“Be careful with this one.”

you were from the future
moving faster than you knew
pure like a forest river
with a will so strong and true

here, here, only here
i knew the true shape of your fear
i held it tightly, love filled heart
that pulled away from doubting, doubt

turning turning round the forest
falling farther from your honor,
priestess, truth will tumble down
when those around you shirk the crown
hiding, they do fail to see
that truth will live, it cannot be
that staving off will ever bring
more joy than honesty’s kind ring.

The Little Things Matter: Shining a Positive Light on Out-Group Members

Image by Sofia-Jeanne Roggeveen: Bethlehem, 2012

When conflict exists between two groups, it can be difficult to begin cultivating the possibility of friendly relations. One factor that has been successful in bridging the gap between formerly adversarial groups is by providing people from each side the opportunity to get to know and experience each other first hand. Unfortunately, direct contact between hostile groups can be challenging to arrange and sustain and has the potential to introduce sources of negativity between groups. There is often a background of interpersonal animosity that must be overcome to create successful intergroup ties. However, indirect intergroup contact may have benefits for reconciliation similar to those of direct contact, with fewer potential risks.

Recent empirical research among Croats and Bosniaks, two historically adversarial groups, explored the role of direct and indirect contact in building reconciliation. Indirect contact includes situations such as knowing an ingroup member is friends with an outgroup member or seeing an outgroup member portrayed in a positive light in the media, while direct contact requires face-to-face interaction. Researchers found that direct contact was linked to the likelihood of reconciliation even when accounting for the negative repercussions of increased intergroup contact. Furthermore, indirect forms of intergroup contact alone, even when factoring out direct contact, contribute to the likelihood of reconciliation between the groups.

These findings highlight the impact of indirect group contact on reconciliation among formerly hostile groups. For conflict resolution practitioners, enabling positive indirect contact between groups can be a powerful tool for increasing the odds of reconciliation, and often comes at a lower cost. In particular, in situations where direct contact is difficult or impossible, these findings provide an alternative doorway for practitioners to work towards intergroup reconciliation by increasing intergroup visibility and contact through indirect means.

Rupar, M., & Graf, S. (2018). Different forms of intergroup contact with former adversary are linked to distinct acts through symbolic and realistic threat. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/jasp.12565

Originally published at https://icccr.tc.columbia.edu/the-little-things-matter-shining-a-positive-light-on-out-group-members

When Conflict Becomes an Identity

“Wars may not start because they provide meaning, but they may well be hard to end because they provide meaning.” 1

When it comes to conflict between groups, psychological factors such as threat, intergroup emotions, and morality are often implicated. This perspective paints conflict as a means to an end, as two groups struggle to overcome obstacles to their goals. However, there are times conflict seems to drag on even when losses trump hoped-for gains. An alternative perspective may shed some light on this phenomenon: what if conflict itself served a human need? Recently, researchers have postulated that intergroup conflict can provide a sense of meaning to those involved, thus motivating the perpetuation of conflicts once intended to be resolved.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that a heightened awareness of intergroup conflict strengthens the sense of meaning people derive from the conflict. This shift increases endorsement of beliefs and behaviors that tend to perpetuate conflict. A constellation of factors give rise to this sense of meaning; among them are perceived unity, personal growth, and the sense of being part of something important. While this mechanism has short-term benefits, the negative consequences for effective conflict resolution are evident. If conflict is perpetuated by internal factors such as a sense of meaning that persist in the absence of external threats, it may be insufficient to create supportive conditions for resolving conflict. These findings add complexity to the set of factors that must be considered in the face of intergroup conflict; groups may be motivated both to end and to sustain ongoing conflicts.

An interesting implication of this research is that careful shaping of group meaning-making about intergroup conflict could provide a strong leverage point for reducing the motivation towards conflict. This could include drawing on sources other than the conflict to scaffold group identity and provide meaning and purpose, as well as redirecting the sense of meaning towards constructive goals like resolving the conflict. An awareness of the meaning groups attach to conflicts they are involved in may be an important source of information for informing interventions in intergroup conflict.

Rovenpor, D. R., Obrien, T. C., Roblain, A., Guissmé, L. D., Chekroun, P., & Leidner, B. (2019). Intergroup conflict self-perpetuates via meaning: Exposure to intergroup conflict increases meaning and fuels a desire for further conflict. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,116(1), 119-140. doi:10.1037/pspp0000169

Originally published at https://icccr.tc.columbia.edu/when-conflict-becomes-an-identity/

A Walk in the Woods

I walked through the woods for three weeks. My feet met dirt in four states from Vermont to New York. I found many things: mountains, grass, salamanders, mud, happiness, sadness, peace, conflict, life, death. Then I found a few more: contentment, perfection, paradox, grief, love.

