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Book Review-The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary

I’m blessed by a wide variety of people in my life.  Their experiences and perspectives are so different and rich.  One of those whose path has intersected with mine responded to my question about books about facilitation with The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary.  In retrospect, it may have been a way for her to get me to read something that was important to her experience – even though it’s at best tangentially related to the question I raised.  That being said, it is a good way of connecting with ancient wisdom about the various roles that people can and do take.

New World Order

For the most part, we believe in a new world order.  We turn from the historic beliefs that people belonged to the land to one where we consider that humans own the land.  In doing so, we’ve lost some connectedness to where we are and where we come from.  Robert Putnum in Bowling Alone explains our loss of relationships with others, and Sherry Turkle explains the loss of connection to reality in Alone Together.  This isn’t the complete story though.  It misses our connection to nature and the broader world around us.

As I write this, I’ve stepped out of our office, which is designed to be connected to nature with natural light, plants, and a decidedly outdoor feel, into the sanctuary of the back yard.  Surrounded by plants and trees, I get some sense for nature buzzing around me.

The Four Ways

Angeles Arrien’s research led her to believe that there were four ways of proceeding in all shamanic traditions.  They are:

  • Warrior – Shows up and is present.
  • Healer – Pays attention to heart and meaning.
  • Visionary – Speaks the truth without blame or judgement.
  • Teacher – Open to the outcomes, not attached to them.

The Way of the Warrior

Warriors are disciplined.  They continue even when it’s hard.  (See Grit.)  They use their power in ways that are right.  This can be the approach of Servant Leadership in serving others, and it can be in finding ways to hold fast to critical ideas while letting others go as in Heroic Leadership.

By showing up, being present, getting back up again, and continuing to try, warriors share their original medicine – that is, the uniqueness that they bring to the world for the benefit of the world.  Warriors at their best are leaders who are rooted in knowing who they are and flexible enough to adapt to the world around them.

Warriors share their power in three key ways.  First, their presence is a power.  I can remember the effect of sitting among Cub Scouts.  I said nothing.  I did nothing.  However, it changed the dynamics.  Second, communication is a powerful force.  Rhetoric has been a powerful tool that leaders have used to engage their followers.  Powerful speeches can bring about change.  Third, position can signal to others what is important to the warrior.

Presence is more than just physical presence.  Sharing mental, emotional, and spiritual space with someone can be an empowering experience for them.  Our innate human desire is to be heard and understood.  Our physical presence signals this – but not as strongly as clearly being in the same mental, emotional, and spiritual space.

The Way of the Healer

There is rest built into every heartbeat.  Every song is composed of notes and spaces.  The way of the healer is a journey towards wholeness that includes everything in life, including both activity and rest.  The primary tool of the healer is love.

The framing of love is in the context of the people involved in the relationship, including familial, community, and romantic interests – as well as self-love.  Love is a catch-all for many different experiences.  The Greek have three words for what we call love: philos, eros, and agape.  (See The Four Loves.)  Anatomy of Love goes into a longer discussion of pair-bonding and love-based relationships.  More broadly, the concept of compassion is global, or agape, love and has been the subject of much philosophizing as people tried to understand how cooperation and collaboration came about.  (See SuperCooperators for more.)

Sometimes, we learn about the love that we have for one another through the study of our companions.  How Dogs Love Us walks through how our brains process love – and how man’s best friend may have similar and different structures.

The Way of the Visionary

The world that we live in today is louder and more random than at any time in history.  We’re faced with an overwhelming amount of information, much of which we’d define as noise.  (See Noise.)  However, even in previous times, there was value in those who could make it easier to see and focus on the important, and that’s the role of the visionary.  They take what has been hidden and make it visible to everyone by focusing attention and clarity.

Sometimes, the vision of the visionary comes from an internal intuition – a sense for how things work.  (See Source of Power for more.)  Sometimes, it comes from a keen sense of perception – the ability to see into the shadows where others can’t see.  Other times, it’s seeing how the pieces fit together behind the scenes and, critically, what that means to everyone.  Finally, sometimes, it’s simply generated from what the visionary knows is possible.

The Way of the Teacher

The visionary focuses us on one aspect of reality, and the teacher reminds us to be open to what may come our way in the universe.  While in the Western world, we often consider disengagement as something bad, rarely do we find the value in detachment – being detached from outcomes.  Doing what you can do and not getting wrapped up in whether the results come or not can be immensely freeing.

While detachment is an easy concept, it’s hard to live.  When confronted with failure and loss, it can be hard to keep going.  One of the ways that shamanic cultures have learned to deal with this is through the introduction of rituals.  Rituals provide strong signals of before and after and thereby help us make sense of our loss.  (See The Rites of Passage for more.)

I Contain Multitudes

Walt Whitman famously said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”  (“Song of Myself” 51.)  Each of us has some part of the four ways in us.  It’s up to us to find a path that winds through The Four-Fold Way.

Book Review-Terror, Love, and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems

I don’t think about it as my cult experience.  I don’t process the interaction with Scientology as a near-miss with a cult.  However, Terror, Love, and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems helps me to realize how close I really was.  (See my review of The Paradox of Choice for more on this interaction.)  I learned more about the recruiting methods, the progressive disconnect from reality, and the isolation that occurs as a part of a cult.

The Reason

It’s an appropriate question to wonder what prompted my interest.  The interest is tangential.  I recognize that cults must create environments where beliefs aren’t questioned.  In a cult, the leader’s word is the truth – whether it’s connected to reality or not.  The problem I’m trying to solve is how to get people to question their beliefs.  We live in a world of divisiveness.  (See Going to Extremes for more.)  We’re living in a world where people are no longer interested in social capital (see Bowling Alone and Our Kids).  People don’t want to work through and resolve issues with others.  (See Why Are We Yelling?)  Families are ripped apart because of disagreements and misunderstanding.  (See Fault Lines.)

The key question is how do we get people to question their beliefs?  Thomas Gilovich in How We Know What Isn’t So explains that people ask the question “can I believe?” when they agree and “must I believe?” when they disagree – and the second is a much higher standard.  How do we get people to question their beliefs?  Famously, the Wason Selection Task asks people to test how their beliefs might fail – and only 10% of people will do it.  (See The Black Swan, The Righteous Mind, and The ABCs of How We Learn for more.)

