.  I will turn that a bit around.  Themed architecture has a heavy component of integrating very desperate goals, disciplines, personalities, and mindsets.  My greatest asset in this work has been the breath of my diverse understanding of multiple viewpoints and priorities.  As I have broadened my empathy for other individual’s ideas, passions, bigotries, and the deep personal histories which drive their daily moods, thoughts, and attitudes, I have become more and more effective at the role of coordinator, and translator for a complex and brilliant team. 
I have also found that empathy for others begins with empathy for your self.  I highly encourage you to delve deep into as many of your passions* and emotions you possibly can.  Challenge your assumptions, and really make an effort to see the world not just from other people’s eyes, but from their deep seated history.  
Themed environment projects bring together one of the most rich and diverse groups of people assembled in order to deliver the final experience.  Anything you can do to put yourself at the center, deeply connected to the most numbers of those personalities, will increase not only your measurable success, but your personal pride, humility, and of course happiness.  
In abstract terms, read up on psychology, logic, and philosophy.  In more practical terms, work on practicing honesty, connection, curiosity, and empathy in your own life every hour of every day.  Start by asking yourself how you feel about a given situation right in the moment as you are feeling uneasy or passionate.  Try not to jump to conclusions or easy answers about feelings.  What we feel are the springs bubbling up from deep seated responses to long strings of experiences in our subconscious.  To start to empathize with the sources of our own feelings is the break-through which allows us to start to truly empathize with others.  
As for WDI, our department heads tend to hire interns who are in their last two years of schooling as they are looking for someone who can hit the ground running.  *Another example of a direct next step is to explore your passions directly and without shame.  If you are interested in themed design, go do themed design, whether someone will pay you or not.  
I felt the passion for it, so in my third year of school with no thoughts of landing a job, I built a themed fa├žade for my dorm room.  I did it just to relive my own tension and fulfill my own curiosity.  I designed it, built it, installed it, marketed it, and even had an opening ceremony with ribbon cutting.  I felt completely off the wall at the time, but in parallel, my actions felt like the most natural thing in the world:
Keep me up to date!  And I would love to talk with you more if any of this piques your interests.
Park Street Place was a themed set piece for my dorm room.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are... Indeed

I was heavily affected, or more precisely, I had a strong connection and reaction to the movie I saw a couple of nights ago, Where the Wild Things Are.  I went into this movie with the assumption I would find a pleasant fantasy adventure.  My defenses were down as I expected no more than a superficial family friendly film which would avoid serious and important topics.  This is not what I ended up seeing.  I instead I meet a creative, passionate, resourceful young boy who has been the victim of so much abuse.

So much abuse, that his entire world is abuse and rejection.  This perverted baseline is what is assumed to be normal.  But the boy knows much different.  He has a core that is longing for connection, longing for respect, adventure, for love.  He has only learned domination, and abandonment in his short time on the earth.  He has learned compliance, and lonely singular dictatorial strength.  As his internal compass of universal morality is challenged, he uses the only tools he has been given, the only tools which have been modeled for him; attack, domination, angry will, and in the end, abandonment in order to get his way.  Of course, instantaneously, he is reminded that these methods, so brazenly and proudly utilized by the adults and older children in his life, and seen as crazy, wild, and evil by those same people when they see him trying those same techniques.

The real adventure, violence, chaos, joy, and mystery comes when the boy sails off into his subconsciousness mind and lands in a metaphorical land where he is left alone and defenseless to meet and explore the violent and giant parts of his personality ecosystem.  He is completely alone in this journey.  Not only does he have no connection to the outside world while in his mental struggle, he also brings no tools, methodologies, or guide maps from the outside to help him in dealing with his internal struggles.

