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Lesson 9- Intentional Movements And Aggression

         In my last program, I was explaining why it was necessary for punishment to be immediate and certain if we are dealing with the animalistic right lobe of our brains. This is a difficult time for parents because the culture that used to support their efforts to train their children in the right path, now does everything to undermine them. It is an unfair contest because the parents have to compete with some of the most talented communicators in the world in the form of entertainers whose use of music and art give them direct access to the childs right lobe. And they are given the easiest message to communicate which is "Let it all hang out!" and "Just do it!" Our impulsive right lobes dont need any convincing to obey these orders. It is the most natural thing for them to do. On the other hand, parents, who are not always the best communicators and have to communicate the hardest message: "control yourself" "say no to your impulses" are already at a disadvantage. In addition they have to deal with the natural rebellion of their children, who, like any human beings, resent someone else controlling their lives, I, for one, feel betrayed by the culture which, after undermining all of our efforts as parents, blames us when our children act like hedonistic animals. It is a foolish culture that undermines the efforts of its parents to raise their children properly. Yet, as parents, we still have to do our best to raise them to be counter-culture when the culture itself is becoming more and more immoral.

         I have two daughters who, I believe, are doing a pretty good job because they know the secret of good discipline and are certain to get good results if the mushy grandparents dont interfere. I think that they are better at it than either my wife or I was. They say what they mean and mean what they say and I have never seen either one of them driven to the point of physically abusing their children. Their children are told what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they dont obey and often, when I am asked to baby-sit, I am told what disciplinary action is in effect. Sometimes, the kids themselves tell me what they are not allowed to do because of some infraction of the rules. The punishment generally involves some privilege that is taken away. Now this doesnt mean that they never use physical punishment. Rather it means, "They talk softly but carry a big stick" and the children know that if the talking doesnt work, the big stick is always there. The "big stick", of course, is a figure of speech that simply means that they have stronger methods.

         Probably the most effective disciplinarians are the Marines. I have seen young men who, after twelve years of public education, are slovenly in their appearance, posture, and attitude. Nothing that we say seems to be able to stir or motivate them. They slouch around dressed in ill-fitting clothes, with earrings attached to every possible appendage, and their multicolored hair pointing in every direction. Then, after graduation, some of them enter the Marine Corps. Three months later they return transformed into new human beings. Their hair is short, the faces clean and shiny, and their posture erect and they seem to have a spark in them that was missing when they were in school. What was the secret of their transformation? The Marine Corp administers discipline immediately and consistently and it takes no excuses. They know how to deal with the animal side of the human brain. It isnt always a pretty site, and most parents would crumble when faced with the process required to tear down the old in order to replace it with the new. But its hard to argue with the results.

         Since we now know some of the characteristics of the left and right lobes of the brain, we can observe the personality of each in others and ourselves. Since we know that they communicate in different ways: the verbal left lobe using language and the nonverbal right lobe using facial expressions and other nonverbal methods, we can tell when and what they are communicating. And in this way we get some idea of their likes and dislikes. The masters of nonverbal communication, of course, are animals. Often when it appears that they are understanding language, it is really body language and verbal tones.

         Probably the best example of this was a horse in Germany known as Clever Hans. His owner claimed that he was able to do basic math. In demonstration after demonstration, it appeared that he could add, subtract, multiply, and divide by tapping out the answer with his hoof after his owner showed him the problem on a flash card. No one seems to be able to explain how this was possible, not even his owner. Then a well-known German scientist was asked to investigate it. After watching Hans perform a few times, he tried an experiment in which Hans was asked to solve a problem whose answer was not known by his owner. His owner was asked to show Hans flash cards with mathematical problems on them that his owner could not see. In every instance, Hans tapped out the wrong answer. Now they knew that Hans only knew the answer if his owner knew it but, how was his owner communicating the answer to Hans? Even the owner didnt know because he really believed that Hans could do mathematics. Upon closer observation, it was discovered that the owner was unconsciously raising his eyebrow when Han's hoof tapped the right answer and when he did, Hans stopped.

