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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 11 May 2013

The Psychology of Violence - and Control

I'm always interested in how we define "in control" and "conscious of our actions."  The answer, ultimately, isn't what we think it is.

Predator Ariel Castro and the psychology of violence

in New York and in Cleveland
  • The Observer,

  • Ariel Castro
    Ariel Castro, who appeared to be 'a happy person' according to neighbours. Photograph: Cuyahoga County Sheriff/EPA
    The annals of criminal history are writ large with ordinary streets that hide dark secrets, but even so the peculiar horror believed to have been perpetrated by Ariel Castro on Seymour Avenue in the rust-belt city of Cleveland stands out.
    He is accused of kidnapping three girls, keeping them captive for years in his suburban home and using them as sex slaves. The staggering joy at the rescue last week of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight was tempered by the revelations of what they had endured in a busy, working-class Ohio neighbourhood. No one suspected a thing.
    Castro, 52, was a school-bus driver; grilled ribs with his neighbours and was a friendly soul who played in a band. "He was a very good bass player, and I'd say a happy person," said Miguel Quinones, who managed the band Grupo Fuego with whom Castro played. "There was never anything that would let you imagine anything like this."
    Yet his alleged crimes are far from unique, either in America or elsewhere. There was the case of religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell who kidnapped young Mormon girl Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City and kept her as a "wife" for nine months. Or Phillip Garrido who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard in California in 1991 when she was 11 and kept her for almost 20 years. Or Michael Devlin who abducted the young boy Shawn Hornbeck in 2002 in Missouri and kept him prisoner for five years. Further afield, Josef Fritzl kept his daughter, Elisabeth, a prisoner and sex slave in a dungeon in his Austrian home for 24 years – all while her mother lived upstairs apparently oblivious. And Wolfgang Priklopil, also from Austria, kept Natascha Kampusch in a cellar for eight years.
    Josef Fritzl    Josef Fritzl in court in Austria after he kept his daughter in a dungeon for 24 years. Photograph: Helmut Fohringer/AFP/Getty Images 
    Those are the headline cases. But others are far from the collective memory of society, despite the appalling nature of the crimes. Few will have heard of Kenneth Parnell, who kidnapped Steven Stayner in California in 1972, when he was seven, convincing him that his family did not want him, and keeping him for seven years. Or Cameron Hooker, who kidnapped 20-year-old Colleen Stan in California in 1977, kept her locked in a box, horrifically abused her and even forced her to sign a slave contract. She endured her captivity for seven years.
    Amid all that horror is one troubling theory: That we only know of the fate of these young girls and boys because men like Castro made mistakes. Their victims escaped to tell their stories. As with other criminals and other crimes, the police catch the ones who slip up. The more accomplished kidnappers are still out there, still keeping their victims alive behind some suburban facade. The idea that everyone who commits this sort of crime gets found out is not likely to be true. The opposite is probably the case: most incidents go undetected.
    "I don't think there is any question there are other victims in similar situations. We are only catching the dumb ones," said Professor Sherry Hamby of the University of the South in Tennessee, and editor of the journal Psychology of Violence.
    What drives them, most experts believe, is simple enough: power. To kidnap and control someone for an extended period is to exert influence over another person that few can imagine, but that these men – and they are almost always men – crave. Castro seems to fit that bill. The house where the women were kept was fitted with ropes, chains and padlocks and secure rooms. His physical domination of his captives was extreme, though as the years ticked by, they were sometimes allowed outside.
    Wolfgang Priklopil                       
    Wolfgang Priklopil, who kept Natascha Kampusch in a cellar for eight years and killed himself after she escaped. Photograph: AP 
    That is not always the case. Fritzl kept his daughter out of sight for many years, in effect raising her – and the children he sired with her – almost completely underground. "Controlling other people is a way of giving these perpetrators a sense of mastery over their environment," said Hamby. "It is also for them a sense of protection. They cannot be victimised themselves if they have complete control."
    But, to the surprise of many, the physical ties often used in such cases of confinement are often matched in strength by the psychological ones. These men are frequently masters of brainwashing, abusing their victims psychologically so that they submit to their confinement. Castro, according to reports, would pretend to leave the house and see if his prisoners would try to leave, leaping out to catch them and beating them if they did. It taught them the dangers of escape.
    Others deployed different mind tricks. Smart was told by her captor that he would kill her family if she fled. Parnell told the seven-year-old Stayner that he had been granted custody of him and his real family did not want him: something the boy eventually believed. Dugard was told by her captor of 17 years that by letting him abuse her, she would be protecting other girls from his attentions. In the even more extreme case of Stan, her captors told her that a sinister group called The Company would kill her and her family if she did not obey them. She was so obedient that she even visited her family during her time in their control.
    At the heart of some of these cases is the abuse suffered by the criminals themselves. In many cases, they were sexually or physically abused as children, something that some believe can unlock the key for their actions. "They lost a sense of control as a child and they try to reclaim that sense of control with other people," said Jordan. There are clues that Castro might fit this. He apparently wrote a suicide note in 2004, that was reported by Cleveland TV station 19 Action News after it was found in his house. In it Castro apparently claimed he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a family member and lamented: "I am a sexual predator. I need help." He also seems to recognise the immorality of what he is accused of doing. "I don't know why I kept looking for another. I already had two in my possession," he wrote.
    Phillip and Nancy Garrido                       
    Phillip Garrido, right, and Nancy Garrido in court. Photograph: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