Not one person in his life spent one second of their time to prepare him for the internal adventure which is part of being human.  No one told him of the many monsters waiting for him in his mind.  In fact, it is readily apparent that this guidance was not given to the adults themselves.  The adults function in social group where each thinks they are alone in their mental struggle, where each has been trained to shun, dismiss, and ridicule the mental struggle of any other, and each person is left scared and alone, surrounded by monsters in their own mind.  The only "success" they have had in dealing with the monsters is to dissociate   Is to shun them with the distraction of a flashy chaotic life.  A life of incessant routine, compliance, and social conformity.

So this child is left cutting a path into his own wild mind with only the tools of dysfunction, domination, and dissociation to use in trying to understand, connect, and accept the powerful, scary, passionate, personality parts which are imprinted within his own mind.  The boy tries manipulation, using lies to affect the behavior of his monsters.  He tries domination, tricking the monsters into temporary subservience using promises he has no ability to fulfill.  He jumps in feet first using loud flashy displays of physical and verbal intimidation to try to affect an impression.  He tries inspirational distraction projects to keep the monsters busy and offer the illusion of connection and teamwork without any of the hard work of building trust.

He is irrational in his strategies, while his monsters are irrational in their thoughts and actions.  The irrationality of the parts bounce off each other like ping pong balls on mousetraps trapped in a glass box.  Since there is no understanding, no empathy, no rational basis to make a meaningful connection, every interaction spirals wildly out of control.  Play turns to fighting, joy to anger, anger to hurt, and hurt to dissociation.  I respect the people involved in the production of this film in that they do not shy away from the brutal mental reality of this dynamic.  Violence and domination is portrayed as it is felt, a normal baseline for the boy's reality.  Bodies are violated, possessions destroyed, feelings hurt, people ignored, and all of this is done without batting an eye and presented as completely normal.  Having the film face how "normal" these thoughts and feeling are is one of the most powerful, and uncomfortable ideas presented.

So that is some of the genius of the film.  But this film had a problem, it had no where to go.  The boy had no tools or experience to be able to build any trust or connections with his monster parts of his personality.  This film can not end on a positive note.  It is but a window into a typical day of a child of our society   It offers no hope for change, and in fact show every indication that the boy has taken one more step towards becoming the dominate, disconnected, unempathetic  conforming adult personality which has created all his torment in the first place.

With no challenges resolved, and no connections made, (if anything a major connection was broken and abandoned,) the boy leaves the wild of his mind to return to the arms of the person(s) who created, and continue to curate the turmoil in both his life and mind.  Thinking this over again as I type this, the movie may be much more brutal in its ending than I have initially realized.

Upon returning to his family home, the boy does not share his adventure with his parent.  No connection is made at all.  The parent shares none of her inner turmoil.  Instead they hug tightly then share chocolate cake. They indulge in physical stimulation of a hug.  A hug meant to simulate and distract from the connection that they do not share.  The hug being a repeat of the vast team building project in the boy's mental world which was meant to simulate and distract from the lack of team connection and trust.  The two turn to cake for additional disconnection from their pain.  The indulge in physical comfort by using food to substitute for the emotional comfort they so desperately want but are so terrified of requesting or offering.  (And for good reason, every other time a connection was requested in the movie, it was ignored, dismissed, or physically punished.

Many of us know where these precedents lead.  This life will not go well for this poor boy.  We close the film on the precedent that physical connection can be substituted for a missing emotional connection.  This boy will go through a string of relationship where he and his partners use physical stimulation of make out sessions and sex to avoid the terrors of their missing emotional attachments.  Each affair will end badly with each blaming the other, and none wiser for the experience.  Eventually biological clocks will chime and he will marry the closest person to him at the time when social pressure to reproduce becomes unbearable.  He will share in creating a couple of kids then will either hand around in his hollow relationship imprinting the emptiness onto his children, or he will abandon ship leaving his children in the same exact situation which opens this film.

As for the cake, the external stimulation of our emotions using physical factors, we know where this leads to as well.  Using food to manage emotions leads to weight and health issues.  It cascades back on itself as one gains weight, reinforcing the feeling that one is not worthy of emotional connection.  If social pressure to stay thin wins out, the need to externalize emotional stimulation will just move on to something else, such as sports mania, video games, gambling, drugs, smoking, or heaven forbid, the intellectual masturbation of academia.

