The Pitfall of Education Utopianism

A friend of mine posted this thing on facebook the other day. It was an “education manifesto” from this guy Seth Godin:

As I read it, I of course found myself agreeing with most or all of it. Yes, the public schools have problems, and he offers some fabulous ideas for how to improve things.

But as I read it, I found myself saying, “Haven’t I heard all this somewhere before?”

Turns out that yes, I had. Similar criticisms of mainstream American public K-12 education, along with fairly similar thoughts on how it should be revamped, have been offered by various folks for years, including:

Ken Robinson

PBS’s Frontline

Ted Fujimoto

Sal Khan

Michael Moore

J.T Gatto

And, if you care to go back to the 60’s and 70’s,

John Holt

There seems to be no lack of intelligent critiques of the mainstream public school system, nor is there any lack of marvelous ideas for how to improve it.  Tens of millions of people have read these books or watched these presentations, so promotion has not been a problem.

But despite all these suggestions, there have been no major changes in the 40+ years that I have been observing the educational industrial complex.  Yes, there are pockets of changes and successes here and there, and many private schools have been doing this stuff from the get-go, but the mainstream public school “blob,” as some call it, has not changed significantly, even in the face of Finland’s demonstrated successes.  In fact, as standardized testing has become more prevalent, one could even argue that things have gotten worse, if you agree with Holt’s Tyranny of Testing.

I have a different conclusion here than what you might expect. I am starting to see a dark side to all these recurring education manifestos and TEDtalks and books and programs.

Functionally, for all their noble intentions, they are inadvertently working against their own stated goals, because by repeatedly presenting these retreaded idealistic visions of an education utopia, they are creating an illusion for the general populace that something is being done about the problem, when little or nothing really is.  This illusion feeds denial and complacency, and robs us of a much needed sense of urgency.

Well thought-out ideas are wonderful things, but, to again quote Peter Drucker: “Brilliant men are often remarkably ineffective. They fail to understand that brilliant insight by itself is not achievement.”


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Emotional Ohms

The following article is a chapter from my latest book, “Time Light Love: Exploring the Physics of Emotional Energy.”  I am finding that the concept of reducing emotional “ohms” is key to personal advancement, so I offer the chapter here for your amusement. 

So far we have considered the many variations of emotional frequency or color that occur when the normal flow of energy is blocked and thus put out of balance.  At this point we would like to examine another way of thinking about how those blockages occur.

When we talk about less than optimal emotions, we usually refer to them as being “negative.”  For example, we often hear about negative people, negative feelings, negative thoughts, and negative attitudes.

Semantically speaking, this use of the word “negative” is incorrect.  The word “negative” does not necessarily mean something is bad.  To paraphrase the immortal bard, nothing is positive or negative but that thinking makes it so.  Tax deductions are negative numbers, but no one seems to mind them.  Negative results from tests for dread diseases are also great news.

In a sense, there are negative emotions, but this word should only be used as it is supposed to be used, i.e, as an indicator of the direction of flow.

For example, the positive crests of ocean waves are followed by the “negative” troughs of those waves, and this is key for those who enjoy surfing or listening to the sound of the waves.  Another example: when a fighter pilot makes a hard turn, he or she experiences “G” forces.  The can be positive G’s—pushing him down into his seat—or they can be negative G’s—pushing him up into his shoulder straps.  One direction is not better than the other.  Most batteries have positive and negative poles—and the negative pole is essential, for without the negative pole there would be no “return” to complete the circuit.

So when it comes to emotional energy, truly negative emotions are actually a wonderful thing.  If you have positive feelings of affection toward someone, hopefully those same feelings will flow back to you, and if they do, they are negative feelings, as they are traveling in the opposite direction.  (The real problem would be if no feelings were returning.)  Since that negative flow coming back to you is usually delicious, the word “negative” really should not be used here if we are going to be truly scientific about defining emotional energy.

So instead of using that incorrect term, a much better word to use for measuring blocked emotional energy would be the same word used for measuring blocked electrical energy,  which is the word “ohm.”