         Animals are masters at reading body language. They are so good that their owners often become convinced that they understand language and, maybe to a limited degree they do. Our own right lobe understands a few simple nouns and verbs but that is all. Perhaps the same is true of some other animals. However, what they understand even better than words are tones. For example, we might say "Do you want to go out?" and our dog runs to the door. Although he might understand the significance of the word out, what he understands even better is the singsong tone we use when we say, " Do you want to go out?" If the dog really understood language, we should get the same reaction if we said, "It looks like a nice night for a stroll."

         If you are going to communicate with an animals, what your body says is much more important than what your words say. For example, if you are confronted with a vicious dog who is indicating an attack, you are wasting your time saying "You better leave me alone, dog, or Ill kick you in the face" while you are backing away. Your words are threatening, but your body is retreating and the dog understands that you are afraid and will be encouraged to attack. If, however, you disguise your fear and move forcefully forward towards him, he reads that as a lack of fear and begins to back up himself. One of the most amazing examples of this was a documentary that I saw in which a man, who was familiar with the habits of polar bears, backed them down by walking forcefully towards them. As he did, they quickly retreated and kept looking back to see if he was coming. When they saw that he was, they began to run in the opposite direction. He knew their language and so do we but because our knowledge is on the unconscious level, we are not consciously aware of it. We are born with it and we intuitively use and understand it. We know instinctively that to show fear is to invite an attack and thus we play the game of "stonewalling" in which we hide our fear when faced with a powerful aggressor. Where is this unconscious, intuitive, instinctive knowledge that we, and all animals possess? Well, the brain is a very complex organism and consists of many parts but I think that it is fair to say that, wherever it is, it is our nonverbal right hemisphere, which is most closely related to it.

         Consider this. Zoologist says that when animals are in a state of aggression, they use certain devices to avoid fighting, since in most fights, even the winner will suffer some damage. They say that there are two nervous systems, the sympathetic and parasympathetic, which are responsible for a protective device known as "fight/flight". The "fight" one says, "attack and overcome whatever is threatening you." The "flight" one says, "retreat and avoid being harmed." There is a delicate balance between the two and when the balance tips one way or the other, we either attack or run away.

         Now since we believe that all these mechanism were created by God for the survival of living beings, then we must believe that they are part of his plan. In a sense, the "fight/flight" mechanism almost sounds like the Wisdom Prayer that says, "Lord, give me the courage to overcome those things that I can change; the patience to accept those things that I cant change; and the Wisdom to know the difference." In other words, let me know when I should attack or retreat from a problem.

         There are mechanisms, according to the zoologist, that animals use when in a state of aggression and, since they lack a left lobe that can speak, they all involve nonverbal communication, which of course, is the method used by the right lobe of our brains.

         One of these mechanisms is called "intentional movements." These are movements which signals to the other animal or person what you intend to do without actually doing it. They are part of the "fight/flight" mechanism and their major purpose is to prevent a fight. When threatened with an attack, the first thing animals and we do is to expand our bodies so that we appear larger and more threatening. Cats will hunch their backs and pretend that they are about to spring; dogs will raise the hair on their backs, bare their teeth, and indicate their intention to attack; gorillas will expand their arms, beat their chests, and fake a rush towards the intruder; and we will puff up our chests, put our hands on our hips, and lean forward. Then we will start to point our finger or shake our fist at the object of our fear or anger. No one ever taught us to do this, yet everybody does it. When our finger or fist goes forward, it is the nervous system that indicates our intention for "fight". When, we pull it back, it is the other nervous system, indicating our intention for "flight." When we show "fight", it deters an attack. When we show "flight", we encourage the other animal to attack.

         Let me tell you of my own personal experience. Back in the 1970s when OPEC cut off our oil supplies and the price of gas rose from $.32 a gallon to $1.40, I bought a moped to save money on gas. Every morning when I went to Mass, I would ride my moped. Then one day, as I was returning home, a little dog came running out of a driveway and began chasing me down the street. He was nipping at my ankles and there was nothing that I could do because, so long as I was moving away from him, it encouraged his attack. I knew that I had to face him and, in an effort to turn the moped around, I fell off, tore my pants, and bruised my arm and leg.