It took me a week to open. I had been looking for the zipper, the hole, not knowing the shape of the invitation. After that I cried every afternoon, tears of one hundred years of grief streaming down my face as I walked, step after step, tear after tear, fear after fear, hope after hope. Now, now, now.

I sang songs until I knew no more, then my heart sang its own song, of the symphony of life through which I am threaded. What an unspeakably beautiful, ever-changing symphony.

This love lives me, breathes me, and will lay me down to die.


Over and over again, known meets unknown in now’s infinite possibility. This constant merging of past and future is especially salient today, having finished the last of three 4-day workshops comprising SAS (a 6-month circling training led by Circling Europe). I have a familiar high, characteristic of multi-day awareness workshops, having been continually kept at my edge and shown enticing options for greater freedom. Perceptiveness: sharp. Confidence: high. I feel supple engaging with whatever comes my way, effortless in my expression. In relation, I ask, bask, cut, and dive, rediscovering bliss in every direction. I feel powerful, opening and being opened by others.
Yet there’s a niggle; too easily I might return to how I was before, and lose all momentum. It feels akin to sliding a cake into the oven and thinking my work is done. I want something more than a memorable story about feeling good. I’ve experienced a similar high after each of the workshops. First weekend: this feeling will last forever! Second weekend: how do I make this feeling last forever?! Third weekend: spellbound, teetering on the edge of integration, ushering what I have learned into each moment of newness. Now is the only opportunity. If I wait, all will be lost, and I’ll have to start again from scratch. If I don’t take action to change the habitual structure of my daily life, it will erode this newfound freedom.
The inquiry becomes: how do I craft new patterns that keep me alive and aware? There are community-level supports that these workshops provide; dishing out and receiving a high level of challenge, the communal effort in illuminating inter/personal dynamics, the demand (co-created) for each to engage fully with themselves… Without this constant community, how can I create an environment that fulfills a similar purpose? To work I go, integrating, integrating, integrating.

The Thin Line of Belief

Photo by Janko Ferlic

I’m scared I may be less smart than I think I am.
But for better or worse, how smart I am is not dependent on anyone’s thoughts. I may be wrong, right, in-between, or off the grid.
Isn’t it inconsequential whether we agree about how smart I am?

And yet, I’ve seen myself shrink from those who insinuate I’m not quite as bright as I think I am. I still contract, though with less defensiveness now, at the suggestion that I’ve erred. I won’t let someone in if they believe something about me that I don’t think is true. To what end?

This feels like an invitation to live based on what is true, rather than my thoughts about it. What is it to live unchained by thoughts and expectations? Slowly, I clear dust off the lens.

And here lies the fork. Can I stay clear in the face of my own and others’ beliefs? Will I allow myself to see what is, right now? Will I let my belief system be dismantled by reality? Or will I lie to myself, over, and over, and over again?

If Gandhi is right, and my beliefs become my destiny, I’m looking at a fragile destiny if I leave my beliefs unchallenged.

Being Anti-Trump isn’t anti-Trump

Heated political issues hold public attention hostage. In regard to harmful situations that must be improved–human rights violations, public health concerns–this is a huge benefit. But when it’s something we want to eradicate instead of fix–Trump’s popularity, Columbine copycats–public fixation works against the best of intentions. The “Anti-Trump” movement among non-Republicans not only increases public attention and media coverage for Trump, but in its staunch opposition further polarizes and strengthens support for him.
The presidential election is a zero-sum game between parties: one wins, and the others lose. To achieve the goal of the Anti-Trump movement, Trump doesn’t need to lose. Someone else just needs to win. Let’s do a short thought experiment to examine this advantageous approach.
Have you ever been challenged not to think about pink elephants? And suddenly pink elephants are parading through your head nonstop? This illustrates an important psychological concept. The human brain handles affirmatives with ease, but gets stuck on negatives. Reframing “don’t do X” as “do Y” makes not doing X much more achievable. It’s easier for us to distract ourselves with another option than to simply not do something. In this simplistic example, if you want someone to avoid thinking about pink elephants, tell them to think about Times Square. The worst thing you can say is “don’t think about pink elephants”.
You might see where I’m going with this. If we want popularity for Trump to wane, we need to boost the popularity of other candidates. If we reframe the anti-Trump sentiment in terms of what we DO want–more support for Bernie, Hillary, or another candidate–we increase the impact of our attention. The benefit is clear: if a Democrat wins the election, Trump necessarily loses.
Let’s set up another option for success. Let’s focus on on acting instead of reacting. Let’s support what we do want.
side notes:
  1. If there’s a legitimate reason a candidate shouldn’t be president, I fully support raising awareness about that issue. The idea I’m posing is that being anti-X without also being pro-Y opens the field for any non-X solution. If you’re anti-Trump, it’s probably not the case that you’d prefer for anyone else besides him to be President. There are other people out there that would also make very poor presidents. So make a case for pro-Y.
  2. The anti-Trump sentiment among Republican is a little trickier of course, given the whole VP process and Trump’s obvious success so far. I can’t entirely conflate the two, but I would still say that bolstering the other candidates would be beneficial.