All emotional states that we usually refer to as “negative” are not caused by an unwanted direction of energy flow.  Instead, they usually caused by a blockage of emotional energy due to higher than normal resistance.  When this state of emotional blockage is labeled properly, i.e., as a degree of resistance, its properties become more obvious, as do the optimal means of counteracting it.

(Note, some resistance is always necessary, otherwise you get a short circuit, which is a total loss of control.  Ohms are the basis of personal boundaries and polite restraint.)

If you observe a newborn baby, you will see a near total absence of emotional ohms.  Ohms can be “felt” as bad, i.e., “negative,” things because they do block the normal flow of the primary emotional energies.  But again, the toxicity is in the dose.

Since our emotional ohms are something we created in response to various experiences, our ohms are under our control.  If you experience a great many emotionally painful experiences, the obvious response is to create resistance—that is, to step up the ohms—to your normal flow of emotional energy.  Depending on how many painful experiences you have had, you can start to actually measure the degree to which you have taught yourself to suppress the flow of emotional energy.  (If you accept the premise of this book, i.e., that there are just 3 primary emotions, by managing the ohms causing resistance to optimal emotional energy flow suddenly we start to gain astonishing levels of control.  This could be fabulous.)

The creation and maintenance of emotional ohms is usually accomplished through what are usually labeled as “negative” thoughts. i.e., simply generating fear energy by meditating on an infinite number of ways that people might seek to do you harm.  While this ohm-producing process can in fact lessen or prevent your being exploited by people who do in fact mean you harm, the high presence of emotional ohms, that is, the resistance to emotional energy flow, is equally preventative of good energy as well.

To lessen the ill effects of emotional ohms, there are many techniques of ohm resistance removal, such as forgiveness, gratitude, clearing the mind, and so on.  For example, we tend to think of states such as gratitude as being a feeling, or an emotional state, all by themselves, when in fact such a state is merely a changing of resistance to overall emotional flow.  It is really just the opening up the emotional circuitry to the fabulously delicious combined flush of trust, qi, and connection, letting them flow into the feeling of the white light of happiness.

You may have been told that “feeling grateful” is key to attracting wealth and abundance to you.  There may actually be obvious science in this.  If we think of gratitude, not as an emotion by itself, but in fact an act of lessening ohms of resistance to overall emotional energy flow, then its power to let wealth “flow” to you starts to make perfect sense.  The “feeling” we call gratitude is actually just allowing a higher amplitude, or even amps or voltage, of all of the three primary feelings.  If you go into a state of less resistance, your fullest “glow” and powers of magnetism and attraction and induction will of course function at their highest level, inevitably attracting and manifesting greater happiness and wealth.

Of course, along with ohms of resistance, there may very well be ways of measuring the amps (amounts) and volts (pressure in the line) of emotional energy as well.  Something to study further.

time cover6 copy



Excerpt from Time Light Love 

(c) Justin Locke

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Confessions of a Propagandist, or, the Protection Reflex Racket

What I’m going to talk about today is normally not discussed in public forums, as it goes way past most people’s comfort zones. It has to do with the somewhat nefarious job of manipulating emotions and actions of large numbers of people, also known as producing propaganda.

The average human being walks around with a somewhat self-congratulatory concept of themselves as being a fairly logical and intelligent being. It’s a pleasant image, and I like to indulge in such things myself from time to time, but this is not how things actually work. You may feel  insulted by this article, but my intentions are good.

When one is tasked, as I often once was, with creating, well, call it what it is, propaganda, I became very goal oriented. I wasn’t too terribly concerned with unintended side effects, or even ethics for that matter. My goal was to create a specific emotional response using visuals, words, and music that would generally lead to people acting this way or that. I was tremendously amoral about my work. I needed the money, and I was only following orders. I fear that most of the people who do this work feel the same way.

When you do this kind of work, you get very pragmatic. You don’t think about how things ought to be. You think about how things actually are. You observe human beings with a hard cynical eye. You do what you have to do to get the job done, with any tool you can find.

There are many tricks of the trade, but here’s one that seems to be near or at the top of the list: It has to do with what I call the protection reflex instinct.