So there in lies the tension.  This movie pulls the cover off the rotting perpetual motion machine of emotional abuse, torment, and isolation that is the vast majority of every person's childhood inner world.  It lays bare all that most of us do not want to face in a computer rendered glory of a metaphorical tale.  It is covered up with just enough decoration to allow those who wish to see a gruesome look, while giving cover to those who wish to look away enough to see without really seeing the destructive patterns for the sad horrible and evil reality that they are.

This film offers no hope, no course correction, and no methodologies for connection.  The entire mental adventure is presented in the bubble of the child's mind with no connections offered to any outside people.  Not once is any adult or sibling's minds presented.  Not once is any mirror provided to show what is in the child was first in the adult.  We are instead presented the system as a snapshot in time, a system which simply exists tragically, which has no beginning and no end.  There is no possibility to avoid this system, and in the end, no need to.  Nothing quite works out, but that is OK.

Of course there absolutely is another way.  A horrible one indeed.  One that changes everything.  One that calls into question the morals, courage, and wisdom of all who have come before us.  Indeed, adults are not forces of nature.  They are not spewing volcanoes of power around which children must arrange their lives and avoid as much injury as possible.  No, adults have something wonderful and powerful.  Something which enables all of the best things in life including love, honor, integrity, and morality...  Adults have choice.

One would not know this from watching this movie.  Not one adult choice is demonstrated in the entire two hours of the film.  Adults are shown faithfully from the child's point of view.  They are shown as powerful gods who react solely based on the choices of the child.  Every action an adult takes in this film is a direct reaction to a choice made by the child.  Any actions not connected to a child's choice are seen simply as fundamental truths of the child's reality.

Adult actions are always shown as universal truths of reality.  There is no other possible actions any given adult can take in any situation.   When the boy's single mom is having a date with a gentleman in her living room while her kids are alone elsewhere in the house, the fact that the mother chose this course of events is completely avoided at all costs.  Indeed, it must be avoided by the film makers.  For if it were revealed to be a series of events chosen by the adults, the follow up scene would have turned the audience's stomachs.

In the follow up scene in the kitchen, the boy chooses to express his discontent with the series of events.  He is quickly and coldly admonished by his mother for choosing to say or do things that are uncomfortable for her.  Do you see the problem?  Do you see the gaping hole in this mother's mind?  The smoking crater in her head which should hold reality, empathy, justice, and honor?  She has just stated that is is bad, wrong, unempathetic, out of line, and unacceptable for a person to make a choice which leads to uncomfort in another person.  She is saying that the child should be kind, emotionally connected, and sensitive to how his actions or words will affect the emotions of others.  He should make his choice based on how it will affect other people.

My gosh I can not dwell on this point enough.  Her in lies the entire smoking crater of the movie.  The root cause of all neglect, abandonment, pain, and dissociation in both this movie an most of our childhoods.

This parent MUST willfully blind herself to her own choices in order to admonish her son's.  For if it is morally critical that her son learn to make choices based on how they will effect others at his age of 9, it follows that she herself must be at least as responsible to make her choices based on their effect to others at her age of 35.  Diving deeper into this topic the light of truth and consistency shows a dark topic which the movie studiously avoids.

The mother has a much higher responsibility in this matter than her boy.  In fact, her responsibility to follow the moral teaching she is inflicting on her son is orders of magnitude above his own.  She has decades more real world practice than he does in making choices and seeing the resulting affect on others.  She has infinitely more power and resources to make mindful responsible choices in her life than he does.  Her relationship to him and the house in which they live is completely voluntary, while his relationship to her and the house is completely imposed and enforced.