While Terror, Love, and Brainwashing doesn’t have an immediate answer, it provides more context and insight.

Built on Attachment

The system that drives the unwavering support of a leader is based on the psychological concept of attachment.  Bowlby first described attachment styles, and his work was later extended by others, including his student, Mary Ainsworth.  (See The Secret Lives of Adults, Words Can Change Your Brain, How People Learn, and The Satir Model for more about the work.)  Fundamental to the operating of the cult is not that people have a disordered attachment style to start but rather that the cult leader can induce a new attachment style.  Since attachment styles aren’t fixed and can be changed even in adults, it’s possible to take someone from a healthy attachment style to something disordered.

The disordered attachment style is one of conflict.  The person to whom a person is attached is both a source of comfort and connection as well as someone who induces fear.  This creates a tendency for both moving towards and away from them.  The result is a fundamental basis of fear and power that keep followers in an anxious and disoriented state making them susceptible to control.


Normal, healthy adults will naturally move away from a disordered state if presented with healthy models of attachment.  In fact, this restructuring of attachment styles is a part of twelve-step groups.  (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work for more.)  Attendees at a twelve-step group are offered a community – other attachments – which can be used to reorder their attachment style.  This natural recovery process is intentionally subverted in cults.  As a result, the experience of being in a cult is one of loneliness rather than community.  (See Loneliness for more on loneliness.)

The isolation process from the outside world is rather obvious.  It means reducing – or eliminating – contact with families and friends who aren’t a part of the cult.  Internally, the mechanisms are a bit more challenging to explain.


In twelve-step groups, they say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”  In cults, the idea of secrecy is cultivated.  Just as a predatory human tells their prey not to tell anyone about their acts, groups make you suspicious of everyone and everything.  Arranged marriages reduce the bond of the marital union and pit one spouse against the other when it comes to challenging the word of the leader.  Both may struggle with something, but they fear talking about it because they’ll be turned in – by their spouse.

Alternate Relationships

A part of the exploitation can sometimes be termination of normal spousal relationships all together – or just that they’re controlled by the cult.  Certainly, I can accept that there are many approaches to sexuality that humanity has used over the course of history.  (See Anatomy of Love.)  However, the cult leader moves people into polygamy, promiscuity, and even pedophilia as a part of controlling the relationships in ways that prevent them from forming strong bonds.  By preventing strong bonds from forming, they can prevent the natural reorganization of attachment styles and simultaneously prevent alternate power bases from forming.

In the larger context of both internal and external relationships, it helps to believe that the leader controls them – and that you have no right to your own relationships because relationships are dangerous.

Fright Without Solution

One of the powerful motivators is creating a sense of fright without a solution.  When the group is locked in a virtuous struggle with the rest of the world, to lose means the destruction of the world as the followers understand it.  This creates a bonding force for the group and a fear that the world as they know it is in jeopardy.

We know from watching suicide rates that people become more involved and engaged in a group in times of crisis.  Consider how suicide rates went down after 9/11 or how rates decrease during world wars.  (See Assessment and Prediction of Suicide.)  If you want to drive group consistency, fear is a way to do it.

One might believe that the leader would be attached to these feelings of fear, but a righteous cause leads followers to believe that their fears are because of the outside world or even to events in their past that set them on the wrong road.

Voices in My Head

In a state of fear, the idea that the voices would become silent is a gift.  Much like those who die by suicide do so to silence their inner critic, those in cults treat the silence of their inner critic as tacit approval.  (See Stealing Fire for more on the inner critic, The Suicidal Mind for suicide as a method of silencing.)  However, the reason for the silence may not be approval at all but rather a complete shutdown of cognitive processing and decision making.  That’s okay, the followers are told, the cult will make their decisions for them.

Shutting down cognitive processing isn’t particularly easy – but it can be accomplished.  If you overload processing centers like the orbitofrontal cortex and prefrontal cortex, you’re left with someone who can’t tell right from wrong and doesn’t know how to process their intuitive sense for things.  (Bandura explains the processes in non-neurological terms in Moral Disengagement.)  Asch accomplished this in a test of line lengths.  By presenting people with confederates (actors) giving the wrong answer, he convinced people that two unequal lines were actually equal.  (See Unthink for more on Asch.)

Torrent of Misinformation

Today’s world is a torrent of misinformation.  It’s not just controversial leaders who are spewing misinformation.  Many of the “news” outlets report in a biased way that their journalism professors at universities would be appalled by.  Instead of reporting in a balanced way with research, the press, to hit a deadline, causes too many people – with and without journalism degrees – to take shortcuts.  The downstream impacts are a reduced trust in the news, people, and society.  However, this torrent of information – both internal and external to the group – gets us to information overload.  (See The Information Diet.)

Not only do we face this with people who are brainwashed as a part of their cult experience, but we also see this in the general population as we struggle to understand what is true and correct – and what is just noise.  (See also Noise.)

If you want to understand cults, maybe it’s time to get a better understanding of the Terror, Love, and Brainwashing.

Book Review-Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in Search for the Living Past

There’s a complex relationship between Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in Search for the Living Past.  This is in no small part because traumatic memory isn’t in the past – it’s a part of the current reality of those who have been traumatized.  It’s also in part because traumatic memories are different than our regular, explicit memories.  Trauma and Memory is by Peter Levine – the same one who wrote In an Unspoken Voice.  In fact, he mentions he’ll be focusing on this work immediately after that one.

I won’t go into what trauma is here; you can see Peter’s other work or Transformed by Trauma for a basic understanding of trauma.

Traumatic Memory is Memorex

In my review of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), I included a heading that explained that memory isn’t Memorex – that is, identical to the original event.  That’s true of our explicit memories – those that have been processed.  However, unprocessed memories, those of a traumatic nature, are in fact immutable, exact copies of the experience of the moment.  They’ve not been processed through Broca’s area of the brain to be made explicit and are therefore somehow immune to the natural shift that happens as we recall memories.

Memory Formation

The actual formation of long-term memory is a complicated process.  It can be disrupted in several ways.  First, most memory consolidation and conversion happen during sleep.  If we interrupt sleep at the wrong moment, we can effectively prevent learning.  (See How We Learn for more.)  We can also disrupt learning by creating an event that is too emotionally charged.  This creates a situation where critical portions of the brain are not active when they should be, presumably due to overactivity in other areas.  Broca’s area is commonly thought of as the linguistic processing portion of the brain, but that’s not the complete story.  Broca’s area is responsible for syntax – in other words, ordering and orienting – and appears to play a key role in conversion of physical sensations into meaningful explicit memories.