    That sense of warped morality is frequently present. In keeping his daughter captive, Fritzl once explained that he felt he was protecting her from the world and her wild teenage years, even sometimes bringing her flowers. "I had to do something; I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth, by force if necessary, away from the outside world," he reportedly told his lawyer. That raises the question: are these men insane? Many think not. They often come from abusive backgrounds, they have warped senses of sexuality but many experts believe they are not mad.
    "Castro is clearly in control of his faculties," said Dr Casey Jordan, a criminologist and behavioural scientist at Western Connecticut State University. Not all are. Smart's captor, Mitchell, believed that he was a prophet destined to battle the antichrist. But he was the exception. Most experts believe that these men do not suddenly become monsters. They become that way over a longer period, dealing with their demons and eventually letting them take over. It is often this appearance of normality in the rest of their lives that allows so many to get away with it for so long. "It can be a series of bad decisions. You can make just one decision that is small but takes you a little away from the rest of humanity. Pretty soon you can end up a long way from the rest of us, and suddenly it becomes easy to do something extreme," said Hamby.
    And therein lies the rub. There is, for these criminals, a moment when a Rubicon is crossed. When, by force or trickery, they find themselves taking away an innocent person and forcing them into slavery and abuse. "It is like a floodgate. Once they have acted on it, there is no going back. They have plunged off the cliff," said Jordan.


    Josef Fritzl
    Imprisoned, beat and sexually abused his daughter, Elisabeth, in the basement of the family home in Austria for 24 years, fathering her seven children.

    Wolfgang Priklopil
    Abducted 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch while on her way to school in Austria in 1998, locking her in a windowless cell. He committed suicide hours after her escape in 2006.
    Brian David Mitchell
    The former street preacher held 14-year-old Mormon Elizabeth Smart captive for nine months in Utah, claiming afterwards that God had ordered him to do it.

    Phillip Garrido
    Sentenced to 431 years for kidnapping and raping Jaycee Dugard when she was 11. His wife Nancy, 55, was sentenced to 36 years in prison.

    The Battered Island: Power, the Prison

    This article is about sexual predators.  Of course, it's not about sex - it's about control.  Within their basements, these men are unquestioned masters.  The entire world within those boxed walls is theirs to dominate.  The only things they have to fear lie beyond.
    How is this different from political leaders who build walls around their nations and seek to exert complete mastery over the populaces within?  It isn't.  Leaders like this crave power, dread loss of control and increasingly shut out the world beyond to create bubbles of influence.  Then, they seek to dominate their people, holding themselves up to be more than they are.