Dogs, bees, and primates live in social groups, and we understand that our individual survival is dependent upon the survival of the group. When we perceive a threat to the group, we react instinctually to protect the group. Even cats, not social animals per se, will react violently if you threaten their kittens.

It is an extremely common mistake to assume we are logical creatures, and our protection instinct is not the dominant force in guiding our actions. This denial makes us extremely susceptible to being manipulated by those of us in the propaganda industry who do understand its force.

For example, if I want you to vote a certain way, or maybe buy a certain product, I’m not going to bother with making logical arguments. Instead, I’m going to present to you a scenario of imminent danger that will cause your protection instinct to overwhelm any rational logical thinking.

Oddly enough, these scenarios are usually not a threat specific to yourself. These implied threats are much more effective if they are a threat to something that represents an element of the higher group’s cohesion. You are far more likely to protect the group than yourself. It can be protection of an ideal, a ritual, a favorite myth, belief, a concept, a tradition, a child, or a “right.”

Animals are willing to sacrifice themselves individually for the survival of the group, and we are animals. Your protection instinct, particularly your instinct to protect those in the group who are weaker, is an extremely powerful force. For those seeking maximum personal power, it’s too tempting a vulnerability to leave unexploited.

It would become rather tedious to list all the many threats that people manufacture to manifest protection reactions. You go back a hundred years, there were anarchists, then there were fascists, then there were Communists, and now we have the threat of terrorists. And Socialists. Drugs. The war on Christmas.

Perhaps the best example of the power of protection instinct is Pearl Harbor. For 12 years, endless efforts had been made to end the Great Depression, all to little or no avail. But when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, our protection instinct overrode all of the other forces of mistrust that were causing internal dissension and economic problems.

Whenever a dictator seeks to motivate the populace to go to war, there’s a need to manufacture an “incident” of sneak attack that justifies protecting ourselves.

And now, whether you are grouped into the handily created simple categories of being on the “left” or the “right,” there is grab bag of threats that can be used to manipulate either group on a grand scale by knowing which group will react to which threat. And once you create a threat, you get to declare war and get lots of money for waging it. “Reefer Madness” was a perfect example– look at all the efforts being made to protect us from drugs. The cure is worse than the disease, but it is very hard to make a logical argument when the protection reflex instinct has been invoked.

The manufactured threats that invoke the protection instinct offer yet another bonus: we confer higher social status on those who are willing to go face a threat. We like threats because facing them gives us a sense of status, importance, and purpose. Facing a threat to a loved one is a very popular expression of that love. Thus, if no threat exists, there is motivation to create one.

Part of the problem of the greater intellectual discourse is that in order to sell a school of thought, it is important to massage the ego of the audience can tell them how clever they are. The three rules of manipulation are that people like to feel 1) morally superior, 2) intellectually superior, and 3) they like to feel they are socially accepted. When you know these rules, it’s very easy to get people to buy things they don’t really need.

I realize I sound terribly cynical, and if you have a fairly high-minded image of yourself, my comments will distress you. But it is very dangerous to think that potential for evil does not exist in every one of us. History teaches that this is so. But even then, while sycophantic comments and flattery have tremendous effect, in laying out the science of manipulating the masses for fun and profit, the protection instinct is probably the most powerful emotional force that one can use.

So as you go about your daily routine, just remember, there are people like me sitting in editing suites with oodles of money to buy airtime, thinking up some new version of the weapons of mass destruction.

Entire nations, including our own, are formed largely for the purpose of protecting us from outside threats. If the outside threats ceased to exist, the reason for maintaining the nation state becomes wobbly. Hence, nation states must continually seek justification in terms of emphasizing external threats to maintain social cohesion.

So the next report you hear of an enemy of the day at the gates, it’s hard, but take a minute and ask, is this really a serious threat to survival of the group? And by the way, who will profit from the protection reflex reactions of the electorate?

I don’t do this work any more, but every day I see the work of those who took up where I left off. I am fortunate that I have the literacy to see thru their efforts, but sadly we all live in a society where most do not.