To understand the mechanics that cause areas of the brain to reduce activity, it’s important to recognize that there’s a maximal rate of glucose (power) transfer across the blood-brain barrier.  When we engage our brains most fully, we necessarily create a power deficit, and the brain responds by taking components offline.  (See The Rise of Superman for more.)

As I mentioned briefly in my review of The Body Keeps the Score, traumatic memories overload the emotional centers of the brain, and this causes the breakdown of the conversion process.  The problem is that the brain will continue to attempt to reprocess these memories repeatedly until it finds an acceptable way of integrating them.

To Predict

Inside Jokes proposes that the primary function of consciousness is prediction.  To perform its function, it processes input and uses it to create models that are then used to predict future events.  Gary Klein in Sources of Power shares his experience with fire captains who couldn’t articulate the way they were making decisions.  The theories at the time were along the lines of Decision Making, where decisions are made slowly, thoughtfully, and sequentially.  What he observed was that fire captains weren’t doing this – and they couldn’t articulate how they were making their decisions.  (See also Seeing What Others Don’t for Klein’s work in this area.)  The discovery was that they were building models of how the fires work, including all the variables necessary to predict the source of the fire and the factors feeding its growth – or inhibiting its growth.  They built this model by integrating their experiences from hundreds of other fires.

Because these models are so important to navigating the world, our brains will continue to try to make sense of – process – experiences until they complete their work of integration.  This means that unprocessed traumatic memories will intrude into daily life.

Memory Types

Before continuing, it’s important to note that there are different kinds of memories.  They are:

  • Explicit
    • Declarative
    • Episodic/Autobiographical
  • Implicit
    • Emotional
    • Procedural
      • Learned Motor Actions
      • Emergency Response
      • Response Tendencies: Approach/Avoidance

The knowledge management discipline sees these slightly differently but does acknowledge the array of memory types.  (See Lost Knowledge for more.)


We use our explicit episodic memories to help us orient in time and space.  We use them to help us understand where we are and where we’ve been.  However, this requires the conversion into explicit memory, which is missing for traumatic memories.  As a result, traumatic memories are quite literally experienced as if they’re happening in the present moment.  Our brains cannot tell the difference between a traumatic memory and currently occurring facts.  It’s no wonder that people with traumatic memories feel overwhelmed and unsafe – because, to their brains, they are.

Erasing Memories

It’s the subject of science fiction, but too few people realize that it is a scientific fact.  The study was testing what would happen if a key protein needed for memory retrieval was blocked at the time of memory recall.  Mice were trained with classic conditioning to fear a sound.  The protein inhibitor was injected, and the sound was played.  They, predictably, didn’t experience fear.  The memory was blocked.

However, the spooky result was that they no longer feared the sound even after the protein inhibitor had worn off.  Somehow, accessing the memory at a time when the protein to allow for retrieval wasn’t available had caused them to unlearn the behavior – permanently.


It’s not clear the total implications of this; some researchers and clinicians have observed children exposed to trauma in their preverbal time to repeat or reenact the traumas they experienced even without conscious knowledge of the trauma.  Even mice taught to run a maze seem to pass along that memory of the maze – at some level – to offspring, as was demonstrated with a creative experiment where mice were taught a maze in Australia and then offspring were presented with the same maze (pattern) in New York.  The offspring were statistically faster than they should have been at solving the maze.  The same thing happened when the pattern was reversed – it wasn’t just the city that made them faster.

This was further validated experimentally by using a cherry scent to precede a shock.  Great-great grandchildren of the original mice in the experiment had a stress reaction to the scent – even though they had not themselves been exposed to the scent or the training.

For all the things that we know about Trauma and Memory, we don’t know enough yet.

Automatic Redirection of Email to an External Domain

There are documented reasons why sending an email message to one email address would be redirected to another.  These are all mail-flow related to the recipient of the message.  If Bert sets up a forwarding rule to Ernie, then Ernie will get Bert’s mail.  Similarly, there are mail-flow settings for administrators that forward all mail from one mailbox to another.  However, this isn’t the only way that mail can get redirected.  First, we need to understand external records in your Azure Active Directory.

External Users

If you invite external users to your SharePoint or OneDrive resources, a user record will be created in your Azure Active Directory (Microsoft Entra ID).  This record will have the at sign (@) in the name replaced with an underscore and will be suffixed with #EXT#@primarytenantdomain.

So, for the domain, [email protected] becomes

Thus, there is a record when Exchange goes to look up [email protected].  It does this without notification.  When that record has an email property set, the email will be redirected.  So, for instance, if you set the email address to [email protected], the messages sent to [email protected] will be transparently redirected to [email protected]

Only One

The confusing bit is, because this is configured in the sender’s domain, it’s hard to track down why one particular sender tenant/domain is redirecting messages.  However, take a look at what happens if you run a message trace:

Note that the resolve happens prior to the message being sent to the target.  It’s all because of the Email setting in the user record:

If you find mail is getting delivered to the wrong place – it’s worth checking the user’s record in Entra ID.

Book Review-Designing Dynamic Organizations

I never got to meet Jay Galbraith.  His first work was published just months after my birth.  However, Galbraith’s perspectives on organizations and change have reverberated over the years, and I finally got a chance to read some of his later work – Designing Dynamic Organizations.  Galbraith published many works over the years, nearly all about creating structures for organizations that would perform and adapt.

The Model

The primary contribution to the literature was the introduction of a five-part “star” model:

In Designing Dynamic Organizations, Galbraith and his co-authors walk through steps designed to create clarity around each of these components of the model.  The model starts with a strategy – and then the other four components of the model, which have no specific order, have an interconnected nature that means they’re likely to be worked simultaneously.


The starting point for an organization and for a change effort is to develop the strategy.  What is it that you believe will work to propel the organization forward?  Often, approaches like SWOT and PESTLE are used to do this current state analysis.  (See our SWOT and PESTLE resource book for more on how to do this current state analysis.)