    Whether it's police or Opposition Parties, constituents or neighbours domestic or international, the dynamic is the same.  There's us vs. them and I'm the only protection from the Other.  Therefore you must obey me.
    The problem is no man nor nation is an island.  The walls are artifices that cannot hold.  When they come down (and eventually, they must) every misdeed is laid bare.  That's when the whole, fearing the spread of a social cancer left untreated, passes judgment.  Power, ultimately, lies not with any one, but with the whole.
    You can't keep the seas of time from breaking down your walls; tear them down and build bridges instead

    Thursday 9 May 2013

    Simple innovation can delight customers and save you money (Ken Tencer)

    Simple innovation can delight customers and save you money

    Special to The Globe and Mail

    I was recently standing on a corner in Washington DC and my Blackberry started to buzz. In came a text that read, “Cab 118 is on the way and is less than one mile away. Text WHERE to see where cab is.” How appropriate. How timely.
    I had just delivered a keynote on innovation at the America Means Business conference to a roomful of new and aspiring entrepreneurs. And one of my key messages was “it’s not just the products and services that you sell, but how you deliver them that can be steeped in innovation and bring delight to your customers...and no, great customer-centric ideas don’t have to cost a lot of money!”
    Story continues below ad
    A seemingly mundane industry like cab service and Red Top Cab of Arlington, Virginia adopts a simple piece of technology that answers the age old question before it was even asked: “where’s my cab?” Simple, effective and certainly not cost prohibitive.
    My point is that too many people think that innovation is limited to breakthrough products or services. It isn’t. In fact, process innovation – finding faster, cheaper and better ways to deliver your products and services to customers – can bring you a significant competitive advantage and substantial savings all while building brand equity, because there’s no better way to delight your customers than faster delivery of a better quality product.
    Just look at Disney. They build delight into every process. When a child drops their ice cream on the ground at one of their theme parks, they turn that meltdown moment into one that delivers a happy memory. They replace the dropped treat with an upside down cone in a cup dressed up to look like a smiley face. Bad moment turned good.
    Another example of innovative thinking closer to home happened when my 16-year-old son, Tommy, was still a toddler. We were shopping for groceries at Longo’s and he was having a fit in the fruit section trying to get at the grapes. One of the Longo’s staff saw me struggling and decided to cut some grapes up for him and put them into a little cup. Tommy was delighted and I was able to peacefully finish my shopping. Thank goodness Longo’s processes empower its people to go above and beyond. I never forgot it.
    And the best news is that there are enormous hidden costs buried in status quo processes. Innovative thinking can be the key to uncovering and removing them. Done right, process innovation can even serve as a new source of financing.
    It’s important to understand the difference between process innovation and the good old “slash and burn” method of boosting cash flow. In every organization, processes have a significant impact on costs: purchasing, inventories, reworking, downtime, lead-time, material travel time, delivery time, wasted time, and so on. All these processes add costs, which means they provide a wealth of opportunities for hefty savings. When you come up with new ways of improving throughput or order processing, or reducing wait-times and delivery times, it’s found money.
    Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that you should stop thoughtful, rigorous cost-cutting. But in tough times, urgent reactive cost-cutting is too often shortsighted and arbitrary, done to appease stakeholders, shareholders and short-term quarterly reports. Unfortunately the long-term consequences aren’t usually factored into the equation. It’s an accounting exercise – cut budgets, trim fat, do less or do it less well. Doing more with less is possible, but it usually comes from a strategic approach to process, not quick-fix cutbacks. Too often, companies cut their way into bigger problems as they deliver less service, reduce customer satisfaction, undermine brand value, lose market share, and sacrifice growth for the appearance of efficiency. These steps can lead in the wrong direction, and hurt the company. Of course, costs must be cut, but the real goal should be to lower costs while building customer loyalty, not disenfranchising them.
    A classic example of short-sighted cost-cutting is the automated help lines many companies have adopted. Not only do they frustrate customers who would rather speak to a live person, but many companies plough their savings into outbound marketing call centres that become necessary to replace the infuriated customers they could have kept in the first place. Funny how a number of companies are back to advertising ‘live’ attendants as a competitive advantage.
    The innovation challenge
    It’s been well documented how American Airlines Fuel Smart program – “the employee-led effort to safely reduce fuel consumption by implementing viable suggestions from employees throughout the airline” – has saved the airline millions of dollars through such initiatives such as the single-engine taxi and use of tow tractors to move planes between terminals and maintenance hangars.
    My challenge to you is to review your processes and uncover cost-saving opportunities that are hiding in broad daylight, waiting for a new approach. Realize the savings and then reinvest your newfound cash to create market-engaging breakthroughs in product and service innovations.
    It’s a positive, growth-centric focus and is a far cry from myopically trying to cut your way to a better bottom-line. Process innovation can be, without a doubt, one of the easiest, least expensive and most productive ways of investing in your business’s future. Process innovation can also be easy and quick because it includes countless small opportunities seen every day that every company, big or small, can do right away.
    Challenge your people to look at how your products and services are made, supported and brought to market. Empower them to share their intimate knowledge of the processes they use every day. After all, no one knows them better – their strengths, their weaknesses, their potential to transform.
    Think very simple (for now). It worked for Red Top Cab and Disney and it can work for you, if you’re up for the challenge.
    Ken Tencer, CEO of Spyder Works Inc. , is a branding and innovation thought leader who helps organizations reimagine their futures. His second co-authoured book on innovation, Cause a Disturbance ( ), is due to be released Fall 2013.