– Justin Locke

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People Skills 101: Anger Management

(I wrote this article a few years ago, and I am amazed at how much it applies to current events–jl)

When we talk about management fundamentals, this can refer to managing other people, or it can refer to managing your own life. In either case, when you are talking about managing, you are really talking about managing emotions.

Managing at the emotional level is a broad topic, but today we are here to discuss one single emotion, and that is … anger.

Anger is of course a powerful emotion.  It is essential for one to manage it properly, otherwise one risks considerable loss of control.

The expression of anger is often rationalized—or even encouraged—because it is often seen as being a state of righteousness and moral superiority, not to mention a feeling of being deliciously powerful. Many people subscribe to this belief, but this is an illusion.

Anger does not exist by itself in some sort of vacuum. Anger is always a reaction to, and a symptom of, a sense of powerlessness. Understanding this opposite underpinning is key to managing anger.

Perhaps the best way to understand the dynamics of anger is to observe the formula of every “anger indulgence” movie.  In this terribly popular entertainment genre, there are always three main characters:

1) An all-powerful bad guy,

2) an average-Joe protagonist (who “wants no trouble”),  and

3) a helpless child-victim.

Invariably, the rotten-to-the-core bad guy seeks to harm the totally innocent helpless child. This nonstop bad-guy nastiness generally goes on for about 85 minutes, until your average-Joe protagonist is finally pushed past his patience limit.  In the last climactic five minutes of the movie, we get to vicariously enjoy some serious bad-guy smack-down vigilante justice.

Now if the bad guy was not all-evil-all-powerful, and the victim was not all-powerless, the whole exercise would appear somewhat odd. Anger is a specific reaction to a sense of powerlessness.  Without the sense of threatened vulnerability to justify it, anger does not even occur.

We can all relate to this story line because at some level, we all feel like an innocent victim sometimes.  Most of us tend to be far more aware of our own vulnerability and weaknesses than we are of those of other people. We also tend to see others as being far more powerful than they really are. Our anger response feels good, at least for a moment, and as a result, anger becomes a common part of our modern political discourse, as well as our entertainment, and is becoming more so.

Anger Management: the Machiavellian Flip Side 

While we usually speak of anger as something to be “managed,” i.e., controlled, there is just as much technique to be appreciated in the cultivation of it.  Inciting anger in others is a handy, if morally ambiguous, management tool. Putting people into a state of fearful outrage is a great way of keeping them off balance and encouraging confrontation among factions that might otherwise unite against you.  Many people incite anger to advance their cause. Like Iago, they will tell you stories of your vulnerability and/or trust being abused by their political opponent, making you fly into a rage where you can no longer think calmly and rationally.  It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of thing, so it is important to see these things as what they are, i.e., commonly used manipulative ploys.

If you have just been told of an extreme abuse of evil power and it makes you angry, always take a minute to think about it. It is tempting to indulge in the immediate easy fantasy of indignant righteousness. It is easy to automatically fly to a state of defending an innocent victim from extreme attack. But if you remain calm and objective, you will always be far more capable of coping effectively with the situation, even if the accusations are true– which they seldom are.

Anger Is a Symptom of Perceived Helplessness

If you believe that a state of anger is the only way you can feel empowered, then you face a nasty conundrum:  you have to increase your fear in order to achieve that greater anger. Amplifying your sense of powerlessness in order to make yourself feel empowered is somewhat contradictory. Anger promises power, but never really delivers. It’s a classic vicious cycle.

Since anger is a marker of a sense of powerlessness, this is a handy thing to know when dealing with an angry person. Instead of taking their anger at its face value, try to step back and see the underlying cause, i.e., the sense of powerlessness in them that is causing it, and address this problem at its root.  Look past the anger and see the innocent victim beneath.  Try to calm them by pointing out what power they do have.

The Illusory Power of Anger vs. the Real Power of Calm Reflection

Anger is not noble, nor is it evidence of moral superiority.  Anger is a state of trying to compensate for a perceived lack of power.  It functions as an escape from reality, much like alcohol.

No matter what the problem is, you are more powerful than you think.  Calm reflection and persistence are always more effective, both in solving any problem, and in drawing more supportive energy to you.