Work Not For The Fruit

The inherent uncertainty of the future excites as it frightens, promises as it takes away, and paints dreams as it dashes hope. Our efforts may blossom or flounder, but no matter–there’s another day. We plan until God is out of breath from laughing and then launch into action, knowing only that change is unavoidable. Clinging to this thread, we shape our perception of the world; longing for the power of foresight, we imagine patterns, assume linearity, and assign causation. And then one day, if we’re lucky, we realize that striving has overpowered doing, and allow initiative to rescue us from expectation and return us to life.


Ode to The Cookie

This cookie is perfect. You can press it so  it’s flat and crisp, or mound it up to be soft and chewy. You can control the darkness with a little sleight of hand come molasses time, and the chewiness of the oats with a food processor. This cookie is, simply put, scrumbtious (see what I did there turning the “p” upside down?).  I present to you, honored ones, a visual journey through its steps, and, without (m)any more commas, the recipe.






The Cookie

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla
  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cups oats
  • ½ teaspoon salt (I use kosher)
  • ¾ teaspoons baking powder
  • chocolate chips or other add-ins, as desired

Directions [with commentary, to make the directions seem long and difficult so the effort seems commensurate with the deliciousness of the result.]

1. Mash/smash/blend/beat together butter, sugar, and molasses.

[The more you fluff them past a homogeneous mixture, the fluffier your cookies will be. That does level out at some  point though so don’t come back and tell me that you spent 5 hours flogging the fluffed batter without a proportionate increase in cookie height .]

2. Add egg and vanilla to mixture, and combine.

[I used a duck egg once, and they were the best cookies I’ve ever made. Try it if you get a chance, and don’t worry if the yolk is a lot thicker than a chicken egg. That’s normal apparently, as I learned after much concern upon cracking the egg into the bowl, and a few frenzied google searches.]

3. In a food processor, pulse half the oats to a rough flour.

[Or leave them all whole. Or grind them all to little bits (but not maliciously). I usually do half and half.]

4. Mix together all dry ingredients.

5. Combine wet and dry ingredients, and add in the chocolates chips/nuts/coconut flakes/raisins/cranberries/etc. of your dreams.

[I like to divide the batter into two bowls at this point. Into one bowl I toss a handful or two of roughly chopped semi-sweet chocolate chips, so there are little flecks of chocolate throughout. The other I leave plain, and flatten into thin oaty cookies on the baking sheet .]

6. Place dough in spoonfuls of desired size onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt if you’re into that.

[If you feel the need to be very particular about size, mine usually resemble golf balls, one of which can be kept on  the counter nearby for comparative purposes. Do eat some of the dough raw, or at least lick the spoon, if you have faith in the ability of your gastrointestinal flora to keep you safe from salmonella. Use accurate self-assessment here. I can personally attest that I eat some of the dough every time I make it, and I’ve never had any ill-side effects. Also, if you’ve never sprinkled salt atop a chocolate chip cookie or other confection before baking, you should most definitely try it.]

7. Bake cookies at 375 degrees, for 7-11 minutes based on your cookie cookedness preferences. I like them at about 9 minutes, when the bottoms and edges are crisp and the middle is still a little soft.

[If you want to save some for later, the dough does well refrigerated for a few days, or frozen in the shape of a log to cut slices off for up to a few weeks-ish. It’s never lasted long enough to test past two weeks.]

That’s it. I’ve given you the magic golden chocolatey winning lottery ticket to success. You can now impress anyone who likes cookies, and if they don’t like cookies, you should evaluate the validity of their reasoning to determine if they are still worth trying to impress.


Ta ta for now,