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Book Review-Why We’re Polarized

In America, we’ve become more divisive and more polarized in our politics, but why?  In Why We’re Polarized, Ezra Klein seeks to explain the progression of polarization and the factors that drive it.  Short on solutions, Klein is content to describe a problem of polarization and its causes with the hope that others will be able to help in the identification of solutions.

While Klein’s focus is squarely on politics and how we’ve changed the way that we view political parties over the decades, other researchers have been looking more broadly at how we end up in extreme positions.  Cass Sunstein examines polarization in Going to Extremes.  Alexandra Stein in Terror, Love, and Brainwashing explains how cults create alternate realities and separate people from the rest of society.  Buster Benson for his contribution seeks to help us find ways to bridge the gap and have productive disagreements in Why Are We Yelling?  In Resolving Conflicts at Work, Kenneth Coke and Joan Goldsmith provide tips targeted at resolving conflict at work but end up with a useful framework of ideas for any kind of conflict.

The Pull of Polarization

There’s no doubt that we’re more polarized.  It’s not just the news or noticing – there’s a measurable pull towards polarization that’s driven by the forces of the two-party political system.  For a candidate to be viable, they must be the most extreme version of the ideals that the party holds.  It’s like what draws us to art – it’s the extreme form that we find most interesting.  (See The Tell-Tale Brain for more.)  Candidates become leaders, and leaders’ positions pull us to more extreme positions.  This isn’t unlike what Cass Sunstein observed in Going to Extremes.

Bedrock Identities

We all have multiple identities.  We’re husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, professionals and more.  Our identities are generally fluid and work together to form a coherent self-image.  However, some identities are more powerful than others.  When two identities are in conflict, we’ll lean towards one that seems more important.  These are bedrock identities – the ones that we’ll go back to in times of crisis and concern.  There’s been an evolution with our bedrock identities.  No longer do we consider religion a bedrock identity.  (See Spiritual Evolution.)  We no longer identify with the groups we belong to – because we don’t really belong to any groups.  (See Bowling Alone.)

In the absence of these historical, powerful bedrock identities, we’ve substituted our political affiliations, and we protect them with the same veracity.  We feel as if people who have different perspectives than those held by our core identities are wrong, misguided, or evil.  Bedrock identities aren’t bad – but our need to protect them (because if they’re not right, then somehow we’re not right) is bad.  It separates us from others with different views, prevents us from learning, and leaves us even more polarized.


The challenge with bedrock identities defined by political parties is that these identities are too amorphous and changing.  What the party stands for may appear to be consistent, but it’s clear that not everyone in the party holds the same view.  A review of positions over time shows that the parties do change their positions at a much faster rate than the change in religious groups.  In short, we’ve defined a shortcut – but the shortcut keeps changing.

We need shortcuts to live.  Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow explains how we need to make simple decisions where we can, because we need to conserve glucose.  The Rise of Superman affirms that our brains are glucose hungry.  In fact, they’ve got more need for glucose than our bodies can steadily supply.  The Organized Mind makes the same point differently – we’re in an era of information overload, and we’re filtering information to cope.  We malign stereotypes – which have their faults – but we need them.  The Signal and the Noise explains that “rules of thumb” are both error-ridden and necessary.  Kahneman and colleagues revisit the problem in Noise.  We need shortcuts to cope – but we need to minimize the damage caused by using those shortcuts inappropriately.

We can’t mitigate the damage of shortcuts when the shortcuts are changing underneath us.

Negative Partisanship

However, the problem is more complicated than just the shortcuts that we use to identify ourselves.  The research finds that we don’t vote for people as much as we vote against the other guy.  The other party, the other views, and the other people are so repugnant to us that we’ll take anyone with our own party just to avoid them.  There’s no secret to our negative bias.  (See The Resilience Factor and Hardwiring Happiness for more.)  There’s an evolutionary reason for this bias.

It’s sort of the opposite of Pascal’s wager, which argues that the wins and losses for not believing in God are far worse than the wins and losses of believing in God.  (See The Mind Club for more.)  If we err on the side of believing that a threat isn’t a threat – but it is – we may wind up dead.  We can either be unnecessarily concerned about a lion in the grass – or we ignore the lion and we’re dead.

Policy Views

Those who don’t follow politics are more likely to view political decisions in terms of their own best interest, while those who do follow politics are more inclined to view political decisions from the lens of their identity.  For those of us who are only peripherally interested because we neither have a professional reason nor consider it a hobby or area of expertise, we make the decisions because they seem to be best suited for positive outcomes.  However, as people focus more attention on politics, they start to believe that the meaning behind the decisions – rather than the actual outcomes – are more important.

The truth is that most of the public won’t – and can’t – have a strong position on a policy issue or a political appointment.  Most people don’t have the time or capacity to process the issue that deeply.

Agrees with Me

The definition of expert seems to be “a credentialed person who agrees with me.”  Like many things in politics, everything stops mattering except if they’re “for me or against me.”  Thomas Gilovich explained in How We Know What Isn’t So how we believe things until we can’t any longer.  We seek confirming evidence while eschewing evidence that doesn’t agree with us.

If you provide the actual evidence on gun control efficacy to those that believe strongly in gun control and ask them to do the math, they’ll suddenly be bad at math.  Similarly, if you ask gun advocates why people “need” their guns, they’re likely to make slightly – or completely – illogical arguments.  We are more compelled to protect our beliefs – and, more importantly, our identities – than we are to seek the truth.  Amy Edmondson in Right Kind of Wrong explains that we don’t like being wrong – and we’ll resist it.

The Fiction that We All Believe

There’s an idealized image of colleges and universities that they are places of unrestricted thought.  People can explore any line of thinking that is important to them.  They’re places of debate and civil disagreements.  However, as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explain in The Coddling of the American Mind, this is no longer the case.  Instructors now must warn students that what they’re about to be exposed to may be offensive, shocking, or triggering to them.  Klein questions whether this concern for decorum is any different than in previous generations.

The answer is probably both.  Certainly, speech and thought are freer inside the relative safety of a university – but those walls have always been permeable, and people needed to consider what others might think.  But our polarization leads us to find even less safety in universities.  The idea that we can explore ideas inside of a university is likely fiction today – and it may always have been.  Yet most people would say that universities are full of free thinkers.

Interests and Identities

Marketers figured it out a long time ago.  They figured out that they had to find the identities of people to craft messages that resonate.  They weren’t looking for the person who was interested in a dog.  They were speaking to the dog owner who viewed that dog as a part of their identity.  They were looking for the person who wanted to feel happy – and that’s why advertisements almost universally feature people who are smiling.

What we believe are the interests of others are aspects of their identity – and those aspects, when activated, have the power to unite or divide.  When stated generally, “cat people” aren’t activated by conversations about dogs.  Similarly, “dog people” aren’t activated by conversations about cats.  However, frame the conversations about the relative benefits of a canine or a feline, and the fur will fly.  Positioned as a competition or as a single “right” answer, our identities have us arguing that we’re right.

Politicians realized, too, that they needed not to just get people to support them but rather get activated people, people who will campaign and canvas for them if they’re going to win elections – and that means getting people angry.  It means engaging the emotion.  (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more about engaging emotion.)

Our polarization is a natural result of the forces that reinforce extreme positions – yet we still ask Why We’re Polarized.

Book Review-Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal

Trauma survivors aren’t heroes in the same sense that a first responder is.  We see the first responder at the scene of an accident, like a house fire, and see how their actions are protecting all of us.  We don’t get to see the hard work that trauma survivors do, because their work is internal.  That’s why the title Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal makes so much sense.  The work is invisible on the outside – until the trauma victim reemerges transformed by the trauma.  (See Transformed by Trauma for examples.)

Predictable Pacification

Too frequently after a trauma, a person blames themselves.  They think that they somehow – often magically – should have avoided the situation.  Of course, in many cases, there is no way to see or avoid the situation.  It’s one of the random things that happen in life.  Even in those cases where we could have made different choices – and likely will in the future – there’s little reason to ruminate over the choices that were made.

This need for a sense of control – innate to all humans – drives us to take too much accountability for the things that have happened and how we might have made things turn out differently if only we had done something differently.  We fail to accept that we may not have done anything wrong or incorrectly.  We believe we had to have done something wrong, so that we can maintain our belief that the world isn’t random and that we’re able to predict it.

The degree to which we believe we can predict the situation influences the degree to which we feel peaceful.


One of the challenges with the unnecessary attribution of blame to ourselves from the randomness of life is that we can take on ourselves a sense of unworthiness.  That is, we believe that not only did we make a mistake (guilt) but that we’re unable to do the right things (shame).  We start with shame, but eventually we start self-punishing and self-isolating, perhaps progressing even to a place where we believe we’re irredeemable.  There’s nothing that can happen to make us worthy of interacting with other mortals.

Sometimes, this thinking style becomes so pervasive because of continued trauma and abuse that the idea of returning to what others would consider normal is uncomfortable.  It can feel weird and uncomfortable for people to treat you as a fellow human instead of someone beneath them.

The truth is that no one is irredeemable.  Everyone deserves to be treated as a human – even if that’s not their norm.


Substantial traumas often create a division in a person’s lifeline.  There’s a time before the trauma and a time after the trauma.  Often, traumas cause a major change of course.  One of the ways you can recognize that someone acknowledges their experience was one of trauma is that they’re able to acknowledge their life is different – in more than a tactical and mechanical kind of way.