    Work, Stress and Occupational Mental Health - An Important Conversation

    There's a hint of light!  Now, we need someone willing to lead conversations like this up here...

    Presentation topics range from economic issues to high risk jobs

    The 10th International Conference on Occupational Stress and Health: Work, Stress and Health 2013: Protecting and Promoting Total Worker Health™. Keynote address, “Work & Mental Health: Developing an Integrated Intervention Approach,” Thursday, May 16, 4:30 p.m. PDT, by Anthony LaMontagne, ScD, MA, MEd, associate professor and principal research fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Australia.
    Among the presentation topics:
    • Job Insecurity and Accident Under-Reporting
    • The Relative Impact of Cyber and Face-to-Face Incivility on Employee Outcomes
    • Daily Work-Family Conflict and Aggression Toward Family and Friends
    • Financially Fragile Families: Implications for Work-Family Conflict?
    • Effectiveness of Job Search Interventions
    • Comparisons of Cardiovascular Health in Police Officers, U.S. General Population and U.S. Employed Population
    • Life Expectancy of Police Officers
    • Nonstandard Work Schedules: Implications for Impoverished Mothers and Their Infants

    Convened by APA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Society for Occupational Health Psychology. Conference participants include health and social science professionals, business and labor leaders, researchers and others with interests in occupational health and safety.

    (All times are PDT)
    • Thursday, May 16, 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
    • Friday, May 17, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
    • Saturday, May 18, 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
    • Sunday, May 19, 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

    The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites
    404 South Figueroa St.
    Los Angeles, CA 90071

    The Work, Stress and Health Conference series addresses the changing nature of work and implications for the health, safety and well-being of workers. The conference covers topics of interest to labor, management, practitioners and researchers, such as work and family issues; new forms of work organization; changing worker demographics; and best practices for preventing stress and improving the health of workers and their organizations (see complete list of conference topics and conference program [PDF, 625KB]).
    The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 134,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people's lives.

    Conference Topics

    00. Total Worker Health™: Effects of integrated (health protection plus health promotion) interventions, including both health/safety and organizational (e.g., economic, productivity) outcomes; The contribution of occupational and non-occupational factors to health and safety problems in today’s workplace (e.g., stress and mental health, obesity); Strategies and best practices for implementing and evaluating integrated prevention programs; Future challenges and directions relating to integrated prevention strategies; Training needs to advance research and practice relating to Total Worker Health.

    01. Economic Issues and Concerns: Influence of the economy on management and employment practices, the organization of work, job security and income disparity; Economic consequences of stressful working conditions and stress-related disorders for employers, employees and society at large, including costs of illness, injury, disability and organizational productivity and performance losses; Economics of stress prevention and workplace interventions, including economic barriers to their implementation.