And so our light of reason reveals a horrible inversion in the family.  An inversion which every single person knows, oh so well at the core of their being.  An inversion so strong, so contradictory, so ugly, so painful, and so damning to the care givers in our lives, that we must, at all costs, avoid not only speaking of it, but even thinking of it.  It is taken as essential truth in our minds that children have infinite choice and responsibility while adults actions with regards to children reflect little to no choice and no responsibility.

Of course we know this is not the case.  We know deep into our souls, down our spine to the pit of our intestines, that this is not true.  And so we rot away on the inside, trying to hold the lie at our core nest to the truth we know all to well.  Like matter and antimatter, we try to keep the lie and the truth apart while forcing them both deeper and deeper into ourselves to avoid our own knowledge of the conflict.

This is the truth I have seen and can not avoid.  Children have almost no choice at all in their lives.  They have no income, they have no legal possessions, they have no choice in with whom they spend time, or in how they live.  They have almost no choice over their education, how they are treated, or to whom they will give their respect and love.  They are treated as pets, slaves, and court jesters.  They are paraded around like groomed dogs when they do things adults like, while they are hidden, hit, yelled at, or shunned when they do things adults do not like.

At the same time adults have every choice in the world, both in the present and the past.  They choose who they live with, what they do, what they buy, where they go, who they talk to, and whom they respect.  They chose who to honor, what to stand for, how to make decisions, what was good, what was evil, with who would they partner and who would they avoid, would they have children and how would they treat them.  They choose the methodology for conflict avoidance and resolution, they choose when to ask for help, when to reach out for more knowledge, and when to have the humility to admit that they just don't know.

Of course we are then left to decide what to do with the knowledge we just uncovered...  Do we dare walk back in our minds to that kitchen scene, and see what is really going on.  Do we dare apply the filter of truth and the clarity of morals and responsibility to the situation.  Do we dare to see the grown up child acting out to avoid their own knowledge of their childhood.  Do we dare to see the mother pleading and then commanding their child to comply as they once were forced to do?  Do we see her increase in emotion and her irrational choices as the true choices that they are?  The choices that allow her to avoid the crimes of her past.  To avoid the knowledge of the trauma with which she was victimized?

Of course that woman is no longer a victim   When she choose to dominate her child rather than face her past she became the aggressor.  She became the moral depravity that she so passionately swore she never would become.  She needs so much help to become self empathetic.  She needs so much guidance, connection, honesty, and openness to untie the horrible knots of abuse.  But she can not get this from her boy.  Of course she can't.  There would be no basis on earth to think she could.  Her boy's mind is a reflection of the dysfunction which she has imposed in him so her only option is to look outward.

To heal herself, she would have to reach for education and connection, empathy and understanding from others in books, community, and therapy.  If she does this, she can start to turn her life around.  She can start to repay her son for the abuse she inflicted, and she can let go the irrational thought that she could ever have a trusting, connected relationship with him.

There is a darker option, instead of healing, she plunges deeper into her darkness to avoid her pain.  If this is her choice, we must compare it to the virtuous choice above as well as look at the resulting effect it will continue to have on the captive children in her care.  If she turns away from the knowledge, resources  and resolution so readily available  then she has turned into the monster she wishes to avoid.  She has aimed herself at a death spiral which will accelerate into the ground.

She is fully responsible for this.  It is horrible for us to watch and a sad spectacle indeed.  But we can not let her off the hook of responsibility for her choices.  We already established earlier that she has orders of magnitude more irresponsibility for her choices than her son.  So if we indeed do let her off the hook, to be consistent, we must let every other person off the hook who is less responsible.

And so, our entire morality structure collapses.   If the most responsible person is not held responsible, than no other lessor responsible person can justly be held accountable for their choices.  Right and wrong must be abandoned and all people seen as simply reactions to their surroundings.  But, you already know this is not an option.  The sword of morality is too powerful and too seductive to not be picked up.  So if we are to keep the power of determining right from wrong, we must stand tall and demand consistency in other's claims of morality.