With smaller traumas, or traumas that persist over a longer time, it’s harder to see this demarcation point, but it’s rare that trauma doesn’t cause us to change in some way or another.

Something that Happened to Me

With time, in the post-trauma space, it’s possible to recount the trauma without reexperiencing it.  Until we can establish an explicit memory of the trauma and come to some terms with what it does – and does not – mean, many victims reexperience the event while retelling the story.  With new traumas, it’s important to not push them to recount the events, because doing so may accidentally amplify and anchor the trauma in their mind.  Rather, we should let people share at the speed, detail, and level that they’re able to.  If we can create a safe space for them to process the trauma, they can move it to something that happened in the past.

It is even better when we can recognize that one trauma or even multiple traumas don’t define us.  Yes, there is that demarcation line where things changed, but it’s not the entirety of who we are.

Work is Hard and Necessary

I’ve never found anyone who would dare to say that overcoming and moving past trauma is easy.  Even those who are grateful for where they are today would neither recommend their trauma nor relish the work they had to get to their place of healing.  Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning explains his time at a concentration camp.  While he exposes some of the things that helped him and others survive, he doesn’t recommend it.

There’s a delicate balance of experiencing the event while replaying it at a level that’s safe enough but vulnerable and raw enough that it’s possible to make sense of the event.  Sometimes, the only sense of control you can get in a trauma is the extent to which you allow yourself to experience it and your insistence that it won’t define you.

Mastering the Waves

Trauma survivors will tell you that you’ll always experience triggers that connect you to the traumatic experience, but they change.  It can be likened to riding an emotional wave on a surfboard.  You are still moved by it, and you’ll likely end up in the water at some point.  In the meantime, you can stay above it, using the energy to propel you forward.  Surfers, even professional surfers, fall off their board, but until they do, they’re able to do some amazing things.

One way to make trauma better is to learn the skills that allow you to spend more time above the wave and less time being pummeled by it.

Internal Perception of Danger

One step is recognizing that, often, the danger and fear associated with the event are in the past.  It’s quite likely that the fear of that moment doesn’t continue into the current moment – or shouldn’t.  What we come to realize is that it’s our internal perception of danger that matters more than the objective measure of risk.

We can use a set of well-known techniques to shift our perception away from momentary and current danger to a sense of relative safety.  Some of those techniques are below.

Play Acting a Different Ending

It’s magical thinking.  It’s the domain of the two-year-old – but it works.  For Victor Frankl, it was imagining his wife.  He knew she might be dead, but hearing her speak to him transcended that actuality.  He was able to create a scene in his mind that he knew to be reassuring but also false.

One way that we can reduce the suffering associated with trauma is to replay the event in our mind with different endings.  We can know they’re not real but at the same time be comforted with alternate endings.

An Army of Heroes

One alternate ending that can be valuable is to call in for a hero you can trust – real or imaginary.  These heroes can stand with us in our mind’s eye of the moment.  For some, they have a single hero who can stand with them.  For others, it’s a cadre of heroes, each with their own special skills and protections to offer.

This stands in the fantasy land of the child and at the same time offers us healing.  The real heroes aren’t the Invisible Heroes of our imagination but are those who fight their way out of the wake of trauma.

Book Review-Reducing Secondary Traumatic Stress: Skills for Sustaining a Career in the Helping Professions

When you think about it, there are dozens of professions that are focused on improving society.  We think of first responders in terms of firefighters, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, and 911 dispatchers.  However, we forget about our mental health professionals, teachers, child protective services, and dozens of other professions that are exposed to the traumas others are coping with.  Reducing Secondary Traumatic Stress: Skills for Sustaining a Career in the Helping Professions is designed to serve those who serve others by helping them learn to address the hardest parts of their jobs.


Early on, Miller speaks about burnout harking back to Freudenberger’s Burn-Out.  He incorrectly associates Maslach’s work with Freudenberger’s, perhaps because that’s the narrative that has been spun.  (I should say that Freudenberger’s book isn’t the oldest book on burnout: that distinction belongs to Professional Burn-Out.)

Miller, however, correctly identifies the key to burnout as feelings of inefficacy.  He challenges the notion that you’re burned out at the end of a long career and explains that burnout happens more frequently at the beginning of a career – not the end.  Of course, this is consistent with the research we did when building Extinguish Burnout.

Compassion Fatigue

Miller similarly pushes back against compassion fatigue.  He argues that it’s not that you’ve expressed too much compassion, but rather that you’ve closed yourself off to all feelings and empathy with the result of failing to express compassion for those you’re there to serve.  In Is It Compassion Fatigue or Burnout?, we speak about it from the perspective that professionals have failed to do their self-care.  The result is the same: you shut down, and it’s this shutdown that’s perceived as compassion fatigue.

Systemic Stress

Too many mental wellness programs are little more than herbal tea, soft lighting, and a once-a-month yoga session.  While these practices have some value, they’re often crushed by the onslaught of 50-minute sessions, crisis calls, and complex cases.  The physician that can’t find time for a bathroom break between 15-minute patient appointments won’t find what they need at the bottom of a teacup.  The paramedic whose sleep was just interrupted to respond to an accident doesn’t need soft lighting.

We can’t assume that we can put a band-aid on a gaping wound, and it will all be okay.  We have to match the care that we give to the need.

Feel or No Feel – There Is No Try

My apologies to Yoda.  You can’t selectively let in some feelings and dampen others.  You can’t decide to let joy through but block depression.  When we numb – either naturally or with pharmaceutical assistance – we block both the good and the bad.  This is part of Miller’s point: when we try to block out the struggles of empathy, we necessarily prevent the development of compassion.  We can either choose to open ourselves to experiences and live, or we can wall ourselves off from the world and from others.  If we choose that option, we disconnect ourselves from the broader community and their support for when we’re feeling low.

No Feeling is Final

What we know about feelings is that they change.  Even moods change over the longer course of time.  (See Emotion and Adaptation.)  It is hard to remember in the moment that the feeling will pass.  (See Capture.)  However, the only thing constant about feelings is that they do change.

There is something to be said for actively shaping your thoughts while accepting them.  One can work to hardwire happiness without preventing acceptance of other emotions.  (See Hardwiring Happiness.)  Too many people believe that feelings happen to you – and it can certainly feel that way.  However, we know that you can consciously influence your feelings by focusing attention on the emotions that you want to have.  Caution is appropriate here so that we don’t over emphasize what can be done, as Bright-sided and Happier? Are concerned about.

Removing Rumination

Rumination is the opposite.  It’s focusing on the same situation and the challenges associated with it without finding ways to resolve the problem.  Instead of problem solving, rumination catches us in a net of repetition.  (See Capture.)  If we want to break free from rumination, we must either seek to solve the problem, or we must learn to let go.

Miller proposes an ACES (Action, Concrete, Experiential, and Specific) model for problem solving.  You know it’s not rumination when you’re coming up with specific, concrete actions that are doable.  Problem solving doesn’t mean that you must solve the end problem yourself.  Even identifying the specific set of actions you’re going to do to ask for help is enough to allow your mind to let go of it.

It used to be that I’d be caught in a loop of trying to not forget something that I needed to do in the morning.  Now, I grab my phone, send myself a quick one-line email, and go back to sleep.  Knowing that I’ll see it in the morning allows me to let it go and move on to the important need for sleep.

Letting go of something is the other option.  It’s easier when you’re deferring it, but for some things that we ruminate on, we need to accept that we have no control of.  We can’t prevent something from happening or cause it to happen.  No amount of rumination will change the outcome.  As uncomfortable as it can be, sometimes we just must let the cards play out the way they’re going to play.

Energy Management

The narratives around burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress are collectively focused on a false dichotomy.  They generally believe that your energy is drained or consumed at work and refilled at home.  The expectation is that work grinds you down, and your home life is fulfilling and life-giving.  However, for many people, this isn’t the case.

At work, they feel effective and fulfilled in their role.  They know what to do and how to get good results.  At home, they’re in a constant struggle with their spouse.  Their teenage kids don’t listen to them and are downright hostile.  They don’t know what they did wrong or what it will take to fix it – but they know they don’t like it.

More often, it’s in the middle, where some things at work build and renew a person – but there are times of exposure to trauma and tragedy.  At home, they find both love and challenge.  It’s not about the place but rather about the moment-to-moment environment that defines whether someone is receiving more energy than they’re giving.

Driving with the Brakes On

If you’ve ever had the experience of having a car brake caliper freeze up, you quickly have discovered what it’s like to drive with the brakes on.  (Hint: it doesn’t end well.)  A less eventful situation might be what happens when you forget and leave a parking brake on.  Unfortunately, that’s what happens with too many people.  Their sympathetic and parasympathetic systems get locked into a fight, and they get stuck or oscillate.  If we want better results, we’ll find a way to either have the brakes on or put our foot on the accelerator.

Generally, when the parasympathetic system (brakes) is engaged, the sympathetic system shuts down – but not always immediately.  With patience and practice, it becomes easier to downregulate and recover more quickly when we do become triggered.

Blessin’ or Lesson

Miller quotes a Southern saying that “everyone you meet is a blessin’ or a lesson.”  In other words, they’ll either attempt to bring you good or bad.  Either way, you must learn to work with them.  Knowing ahead of time which one they are is one step towards Reducing Secondary Trauma Stress.