         After that, he would lay in wait for me every morning. I realized that I had to confront him in order to stop the attacks so, one morning, I waited for him and when I saw him, I gunned the motor and roared towards him. He took one look at me, ran in the opposite direction and that was the last time that he tried to attack me. I just had to speak to him in a language that he could understand.

         The rule in the animal kingdom is "might makes right" since, lacking a logical left lobe, they dont understand abstract concepts like truth and justice. Only a rational being understand that truth is not necessarily related to size and strength and that it, not might, is what makes one right.

         If you want to win in the animal world, you better back up your position with strength and power. To the extent that we share in this lower kingdom of the animals, we play the same games that they play. There is a cartoon that I have in my classroom that shows the two brains at work during the time of the Cold War when the U.S. was involved in a constant struggle with the Soviet Union. Two negotiators, one Russian the other American, are sitting at opposite ends of a very long table. The rational left lobe of one says, weve got to stop this arms race." and then his animalistic right lobe places two nuclear missiles on the table, and the negotiator at the other end of the table says "before we destroy all life on earth" and then his animalistic right lobe placed four nuclear missiles on the table. The other negotiators replies, "The fate of humanity..." and then places sixteen missiles on the table, and the other negotiator finishes the thought by saying "rests in our hands" and then places thirty two missiles on the table. Then the other one replies, "We must work together..." and the other finishes the sentence by saying "for world peace." And by this time, the entire table is filled with nuclear missiles. Do you get the point of the cartoon? They were communicating on two different levels with two different assumptions. On the rational level they were working on the rational assumption that the arms race could lead to their mutual destruction and the end of life on earth. On the arational, animalistic level, they were operating on the assumption that the only way to gain any concession from another animal is to show him your strength because, in that world, "might makes right."

         So called civilized nations are always using "intentional movements" as part of their foreign policies whenever they "show" their military might through parades which display their soldiers, tanks, missiles, and airplanes. They also do it through "war games" or military build up, or through speeches in which the leader of the country warns other countries of the bad consequences that will follow if they continue with their policies.

         President George W. Bush played a "cat and mouse" game with Saddam Hussein in which he continuously showed his intention to attack Iraq and remove Hussein if he did not allow U.N. inspectors to carry out their inspections in Iraq. The United Nations, wanted to take a more reasonable approach, but President Bush, suspecting that he was dealing with an animalistic mind, believed that the only language that Hussein would understand was "might makes right." In a sense, he and the United Nations were playing a game called "Good cop/Bad Cop" in which the Good Cop takes a rational and sympathetic position towards the accused, while the Bad Cop threatens to beat the hell out of him. The Good Cop basically says, "My partner is crazy and Ill do my best to protect you from him. So you better deal with me because there is no telling what he might do to you." It is sad to say, but it appears that the nonverbal, arational approach is often more effective than the verbal rational approach. However, it is our hope as Christian that as the light of Gods Logos, Jesus Christ, spreads throughout the world, that the human race will learn to settle disputes through rational negotiations rather then through physical force. According to the Bible, when that day comes, "The lion will lay down with the lamb; justice and peace will kiss; and men will beat their weapons of war into tools for farming." In other words, the world will be ruled by the Wisdom of God, who is the King of Peace. And, of course, as Christians, Jesus instructed us to go throughout the whole world spreading the Good News of salvation. So, if we are still playing these animal games, it must mean that we have not been doing our job very well. This is not something that we can afford to be complacent about because these games are always filled with imminent danger.

         According to the zoologist, there is an invisible line between the aggressors that, if it is not crossed, will prevent the fight. But, once one or the other crosses it, the "fight is on" and will continue to one of them is defeated or runs away. The moment that the finger or fist or weapon, which is being used to threaten attack is not pulled back but actually touches the other person, then the fight will begin.