(Originally published in AICPA Magazine.)

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Achievement Is not Healing

While giving a recent acceptance speech at a BAFTA award ceremony, actress Kate Winslet shared an inspiring message:

Don’t listen to the people who hurt you, shame you, and belittle you.  Believe in yourself and follow your dream.  She ignored the people who insulted her, and made it to stardom.  So can you.

This advice is repeatedly given with the best of intentions.  We hear it at awards ceremonies, graduations, and in Facebook posts every day.  It is reiterated by inspirational speakers, coaches, and business gurus.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I am going to take issue with this message.  First of all, no matter how hard you try, it is not mathematically possible for everyone who wants to be a famous actress to become so.  This same unbending math applies to other endeavors such as writing bestselling children’s books and making it in other idioms of the performing arts.

I am not saying that people should not follow their dreams or their heart’s desires.  But I am saying this: Perhaps we should be more specific about the dream or heart’s desire we are seeking, and not confuse healing with achievement.

I once achieved a fair amount of success as a musical performer, but it happened for all the wrong reasons.  I worked hard to get there, but my goal was not to provide service to a customer.  I was seeking healing.  I thought success in showbiz would give me the respect, attention, and validation I desperately needed.  But the primary purpose of bass playing, or, for that matter,  of authoring, acting, speaking, or any other business endeavor, is not to get your own needs met.  They are all situations where you have to work very hard to meet the needs of others.  If you are fractured internally, you will struggle to meet the needs of others, and even if you do meet them, you will still be unhappy in your work, and make others unhappy too.  Achievement is not healing.

There is a similar problem with a common sort of encouragement for grandiose leadership.  If you seek success mainly to get the perks of power and attention, if you define success mainly as being better than everyone else, if you are drawn to the vague concepts of achieving greatness or excellence, perhaps you need to rethink why you are seeking success.  Maybe you are destined to provide great value to society, but then again, maybe the need to avoid the pain of past psychic injuries is pushing you towards unhealthy levels of grandiosity, disconnection, and workaholism.

Now don’t get me wrong– achievement is a wonderful thing.  For me, playing on major stages with superstars was a glorious experience.  I loved doing it and I learned a lot.  But at the heart of it, the big lesson was this:  achievement is not healing.  The biggest success in it was really something else altogether: It consisted of being freed from the limiting idea that love is conditional upon performance, and external success was the only path to internal harmony.  As it turns out, I had it all backwards.

We often get mixed up about the need for healing vs. the desire for achievement, and let’s face it, many sales pitches for professional training exploit that confusion.  Healing is about what you need, and business success is about providing what other people need.  There are more direct means of achieving both objectives, and they are both so much easier when done in the right order.

[Originally published at]

Justin Locke is an author, playwright, speaker, and philosopher.  Visit his website at



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My interview on Contrabass Conversations

So, my pal Jason Heath had me back on his amazingly popular “Contrabass Conversations” podcast.  We discuss how arts education, dance, Peter Drucker, Franz Simandl and Toyota Lean all fit together. Also the Mozart in the Jungle Effect on book sales.   about an hour.


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Mechanics vs. Consciousness

When I was in High School, I confess to you, I hated math class.  In 10th grade I had been transferred from a public school to a fancy dancy private school, and no one bothered to notice that the 10th grade public school math I knew was 7th grade math in the rich kid school.

The math class was not only hard, it also seemed pointless.  I had no interest in it, and I could see no time in the immediate or distant future where I would have any use for this skill (I was right, btw).  So I asked the Dean of Students why I had to take the class.

He replied, “Because the Ohio Board of Education says you have to.”

Now I don’t mean to sound flippant or snarky here, although my vexation with lack of consciousness often makes me seem peevish.  What he had essentially said was, “I get paid every Friday by this system, the system says I have to make you do this, so I am going to execute those orders, and it’s not my job to question them.”  This is a case of mechanics, that is, just blind obedience by a cog to a laid out system, ignoring reasons to not do it.  He had chosen this, rather than a state of consciousness.  I can see his point.  Shutting down the questioning infinite mind generally makes life easier.