Book Review-Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic: How Trauma Works and How We Can Heal from It

When Paul Conti’s brother, Jonathan, killed himself with the handgun that his father had been issued in the Korean War, his life changed.  It wasn’t simply that he experienced the loss of his brother, but it also caused his desire to focus on understanding trauma and why he couldn’t see the struggles his brother was facing.  In Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic: How Trauma Works and How We Can Heal From It, Conti tries to expose the internals of how we process trauma so that we can learn to see it and process it.

For Generations

One of the often overlooked aspects of trauma is that it has a ripple effect that expresses itself across generations.  In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Robert Sapolsky shares not only the research from the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) study but also the work on fetal onset of adult disease (FOAD).  To clarify, the stress of the mother can have a negative impact on the health of the fetus.  More broadly, we’ve begun to learn that it’s more than genetics that leads to health outcomes, it’s epigenetics.

That is, our genes are activated and deactivated by our environments.  While two identical twins start out with an identical set of genes and gene expression, through different experiences, they can end up with different gene expressions – and therefore different outcomes.

The implications of this are that a traumatic event or set of traumatic events can send ripples across time into future generations.

Marshmallows of the Future

In the person themselves, trauma changes things.  It makes the world a bit less stable.  It causes us to believe that our dreams and aspirations aren’t possible.  They’re not real.  Irrespective of the facts, we insist on staying in the here and now so that we aren’t disappointed when the future disappears.  This has a negative impact on our ability to hope.  (See The Psychology of Hope.)

When Walter Mischel tested preschoolers to see how they could handle delayed gratification, he didn’t realize what he was measuring.  (See The Marshmallow Test for a full explanation.)  Ultimately, the test was about whether children would sit with a sweet in front of them for a short time without eating it, with the promise of more if they did wait.  (It wasn’t always a marshmallow that Mischel used.)  Retrospectively, it seemed that those who could delay longer did better in life.  However, what’s more interesting are the strategies that the preschoolers used.  Some could clearly see the value despite the future, discounting what Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Other research, including Paul Tough’s in The Years that Matter Most, leads us to understand that those who have the most trauma have the hardest time trusting in future gains.

More tragically, trauma can leave us questioning our self-worth and our gifts.  We begin to consider life in terms of some sort of grand karma.  If we’re really good and worthy, then trauma wouldn’t happen to us.  Of course, that’s not fair, but it doesn’t stop the evaluation.  As The Halo Effect explains, life is probabilistic, not deterministic.  Bad things do, in fact, happen to good people.  While Thomas Gilovich explains in How We Know What Isn’t So that we have a bias towards believing better of ourselves than we should, trauma can reverse that wiring, so we believe we’re not as good as we are.

Presumed Control

If you speak with an abused child before they’re removed from the abusive situation, you’ll often hear that they believe the abuse they receive is their fault.  They believe that if they’re just a better child, their mommy or daddy won’t hurt them.  This illogical conclusion is the one that their minds are forced into, because the alternative is more painful and tragic than believing that they can, with their behavior, prevent the abuse.

If the abuse has nothing to do with how good or bad they are (or their behavior at all), then it’s unpredictable and unstoppable.  They must believe that the abuse and pain will continue forever – and that’s not something they’re prepared to do.

We all do this throughout our lives, not just in childhood.  We try to take control of the situation, so that we don’t have to fear it.  (See Compelled to Control for more.)

Inciting Illness

One way that we see this same dynamic in adults is when they believe that the trauma they experienced is their fault.  From the automobile accident that they blame themselves for to the cancer that couldn’t have been prevented, people believe that it’s their fault.  The result is shame – “I am bad” – driving the sense that they need to punish themselves.  Somehow in the punishment, they’ll equal out the scales of justice.  There are two key problems with this.  First, the sources of the traumas are almost universally external to the person.  Second, no amount of self-flagellation will even the scales.


Brene Brown calls it “enough.” (See I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t).)  It is the feeling that we’re not “good enough.”  We’re not “doing enough.”  We’re not worthy of what we have or even of being on the planet.  It’s the less extreme form of impostor syndrome that too many people routinely feel.  While inadequacy can be a powerful drive to cause people to strive to do more and be more, it comes at a cost.  The cost is both the happiness of the person and, sometimes, their life.  In Perfectionism, we learned the psychic toll that perfectionism – or inadequacy – brings.  When we believe we’re not enough, we can never get a break from ourselves.

The Costs of Survival

We celebrate the survivors of trauma of all kinds.  We admire their strength and their courage.  However, we never ask ourselves what it took to get there.  We celebrate the war hero who walked his team out of the firefight, and we don’t ask what he had to do.  We don’t want to know about the prisoner or little kid he had to kill to survive.  We don’t want to know how deep that trauma goes.  We fail to notice when we try to celebrate them, and they squirm away.  It’s more than being shy.  It’s a deep sense that if people knew what they had to do, they wouldn’t celebrate their return home in the same way.

Computers and Chainsaws

Both computers and chainsaws are tools with immense positive potential.  They’re also tools through which someone can inflict suffering.  With both, if we learn how to operate them safely, we can prevent trauma.  The unfortunate reality is that anonymous forums lead to mob-like or gang-like behavior where people become worse than they’d be on their own.  (See Going to Extremes and Delinquent Boys for more.)

Protecting people from unsafe spaces is, in part, requiring that individuals be held accountable for their comments – or, at the very least, having their name attached to them.

Not Mine

Whenever there’s a negative outcome, it’s appropriate to ask to what degree your behaviors influenced the outcome.  What could you have done differently?  What should you do next time?  These are healthy questions that can take an unhealthy turn we if decide that we need to not only own our own dysfunction in the situation but the dysfunction of others as well.  A wise friend once explained that “that’s not my shit.”  She explained that sometimes you’re not responsible for the negative outcome – or certainly not responsible for all of it.

It’s important to take responsibility for your part – but equally important that you not take responsibility that’s not yours.

Facts and Fallout

The law is concerned (ostensibly) with the facts.  They want to assign guilt and blame.  They are not equipped to help trauma victims cope with the fallout.  The penalties that are assigned to criminals are used as a deterrent to prevent their own and others perpetrating the crime in the future.  There as some crimes – like murder – for which there is no compensation.  Criminal trials aren’t concerned with that.  Civil trials are, but only a small fraction of trauma-inflicting events are the subject of a civil suit.

Criminal trials are themselves sometimes more trauma-inflicting than healing.  It can be hard to confront the person who injured you and hard to defend yourself against the questions and implications of their attorney.

Pre- and Post-Trauma

When people have a single, defining trauma, there seems to be a bright line between the before and the after.  The trauma created a change in the person (that may still be evolving).  That change can be seen in the pre- and post-worlds.  Sometimes, people speak of recovering or returning to the place before the trauma, but the place no longer exists.  We must build a new place with new awareness – and that isn’t always easy.

Given that it’s estimated that 90% of us will experience trauma in our lives, it makes Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic.

Book Review-Fighting Fires: How Emotional Trauma Sparks an Inferno

For many first responders, firefighters included, the idea of mental health is for the other guy.  It’s a tough job and you’ve got to “man up” and be tough.  However, at the same time, the things that first responders see, hear, do, and not do, are unforgettable.  They’re confronted with the worst that humanity has to offer.  It’s the most suffering, the most cruelty.  It’s also times of greatest compassion.  Fighting Fires: How Emotional Trauma Sparks an Inferno is David Lewis’ journey through trauma that he experienced outside of the job, inside the job, and through life.  No question he experienced trauma through his work as a firefighter, but that wasn’t the only trauma he experienced in his life.

Fire and Smoke

Lewis describes mental health as the pillar upon which life is built.  It’s a sound argument, since the life we experience is the one that we create.  Incognito shows us just how much of our lives and what we think is reality is made up.  Life is really what we make of it – and it can be filled with fire and smoke, or it can be fresh air.

Lewis uses the analogy that fire is the traumatic events that you see, hear, do, or experience.  Smoke is the problems as a result of that fire.  He properly places the focus on the fire portion, recognizing that smoke is a result of fire.

The Charlatans

Early on in Lewis’ attempts to get better, he describes running across an “internet guru” that claimed to have the elixir that Lewis needed to be “fixed.”  All it would take is a credit card.  The free materials seemed good, so Lewis parted with hard-earned money only to realize that the content behind the pay wall wasn’t really worth it.

The real problem is it’s easy to make things look like they’re good when it’s shallow; it’s hard to make sense of it when it’s deep and it matters.  I cannot count the number of burnout books that I’ve read where the authors had no breadth or depth in what they’re saying.  They saw the opportunity to make a buck selling some books and consulting, and they dropped right in.  (Even Maslach’s latest book, The Burnout Challenge, is woefully under-researched.)

Even professional mental health providers rarely read research or use evidence-based techniques.  Too frequently, they just do what they think works, leading to Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and The Cult of Personality Testing.  Even in an area where the public is supposed to be protected through licensure, we’re confronted with the need to carefully screen people, as Lewis points out later in the book.

Coloring in unicorns may be fine for an eight year old, but it’s not appropriate for a professional firefighter – or most other adults, for that matter.

Buffalos and Cows

For the most part, cows and buffalo seem like similar animals.  They’re both mammals.  The buffalo burger is leaner but is similar in taste to a hamburger.  (Why “hamburgers” come from cows not pigs is a mystery.)  However, they have some different behaviors.  One is how they cope with the stress of a storm.  They react like people react.  Buffalo charge into the storm, while cows walk away from it – even when they’re in the midst of the storm.

The subtle change of moving into or away from the storm has a profound effect on how long the animal is in the storm.  The buffalo will spend much less time in the storm than the cow, because the storm passes over quicker.

