cause and effect

Though once a huge fan, I have become disenchanted with cause and effect. Formerly hailed as counterpart of or precondition to logic, itself some powerful amulet to ward off irrational emotion since the Age of Reason, cause and effect aka reasons or origins, somehow dissolve into explanations and/or excuses, thereby de-motivating change.

For example, my struggles with anger, judgment and mind-chatter, seem endless. Now, I certainly can and have traced the origins of each of those behaviors as inherent or learned. My father flips into uncontrollable, body shaking, nerve-wracked rage on a hair trigger. His primary feature, besides negative, might be dubbed anger. Whereas my mother never was prone to anger–as much. But she was awfully judgmental, and over the border of cautious into the territory of suspicious. She was quick witted, the product of an agile mind, but also quick to judge. She carried pre-conceived notions and prejudices: “That long-haired boy is dirty,” she once complained to me, though I knew intimately well that he showered–with soap and shampoo–daily. 

The mind chatter may be inherited or environmentally induced or unique to me, though I seriously doubt it. Mind chatter is nearly everyone’s 21st century (and much, much longer) problem. But analysing roots to my own traits and those of my husband, children, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and parents is a favorite pasttime in the post-Freudian/Jung era. My family loves to do it. However, tracing origins does little to eradicate unwanted behaviors and knee-jerk reactions. In fact, the comfort, even downright smug confidence, in the careful analysis of reasons–for me anyhow–thwarts efforts to eliminate unthinking behavior by believing the job half completed.

No doubt changing behavior, especially ingrained thinking patterns and involuntary reactions, is enormously difficult for most. It is for me. Most emotional reactions go unrecorded, unthought of. My litany in the driver’s seat on any given day is one such example. An hour of yoga in the morning concentrating on and then achieving a connectedness with the universe, its inhabitants and all that exists flies out the car window a half hour later in the 15 minute, muttering-filled drive to school: “What are you some kind of a moron?” I might ask aloud to the car swerving into my lane ahead of me, without a mite’s notice. The violence of that question, that mindset, goes completely undetected mostly. Maybe not undetected, but completely unrestrained in the uttering. 

And then I judge myself for lack of control, criticizing myself–Miss Yoga–for the irony and absurdity, for its impeding progress to judge and anger less and focus on chatter-free presence more. Now, I might lapse into congratulating myself for a clever analysis of the causes for such “bad” behavior, like lack of sleep, lack of yoga, lack of control, lack of you name it, when that happens. Knowing and admitting my weaknesses is half the battle, right? That is the psychological lore anyhow.

But that comfort in doing half the work–incorrect math–is illusory, justificatory, rationalization. Enormous effort effects change, enables me–or anyone–to cease automatic behaviors acquired before consciousness. First, the mind chatter must quiet, reduced by half at least, so as to hear, see and smell immediate surroundings of the moment. Quieter still, to “listen” to emotional reactions as they occur or watch them arise. And then neutral observation may have a chance once the way is paved–stillness–to regard the workings of the mind and body. If I can watch the anger gather me up in the car (or anywhere I perceive my efforts thwarted or my path blocked), note it and think of it without judgment, I might short-circuit the cyclic occurrence, the connection between driving and anger severed–one street of one drive at a time. Baby steps. 

The requisite discipline overwhelms me just the thought of it, sometimes. I am too tired to separate myself out like that most days. But at least I know I have this problem and how to fix it, right? Wrong. Cause and effect unconsciously, silently and insidiously strikes just like that.


Should vivisection on animals be universally banned?

California’s gun control laws are the strictest in the nation and do not need tightening.

Costa Rica’s Preventia policies are unjust and inhumane.

The papparazzi need to be reigned in from their reign of destruction.

Coed education beats same-sex education miles high.

Long Beach police officers are doing a great job despite the public outcry against police brutality.

The higher divorce rate among military families compared to non-military familes cries out for resources.

Street art is not graffitti!

Torture has its place in terrrorist prevention.

Inception is not a coherent thriller.

It’s end of the summer semester research term paper time. So many arguments, so many readily available resources, and so many fallacies.  My students, weaned on the Internet, both master and destroy logic. Familiar with the bounty that is the network–social, educational and otherwise–they can research. They find stuff. However, likewise products of the world wide of webbings, traps for the unweary, they believe without discernment. 

Teaching young minds to think in verticals and horizontals tasks the impatient and weary. Entitlement does not only measure ownership attitudes; the right to be right falls in the heap of our stuff. Ours. Mine. Not yours.

How else does the abounding madness of polarizing non-sense stop: me vs. you, right vs. wrong, with us or against us? Isn’t that the major premise of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals--keep the pressure on with conflict so power can slip in its agenda? 

I responded to a social media prompt on a relative’s Facebook page about the minimum wage not being about bickering over which unskilled worker should get two dollars more than the other. Two good responsive posts about the issue over dignity of work, skilled vs. unskilled worker…and then it came: the post about me, me, me and what I do and don’t blame me for trying to work and make money. 

Buzz kill. There is no response to a hijacked discussion of a public issue by someone’s feelings about his or her life or imaginary persecution–a failure to read and understand a public forum’s purpose in the shades of meaningful and polite interaction. 

Teach a mind to think, reason and discern: rule one of a civilzed nation.