In Galbraith’s perspective, the other part is about clarifying limits and assumptions.  This is the same process that Immunity to Change seeks to unlock.  By clarifying what is in the way of changes and success you’re better able to define a strategy that will work.


An organization has a set of resources to deploy, and structure is the question about how to best deploy them.  Over the years, many have tried to define a single structure that is best for every organization.  Edith Penrose outlined a complete approach in The Theory of the Growth of the Firm.  Contemporary theorists, like Frederic LaLoux in Reinventing Organizations, challenge even the concept of structure as Galbraith considers it in his model.  Gareth Morgan exposes multiple ways of looking at the structure problem in Images of Organization by examining different ways of thinking of organizations.  The Heretic’s Guide to Management questions whether the structure is as meaningful as everyone assumes.

Ultimately, structure starts with the dimension across which you’ll primarily organize.  Are you organizing sales by geography or by product lines?  Historically, we saw many geographical organizations, but with better travel and virtual options for meetings, there’s a shift towards more product focused organizations.

Processes and Lateral Capability

Here, Galbraith is focused on how the organization works around the structure that’s put in place.  Some of it is the way that teams are formed.  Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham wrote Work Redesign to directly address the gyrations necessary to create more effective processes.  (See also Collaborative Intelligence for more on Hackman’s thoughts about effective teams.)  More than that, Galbraith is talking about fostering communities in the organization.  (See Digital Habitats for examples.)  Organizations aren’t made up of the official structure alone.  Instead, they’re the network of connections that are started by the structure and enhanced by the internal spirit of collaboration and working spaces.

Reward Systems

Recognizing people appropriately is a complex struggle for every organization.  It starts with the challenge of intrinsic motivation and the real possibility of explicit rewards disrupting that motivation.  (See Why We Do What We Do for more.)  Motivating employees is more than just money.  (See 365 Ways to Motivate and Reward Your Employees with Little or No Money.)  Influencing others – building reward systems to systemically influence them – has a good deal of research, since it’s such a challenging and important task for organizations.  For instance, The Titleless Leader, Influence, Pre-Suasion, Influence Without Authority, and 42 Rules of Employee Engagement all provide clues to reward approaches that are effective.

However, the question about who you should reward is often overlooked.  The unfortunate reality is that most organizations don’t know what metrics would be appropriate their employees – and what values the metrics should have to indicate the need for recognition and reward.  (See our Metrics & Indicators resource book for more on setting the right metrics and targets.)


Organizations move forward because of the people they attract, screen, motivate, and retain.  These processes aren’t necessarily easy, but there are things that you can do to improve the people in the organization – and therefore what you’re capable of.

Greater attention is being paid to brand awareness – not just from the customer perspective but also because it impacts the degree to which people will want to work with an organization.  Building a strong brand is a cornerstone of attracting the right talent.

Screening the applicants is a process.  It’s a system that starts with a pool of applicants and ends with hiring one or more of those people for the available roles.  (See Who for more on this process.)  One of the key capabilities of people in today’s world is their ability and desire to learn, because it’s almost impossible to identify all the skills that an employee will need to be successful in today’s rapidly changing world.  (See The Adult Learner for more.)

Once they’re on board, it’s important to provide effective feedback for the employee.  (See Radical Candor for an integrated approach to feedback.)


Collectively, Galbraith explains that these components can make – or break – an organization.  With his guidance, he believes that you can be good at Designing Dynamic Organizations.

When Inclusivity Goes Too Far

Inclusivity is a good thing, right?  Sure.  However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.  When the benefits of inclusivity start to cause more negative consequences than positive ones, it’s time to reevaluate.  It’s time to find ways of including others without incurring the negative consequences.

We Share the Same Biology

Before I get to the limits of inclusivity and when it transitions from good to bad, it’s important to acknowledge that absolute necessity of it and the tragedy when we don’t have any.  For far too long, people have been marginalized.  It makes no difference whether we’re speaking of the caste system in India, the fate of Blacks and Latinos in America, the First Nations people in Canada, Aboriginal Australians, or the challenges that befall gender equality across the globe.  It’s wrong.  We share the same biology, and we deserve an equal shot at a life of happiness and prosperity.

When I speak of the limits of inclusivity, I’m not talking about the need to return the scales to balance and even to tip them towards the benefit of those who have suffered by oppressive hands – many of whom may have been my ancestors.  No apologies can undo what has been done.

What I am talking about is how we include every voice today.  What I’m talking about is who to include in a room full of old white dudes or in a room full of school children.  The key here isn’t about race or gender, but how, in an attempt to level these scales, we may cause more trouble than we solve.

Creating Space and Safety

Irrespective of who is in the room, their makeup or experiences, every interaction should be done in a place where people feel safe.  They should feel like they can share their whole selves.  If someone isn’t cisgender, but they aren’t comfortable in sharing that with their family, we should endeavor to create a space that makes it acceptable for them to share with us.  The best form of humanity is one that accepts others for who they are – regardless of who they are.

Creating safety is substantially easier said than done.  First, we’ve got to turn off our natural tendencies to judge, because judging creates separation.  Second, we need to turn up our desire for understanding.  Our goal in creating a safe space is to understand – not necessarily agree.

If we can’t create places of safety, then we’ve failed before we’ve begun.  We cannot expect that everyone we interact with will feel safe – they’ve got their own internal experiences to build expectations on, but we’re responsible for the environment that we create.

The truth is all of this is critical preamble to understand before we explain why too much inclusivity can be a bad thing.

Too Many Voices

You walk into a busy restaurant and realize that you can no longer make out the words your companion is saying.  They raise their voice to a volume akin to yelling at your kid on the other side of a football field, and you’re able to barely make out their words.  You wonder if they’re angry or if they’re just struggling to get their voice above the noise.  You’ve just experienced what it’s like to have too many voices.  It overwhelms the senses and makes communication nearly impossible.  Because of the noise, all the subtly and nuance is lost.

The same happens when we invite too many people to be included in what we’re doing.  In the name of inclusivity, we turn the noise up to a level where no one can understand the conversation.  Some of this is in the sheer number of people.  Some of this is in who we invite and their inability to modulate their voice in ways that create space for others.  Some of those we include may themselves exclude others.