As humans, we often turn away from our challenges expecting that we can escape them – but rarely is that effective.  Sometimes, the right answer is to face the storm and walk into it.


When the mental anguish becomes so strong that you’re fighting intrusive thoughts, there are many strategies that one may employ in an attempt to retain balance.  Unconsciously, there may develop a tendency towards obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), including ritualized approaches to common activities.  We can deceive ourselves into believing that these activities protect ourselves and our families, when in reality they deprive us of the resources that we need to heal.

A more common and more socially acceptable approach is to become a workaholic.  (See The Globalization of Addiction for more.)  After all, being a workaholic means that you’re providing for your family.  However, the dark side is that work becomes all-encompassing, leaving little of the person for themselves or their families.  It’s common to believe that if you just work harder, you can block out the feelings and memories.  However, doing so deprives you of the very resources you need to live – and to recover from the pain and trauma.


As Compelled to Control clearly points out, we all love the illusion of control.  The illusion protects us in a random and ultimately unpredictable world.  It calms our consciousness as we confront the challenges of the world.  If we’re in control, then we don’t need to fear the world.  We can feel safe.

Some would say that we can control ourselves but not others.  However, in some ways, we’re so influenced by our environment, and we respond so instinctively at times, that it’s hard to convincingly say we’re even in complete control of our own reactions.  (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how we lie to ourselves.)

Defined by Our Responses

It’s not the tragedies and struggles we’ve faced that define us.  What defines us is how we respond to them.  Problems, struggles, and challenges are the substance of life.  We can’t escape life without problems.  In fact, sometimes when we believe we’re helping animals, we’re dooming them, because they need the struggle.  (See Beyond the Wisdom of Walt for more.)

There’s no shame in being injured – if we can heal.  If we need help to be able to heal, then we should ask for it.

Worst Case Scenario

Sometimes, we’re so afraid of playing the worst-case scenario game that we won’t play it at all.  Other times, we won’t play the game fairly.  In a bit from a comedian friend, he speaks how his mother moves from how he isn’t overly responsible through owning dogs to having a child that dies of neglect.  This wholly illogical chain of thinking is the way that too many people think about worst-case scenario.

Instead of looking to the things that can happen and reasonably evaluating their probability and impact, we focus on the case where the Earth is impacted by an asteroid – something that’s both always a possibility and something that we have no ability to prevent or mitigate.

By avoiding the game, we trap ourselves into a set of beliefs about a threat or stressor that aren’t realistic.  Like a large shadow from a small person or animal, we magnify the size of the problem, because we refuse to look at it directly.

The Balance of Life

In a state of suicidal crisis, it’s possible to lose all sense of scale.  Lewis explains how buying a toy for his son and dying by suicide seemed to be of the same magnitude.  Somehow, he thought that the scales of justice would be even.  Reflecting on it, Lewis can see how “jacked up” his thinking was – but in the moment, the evaluation of the balance of life was such that it had no special meaning.

The research and reflections seem to validate Lewis’ experience that life and the possibility of hope aren’t given their due significance.

Focus Forward

Trauma, whether acute or chronic, is a tragedy.  It’s something that each of us must learn to process, to come to terms with.  We can’t run from our challenges, and we can’t pretend they don’t exist.  Eventually, they’ll add up to a point where they compel us to address them – and by that time, they’ve grown fearsome.  If we get the choice, we should want to pick smaller fires when we’re Fighting Fires.

Book Review-Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt, and the Body

A common experience in trauma is dissociation.  One of the clinical therapies most focused on grounding and being present – the opposite of dissociation – is Gestalt.  The intersection of these two opposites is an interesting space for healing.  Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice: Neuroscience, Gestalt, and the Body walks in the middle of the experiences and shows how one might connect the two.

If you need a definition of psychological trauma, please see Trauma and Recovery.

Living in an Uncertain World

The heart of the problem with trauma is some event that shatters our beliefs about the world.  Psychological trauma is an event – something you’ve experienced or done – which cannot be integrated into your beliefs.  Too often, the belief that’s called into question is the one about the world being predictable.

Many people see the universe as a big clock with gears spinning and whirring.  Everything has the mechanical precision of cause and effect.  There’s no room for chaos theory or Lorenz’ tornado-causing butterfly.  (See Facilitating Organization Change.)  It is this predictable world that we live in, because it’s a place of safety.  If we believe the world is probabilistic, then we’ve got to accept that bad things can happen to good people, and that’s not okay.

Still, we know that probabilities exist.  We watch batters swing and miss at the baseball plate.  We play the lottery and expect to win – knowing that the probability is very small.  We spin the wheel and roll the dice but keep for ourselves a separate thought about the safety of our world.

The first thing to accept about our world is that it’s random and impermanent.

The Disconnect

Central to Gestalt is being in contact with oneself.  This is a conscious, and non-judgmental, assessment of the body and mind.  This includes feeling our breathing, our heartbeat, the state of our muscles, and so on.  It also includes an assessment of our emotions and whether they appear to be influencing bodily processes.

In some cases, trauma victims believe that exploring these sensations is dangerous, because it will bring back the traumatic event or that, once experienced fully, they’ll not be able to contain them.

Expanded Choices

A sign of trauma is constricted thinking.  Some things are, quite literally, unthinkable.  So, one sign that someone is recovering from – or healing from – traumas is the capacity to consider other options.  Capture explains how thoughts can sometimes enter downward spirals.  In Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice, the statement is about the barriers to escaping those cycles.

The reality is that we always have choices.  Instead of the tightly coupled idea that someone or something “made you” do something, the more accurate statement is that you reacted to their action.  Emotion and Adaptation explains there’s a gap between stimulus and response, and that gap allows us to respond rather than react.  We can, in fact, choose our responses, if we decide we want to and we practice it.

Regulated Arousal

Much of the work on psychological trauma resolution is on increasing our capacity to process the event.  This can mean increasing our resources or decreasing the impact of the event.  Much of that is finding ways to regulate our arousal as we consider the event.  If we can reduce the emotional responses, including fear, to a more manageable level, we can better process the event.

On the surface, it sounds simple, but it requires a set of techniques like desensitization, building safety, and the core work of Gestalt, grounding.  These tools and others allow traumas to be processed and thereby stop their intrusive nature.  (See Trauma and Memory for more.)

Between Too Ordered and Too Disordered

Live is about making decisions.  It’s selecting the right choice or option for us at the current moment.  Much has been written about how we make decisions – and the consensus seems to be that there’s an optimal range for people to operate.  (See Decision Making and Sources of Power for more on how we make decisions.)

Gestalt views this from the lens of being too ordered – or too disordered.  You wouldn’t expect that even creativity is helped by some bounds, but that’s what Creative Confidence says about how to be creative.  So, despite getting a bad reputation, constraints can be helpful.  Simultaneously, they can be too restrictive and can choke off both creativity and joy.

Sometimes the traumatized person has added constraints to their world (by themselves).  It’s important for them to determine whether those constraints are too much – or if they need to add some healthy boundaries and limits.

Hovering at the Thresholds of Tolerance

Flow is a highly productive state that lives in the narrow band between challenge and capability.  (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more.)  In this gap, research finds 5x performance gains and real growth.  It’s not hard to imagine how hovering around the edge of our tolerance might be a powerful way to learn to process trauma.  In fact, this is the core of desensitization: keeping people safe while moving them progressively closer to something that triggers them.

By hovering at the edge of tolerance, at the edge of safety and our capacity, we expand that capacity and make it more likely that we can process trauma at some point.  It’s critical here to celebrate the progress, because it can seem painfully slow when you want a solution now.

They Can’t Hurt Me, I’m Not There

Dissociation is a natural response to an overwhelming event.  When the event is very close to the threshold for processing, it may be that it’s only compartmentalized.  That is, we’re aware of it, and we can’t process it, but we’re still present and connected.  At the other end of the continuum, there’s severe, clinical dissociation.  Dissociation is a process of distancing ourselves from an event to protect ourselves from it and its impacts.

Obviously, if there’s physical trauma, dissociation doesn’t prevent that physical trauma from happening.  It does, however, separate the processing of physical trauma.  For instance, someone in an accident may see the scene from outside (and often above) their body.  They don’t feel the pain associated with physical trauma, because their consciousness is separate from their body.  It’s this dissociation that led more than one trauma victim to say, “They can’t hurt me, I’m not there.”

A technique recommended in the book when speaking with people who may be dissociating is to ask them what percent “in the room” they are.  It’s a continuum between wholly present and not present at all.  Often, the person you are speaking with – when prompted – can judge the degree to which they are currently dissociated, providing clues about whether it’s time to add more safety to the conversation or whether it’s safe to press on.

Relationships for Healing

Healing happens in relationships.  When you look at the factors that most impact outcomes in psychological care, the number one answer is called the “therapeutic alliance.”  (See The Heart and Soul of Change for more.)  It is the relationship between the therapist and the patient.  It’s much more important than the actual techniques in use.

In difficult work with substance use disorder (SUD) patients, Motivational Interviewing starts with engaging the patient, because without a relationship – even a professional relationship – nothing else matters.

While this book is focused on clinical applications, we know that we are most likely to influence the people with whom we have a relationship.  In fact, Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations believes that it’s the only thing that can change someone’s attitude – and ultimately their behaviors.