         Knowing that we share these instinctual devices with animals is helpful in understanding others and ourselves. It proved to be very valuable for me when I first began to teach in an inner city public high school. Each year, my school would put on a play that was presented on succeeding nights in our school auditorium. Teachers were required to attend to help collect tickets and supervise the crowd, and I use to dread the experience because I was always assigned to collecting tickets at the door. Every year, there was some type of confrontation with somebody over tickets. Somebody paid for their ticket but forgot it; somebody wanted to buy a ticket and didnt know that we didnt sell them at the door; a grandmother just came in from Virginia and wants to see a grandchild who is in the play. It was a thankless job that was full of confrontational situation.

         The worse, however, happened one year when, once again, another teacher and I were placed at the door with specific instructions that we were not to admit anyone who had been drinking alcohol. The warning lights went on in my head and I knew that this was going to be a memorable night. The first part of the evening went well. Everybody had their ticket, no one was drinking, and the play began on time.

         About a half hour into the play, two teenage boys arrived and they handed their tickets to the other teacher who was at the door. I was standing about thirty feet away in the large corridor that was just outside of the auditorium. As they walked towards me, I saw that one of them was so drunk that he couldnt walk and had to be supported by the other one. Remembering our instructions, I stopped them and said. "Im sorry. But you cant bring him in her in that condition." "But we already gave him our ticket" the more sober one protested. "Then well have to refund your money because we cant let him in." In truth, we had no money because we didnt sell tickets so I dug into my own pocket to repay them. There was a minor objection but both of them left. I followed them out trying to smooth things over and thought that I had succeeded.

         However, fifteen minutes later five young boys returned: the two that had left and three others. The leader of the group was a young man who stood about six feet four and outweighed me by at least fifty pounds. He came up to me and said, "I wanna see the play!" I said, "Do you have a ticket?" "No! he said. "Then you cant see the play", I replied. "Are you going to stop me if I try to walk pass you?" he asked in a challenging voice. At this moment I knew that I was in trouble. I knew in my own mind that if a fight began that this kid could probably beat me. Yet, at the same time, I had the responsibility for keeping him out. Having read about how animals act when in a state of aggression, and suspecting that I was dealing with a kid who was more motivated by animal impulses than by rational reflection, I decided to play an animal game with him.

         First, I had to "stonewall" him by concealing any fear that I might have. I was pretty sure that he could take me but he wasnt and as long as he had any doubt, he wouldnt attack. So I gave him a noncommittal answer. "I guess Ill have to do something, wont I? I responded, throwing the ball back into his side of the court.

         His hands went up on his hips; he leaned forward and began to make intentional movements with his hands, while he attacked me verbally. But he never touched me. I knew that he wasnt sure about me. During his verbal attack, I kept my hands at my side and leaned slightly backwards, indicating nonverbally that I was not attacking him. Then as soon as he finished, I put my hands on my hip, leaned forward, and pointing my finger at him, responded to his verbal attack. This went on for about fifteen minutes: first with him, then with me, then with him and then with me.

         What was amazing about the whole incident is that there was plenty of room in this wide corridor where he could have gone around me, but he didnt. It was happening just as the zoologist had described it. There was an invisible line between us that so long as it wasnt crossed, there would be no fight. There would be only "intentional movements" which were never carried out. Whenever he moved, he moved sideways, not forward and I moved with him.

         Then, I heard a noise behind me. The play was over and the people were coming out. I stepped aside and said that he was free to go in now. My wife had attended the play that night and, since I heard that the five boys might be waiting for me outside, five of my teacher friends escorted us to my car.

         If you would like to see the same game played out on a bigger scale, look at a documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis as President Kennedy and Nikita Khruchev played the same type of "cat and mouse" game. President Kennedy, after learning that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba, warned the Soviets to remove them. Then it was discovered that there was a flotilla of Soviet ships coming down the East Coast of the United States headed for Cuba and that were a sign that some of them were carrying missiles. Kennedy ordered the Navy and Air Force to stop them if they did not turn around. The ship kept coming and the American armed forces geared up to stop them. It looked as though World War III had finally arrived as both nations went up to their highest level of alert. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were just one button away from launching a nuclear attack that would have destroyed human civilization. Kennedy drew an imaginary line in the ocean which, if any of the missile carrying ships passed, our forces were order to sink them. The world held its breath as the confrontation played out and, then, at the last minute, those ships carrying missiles turned around while those that didnt proceeded to their destination. It is frightening to consider what would have happened if either of these leaders had overplayed their hand.