Tone Deaf

It’s rare that I encounter someone who hasn’t invited a friend to a party, a person to speak, or an organization to a partnership and regretted it.  The people get added and instantly take over the conversation or insist on becoming the center of the attention.  Their additional voice may be necessary, but the way that they use it causes so much harm that it’s appropriate to wonder whether their voice was truly necessary or just useful and whether that utility is outweighed by the problems associated with the voice.

While I rarely find people who’ve not had the experience, it’s also true that it’s rare.  Though most of us bear the scars from such an interaction, we’ll admit it doesn’t happen frequently.  It’s not, however, so rare that we’re able to forget it.

Worst Case Scenario

Sometimes, the problem isn’t the need to be the center of attention but rather the fog that accompanies them.  One of the powers of diverse groups is their ability to see situations from multiple perspectives.  We want people who can see and help us avoid problems that are a part of potential solutions.  However, sometimes the feedback about potential problems are too much.

Consider for a moment that you want to ride a new roller coaster at your favorite theme park.  You assemble a group of friends to discuss the pros and cons of the experience.  While most of your friends egg you on and want you to come, there are some who are concerned about the dangers.  Some friends may consider things like losing your sunglasses, watch, or phone, others are concerned about less realistic things.  Instead of offering concerns and solutions to the problems that are most frequently encountered, they identify problems that almost never happen.

They might encourage you to consider what might happen if the ride gets stuck.  What would it be like to have to wait on the ride for an hour or more as the fire department is called to free you from a difficult position?  What happens if you come free from your restraint and fall to your death?  Perhaps an asteroid will come and hit the roller coaster.  It’s harder to see the line between the reasonable and unreasonable than it might appear.  Certainly, an asteroid is far-fetched, since we’ve not encountered something like that for a few million years, but getting stuck (though rare) may happen more commonly.

On the one hand, it’s probably a good idea to consider a quick stop to the rest room before riding; on the other hand, preparing for an asteroid is impossible.  This is the key as some people will bring up concerns that cannot be solved – but also are not about the decision at hand, they’re about living life or doing business.

We need to shape voices in ways that cause them to raise issues – but not disconnected concerns and certainly not raise concerns that are unrelated to the topic at hand.

Lack of Focus

Including additional voices also has the impact of reducing focus.  Each person has their own perspective and their own beliefs about what is the core of the problem.  Individuals’ core beliefs about the heart of the system are rarely in complete alignment.  Where one person may be laser focused on improving access to health care, the other person may be more concerned about efficacy of the treatments.  The net result can be a positive exploration about how the two relate – or it can be an unstated battle of wills as the two pull the discussion into two different but related paths.

Individually, the participants are clear with their focus, but they’ve not collectively reached complete understanding or agreement, and the result is a blurred sense of vision and approach.  If there isn’t sufficient effort to at least expose if not resolve the issues, the result is the lack of focus.  What’s particularly tragic about this is that these challenges often lie beneath the surface, undiscovered.  They eat efficacy and point towards problems ahead because of the distrust that builds as it becomes evident that others don’t believe in the same things that they do.  They’ve always believed the others understood the problem as they did – but that’s not the case.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Horst Rittel and his colleagues coined the term “wicked problem” and the ten criteria that make a problem wicked.  Wicked problems are the very kind of problem that we need diverse groups for.  They have no single definition nor solution, and often the actors trying to resolve the problem have no right to be wrong.  However, wicked problems amplify differences and conflicts.  They can be perceived in different ways by their very nature – and being able to see how others may see the problem differently is not always easy.

We must set the goal of inclusivity to the point of positive improvement in the outcomes we create.  When we’re being taken off track by people who can’t help us bring unity, acceptance, and coherence to our problems, then inclusivity has gone too far.

Certainly, getting more input and including more people is better than going alone.  An African proverb states that if you want to go faster, go alone; if you want to go further, go together.  In most cases today, we want to go further – but we can only go further with the right sized group.

Book Review-America’s Gun Wars: A Cultural History of Gun Control in the United States

Some of my earliest memories are watching The Lone Ranger.  I remember cowboys in white hats and bandits in black hats.  When I picked up America’s Gun Wars: A Cultural History of Gun Control in the United States, I never expected to find a reference to The Lone Ranger or other Westerns.  My stepfather was obsessed with Westerns and John Wayne in particular.  I grew up hunting deer and squirrels with him.  I hunted with a bow and with shotguns.  For me, guns – at least rifles and shotguns – were normal.  What I’ve come to realize is that this wasn’t normal for everyone.  For some, the mere thought of a gun is an anxiety-inducing event.  It’s not just those who have been victims of gun violence.  It’s so removed from some experiences that it induces anxiety.

What masquerades as a gun war is in many ways much deeper.  It’s about beliefs and identities that people have.

Bedrocks and Cosmopolitan

In America’s Gun Wars, Donald Campbell simplifies the positions around guns into “Bedrock America” (whom many would call gun rights advocates) and “Cosmopolitan America” (who believes that we need gun control to reduce violence and that guns are a holdover of a previous time).  The labels are shortcuts and a simplification of positions – but they are useful.

Bedrock America’s beliefs are summed up best with “rugged individualism.”  They share a fundamental set of beliefs that value independence, self-reliance, justice, and freedom.  It’s almost as if Campbell was reading from Jonathan Haidt’s foundations of morality.  (See The Righteous Mind.)

Cosmopolitan America’s beliefs are of shared values.  They’re distrustful of firearms and their need.  They see that society has evolved beyond the need for individuals to protect themselves.  We have professional fire and police protection.  Why would we need firearms to protect ourselves?  They’re frustrated by the explosive growth of violent crime in our urban centers far away in both time and place from the frontiers of old.

I’ll admit that I’m challenged by some of the views that Cosmopolitan America has.  For instance, the perception is that violent crime has been on the constant rise and it’s continuing to get worse.  The peak of violent crime in America occurred in the 1990s.  Even with the recent pandemic-related increase in violent crime, we’re still down substantially from the all-time highs.  (See Anthro-Vision.)

I also struggle to accept the premise that more guns means that there will be more violence.  There continues to be a rise in the number of firearms owned in the United States, which has in many ways corresponded to the drops in violent crimes.  I’m not willing to say – as some gun rights supporters would – that more guns equals fewer violent crimes.  I’m simply confused why the statistics don’t seem to support the assertion that more guns equate to more violence.