Disorganized Attachments, Trauma, and Cults

Perhaps the most disturbing thought from Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice is the way that trauma creates a disordered attachment style where none existed before.  Terror, Love, and Brainwashing explains that it’s disordered attachment that makes cults possible.  Often, the cult leader induces the trauma – but it’s also possible that a recent trauma could make people more susceptible to cult leaders, because they’re already partially or completely in a disordered attachment style.

I don’t believe you need to be a clinician to find ways to help people who have experienced trauma reconnect, and Trauma Therapy and Clinical Practice may have the tips to make that easier and faster.

A Week of Trauma Processing

If you’ve ever faced trauma in your life – of any kind – please share this to take a stand against continued suffering.

We never teach people how trauma affects us or what we can do to better process trauma.  It’s the stark realization after reviewing hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of training materials, books, articles, and webinars.  We know so much about how trauma – including secondary trauma – changes us, sticks to us, and harms us, but we don’t teach how to process it.  We don’t teach how to move to the other side of trauma, to release compartmentalization and move to processed trauma.

We’re so honored to change this.  We’re going to be teaching a workshop on how trauma impacts first responders and what they can do about it.  We’ll talk about how to avoid PTSD and how to move towards post-traumatic growth (PTG).  We’re going to share simple techniques that first responders can use for themselves and share with their peers.

To celebrate this work and to ensure that the resources that we’ll be providing in class are freely available, we’ll be posting a book review for a trauma book every day from November 27th through December 1st.  Be on the lookout for the tools that you can use to address the trauma that you’ve experienced.  Estimates place the number of people who will experience in their lifetime over 90% – effectively all of us will experience trauma.  We’re hoping that you’ll know what to expect and what to do when it happens – or learn it now so you can process trauma no matter how old it is.

Here’s the list of the trauma books that we’ve already reviewed along with those publishing this week.  (The links will automatically start working when they’re posted at 8AM EST each day.)

Book Review-Managing Suicidal Risk: A Collaborative Approach, 2e

The first highlight is “helping people find their way out of suicidal despair.”  That is a wonderful testimony and summary of Managing Suicidal Risk: A Collaborative Approach.  Sometimes when you read a book, you get a real sense for the heart of the author, and this is the heart of David Jobes: to reduce the pain and suffering that leads to suicidal despair.

(It’s important to note that this review is about the second edition of the book, and a third edition has recently been released with substantial revisions.)

Throughout this review, I’ll frequently simplify interactions as clinician and patient interactions, as Jobes targets a clinician audience for his book.  However, I strongly believe that the approaches and techniques that he teaches through the book are appropriate and applicable to anyone who is committed to helping others.  Suicide prevention is an odd space of behavioral health where there is no diagnosis.  There’s no need to diagnose someone with suicidal ideation, because they directly state it.  There’s no need to compare a set of symptoms against a syndrome listed in DSM-V.  Rather suicide risk is seen as a side effect or symptom of other listed disorders.  Caring individuals would want to steer clear of providing psychotherapy – but supportive human contact would be appropriate for everyone.

Carl Rogers

Though Jobes only refers to Carl Rogers a few times, there are echoes of his influence throughout.  I was introduced to Carl Rogers’ work through Motivational Interviewing.  Words like acceptance, worth, autonomy, empathy, and affirmation pervade Rogers’ work.  The hallmark that summarizes his perspective is “unconditional positive regard.”  This is in stark contrast to the traditional way that people who struggle with suicidal ideation are treated by clinicians.

To be fair, clinicians themselves are fearful.  As clinicians, they’re concerned for their license and their livelihood in the event that someone under their care dies by suicide.  Jobes addresses this concern later in the book.  More importantly, from a human perspective, they care.  You don’t go into a profession that requires so much work and exposes you to so much trauma if you don’t have a heart for helping others.  The fear of connecting with someone deeply and losing them is a fear that we all share as humans and one that too frequently creates a distance and difference.  These natural tendencies in service of the patients is one of the things that Rogers saw and called on his colleagues to fight against.

Sometimes, this shows up as simple courtesy of not interrupting; other times, it shows up as acceptance that the patient’s perspective is real and correct to them at the current moment.  Whether the clinician agrees or not isn’t the point, and directly disagreeing with a patient about their perspective won’t be helpful.  Jobes uses other words to describe the same sense of empowerment, support, and care and the need for clinicians to accept the limits of their control.


The truth is that if a patient wants to die by suicide, they can.  No clinician is going to stop them if they make the decision.  What the clinician – and human helper – needs to recognize is that no matter how well intended, trained, or skilled they are, it’s not their life.  We can support others through their difficult times and encourage other choices, but, ultimately, the choices are not ours to make.

Clinicians should seek agreement that suicide is an option for later – not now – without pushing for a “no suicide contract.”  The thought is that the clinician and patient are collaboratively looking for other alternatives and ways to change the patient’s life such that suicide no longer appears to be a viable option.  The agreement is not coercive but rather a statement of shared commitment that life should be the preferable option to death – if the important problems in life are resolved.

Understanding the Suicidal Struggle

Whether the person is a patient pursuing clinical treatment or they’re a someone who has disclosed their suicidal thoughts to another human, there is an inner conflict transpiring.  The person doesn’t want to die, but they don’t want to continue living the way that they’re living today.  Simply understanding the reasons why life seems unbearable is a good foundation for the work on perspective-taking and problem-solving that will lead someone away from the idea of suicide as an option.

Shneidman called it “psychache” – that psychic pain that pushes people towards the precipice of pursuing suicide.  (See The Suicidal Mind.)  The enlightened workers in substance use disorder (SUD) realize that SUD starts as the numbing of some psychic pain, and, progressively, the person becomes trapped by the behavior.  (See Chasing the Scream, The Globalization of Addiction, and Dreamland for more on SUD.)  While we focus on SUD from a drug addiction perspective, other addictions like eating, sex, and gambling share the same roots.  We’re avoiding a painful psychic reality.  These may – or may not – be less urgent and life threatening, though they’re more socially accepted.  Even more socially accepted is the idea of being a workaholic.  However, all of these expose an underlying pain that is trying to be suppressed – and that can only happen for so long.  Eventually, the object of numbing becomes ineffective or overpowering.

Techniques like Motivational Interviewing are effective at managing SUD.  It shares similarities in the suggestions of Jobes, and it’s based on Rogers’ work and perspectives.  It’s fundamentally a listening process that focuses on what is the most important to the patient – and it helps them address the circumstances (or, more often, perspectives) that are causing them pain.

Stress, Press, Overwhelmed, and Trauma

Conceptually, we all think we know what stress is – right up to the point where we’re asked to form a formal definition.  (Trust is the same way, as Robert Solomon and Fernando Flores explain in Building Trust.)  Stress is something inside – an evaluation, as Richard Lazarus explains in Emotion and Adaptation.  Stressors exist in the environment, but stress is evaluation of the potential impacts of that stressor.  (See also How Emotions Are Made.)  Stress is bad, as is thoroughly explored in Robert Sapolsky’s excellent book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

What Shneidman connected to stress was Henry Murray’s “press,” which is the stressor.  I struggle with Murray, because much of his professional work seems as much built on fancy as fact, as I explain in my reviews of The Cult of Personality Testing and Love’s Story Told.  However, that doesn’t remove the validity of the basic concept of “press.”  So, press – the stressor – is invariably connected to stress, but not without the mediating factor of internal assessment.  Unfortunately, we know from Superforecasting, Predictably Irrational, Noise, The Signal and the Noise, and other works that our perceptions are notoriously warped by seemingly innumerable biases.  Capture takes this further into a personal spiral that can lead us to despair.  It’s the personal equivalent of what Cass Sunstein describes in Going to Extremes.

In short, the precipitating factor, whether called a stressor or press, is mediated by our assessment, and that assessment is frequently distorted.

Trauma, psychological trauma, is often poorly understood as well.  Psychological trauma is simply being briefly overwhelmed.  (See Trauma and Recovery.)  Thus, being overwhelmed is trauma, and we frequently evaluate stressors in ways that are at least temporarily overwhelming.

Sidebar: Being overwhelmed can be more long-term and connected with burnout (see Extinguish Burnout) or can be of a shorter-term duration that is more of a traumatic event or moment.


The SSF-4, the Suicide Status Form, is at the heart of the Collaborative and Management of Suicidality (CAMS).  The form is eight pages long, with the first four pages being dedicated to assessment and treatment planning.  A second section helps to track risk through the process, and the final two pages track outcomes and disposition.

It’s important to note that integrated into the form is the core principle of collaboration.  In places, it encourages the patient to fill out the form.  In places, it’s explicitly collaborative.  In places, it’s also clinician-led.  This, along with strategic repositioning of the clinician during the process of completing the form, conveys a sense of partnership that’s often missing in clinical settings – and one of which Rogers would likely approve.

There’s a substantial amount of research and wisdom packed into the form as a framework for guiding interactions.  From a learning perspective, it’s a sidekick productivity aid.  (See Job Aids and Performance Support.)  Its consistent use allows clinicians to focus on their clinical treatment approach while being supported and guided in the CAMS framework.

The SSF-4 also serves another important purpose for clinicians.  It encourages the proper documentation that limits malpractice exposure.  People will be upset when their loved one is lost due to suicide, but the form encourages the documentation that appropriate care was given.

For non-clinicians, understanding the components can help shape the kinds of support that can be offered to others.  Jobes selected some of the most important indicators of risk for inclusion from a list of hundreds if not thousands of possibilities.