    02. Best Practices in Creating Healthy Workplaces: Organizational, individual and multilevel interventions; Policy and legislative developments; Organizational learning; Corporate social responsibility; Program evaluation studies; Model programs; Practitioner toolkits; Evidence-based practice.

    03. Collaborative and Participatory Approaches: Labor–management initiatives; Government–labor–business–university community partnerships; National and international collaborations.

    04. Workplace Diversity, Minority and Immigrant Workers, Health Disparities: Differential exposures and susceptibilities; Race/ethnicity-related stressors; Stress and immigrant status; Workplace multiculturalism; Culturally-tailored prevention and intervention programs; Cultural competencies.

    05. Workplace Mistreatment: Sexual harassment; Violence by customers, clients, patients, coworkers, etc.; Incivility; Violence prevention programs; Personal and organizational responses; Characteristics of perpetrators and victims; Bullying; Discrimination (e.g., gender, age, race/ethnicity, disability).

    06. Changing Employment Arrangements: Contract and temporary work; Self-employment; Under- and over-employment; Job insecurity; Psychological contracts; Part-time work.

    07. Human Resource Management and Benefits: Health, pension, and other benefits; FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) issues, disability benefits; Pay equity and discrimination; Workers’ compensation programs; Return to work; Job accommodations.

    08. Work Scheduling: Shift work; Overtime/extended hours of work; Flexible/compressed schedules; Schedule design; Telecommuting.

    09. Work, Life, and Family: Work-life balance; Work-family conflict; Child and dependent care; Formal and informal family supports; Positive spillover; Intimate partner violence.

    10. Organizational Practices: Lean production; Downsizing and resizing; Globalization; Outsourcing; Continuous improvement; Process reengineering; Emerging technologies.

    11. Job and Task Design: Worker control; Work pace and work overload; Emotional labor; Physical demands.

    12. Social and Organizational Environment: Organizational climate and culture; Social support; Supervision and leadership; Group dynamics; Communication.

    13. High Risk Jobs and Populations: Younger and older workers; Hazardous work environments; High-risk occupations (e.g., agriculture, construction, emergency responders, health care, manufacturing, military, mining, transportation).

    14. Traumatic Stress and Resilience: Assessment, prevention, mitigation, and treatment of traumatic stress; Resilience; PTSD; Treatment seeking and the barriers to obtaining treatment; Stigma associated with seeking treatment; Available resources and access to resources; Psychological first aid; Essential workers and emergency response; Ability and willingness to report to work.

    15. Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress: Depression and stress; Musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and immune system function; Gender-related health concerns; Obesity; Alcohol and substance abuse; Physiological and psychological pathways to health outcomes; Burnout; Suicide.
    16. Sleep, Fatigue, and Work: Effects of work schedules on sleep; Sleep disorders and medications; Health and productivity implications of sleep disruptions.

    17. Aging and Work Stress: Job design for aging workers; Work capabilities and limitations; Attitudes toward aging workers; Implications of an aging workforce; Job retention and retraining; Disability management and accommodations; Health benefit implications.

    18. Health Services and Health and Productivity Management: Health promotion;EAPs [Employee Assistance Programs]; Vocational rehabilitation; Career and work adjustment counseling; Return to work; Disability management; Stress management; Integrated prevention models.

    19. Safety Climate, Management, & Training: Management commitment to safety; Safety motivation and leadership; Safety communication; Hazard identification and elimination; Barriers to eliminating or mitigating workplace hazards; Safety climate and culture.

    20. Professional and Educational Development: Graduate and undergraduate training in Occupational Health Psychology; Teaching innovations; Employee training programs; Career development programs.

    21. Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress: Personal, organizational, and cultural antecedents of stress; Moderators of stress-outcome relationships; Measurement of stress; Theoretical developments.

    22. Research Methodology: Innovative research designs; Mixed-method research; Multidisciplinary research; Measure development; Case studies; Econometric analysis; Culturally-competent methods.

    23. Prevention / Intervention Methods and Processes: Field intervention design; Engaging organizations in safety and health issues; Barriers to safety and health initiatives; Gaining access to organizations; Disseminating research findings to organizations; Intervention evaluation methods and standards; r2p (research-to-practice).