Inches to Miles

One of the ways that Bedrock America and Cosmopolitan America square off is when it comes to registration of firearms.  The argument of Cosmopolitan America is that it does no harm and helps police trace weapons after a crime.  There are fundamental problems with the argument in terms of the number of times a weapon is recovered but the offender isn’t apprehended.  Importantly, in those places that have required registration, it doesn’t appear to have improved gun tracing capabilities.  On its face, Bedrock America has asked for evidence to support efficacy of the approach and hasn’t seen an answer.

However, even if there were some evidence, Bedrock America has reason to be wary.  In 1967, Mayor John Lindsay enacted a rifle and shotgun registration law.  He promised the law was only to keep track of potentially dangerous firearms.  He kept his word.  However, in 1991, Mayor David Dinkins signed a law prohibiting some of the previously allowed firearms and the registration list was used to notify owners of the prohibition.  They were also required to return a sworn statement about what they had done to comply with the new law.  What started as registration had become a mechanism to “take” people’s guns from them.


Another consideration for gun control is the concept of licensing.  It started with New York State’s Sullivan Act in 1911.  The act required that people obtain a license for guns, knives, brass knuckles, and other weapons.  The argument for it was that it would be possible to prevent unsavory people from obtaining such items, but, as New York State Senator Timothy Ferris at the time argued, “You can’t force a burglar to get a license to use a gun.”  Criminals, by definition, break laws.

This is at the heart of the argument against gun control laws.  Only a small portion of criminals – if any – will adhere to the laws.  If they’re willing to commit murder and accept the felony for it, why would a minor weapons charge be concerning to them?

National Rifle Association

Few groups are as polarizing as the National Rifle Association (NRA).  People either see them as defenders of the right to bear arms or the villains that push the means of killing children to the masses.

However, the organization was applauded in a 1945 letter from President Truman for their contributions to the war effort.  The NRA was a leading provider of training and an encouragement towards both hunting and marksmanship.  The skill necessary to effectively operate a firearm and hit a target would come in handy when the members were asked to fight in World War II.

Only to Kill

A sharp criticism of guns is their fundamental nature of killing.  They are, in fact, designed for this purpose.  The challenge comes when the killing moves from hunting to provide food for a family to harming other humans.  Chicago’s Mayor Daley and Time magazine both criticized guns as having no significant role in society other than to kill or maim human beings.  Of course, hunters and sports shooters vehemently disagreed with this assertion.

The truth is that automobiles still are responsible for more deaths than homicides (of all types), yet we don’t call for the elimination of automobiles.  We don’t because the perceived utility of them as a transportation means seems to justify the mortality rate.  If you don’t belong to a club that is gun-related, you don’t participate in a gun-related sport, and you don’t use guns for hunting, then there appears to be no reason for you to have a gun – except for personal protection.

Personal Protection

The purpose of having a gun for personal protection places the crosshairs on the idea that the gun is used to kill and maim.  That is, of course, what makes them an effective deterrent.  The question at the heart of the problem is whether the presence of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens increases or decreases violent crime including murder.  Here, the data isn’t clear.

If you compare the US murder rate with IDEC nations, the rate is higher.  If you include countries like Russia and Brazil in the mix, the murder rate drops.  The relative rate of murder is relative to what you compare it to.  To be clear, zero murder is a good thing, but achieving that isn’t a reality.

A common reference point is the United Kingdom with their restrictive gun laws.  They’re in the top third of countries with high violent crime rates with relatively low murder rates and higher property crime rates.  They do see less violent crime than the United States, but it’s not clear what the reasons for that are.

Lack of Certainty

Perhaps the most powerful thing that can be said is that, in every case where there seems to be a clear answer for what would solve our violence problem, it is less clear upon closer inspection.  Perhaps this is the reason why we still have America’s Gun Wars.

Angry With You

The English language has some problems.  Some of those problems can make conflict worse.  Take the simple statement, “I’m angry with you.”  Immediately, the amygdala leaps into action and starts the cascade of chemicals that causes us to decide to fight or flee.  Before we can blink, we wonder how angry the person is with us.

The problem is that the preposition “with” doesn’t explain whether we are the object of the anger or whether the person is standing beside us in the anger.  If they’re standing with us in our anger, then they’re an ally.  If we’re the object of their anger, then we’re an enemy.  We’re presented with dozens of these contradictions as we communicate with others.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Carl Rogers’ way of saying it was “unconditional positive regard.”  It conveyed judgement-free listening and the general expectation of positive things from the person he was with.  Instead of assuming the worst, he assumed the best.  Instead of looking for threats, he looked for ways to connect.  Instead of instantly judging what the other person said and assuming he knew what they meant, he maintained an element of curiosity about whether his perception was the one the other party intended.

Rogers’ framework is a good start.  It sets us up to differentiate between the times that someone has made us the object of their answer and when they stood beside us in solidarity with our anger.

Adaptive Anger

Buddhists speak of emotions as afflictive and non-afflictive.  That is, is the emotion harming us or not?  In Western terms, we speak of whether the emotion is adaptive – that is, providing value – or maladaptive.  Maladaptive emotions include those where the emotion and the responses it generates for us are harmful.  Given the trauma associated with anger – and the anger associated with trauma – one would assume that anger is maladaptive.  It does, after all, often cause harm.

Despite this, anger is more nuanced.  If one becomes angry for the right reason, at the right time, and at the right person, then anger can be adaptive.  That is, anger is not in and of itself a problem.  The problem is learning how to effectively manage our anger.  The anger that we associate with trauma is often not expressed in the right way, at the right person, at the right time, or for the right reasons.

The trauma-associated anger is different.  It exposes us to the disappointment that underlies the situation.  Whether the disappointment is in the behavior or lack of behavior of a person or is simply due to life not being fair, it’s anger that rises up to protect us when our expectations aren’t met.

Disappointment Directed

Anger is an emotion that many people struggle with.  Anger management has become both a phrase and a common source of humor.  Anger’s challenge lies in the fact that few have been taught what it is and what to do about it.  However, the Buddhists have a simple translation that can allow us to process our anger and get to its root.

The heart of this is the awareness that anger is disappointment directed.  We’re disappointed because someone or something didn’t meet our expectations.  We’ve directed this disappointment at someone – ourselves or others –and that disappointment takes the form of anger.