The Big Five Variables

The SSF-4 starts with asking the patient to evaluate their psychological pain, stress, agitation, hopelessness, and self-hate.  This is followed by an overall summary rating of risk.  Psychological pain is the psychache discussed above from Shneidman’s work.  Stress is, as we also saw above, a frequently misunderstood phenomenon; here, it’s combined with being overwhelmed.  The remaining three factors are addressed separately in the following sections.


A child blows air into a wand, forming a bubble of water and soap.  The bubble floats aimlessly along until a moment of weakness causes a single spot on the bubble to fail before the entire bubble collapses in an instant.  The failure isn’t subtle or slow. The child can themselves accelerate the collapse by disturbing the bubble, like poking it.  Agitation, which Shneidman calls “perturbation” after the word’s use in the physical sciences, doesn’t itself cause suicide, but it hastens the path towards it if a person is already so inclined.


To understand hopelessness, one must first recognize that hope itself isn’t an emotion but rather a cognitive process, as Rick Snyder explains in The Psychology of Hope.  He explains that it builds on both waypower – knowing how to do something – and willpower – the desire or energy to do it.  A dimension often missed in Snyder’s work is the possibility that these can come from outside the person through their relationships or society in general.  For instance, in Trust, Fukuyama explains that different cultures focus their trust on the individual, family, and society, and the greater degree that trust is focused externally, the greater the degree that hope has seeds outside one’s own capacity.

For willpower, we find that Roy Baumeister has a work with the same name.  In short, it’s an exhaustible and regenerative resource that can be strengthened like a muscle.  (See also Antifragile for more on strengthening.)  Baumeister’s work is also represented directly by Jobes in the concept of self-hate.


Understanding how people can become self-destructive rather than having self-esteem is a challenge.  Self-hate leads to self-destructive behaviors – which is obviously a concern for suicide.  In Delinquent Boys, Albert Cohen explores the need for status and the inevitable disappointment that sometimes leads people to a path of self-hate and delinquency.  Albert Bandura’s work on Moral Disengagement creates an opportunity to see how people can do reprehensible acts based on structure and how they might come to develop self-hate as a result of their acceptance that they have done bad things.

A stop nearer on the path to self-hate is shame.  Brené Brown has described herself as a shame researcher at times, and her library of authored works is extensive – see Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, The Gifts of Imperfection, Braving the Wilderness, and more.  The key to understanding the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is about “I’ve done wrong” and shame is that “I am wrong.”  Left unchecked, shame can easily develop into self-hate.  If people with shame aren’t able to separate what they’ve done from who they are and accept their good attributes, they’ll land in a place of self-hatred – and therefore vulnerability to suicide.


Before continuing, it’s important to note that the antidote to shame and self-hate is acceptance.  As Richo explains in How to Be an Adult in Relationships, acceptance is critical for our relationships with others and ourselves.  No one is perfect.  We cannot expect to be successful if our goal is constant perfection.  In The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz explains how maximizers – those who have to have perfection – are less happy with their lives.

For those with high standards, the immediate pushback is that perfection is possible.  This is true in the short term but is necessarily incorrect across long periods of time.  The goal for anyone should be the best they can do – excellence.  Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on Flow make that clear.  We can grow, change, and be incredibly productive.  However, we cannot do that if we’re focused on blaming ourselves.

Another, more fundamental, perspective is to recognize that one of the key tenets of meditation and mindfulness is the acceptance of thoughts as they pass followed by a release.  Instead of judging our thoughts, we simply observe them.  We accept them as a natural and normal part of consciousness.  (See Altered Traits.)  The more we can accept that even good people do bad things, the more we can release self-hate.

Preoccupied with Others

One of the observations about suicidal people is that they can become overly concerned or even obsessed with others’ perceptions of them.  Reiss might describe this as someone who is high on status or acceptance (inclusion, in this context).  (See Who Am I? for more.)  Some are motivated by the perceptions of people around them and, as a result, are particularly sensitive to bullying and other forms of social discrimination.

There has been good and credible criticism of social media and the rise of both depression and anxiety.  (See Alone Together for more.)  However, so, too, has there been research showing that technology and our always-on, always-connected world can help people find connections with others that wouldn’t have been possible before.  So, while our technological world has the potential for harm, it has the capacity to help as well.

It’s important to note that it’s the preoccupation that’s the challenge.  The tendency to ignore other perspectives – whether external or internal – is problematic.

Preoccupied with Thoughts

Another type of person is “in their own world.”  They’re consumed by their own thoughts and perceptions.  While there’s a validation of some objective – if potentially cruel – facts with those preoccupied with what others think, there’s no objectivity when someone is preoccupied with their own thoughts.  There is no automatic mechanism that leads to an accurate and grounded sense of the world.  While focusing on oneself and improvement can allow for the kind of advances that are discussed in The Rise of Superman, so, too, does the disconnection from external signals represent a risk.  This is the sort of problem that Capture is concerned with.

Reasons for Living and Reasons for Dying

When you see suicide as the fight between reasons for living and reasons for dying – rather than a binary sense of a desire to die – one can see how there is a constant internal battle.  In Principles of Topological Psychology, Kurt Lewin explains force fields and the forces that move people from one state to another or tend to keep them in the current state.  Some research implies that the reasons for dying are more powerful than the reasons for living.  That may be the case.  It may also be the case that the reasons for living in suicidal people aren’t as strong as reasons for dying.

Research seems to indicate that suicidal people have less aspirational and inspirational reasons for living.  They’re less inclined to follow themes of hope, future, plans, and goals compared to those who are not suicidal.  In short, the reasons for living are hollow – and they’re also the same reasons people would give for dying.

Prohibition of Self-Harm

Thomas Joiner’s Myths About Suicide catalogs a set of myths.  The first one is that “Suicide is an easy escape, that cowards use.”  In Why People Die by Suicide, his interpersonal theory of suicide explains that people who die by suicide develop a capacity for self-harm.  They somehow override the biological imperative to live.  Managing Suicidal Risk shares, “The eye-blink response data show that multiple attempers were extremely reactive to the unpleasant images.”

We don’t know whether this is a result of causing them to recall their own attempt or if it’s just a particularly strong natural aversion to harm, including self-harm.  However, it is interesting how it may be that there may be some visceral, intrinsic, and immovable aversion to self-harm that keeps these multiple attempters alive.  To be clear, I feel sorrow that their lives are such that they’ve been forced to come against this barrier.


A hallmark of Buddhism is the need for detachment.  It’s not disengagement.  It’s still doing the best you can – but recognizing that you don’t control the outcomes.  (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Resilient for more.)  Therapists confronted with a suicidal patient feel the humanistic pull to save the other person’s life, but the problem is that they can’t.  They can influence – and should.  They can care – and they should.  However, it’s always the person’s decision to live or die.

One of the hardest things for new therapists to accept is that they can’t accept responsibility for the behaviors of their patients.  They’re there to support, but the choices are ultimately the other person’s to make.  If a therapist can’t detach, then their emotions will become entangled in the situation.  They’ll change their responses to defend their own feelings – whether or not that’s in the best interest of the patient.

Legitimate Pain

Consider this statement: “I have never talked to a suicidal person who did not have legitimate needs behind his or her suicidal words, thoughts, and behaviors.”  This direct quote leads us to the most important and appropriate path.  Rather than simply prohibiting the option of death by suicide, perhaps we should focus on understanding the factors in the person’s life that lead them to consider it – or want it.  We can remain focused on measures to prevent suicide, but shouldn’t we focus on the items that would remove the burdens, barriers, and pain that make them want suicide in the first place?  Instead of trapping them in a living hell, shouldn’t we fix the things that are, to them, making it a living hell?

John Milton said, “The mind is a universe and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”  While it’s often not appropriate to change the objective circumstances that a patient (or friend) is in, it can be that we can help them change their perspective on things that are relatively neutral.  There’s a fine line here.  It’s not the idea of polishing a turd.  Instead, it’s about finding ways to accept the reality and make the best of it.  (Acceptance is another of Richo’s “Five As” in How to Be an Adult in Relationships.)

Managing Means

Whether it’s a firearm or a stash of medications, having means available to someone is not ideal.  We know that most people who have suicidal ideation and plans won’t change their means.  If they’ve already expressed “the” method that they’ve chosen, it’s appropriate to prioritize focus on (at least temporarily) reducing access to that method.  If it’s a firearm that’s the chosen method, finding strategies to reduce access, from locking it up to removing it from the home, are appropriate.  If medications can be safely locked up by other members of the home, that should be pursued.  It’s possible to leave a small quantity unlocked for legitimate needs and keep the larger quantities off limits.

Some methods are relatively impossible to restrict means for.  If someone decides to die by suffocation (hanging), there’s almost always something around that can accomplish that goal.  If they decide they’re going to crash their automobile into something, you can look for ways to limit access to their automobile, but if they need to live, this may be impractical.

In short, while means restriction is a good idea, it may not always be as practical as we’d like it to be.  Jobes makes the point that, as a clinician, it’s your decision whether to continue treating if they’re unwilling to restrict access to means – and he’s clear this is a tricky issue.

Observationally, I’d say that there will be some people who you won’t find a way to reduce their chosen means.  However, I believe there are strategies that can be employed that will signal you understand the reasons for not limiting means – like I feel I need my gun for protection – and simultaneously engage them in strategies that will have a protective effect.

Consider someone who says that they’ll die by firearm – but it will be a specific one, and they have multiple.  In this case, perhaps this firearm can be locked up in their home in a way that they don’t have immediate access – like having a friend change the combination and keep it, or keep the keys to a key-based lock.  They can keep another gun for protection, but the one they’d use for suicide isn’t available while everyone is working on keeping them alive.