A few years later I found myself at a fancy dancy music school.  The following may sound ridiculous, but it actually happened: I took Music Theory 101, as everyone had to do, and for 5 months all we did was study the rules of Gregorian Chant counterpoint.  This is the music you hear monks singing in monasteries, from the middle ages.
Now bear in mind, there was no discussion of why this music existed, or of the big picture goal of how to best replicate the mood of church in France in 1300, and work backwards from there.  No, instead, someone had taken 300 Gregorian Chants, and had done a general analysis of how the notes went from here to there, making up a series of rules, so that if you followed them (or just programmed them into a computer) while putting pairs of notes on a musical staff, something would result that would sound very much like Gregorian Chant.
This may have some practical application somewhere, but I never found it.  It did not create mastery, only a shallow illusion of it.  Its primary purpose was to be an exercise in obedience, and by obeying, acquiring a sense of belonging, amongst all the other people who had also blindly obeyed the teacher.  This exercise in futility cost me something like $3,000 in today’s dollars.
This mechanical view, of disregarding the unique creative potential of each person and instead just making everyone toe the same exact line of a system, is ubiquitous in human history.  Similar sorts of systems are in play all the time, e.g., standardized tests.  Any number of thinkers like John Holt have refuted their effectiveness, the teachers hate them, and Finland has unequivocally refuted their effectiveness.  And yet, the system, of getting paid to administer repetitive tasks, doing so in blind obedience, persists.
For me, as a speaker/consultant, it is not a lack of ideas or solutions that is the problem for my clients.  These already exist in plentiful amounts.  The hard part is making the transition in my audience and clients– and yes, also in myself– from mechanical obedience to open perceptions and consciousness.  And this is hard, because unlike mechanical obedience, consciousness is a state where one can feel pain.  It is often very uncomfortable.
Blind obedience has this wonderful reward, in that when you shut down your broader consciousness, you become numb to feeling– your own and that of other people.  If you are in pain, and most of us are, it is a fantastic immediate relief, but over time, the side effects get worse and worse.
As a speaker, the only way I can be truly effective and engage my audience is if I go into a state of open consciousness.  I have to trust and connect with a bunch of strangers.  And there is always the fear– born of endless past traumas of having my vulnerable spirit wounded and shamed– that makes me always hesitate to go full out.  But I have to do it.
This is the answer to my endless question of earlier decades, of why some conductors were so much better than others.  It was not the mechanical aspect– even though you see many conductors obsessed with “correct’ baton waving technique, and eagerly policing the group for wring notes, and asking the orchestra to “watch me.”  A great conductor just stands there and lets you know, by “osmosis,” that he is intently listening and sharing a spiritual communion with you.  When that happens, of course, one becomes super-motivated, and all the mechanical stuff just happens by itself.  Toscanini had this power to such a degree that even if another conductor was on the podium, if the orchestra sensed his presence in the room they would play for him, not the guy waving the stick.
This is the big question of the age facing us both individually and collectively–  are we going to take the assembly line path of suppressing broader consciousness and numbing up, or shall we dare to take the risk, and have the guts, to risk being conscious of the full spectrum of human pain, so that we may also be able to manifest the full spectrum of human potential?

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New Media

Greetings culture lovers,

So I gave a little talk down in Sharon MA last month, here is a video, or 75 minutes thereof. Note if you have already heard the Real Men Don’t Rehearse stories (in this case, of working with Fiedler, Williams, and Mancini), you can skip those, but the ending section has some great questions from the audience about what conductors actually DO as well as poking some fun at percussionsists.

Also my pal Jason Heath re-published an interview he did with me back in 2008. Fascinating to hear, as many folks in the classical music industry apparently listened to me, and have all come out of the video closet! Again, the best part is the last 15 minutes. He and I will be doing another interview next month.



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Mental Maps

I would like to introduce a new term to the lexicon, which I call “mental maps.”

In my role as an occasional advisor/guru/management consultant, I often (as you no doubt also do) find myself making fairly obvious statements of logic and/or fact, but the people at whom they are directed react strangely.  They don’t argue it, they just seem to go blank, and they fail to acknowledge what I just said.