         Indeed, we have reached a point in human history where, as Jesus had predicted, only the meek will inherit the earth because those who resort to violence will suffer mutual destruction. Our weapons of mass destruction have made the cost to the winners to be almost as bad as the losers and the cost of violent solutions is becoming too expensive for everyone.

         Today, of course, as more nations are developing nuclear weapons, the danger for a mishap grows. We have become too powerful and dangerous to play these animalistic games of "chicken" where we go up to the line of disaster to see who will "blink first." In fact, one of the major networks reported that when Saddam Hussein announced that he would allow United Nations back into his country to search for weapons of mass destruction, that he "blinked first."

         The danger increases when the confrontation is between nations of unequal power because, once again, in the animal world, you only back down where there is doubt over your ability to win. For example, we dont play this game with children. We just smack them because we know that we can easily overpower them so why bother with intentional movements and invisible lines. However, when dealing with adults or grown children, we use the safer methods, of threatening rather than attacking.

         The same is true in international relations. At the same time that our foreign policy was concerned with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, it was learned that North Korea had broken an agreement with us to not develop nuclear weapons. We gave them a lot of economic aid as an incentive only to learn that they had broken the agreement. However, we decided to use negotiation and economic penalties instead of physical force. The fact that North Korea had a million-man-army probably had a something to do with it. It probably also had something to do with the fact that during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S., neither side ever fought a direct war with the other. They were too evenly matched and there was too much to lose through a direct confrontation. Animal logic says that unless you have overwhelming power over your adversary, it is better to avoid a confrontation that to fight.

         Naturalists tell us that little male primates use playful wrestling to test each other strength without risking a serious confrontation. Once they learn who is more powerful or weaker than themselves, they know how to deal with them. They act subservient to those that are stronger and they dominate those who are weaker. Having been a little boy myself, I know that the same type of testing goes on with us and God help the little guy who finds himself near the bottom of the "pecking order." His more dominant peers will make his life a living hell. He soon learns that those above him operate on the premise that "might makes them right."

         Fathers go through the same type of testing with their teenage sons who, as they approach their fathers in height and weight start to test the "Old Man" in a joking way. It has to be done jokingly; otherwise they would risk serious harm. My own son use to do it by coming behind and wrapping him arm around me. In the beginning, I simply expanded my chest and arms and broke his hold. He laughed about it and left but he had found out what he wanted to know. I was still stronger than him. However, six months later, he was back again. Each time I broke hold the computer in his little brain was calculating the time and amount of energy I had to exert to do it. Then came the day that he discovered that he was strong enough to lift me bodily off the ground and, at that point, he knew that, if he wanted to, he could challenge me physically. However, I still had moral dominance over him because I had been smart enough to teach him that hitting ones father was a big "no-no." In my years of teaching, I have run into parents who, having lost their physical dominance, lost all control over their children.

         When I began my teaching career at Cardinal Dougherty there were two little immigrant parents who had a son who towered over both of them. On "parent teachers" night they complained to his economic teacher that they couldnt control him because he physically dominated both of them. The teacher, a big Polish guy from Kensington, took the kid out in the hall, pushed him up against a locker and told him that he would put him through the wall if he ever heard of him physically abusing his parents again. Of course, he could have given him a lecture on respecting his mother and father but that would have only appealed to his rational mind, which, it appeared was not too dominant. However, his nonverbal, arational mind got the message.

         I hope that you have recognized in both yourself and others the mechanisms that I have been describing. Jesus said that the Truth would set us free and we cant deal with the problems of our animal nature until we admit that we have such a nature. However, dont lose heart because, as I have demonstrated, we also have a rational nature that is the Good News that Jesus came to tell us. As St. John said, "He was the Word or Logos that was found in every man." All we have to do is to start listening.

         Well, I see that my time is up. Heres Dom.