    24. Global Concerns and Approaches: Surveillance strategies, methods, and programs; Job stress, risk factors, and interventions; Government and NGO initiatives; National policies and guidelines; International networks and collaborations.

    25. Positive Psychology and Engagement in the Workplace.

    26. Individual Factors: Personality; Coping styles.

    27. Job Attitudes, Turnover, & Retention: Attraction; Withdrawal intentions and behaviors; Turnover; Motivation; Presenteeism; Absenteeism; Commitment; Organizational citizenship behaviors.

    28. Emerging Risks, Opportunities, and Issues in Work, Stress, and Health.

    Wednesday 8 May 2013

    Death is the Road to Awe


    If a seed could think, would it envy the blossom? 
    Could it comprehend the vastness of the tree it will become? 
    Would a seed sewing roots understand its deepening connection to an enveloping world of which it is but a facet?  What would a seed or a bloom mean to the tree?

    We can draw boxes in which to take shelter.  We can limit ourselves to colouring with shadows, never straying beyond the boundaries of our perception. 

    We can even frighten ourselves with delusions of dimension, believing that beyond the limits of our perception lies The Void.
    But the world is not perception; it flows through sensation. 
    The end of perception is the birth of realization. 

    When the shadows fade, there is only light.

    the blank page

    Root Causes and Police Behaviour

    In the video, two other officers and another man stand idly by while the seemingly irate constable moves closer to the man, forcing him to step back. The constable appears to frisk the man for drugs, lays a gloved hand on his shoulder and shakes it which prompts the other officers to move in closer.

    The man remains calm and doesn’t say much. But as the berating continues, the man asks the constable why he is acting that way.

    There's clearly much more to this story than we get from the recorded incident itself.  As with the case of George Zimmerman or even the Boston Marathon bombing, reacting to what one audience wants us to see isn't enough - not if we are truly interested in solutions.

    The first point worth noting - the guy who is being bullied by the Durham officer remains calm throughout, even utters phrases that support a one-sided interpretation of the incident.  He also knew it was being filmed, which gave him an advantage.

    That's why I'm such a strong advocate of always acting as though you're under public scrutiny, whatever the context; with social media and hand-cams, you never know what's going to be used against you down the road.

    Who was the man? Why were the police there?  What's the history? What are the strengths and dispositions of both parties involved?  What the officer did was clearly inappropriate, but what led him to act that way?  Does he have a history of aggressive behaviour? Was there something in his personal or professional life that led him to have a bad day?  If there were three officers present - why was he the one at the door? Why was he there on his own?

    We can focus on punishment, but without a clear understanding of what's at play in this situation we can't provide justice.  It's as simple as that.

    Back to the officer himself for a minute; I find it interesting the Star chose to do a mini-profile on him, emphasizing his commitment to supporting fallen soldiers and driving a big car.  What they're attempting to do is portray a fellow with limbic-motivated behaviour; wants to look tough, be strong for his community and has the back of fellow front-line security forces.

    This is the kind of person we want serving on the front lines; tough, focused, unafraid to tackle threatening situations on behalf of the public good.  But what's the flipside of that profile?  Toronto Mayor Ford is that kind of guy, but he's also a bully.  Can a direct correlation be made between the profiles we hire for and the behaviour that results?

    Then, there's the nature of police work itself.  Police are like teachers - we can bitch all we want about excesses, demands or whatever, but the fact remains very few of us have any interest in doing that job.  It's hard, draining, rarely understood or appreciated by the general public and in the case of police (and sometimes, teachers) life-threatening.

    If we don't understand the intricate nature of the work, how can we be sure we're supporting it appropriately?  The truth is we can't - and we don't.

    One case in point - mental health.  Front-line police officers are all too often first and last point of contact between people with mental illness and the justice system (though if the right services).  Yet, they get next to no training on the nature of mental illness, how it manifests itself and best practices for managing down behaviour under specific contexts.

    Police get NO training on how to monitor their own mental health and techniques to better monitor and course-correct their own mental health, or seek support/help peers get support as needed.  That comes down to outdated notions of strength - the idea is that only weak people deal with depression or anxiety, and you can't be weak if you want to be a cop.  No, it's far better to save it all up until you have PTSD - which can result in the sorts of behaviour displayed in this scenario.