Gun owners are very resistive to the guns leaving their homes in most cases.  Strategies that leave the guns in their home but locked in ways they must ask for access from another person can sometimes navigate this space.

Coping Ideas

The development of a coping idea list is a part of the recommended practice.  It’s simply a list of suggestions for things that someone can do when they feel particularly suicidal.  It can be simple, like take a walk or phone a friend.  Jobes makes the point that he’ll sometimes flip over his business card and write these ideas on it so that they have these ideas – and access to resources when these ideas aren’t enough.


Key in understanding suicide is that suicide is often episodic.  It’s something that comes and goes in waves.  Intense suicidal ideation may last an hour or less.  We need to make sure that we enable people with skills and resources that they can access during these times of intensity.  It’s important to understand and plan, but it’s equally important to encourage and enable people to be successful as partners in Managing Suicidal Risk.

Book Review-The Anatomy of Suicide

With an initial publication date of 1840, The Anatomy of Suicide is perhaps the oldest book I’ve ever reviewed.  A fair question would be what such an old text could teach us today.  The answer is both universal truths that haven’t changed in nearly two centuries and the things that have changed.  It’s good to know what was believed so we can see how we’ve made progress in our understanding and acceptance of suicide over time.


Since antiquity, there have been three “causes” for suicide:

  1. Avoiding pain or personal suffering
  2. Vindication of one’s honor
  3. To provide an example for others

The first is perhaps the most common and the heart of Shneidman’s psychache (see The Suicidal Mind).  In more recent times, less has been said about honor.  In America’s Generations, I summarized a progression of honor over time – and it’s not moving in a positive direction.  The idea of suicide as an example for others is definitely an extreme case of the protection against people taking advantage of others that is often exposed in the ultimatum game.  (See The Evolution of Cooperation and SuperCooperators.)

Justifiable Suicide?

While most people would agree with a general prohibition of suicide, many recognize that it’s not absolute.  In historical times, suicide was justifiable if one expected to fall into enemy hands and therefore to be tortured and murdered.  The water gets murkier when we speak of people who believed that they could no longer contribute to society or who were completely destitute and therefore decided to end their own life.

Today, in some countries, there is the concept – often well regulated – of suicide when a person is afflicted with a terminal illness.  So, while we share a general aversion to suicide, in some countries for some limited circumstances, we do accept that it should remain an option.

Compelled to Live

No one can be compelled to live.  Suicide: Inside and Out demonstrates how it’s impossible – even in an inpatient setting – to compel someone to live.  They must want to live.  You can reduce means.  You can try to remove every harm.  But in the end, you can’t prevent someone from suicide if they want to do it.

There’s a consensus that people who are suicidal learn what to say to inpatient doctors to allow them to get out.  (See How Not to Kill Yourself as one example.)  While the illusion of control is comforting (see Compelled to Control), it’s not reality.

Law and Consequences

No law can be made without the threat of some consequences.  The most dangerous situation is when the other person has nothing to lose.  Laws prohibiting suicide are problematic because the consequences must mean something to someone for whom not even life means something.  Threats of exposing the bodies to public display or some form of humiliation is one avenue that has been tried – with limited or no apparent success.  Being prevented from being buried on church grounds or even requiring burial at a crossroads has not made a measurable impact.  So, too, have penalties and forfeitures been levied upon the families of those who die by their own hand.  The result of these strategies has provided strong disincentive for coroners to accurately report suicides because of the repercussions.

Suicide is something that remains largely beyond the reach of the law.  Perhaps that’s just one reason why it’s not against the law in most parts of the world – the consequences don’t work.


What if you “knew” that nothing that you could possibly do would ever make up for the pain, hardship, and sorrow that you had caused others?  What if nothing that you could do could get you back to having at least a neutral impact on the world?  Being hopeless, self-loathing, or irredeemable would seem to lead to a sense that suicide is the right option.  After all, if you can’t make it better, you can at least exit the situation.

Of course, it’s not possible to say that you’re irredeemable, but in the throes of cognitive constriction and suicidal crisis, it may seem that way.  (See Capture for more.)  Rick Snyder in The Psychology of Hope explains that hope is a cognitive construct that relies both on waypower – or know-how – and willpower – the desire and drive to do.  Roy Baumeister explains in Willpower how willpower itself is an exhaustible resource.  In most cases, not knowing how to compensate for past harms (real and imagined) leads to an exhaustion of willpower.

How He Lives

It’s not how a man dies that matters, it’s how he lives.  It’s a simple cliché with a deeper meaning.  Often, suicide is evaluated as the final and ultimate act of a person’s life.  In doing so, it invalidates all the other good that they have done and minimizes them to a single moment.  Too often, suicide is the result of people believing that they’ve not lived well.  Whether that’s because of unrealistic expectations or the belief that living well means a life without struggle and loss doesn’t matter.  What matters is that those that choose suicide have judged themselves and their circumstances harshly.

False Medicine

Before ending, I should say that one must overlook the quasi-medical practices of the past that we’ve long since discovered did more harm than good.  There are references to bleeding people to let out the bad humors.  Similarly, there are references to disproven theories about phrenology.  It would be irresponsible to take medical advice from a text that is nearly two centuries old – but also irresponsible to discard the entire text because of some errors.  The truth is that every work has some errors.  Some are larger and some are smaller.  Our goal should be to take what’s valuable and leave the rest.

When Life Is Unbearable, Death Is Desirable, and Suicide Justifiable

Too often, the brief and momentary troubles are perceived as persistent, personal, and pervasive.  (See The Suicidal Mind).  Our goal in preventing suicide shouldn’t be the absolute prohibition or punishment of those who consider it.  Instead, we should endeavor to reduce suffering, to make life more bearable, and to make death undesirable.  Instead of removing the scales between reasons for living and reasons for death, we should find ways to pile on more reasons for living.

Maybe if we can look deeply at how people see themselves and how they’ve seen themselves over time, we’ll finally find a way to reduce suffering through a better understanding of The Anatomy of Suicide.

Book Review-Unsafe at Any Speed

I don’t have a particular passion for automobiles.  That’s not why I picked up Unsafe at Any SpeedRalph Nader may not have been successful in his presidential bids, but what he did do is disrupt industries that were harming consumers.  He’s lauded for creating the change in the automobile industry that caused a shift from accidents and outcomes being “all because of the nut behind the wheel” and moving towards building safety into automobiles.  I wanted to understand how – not because the automobile industry needed disrupted again, but because of something else equally important.

Craig Bryan uses the analogy between automobile accidents and suicide in Rethinking Suicide.  We can’t prevent accidents.  There’s no way to know which individual will or won’t be in an accident.  However, we can make accidents safer when they happen.  Though Bryan doesn’t explicitly mention Unsafe at Any Speed in his work, I recognized that the parallels might go deeper than the analogy as he shared it.  As I suspected, there’s more to learn than just how to design cars.


“But the true mark of a humane society must be what it does about prevention of accident injuries, not the cleaning up of them afterwards.”  Even in the preface, Nader begins the assault on the prevailing perspective of tolerating the trauma created by accidents.  Instead of looking for every opportunity to prevent and to protect, the automobile industry looked for ways to deflect blame from the balance of practices that prioritized style over safety.

The tragedies revealed by Unsafe at Any Speed explain that many – though not all – automobile accidents were the result of poor designs that left the vehicles uncontrollable after minor and common disturbances.  Imagine if every time you went to turn left or right you were fighting against the car’s attempt to turn too far.  Imagine what it would take to counter the forces that wanted to roll a car over because a wheel rim caught the roadway instead of the tires.  The Corvair drivers of the 1950s didn’t have to imagine; they had to develop high degrees of driving skill simply to keep the car from creating an accident.

What we needed were different approaches and designs that prioritized a human’s ability to prevent accidents by reducing workload, decreasing critical conditions, and making the car more responsive to driver controls.

Human Factors

Aviation had already solved many of the problems that automobile drivers had to face.  Shiny surfaces that caused windshield glare had been eliminated.  Controls and gauges were standardized.  The information being conveyed to a pilot, while seemingly overwhelming at first, were carefully designed to reduce errors and ensure that the pilot was able to quickly determine a situation.  In fact, even private pilots are taught unusual attitude recovery where they must quickly assess an aircraft’s orientation and take immediate corrective actions.  It’s not the training that’s important here – its that the whole system is designed to allow the pilot to safely control the aircraft.

When it comes to human factors in automobile design, “They did not forget the driver; they ignored him.”  In other words, the lack of human factors work was intentional.  They wanted to not be bothered with that troublesome driver who caused all the accidents with their beautiful machine.  If it weren’t for the driver, there would be no accidents.  They are, of course, right on one level: if no one used their machines, they’d never end up in an accident – or do anything useful, either.


While the industry was admonishing the driver, telling them to “never take your eye off the road,” they continued to change configurations of controls that made it impossible for a driver to determine by feel which control they had their hand on.  They’d tell you never to take your eye off the road, and then require that you do to operate the controls in the car.

The tragedy is that, while making it impossible to follow the advice, they’d blame the driver when accidents would happen, because they were looking at the controls to figure out how to make a change.  However, the most challenging problem with controls wasn’t the radio, wiper, or other accessory.  The most challenging problem was the automatic transmission.


It’s been years since manual transmissions were common.  “Three on the tree” indicated that the shifter was on the steering column.  “Four on the floor” was an indication that the manual shifter was on the floorboard.  Despite their differences, the manual shifter patterns were notably consistent.  Even today, I could hop in a car with a manual transmission and know how to get it into reverse.