I actually wish they would argue.  When they don’t, I know I have caused confusion in their mental map.  Their mental map is the basis for every thought they have, and if it feels challenged, it generally runs and hides.

For all my good intentions, I have essentially caused their inner mental computer to freeze.  I have not helped them.  I have actually made things worse by making them flee to the comforting familiarity of their existing incorrect mental map.  Damn.

If you observe someone doing something that does not make sense to you, just remember, in the context of their mental map, it makes complete sense to them– at least, it “feels” right.  This explains the “odd” choices of people with political or religious views other than your own, as well as businesses that do not pass the TPS sniff test.

I will confess, I have my own mental maps.  Part of growing up is discovering that your mental map is no good and you need to get a new one.  This process should never end, but, sadly, all too often, we get to one version and stop.  Changing one’s mental map is hard.

Mental maps are based either on direct experience or something we have been led to believe.  I’ll give you a personal for-instance:

When I was a teenage bass player, I lived in a world of music schools and music teachers.  In that realm, there was a fairly consistent dogma, that is to say, a mental map of reality: It openly stated that it was the job of the conductor to instruct the musicians on how to play every note, and an assumption that a great performance consisted of the removal of mistakes.  Top-down six-sigma management, if you will.

So I sat in rehearsal after youth orchestra rehearsal, in which wrong notes were endlessly pointed out, and conductors insisted that we watch them as they waved their batons.  While none of these people in authority were high level players or conductors themselves, they would tell us that they knew how it worked in the bigtime, and claimed that they were prepping us for that world.

So when I found myself actually playing in the Boston Pops Orchestra, I was presented with the rather severe shock that the “mental map” I had been taught of how orchestras worked was completely incorrect.  I realized that if I wanted to stay in that orchestra, I had to completely re-write my mental map of how that world worked.

This was hard, as I had spent a lot of time and money learning the old map, and I also had a fair amount of pride for having mastered the old map.  To give it up meant having to give up both status and a fond sense of achievement, and having to realize that I had been poorly served by people I had trusted, and start over from humility zero.

This was a hard choice.  But I wanted to play in the Pops, so I made the gut wrenching choice to abandon the old mental map and start over with a new one.

Making this kind of difficult choice is key to real advancement or succeeding at anything.  A bad map will get you nowhere, but we can be fond of our bad maps, because they were given to us by people we love, and they told us what we wanted to hear.

Now as a consultant, I have had to give up another incorrect map, this one of my own design: I always assumed that once I went off like Lewis and Clark and personally explored a given area of psychological terra incognita, everyone would listen to me when I returned.


Instead, I find myself in constant competition with other advice mongers who have never made the trip themselves, but they are still running around selling mental maps to the Louisiana Purchase, with promises of El Dorado and Fountains of Youth.  Since our shared customer base has never been there in person, they have no way of knowing which is correct, and these incorrect maps are far more appealing.

As a management consultant, the most common mental maps I run into these days are all the mental maps to the internet, that is, about how Google “searches” and various online sales and promotion sites actually work.

When buying information on which to build your own mental map, it is essential to discern whether someone is giving you first hand or second hand map information.  For example, I have never been to Mt Everest, so if I sell you a map to Everest, all I am doing is repeating what someone else told me.

I have been running my own web site for 25 years, so I have my own first hand mental map of how search engines operate.  I have also tried many of these commonly touted systems and theories of “SEO,” and I have found by direct experimentation that they don’t work.  If they do, well, correlation, not causation.

So again, how badly do you want to play in the Boston Pops, or in your case, achieve some other higher goal?  Do you want to get there badly enough that you are ready to question the dogma-based maps that people are selling?  Do you want to get there badly enough to accept the fact that maybe a whole lot of people you have trusted were perhaps misguided, and maybe even exploiting you by telling you what you wanted to hear instead of the hard truth?

Adjustments to mental maps are hard to accept.  This difficulty is an extension of the “sunk cost” syndrome– the more money you have paid into a fallacious system, they harder it is to give it up,  but doing so is necessary if you wish to move forward.