    With all that in mind, let's go back and re-visit this incident and determine how it could have played out differently:

    When the officer approaches the man, first thing he does is let him know the encounter is being recorded.  All such encounters should be recorded; this protects the officers and citizens from he said/she said controversies, but also provides a measure of encouragement for all parties to act as though the world is watching.

    The officer employs self-regulation techniques (such as those learned through positive psychology) to keep his own emotional engagement in check.  The officer also employs empathy/sympathy generation techniques as are often used by master interrogators to elicit the desired response.

    The officer doesn’t approach the door individually – there is a pair of officers who make a point of introducing and humanizing themselves to the person first; this fact, combined with the video recording, makes it harder for the person on the receiving end to suggest he felt intimidated or bullied by the officers.

    If officer A becomes agitated despite his internal training – he is, after all, human – then his colleague will step in to provide social-emotional support; not to corner the person being spoken to but to empower his partner who takes the lead.

    These officers would have started their day with an equivalent to the Talking Circle, which would allow their supervisor to gauge the team’s emotional temperature, see if there were any personal concerns that could impact performance and support/assign duties to his team as necessary. 

    This isn’t about coddling, enabling or pandering.  It’s about ensuring we have a Justice system that functions the way it’s supposed to and front-line service providers who have the training, support and accommodations they need to do their very difficult job effectively.

    But this only happens if we’re interested in solutions.  If instead, we want to take the Stephen Harper approach to Justice, we can keep on heavily penalizing people for their actions without an understanding of the root causes that lead to them.  That’s an inefficient use of resources and has contributed to the massive justice challenges and mental health crisis we face today.

    Tuesday 7 May 2013

    Role Models For Cyberbullying

    The same goes for heckling in Legislatures.  Sure, it makes for great theatre and yeah, it throws off your opponents, but so do taunts on the schoolyard.  

    We elect leaders to set the example.  The standard they must judge themselves by is "would I want to see anyone I represent act in the same way I do?"

    Deflect all you want, hide behind "politics is a blood sport" all you want, but remember this - leaders don't make excuses.

    Killing Organized Labour, Creating Unaccountable Monsters

    This is the thing that drives me bonkers.  The political right is taking aim at duly elected and accountable institutions (and if they argue that's not the case about unions, that's a bit of the pot calling the kettle black).  

    They're scaling back on justice for issues they don't think matter and focusing on heavy-handed tactics for worst offenses - what they see as worst offenses, at any rate.  Organized Labour and Social Justice organizations have always given voice to those without power in our system.  That's the voice Team Harper is trying to stifle.

    What happens when you cut the knees out from under organized labour?

    You get social media activism.  Then, you get protest movements like Occupy and Idle No More.  Then you end up with Anonymous.  

    Notice the trend line?  

    The more pressure government places on accountable, public organizations, the deeper underground they send resistance.  In these days of social media and hacking, that's a lot of power landing in the hands of people unaccountable to anyone.  We all know what happens under mob rule.

    By clamping down on organized labour, Team Harper and co aren't starving the beast - they're creating a monster. 

    In The Dark and Left Behind: Harper's Canada Starting To Look Like North Korea?

    "Critics see a politically motivated attempt to change the science agenda in Canada; the government has consistently defended its changes, saying it wants to fund projects that offer a more immediate return on investment."

    I actually believe this to be the case.  The Harper's Canada Government is doing to Canada what Disney is doing to Star Wars - cut the frills and focus on core product offerings.  Short-term Return On Investment is the only thing that drives them; if a service, process or product can't be proven to make a short-term profit, get rid of it.

    The problem with this tough-minded "business as government" approach is that it completely ignores social and conservational economics.  Easter Islanders did the quick ROI thing, too - as a consequence of not planning ahead they destroyed their island and devastated their society.   As any farmer could tell Team Harper, if you don't leave some fields fallow for a time, you suck them dry of nutrients.  You might as well burn your lands and boil your sea.