With this knowledge, we have a powerful set of questions.  We can ask what we’re disappointed in – and who we’re disappointed with.

Judgement Based

Our expectations are a part of the human condition.  In fact, more than anything else, our consciousness exists to allow us to prepare for potential threats – and that means prediction.  Given our limited ability to process and cognitive capacities, our ability to predict is nothing short of magic.  We can anticipate what others are thinking and what we expect them to do.  We apply patterns and rules of thumb.  When we’re missing data, we just make it up – which sometimes can be a bad thing.

Behind all these inferences and filling in the holes is a judgement system that is constantly making sense of the outside world.  Despite the wonderous machinery that makes this possible, it’s not infallible.  We make mistakes in our judgement – and anger is the result.

The reason that our judgement does so well with so little is that it’s constantly tuning itself.  Whether it’s laughter when a comedian makes us think one thing before snapping us back to their true meaning or the burn of anger, we’re constantly refining the prediction process to make it better.

Still, Rogers implores us to challenge our assumptions and to be surer that we understand the other person and the situation better.  That is, how do we slow down the judgement machine?


When someone we care about is angry, we listen to their anger and often we absorb it ourselves.  We listen to the evidence as they lay it out.  We, of course, draw the same conclusions they did.  We apply the same judgements, and we reach the same disappointed conclusions.  We accept their explanations, and we become angry with them – about the situation.

While this statement indicates solidarity, it does little to encourage us to seek our own data and our own conclusions.  We may be angry with the rude subway passenger who was letting his kids terrorize the other passengers in the car.  We may never ask the question about why.  Instead, we may believe, as they did, that the father was not a good father.  It’s only through asking that we can learn that he just buried his wife, and the family is now on their way home and desperately missing their mother.

Being angry with someone can be a show of solidarity – as long as we’re willing to investigate whether our anger is directed at the right person, in the right amount, and for the right reasons.

Book Review-Gun Control Myths: How Politicians, The Media, and Botched “Studies” Have Twisted the Facts on Gun Control

Columbo’s catch phrase, “Just the facts, ma’am,” is strangely appropriate when it comes to understanding the facts around gun rights and gun control.  Gun Control Myths: How Politicians, The Media, and Botched “Studies” Have Twisted the Facts on Gun Control seeks to expose the facts or at least Lott’s perspectives on the facts.  He cites dozens of places where the media has made erroneous statements that the public presumably believes.

The Man

Before I can share Lott’s work, I need to acknowledge the controversy that surrounds him.  He’s a strong gun rights supporter.  That puts him in the crosshairs of people who believe that more gun control is a good thing.  Some of their criticisms are reasonable.  He is frustrated when other researchers refuse to share their data.  Lott has not shared much of the data from his first book, which he says is due to a hard drive crash.  He did, for some time, use a fake persona online – Mary Rosh – which he later admitted he should not have done.

Other than this reasonable criticism and reasonable response, , there’s a lot of attacks on John Lott that aren’t about his work but are instead about him as a person.  This instantly flags me that there are people who are threatened.  They’re resorting to logical fallacies to discredit him.  (See Mastering Logical Fallacies.)  Should we treat his research with skepticism?  Absolutely, the same skepticism as any other researcher.  Too many people have faked their data.  Too many people have hidden or partially hidden agendas.  At least with Lott, we’re relatively clear where he stands.

One point of contention about Lott is that he’s not associated with an academic institution.  My first response is “so what?”  Having contrary views in academia is hard.  Even established professors with tenure find it uncomfortable.  (See The Coddling of the American Mind for an example.)  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to choose that fight.  We know that the prevailing perspective in higher education is contrary to what Lott believes.  So why should he fight it from inside the system?  Again, challenge his work – and don’t get offended when he challenges yours.

In reviewing the research that backs the book – and more – I’ll say that there are times when I believe that Lott’s choices aren’t always fair.  However, on balance, I don’t think it’s intentional deceit.  I think it’s a perspective difference.  Donald Campbell in Guns in America uses some of Lott’s research and identifies when and how it differs from others.  In many cases, the differences seem reasonable.  I don’t think of gangs or home intrusions the same way I think of the mass murders that have befallen us over the years.  Separating the data makes sense.

Assault Rifles

Mass shootings are the thing that’s on everyone’s mind.  They’re concerning and tragic.  We want them to stop – all of us.  Here’s the problem: the ways we’re talking about doing it don’t make sense, and they don’t match the data.  Many politicians have declared war on assault rifles and don’t know enough about guns to realize when what they’re saying doesn’t make sense – and much of the public is taking their information from politicians and the media, so they’re similarly ill informed.

I’ve covered some bullet basics in a separate post to provide some context for the risk of the gun family – AR-15 – that’s been singled as an assault rifle.  I followed that up with a post on What is an Assault Rifle?  The short version is that the AR-15 isn’t responsible for many of the murders in the US – and it has substantially less power than many hunting rifles.  Any murder is too many – but even if we removed all of them from our streets, we wouldn’t make a big impact.

What makes this particularly impressive is that the AR-15 a very popular platform.  It represents many sales – and a tiny percentage of the murders.  As Jessica Rabbit said in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”  The appearance of the AR-15 is what makes it such a target for gun control advocates.

Which Yard Stick?

Whether the US has a larger or smaller problem with gun violence than most other countries depends a lot on what countries you’re comparing the US to.  Compare the rate to every country that reports numbers, and we’re less than the mean (average) and median.  Constrain the list to “developed” countries and the story is less compelling.  Brazil has a rate five times higher than the US – despite dramatically lower gun ownership.  Mexico is reported at six times the US rate of murders.

Of course, these numbers are a few years old now.  However, you can make pretty graphics that show how dramatically worse than other countries the US is – or how much better we are.  It all depends on which message you’re trying to sell.

But Gun Control Saves Lives

Some, absolutely.  Which gun control measures save lives is difficult to figure out.  It starts with the fact that the estimated number of firearms in the US is approaching one per person.  That doesn’t mean that everyone owns a firearm.  It means those who do tend to own more than one.  If we compare our murder rate with Chile or Estonia, we see that it is comparable, even though they have roughly 10% of the gun ownership as the US.