As the King of Siam sang,

And it puzzle me to learn
That tho’ a man may be in doubt of what he know
Very quickly he will fight
He’ll fight
to prove that what he does not know . . .  is so.

One grand conclusion I’ve come to is that everyone’s mental map– my own included– is incomplete, and likely to have errors.  And the more incorrect a mental map is, the more shameful, embarrassing, painful, and difficult it is to admit to it and alter it.  The challenge is getting someone to question their mental map, especially the things in it that are limiting their perceptions, thus allowing them accept a new way of seeing themselves or of doing things.   This alteration of “consciousness” is the real key, as the temporal solutions to most problems are already readily available.

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The Hidden Costs of Denigration


verb:      criticize unfairly; disparage.
    synonyms:    disparage, belittle, deprecate, decry, cast aspersions on, criticize, attack; speak ill of, give someone a bad name, defame, slander, libel;
    run down, abuse, insult, revile, malign, vilify, slur;
    informal: badmouth, dis, pull to pieces, talk smack

I can’t speak for anyone else, but more and more I feel like I am living in a culture that is becoming overwhelmed by the language of denigration.   It is now normal to assassinate the character of anyone who has a different opinion than ourselves.  This is a very dangerous state of affairs.

Perhaps the most obvious illustration is the current presidential campaign.  We observe, perhaps with a certain amount of naughty enjoyment, people in power being insulted and belittled by others in power.  But it has become far more pervasive than that.

I recently posted a fairly innocuous comment on a facebook post of a presidential candidate.  Like clockwork, my comment was denigrated.  That is, people who disagreed with my view spoke in a tone that was condescending and insulting.

Being an adult and a published public person,  I know the risks and the drill.  But still, it is bothersome to be insulted, even if the insults are coming from a person or persons who are clearly immersed in a dogma that is completely illogical and/or ill-informed.  The problem is, one must then ask, do I want to engage with this person, or should I just walk away?  There is no right answer, as I feel I should protest/enlighten, but then, I have to do a cost/benefit analysis, and I have to ask, is it really worth the trouble?  And if I don’t fix it, who will?

This language of denigration is everywhere.  If you have a more “liberal” viewpoint, then The Daily Show will regale you with nightly denigration (with a touch of comedy) of mostly conservative politicians.  Fox News has less comedy, but they denigrate those on the political left all day, if that’s the target of denigration you prefer.

The trouble is, all of this denigration is not about making logical arguments to advance a political viewpoint.  It’s about exploiting wounded people, and encouraging them to cope with it by wounding another even more vulnerable person in the same way.   The danger is, it is a very short step from believing “My state of woundedness justifies dumping my hurt on strangers by writing this nasty post” to “My woundedness justifies my dumping my hurt on strangers by shooting up a school .”

An even bigger problem here, besides the toll on our collective happiness and human dignity, is the loss of freedom of speech.  Speaking out on anything of real social importance, especially offering a solution to a problem, makes you a target of denigration energy.  The first challenge any new idea must face is the denigration of those who seek to maintain the status quo.  Or they may not even care about that, they are just reflexively eager to unload their denigration energy at the earliest opportunity.  Or they lash out at anything that threatens a fragile sense of control.

If you read any unmoderated public comment thread on any major website, you will immediately see that, as a culture, we have lost our ability to discuss our differences in a civil mutually respectful manner; the contest goes to whomever can dish out and take the most denigration energy.  This silences many, creates political factions, and favors sociopaths.

“Freedom of speech” only applies to direct governmental power, it does not protect us from the  suppression of speech that denigration can cause.  I like to think I am a reasonably well read and educated / informed person, but I still had to learn an entirely different set of verbal and social skills in order to not let fear of verbal denigration interfere with my own freedom of speech.  A lot of the time it has nothing to do with facts, study, or intelligence, and everything to do with just having the guts to face and disregard people who are de facto bullies.

The real issue here is not even the denigration, it is the blind woundedness that drives it.  If we keep denying its existence, history teaches us that it will eventually fester and consume us all.

– Justin Locke

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