    There are additional consequences to the narrow-mindedness of the CPC's governance style.  By walking away from international forums (like the UN), trying to bully foreigners who challenge them (like James Hansen) and by talking domestic smack in inappropriate global forums (Margaret Thatcher's funeral, for instance) the Harper Government is rapidly eroding Canada's legitimacy as a serious player in the world stage.

    By playing every single card for a narrow, questionable domestic agenda and undermining Canada's democratic institutions, bureaucracy and science in the process, Team Harper is basically telling the world that Canada's stepping away from the international adults' table.

    In addition to that, the world's full of populations that care about the sustainability of the global environment and things like freedom of the press and corruption-free governance; if Canada, once known as a shining example on the world stage falls, those populations will push their democratic governments to censure or stop doing business with Canada.

    Much as Canada has done with Iran.

    When other nations stop taking you seriously, they cease to see relations with you as an asset.  As they walk away, bilateral deals and opportunities dry up.  That creates increased internal pressure, as these lost opportunities weigh on businesses and families both.  If Team Harper continues to put partisan wins ahead of the long-term sustainability of the country, they will only clamp down even harder on dissent, removing debate from our democracy and leaving a limited, poorly-considered suite of policy ideas available to them.

    There's a model out there of what that kind of system, left unchecked, looks like - North Korea.

    Monday 6 May 2013

    The Death of Innocence

    Like summer before the fall, some things simply take time to comprehend.

    Yet in the broken shards of winter lies a tragic beauty.

    And from the drifting snow grows something new.

    Death is sand in the glass; life is the ocean upon the shore.


    Threats and the Eyes That See Them

    It's a universal thing - people think big eyes are cute.  Babies have 'em.  Lots of people with epicanthal folds pay money to make their eyes "look bigger" - which is simply a more permanent way of accomplishing the same trick as mascara.
    But if eyes are TOO big, particularly if they're umoving, that's just plain creepy.  If those wide eyes aren't looking at an external threat - if they're looking at you - that'll make your skin crawl.
    There's something attractive about wide-eyes that dote or may be more likely to point themselves at threats.  Wide eyes that are clearly seen but fixated on you are threatening themselves.
    With that in mind, read this:
    Main Category: Psychology / Psychiatry
    Also Included In: Anxiety / Stress
    Article Date: 05 May 2013 - 0:00 PDT

    Wide-eyed expressions that typically signal fear may enlarge our visual field and mutually enhance others' ability to locate threats, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    The research, conducted by psychology graduate student Daniel Lee of the University of Toronto with advisor Adam Anderson, suggests that wide-eyed expressions of fear are functional in ways that directly benefit both the person who makes the expression and the person who observes it.

    The findings show that widened eyes provide a wider visual field, which can help us to locate potential threats in our environment. But these widened eyes also help to send a clearer gaze signal telling observers to "look there," which may enhance their ability to locate the same threat, as well.

    "Emotional expressions look the way they do for a reason," says Lee. "They are socially useful now for communicating emotional states, but this new research suggests that they were also useful as raw physical signals."

    Lee and colleagues found that participants who made wide-eyed fear expressions were able to discriminate visual patterns farther out in their peripheral vision than were participants who made neutral expressions or expressions of disgust.

    Next, they investigated the benefits that wide-eyed expressions might confer to onlookers.

    The researchers found that participants were better able to tell which direction a pair of eyes was looking as the eyes became wider. And wider eyes helped participants respond to targets that were located in the direction of the gaze. Importantly, these benefits did not depend on recognizing the eyes as fearful.

    So why are wide-eyed expressions so helpful for onlookers?

    As eyes become wider, we see more of the whites of the eyes, known as sclera. Lee and colleagues hypothesized that this could increase the contrast with the irises that signal the gaze, making it easier to tell where someone is looking. Indeed, their data revealed that iris display and higher iris-to-sclera contrast were correlated with faster response times.

    Lee believes that this research demonstrates just how social we are wired to be:

    "Our ability to process other people's eye gaze is already finely-tuned; the fact that this processing is further enhanced by expressive eye widening underscores the importance of our eyes as social signals."