Even the National Institute of Justice estimates that a 1% increase in gun ownership reduces violent crime by 4.1%.  It’s a small sample and could easily be an artifact of sample bias – but the thing is that the effects can’t be large.  So undoubtedly there are things that we can do to reduce murders through laws, registrations, and regulations – but finding what those are isn’t easy.

It’s Got to Be High Capacity

Surely, banning high-capacity magazines has an impact, right?  Not really.  First, a review of the number of rounds fired with large capacity magazines is 71 compared to 65 with standard capacity magazines in mass-murder events.  The change is not zero but it’s around a 10% difference.  More challenging is that the 1994 federal ban on large capacity magazines didn’t seem to have any appreciable impact  on reducing gun violence.  We’ve tried it, and it didn’t work.  However, it’s a relatively constant source of conversation.

Admittedly, I don’t personally have a reason to need a high-capacity magazine, but I don’t see a ban on them as effective either.

Gun Free Zones on Target

Well, gun-free zones work, right?  No.  Have you ever seen the deer crossing signs?  Do you ever wonder how the deer read the signs to know where to cross?  Obviously, they don’t.  Instead, we tell drivers to be more cautious, because deer are known to cross in an area.  The thing is that a gun free zone doesn’t prevent a criminal from having a gun – it just prevents law abiding citizens from carrying one.  That means that the attacker knows the victims are unlikely to shoot back.  According to Lott, many mass murders have taken into consideration security and whether the people could be armed.

He points to the shooter in Aurora, CO as having selected the movie theatre for less security, and the shooter in Lafayette, LA selected not for the size nor proximity to his home but rather to being the closest to his home that prohibited patrons from arming themselves.

Armed Civilians

The natural argument about having armed civilians is that they’ll shoot other people, further increasing the harm – or that police will shoot the civilian attempting to stop the attack.  The problem is that, according to Lott’s research, this just doesn’t happen.  Instead, 94% of mass murders in the US took place where most people aren’t legally allowed to carry guns.

Psychiatric Evaluation

Psychiatry has a dirty little secret.  They’re not good at predicting who will commit murder or suicide.  (See Alternatives to Suicide.)  They simply can’t predict with high degrees of accuracy.  The arguments that people who are mass-murderers must be crazy is the same thinking that demonized people who die by suicide for centuries.  (See Why People Die by Suicide.)  The crazy thing is that Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for the death of countless Jews in Nazi concentration camps, was certified as normal by six psychologists.  (See Trauma and Recovery, Moral Disengagement, and The Lucifer Effect for more.)  We intuitively know that this is wrong – but it simply proves the point that we can’t accept that psychiatry has it right all the time.

Sometimes we have to find the truth through the noise, even if that means that we expose Gun Control Myths.

What is an Assault Rifle?

There’s a lot of talk about assault rifles, but what are they really, and why is everyone so concerned about the AR-15?  To answer these questions, we’ll have to separate the hype from the data and get past the difference between appearances and reality.

Before we begin, I must state unequivocally that every loss of life is a tragedy.  No one wants to lose a loved one due to a firearm or any other means.  We forego the idea that we can prevent every tragedy, and instead look at ways that we can use our resources for the best possible outcome.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The concern is that these assault rifles are weapons of mass destruction.  Their sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible, and therefore they shouldn’t be in the hands of civilians.  However, the story isn’t that simple.  First, let’s look at the data.  The FBI says that firearms make up 74% of murders.

Figure 1: 2019 Murder by Type, Source: US FBI UCR

Clearly, firearms are a big component of murder, but which types of firearms?  Figure 2 shows that it’s mostly handguns.

Figure 2: Murder by Firearm Type, Source: US FBI UCR

The unknown category – the ones where the weapon was unknown – is skewing the real picture.  If we assume that the unknown data is similar to the known data, we get Figure 3.  (Admittedly, this is an assumption, but it’s reasonable and doesn’t change the meaning of the analysis.)

Figure 3: Murder by Firearm Type when known, Source: US FBI UCR

What we see is that handguns account for 92% of the murders.  With rifles – the category under which assault rifles falls – represents 5% of the overall fatalities.  What most people would consider an assault rifle is a small subset of this.  Even if we ban all assault rifles, it will not make any substantial impact on fatalities.

Military Applications

The argument is that these weapons were designed for military application and therefore the public doesn’t need them.  There is a key difference between military weapons and the civilian versions.  The military versions allow for select fire.  Military weapons can fire in semi-automatic mode (one pull of the trigger fires one bullet), burst fire mode (one pull of the trigger fires three bullets), or automatic mode (one pull of the trigger fires bullets until the ammunition is exhausted or the trigger is released).

Though there are provisions for civilians owning fully automatic weapons, they’re rarely pursued because they’re time consuming and costly.  When we’re talking about the AR-15, however, we’re not talking about automatic weapons.  We’re talking about a weapon that is not fundamentally different than many of the hunting guns used by hunters today that accept a limited number of rounds in magazines and fire them with each pull of the trigger.

Often, the AR-15 platform is compared to the M16 military weapon.  There’s good reason for this: the M16 was based off the AR-15 and added select fire.  It also included a slightly more energetic cartridge – NATO 5.56x45mm instead of the .223 cartridge the AR-15 uses.  So, while visually similar, the M16 is capable of firing higher energy rounds in a fully automatic mode.

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

Ground effect lighting on a car doesn’t make it hover.  After the movie Back to the Future, it was popular for a while to put lights under people’s cars, not unlike the car in the movie or any of the other upgrades that people made to their cars like spinner hubcaps.  The visual appearance of a car with ground effect lighting may (or may not) have been cool, but it didn’t make the cars hover.  Appearances can be deceiving.

In the case of the AR-15, it looks like a military-style rifle – ironically, because the most popular military weapon was based on the platform.  However, the functionality is different – even if the looks are similar.

Modern Sporting Rifles

The National Sport Shooting Federation started using the term “modern sporting rifle” for the AR-15 platform in 2009.  Strangely, this signals a reduction in energy and the capacity to inflict injury than the weapons of the past.  As I explained in my post, Bullet Basics, the energy in a .223 cartridge, which the AR-15 uses, is substantially less than common hunting rifles.

Perhaps the AR-15 platform is a modern sporting rifle for the same reasons that it was selected by the military for newer weapons.  Lighter weapons are better – even if they are less deadly.

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