The same couldn’t be said for automatic transmission shifters.  There was no standard.  There are two problems with this.  The first problem is that consistency reduces errors.  The second is related to the ordering of the shift locations themselves.  Numerous needless accidents were reported because people expected they were in reverse but were in drive – or vice-versa.  People were being harmed.  The solution was simple.  Put a non-drive space between forward (drive) and reverse.  However, General Motors was having none of it.  They already had a pattern they preferred and weren’t going to bow to anyone telling them how to change their shifter.

The pattern they adopted, which was Park, Neutral, Reverse, Drive, and Low, put the reverse and drive adjacent.  This pattern was linked to accidents, but rather than voluntarily agree to a better pattern, they resisted – until the government stepped in and made it mandatory.

Maintaining the Illusion

The auto industry was adept at “voluntarily” adopting standards when threatened with legislation.  They’d announce their desire to continue to enhance the safety of the general public while narrowly avoiding the government mandate.  Sometimes, the government would back down – and the industry would back away from their promises.  They’d introduce a safety feature – as standard equipment – during a year of pressure and then drop those features from the next model year.

It was all a part of the carefully cultivated illusion that the cars were safe and well-engineered – without the need for government oversight.

Excellence of Automotive Engineering

The real problem is that the public doesn’t have the knowledge to know when something is or isn’t well engineered.  It’s not a specialized skill that they’ve developed.  Remember that the Nazis convinced a complacent German people that Jews (as well as Russians and others) were inferior.  It was wrong.  However, the message was sent so relentlessly that the German people learned to believe something that is so transparently false.  So, too, were the claims of the automotive industry that they were following best practices engineering.  The public was kept far away from the truth.  In April 1963, the journal of the National Society of Professional Engineers opened an article with “It would be hard to imagine anything on such a large scale that seems quite as badly engineered as the American automobile.  It is, in fact, probably a classic example of what engineering should not be.”

The illusion of excellence in engineering was seemingly more valuable than the actual engineering quality.  We’d come to find out that the industry’s lauded safety and engineering initiatives didn’t produce much, and when it did, it was either not implemented or sold as a luxury.

Safety as a Luxury

Chrysler’s industry-leading safety engineer, Roy Haeusler, admitted that vehicles could be safer without increasing costs if only the engineering is done right in the first place.  Said differently, the industry’s primary push-back against enhancing safety was without merit.  It was possible to build safer vehicles, they were just choosing not to.

Sure, as a technical matter, a seatbelt would cost a little more than not having one – but not in a material way.  Other design changes, like removing the hood ornaments that impaled pedestrians and retooling the dashboards so that they didn’t cause substantial injury to the passengers, cost nothing on a per-unit basis.  They just required that the auto industry was concerned about its consumers.  They’d provide safety – but only if you paid for it.  They cared about your money, not your safety.

Seatbelts that Cause Head Injury

The argument against seatbelts reached comic proportions.  When harnesses and safety belts were introduced, racing drivers were criticized for using them – they were told that they lacked courage.  Certainly, the public was aware of this – they may have been the ones who were, in part, criticizing the drivers.  Today, with decades of racing research on survivability, seatbelts and harnesses aren’t optional.  Dozens of innovations have helped racecar drivers walk away from horrendous crashes that would have been lethal just a few decades ago – including folks I call friends.

The non-economic argument against seatbelts was that if passengers weren’t thrown from the vehicles, they might be more harmed by impacting the dashboard.  So rather than resolving the secondary impacts, the public was being sold on the idea that being thrown from the vehicle was safer.  While this seems ludicrous on the surface, it was one of the things that was said sufficiently it began to be believed.

More than that, by 1958, the automobile industry had the technology to make airbags and install them in vehicles, dramatically addressing their own concerns.  It would be the 1970s before cars began to come equipped with them and not until 1998 that they became required.  In other words, it took 40 years for life-saving technology to be standard equipment – and then only after federal mandate.  While Nader helped make progress, he didn’t fully eradicate the problems with the industry.

Which Came First, the Demand or the Offer

The argument that allowed for safety to be a luxury rather than standard equipment was that people weren’t paying for it, so obviously it didn’t need to be a standard feature.  The problems with this argument are many, but two key issues are expectation and awareness.

First, the public had been sold on the idea that cars were well engineered and safe – to acknowledge anything else meant that the carefully crafted illusion would fail.  That’s not something that the industry wanted.  The second issue is that dealers were often not aware of the additional features or their importance and thus car buyers weren’t sold on the add-on safety features.

The result was low demand.  That would be excusable if, at the same time, the auto industry wasn’t bundling in useless styling features that consumers couldn’t remove.  They had to have features that added to the allure but provided no protection.  It wasn’t that the industry ignored the need for safety, they worked against it, because acknowledging it would hurt sales.

Wish Fulfillment

The auto industry in America had a problem.  The problem was that they wanted to produce cars at a rate greater than the actual need of the consumer.  If the car had a five-year lifespan, they wanted the consumers buying a new car every three years – or, ideally, every year.  To get them back in the show room, they had to sell more than features, because there weren’t that many new features.  They had to sell people on a lifestyle, on fulfilling their wishes to be different people than they were.  Somehow cars had to make you more fun, smarter, and every other desirable attribute that a consumer could think of.

The trend towards selling wish fulfillment didn’t stop with automobiles.  Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders explains how marketing began to overtake us, how we stopped buying products and started buying happiness.  However, this was in stark contrast to the admonishment we’d receive once we had purchased the vehicle.

Enforcement, Education, and Engineering

In 1924 and 1926, two traffic safety conferences were convened by Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce.  At these conferences, the resonating message was “The Three E’s.”  Enforcement, education, and engineering would safeguard the public from the hazards of automobile accidents.  Engineering meant highway engineering – not automobile engineering, which we’ve already discussed wouldn’t even meet the bar of sub-par.  Enforcement and education were carrying the heavy load, and they were heaped on the backs of the motorist.

The problem is that enforcement didn’t work.  According to Unsafe at Any Speed, “In Connecticut, during Governor Ribicoff’s well-known crackdown on speeders, the number of accidents and injuries increased and so did the injury rate per vehicle miles traveled.”  Similarly, in the article, “The Effects of Enforcement on Traffic Behavior,” Dr. Michaels concluded that the different amounts of highway police patrol showed no reliable difference in the number of accidents on the roads.  In short, enforcement didn’t work – even if it did make drivers occasionally feel like criminals.

Education, then, should carry the heavy burden.  They’d teach drivers to drive carefully.  They’d be sold with scare and shame tactics to improve their driving.  We’ve already explained how human factors often put safe driving outside of the reach of the normal driver.  Our more recent experiences with scare tactic programs illustrate how ineffective these approaches are.  The US Surgeon General declared Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) a potentially harmful treatment approach for substance use disorder (SUD).  Its fear-based approach didn’t, doesn’t, and never will work.  (See Chasing the Scream, The Globalization of Addiction, and Dreamland for more on SUD.)

Failure to Stop

The citation is called “Failure to stop.”  It’s given to the driver.  The presumption is that if a driver failed to stop when appropriately signaled by a sign or traffic light, it must be their fault.  A failure of the braking system isn’t often considered.  If they overrun the distance, they were speeding or failed to react quickly enough.  If they don’t appear to slow at all, they must have failed to apply the brakes.

Even in the event of a failure of the breaking system, the driver is often still blamed for a failure to properly maintain the vehicle.  Even for vehicles built in the early 2000s, sometimes, brake lines were constructed of oxidizing (that is, capable of rusting) materials.  The result is often a catastrophic failure of the line and resulting loss of brake efficacy.  For me, this isn’t a hypothetical example.  A 2002 Chevy Suburban that we owned suffered a failure of brake lines during a long-distance trip.  Of course, the replacement lines that you paid to have installed were a stainless steel that wouldn’t rust.

There are two important components here.  First, why would manufacturers use materials that could oxidize on the bottom of the car, which is in contact with salt and road spray, in a critical system?  Second, how could a consumer know that their brake lines were compromised before the critical failure?  The answers are unknown but troubling.

In the end, the law recognizes the driver as the agent.  (See The Mind Club for more on agency.)  They’re to blame for a failure to stop whether the design of the car itself was or wasn’t a significant contributing factor.

Where Rubber Meets the Road

The problems for the auto industry didn’t end at the end of the manufacturing line.  Cars left the line dangerously overloaded.  The tires on the vehicles weren’t rated to carry the amount of weight when the passengers and useful capacity of the car was considered.  They would roll off the line with no one in them, but when fully loaded with passengers and luggage, they often exceeded the tire ratings.

That’s the tires’ official ratings.  The industry wasn’t regulated or self-controlled to a degree where there was consistency in testing and marketing of tires in a way that a consumer could recognize the problems with their new car or purchase new tires when they needed to.  The options were too complex, opaque, and inconsistent for the consumer to be successful in getting the tires they needed.


Today, things are different – but, as noted, not perfect.  What’s terrifying is how many other industries are working in their self interest rather than working towards the kinds of standards, control, and consideration for humans that leaves the world better.

As I ponder suicide and the programs that operate without either a theory of action or any scientific basis, I wonder how many other ways that we proceed blindly accepting what we’re told rather than recognizing that we’ve been sold a lie.  I’m beginning to wonder how many of our programs and advances are Unsafe at Any Speed.

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