Archive for the 'Myth, Music and Meaning' Category

Dec 09 2014

A Review: Clearing the Path: Opening the Spiritual Frontier by Dr. Robert Mark

Summary: Dr. Mark gets an A+ for writing an interesting narrative of his personal and professional development. However, a diminished grade for encouraging people to dispense with their critical thinking to entertain the possibility of higher powers and alternative realities. Discouraging a belief in science is a surprising part of this book and therapists especially should not take this advice seriously, lest they begin to practice unethically.
My acknowledgement: I was involved in Dr. Mark’s men’s program and have insights about him and his work. Perhaps there is no good ending in a relationship with people or organizations. This was true for me, so any negative views I express may be colored by my ending experiences.

I was very curious about this book when I learned it had been written and recently had a chance to read it. I surprisingly enjoyed it, as an autobiographical account of the author’s development as a human being and professional therapist. In person, Dr. Mark is both impressive and charismatic.

As the depth of his book demonstrates, he’s intelligent and highly skilled as a therapist. You can tell he has an ease and comfort with traditional forms of therapy and having seen him in action, I can confirm he is an exceptional agent of change in people’s lives.

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Mar 08 2014

Victories of the Heart: An End to Silo Mentality?

I am heartened by the creation of a new program, “Best Self Weekend” by Victories.

I like this concept for many reasons, one of them being the name uses commonly understood English words…we all know what “best self” means.

Also, it looks like some type of psychodrama will be a key part of the experience. As a key member of the team that developed the psychodrama training back around 2005, I am pleased that the current principals think it’s a good idea to use this powerful method.

Most importantly, the website states the weekend will be led by a mix of Wisdom years and Breakthrough leaders. To my knowledge, this represents the first time since a failed Breakthrough leader collaboration around 2007 that leaders are planning to let go of egos, stop competing and create a program entirely for the benefit of the participants.

I should add the psychodrama training was a collaborative program (just not with other leaders) in that Kurt Schultz and I involved a great team of volunteer men in developing the training. Many of these men are now leaders of programs and two men, Rick Simon and Ron Rooth went on to serve as Victories Board presidents.

Teaching prospective leaders how to facilitate psychodrama or what is also referred to as “heartwork” was a major roadblock to developing new leaders. I was one of these early failed leaders. During a weekend in the mid-1990’s, after absolutely no training, was told to go out and lead the next participants work. I failed and it was a regressive experience for me.

If we accept the notion our unconscious motivations show up in our lives as behavior, I wonder if the original leader teams were not motivated to develop new, competent leaders, as teaching psychodrama didn’t happen until our psychodrama training about 2005. Did they really want new leaders or men to be subservient and not compete with them for the incredible shot of dopamine which happens (at least for me) as a Victories (Breakthrough)leader?

Or maybe they wanted to make sure any prospective leader would protect them from any intense scrutiny of what really was beneath the surface. Selected on an early leader team, I was told that I and my other co-leader needed to take the founders, Buddy Portugal and Bob Mark to dinner at their favorite restaurant, an Italian place near the University of Illinois campus in the west loop area. They were already there when we arrived, at a table in a darkened corner of the restaurant.

I am not sure what the real purpose of the dinner was supposed to be, but the conversation included how leading weekends would be life-changing (it was) and the importance their relationship. I had no idea what leading a weekend would be like. When they talked about their relationship, I was struck by the multiple levels of meaning in their words and process. I was most unnerved by what I believed they were trying to tell us. I wanted to be there, feel important in their eyes, but never felt comfortable for a second.

What did seem clear was we were required to admire their relationship and replicate it as a co-leader team. We were expected to become like ” Bob and Buddy”, “Kevin and Paul”, less important versions of these original teams, but same structure and process. Perhaps, there was a felt safety in numbers. You know, the best place to hide was among your enemies.

I emphacize here the ego attachment to programs and competition between the two original leader teams had a tremendously negative impact on innovation and organizational development, from the beginnng in the mid-1980’s and especially in the post 2004 Strategic plan Victories world. The two programs involved, the Wisdom years and Shadow program had flaws, but the two leader teams would rather fight than switch.

For example, Buddy Portugal requested I send in my evaluation of the Boston Wisdom years program for a second time ( I had submitted a signed evaluation after the weekend). This led to about 30 minutes of ad hominem voicemail attacks on me, including a particularly abusive rant about me being so critical of everything and everyone, including my (biological) brother. Really?

Buddy Portugal didn’t want my honest feedback. He wanted me to endorse him and his Wisdom years program and support his effort to expend funds to develop this program in other cities. It was not a good enough program to expand and history has proven this.

I heard from other Wisdom years men who told me they agreed with my evaluation and have tried to change the program themselves. At some point, I may publish the entire evaluation, but one detail I will share is the problem I found with the small groups at the program.

There was an obvious pressure built into the language of small group facilitators. The message conveyed was we (participants) were selfish and needed to begin giving back to the world. Of course, the likely place to start was volunteering for the Wisdom years.

I never confirmed this with any Wisdom years guys, but it was obvious to me. I had heard this message from Buddy Portugal a lot. He had a pejorative view of men. When he tried to be motivational, I thought initially it was passion. Now, I believe it was anger. I think he felt resentful of some men, as if he had gotten a rotten deal in the world.

While Portugal helped many people, he died a controversial and probably conflicted person. His emotionally abusive messages to me via voicemail revealed some of these internal conflicts. Why would he turn against me? I understood him better than he realized and had been gentle and supportive to him over many years.

When Kurt asked me to play the messages for him, he just shook his head. He didn’t say much, but he had been in this same place before. Someone he liked (me) was the target of Buddy’s venom. Kurt had been asked to attend a meeting with Bob, Buddy and another man (he has a name) where this other man (who Kurt liked) was dragged over the coals.

Kurt told me all about it, as he probably did others. While this can be easily proven, I don’t think it’s necessary. I count four other men, plus me who were the target of misplaced anger.

The silos for both these teams consisted of two people…themselves. God forbid anyone from outside their silo dare to comment or criticize. We were all amoebas in their ocean.

Even if they force the old into the new by only having leader partners from those programs, I know some of the potential leaders and they are really just smart, great guys who want to offer good programs.

Unlike the original two teams primary attachment to each other and their respective Wisdom years and Shadow programs, the new principals seem to be trying to create a more collaborative leader style, programs that make sense in 2018 and offer participants a memorable, perhaps life changing experience.

I can think of any combination of the current principals for the leadership team and if they are careful to explore issues of culture (sexual orientation, color, gender, beliefs, etc) and power (shared vs. hiearchical) I think this could be a spectacular and fun experience for all.

Of course, there is no “I” in team, but Buddy Portugal is deceased, Bob Mark has moved on to the Emeritus role of supportive mentor, and the influence of Kevin Fitzpatrick and Paul Kachoris must certainly have waned after nearly 30 years.

Kevin and Paul no longer lead their Shadow weekend which never gained widespread support internally or in the larger community. In his Psychology Today profile, Victories founder Bob Mark proudly points to the successful Breakthrough and Wisdom years Victories programs, but does not mention the Shadow weekend at all. I don’t think this is a mistake.

I think it unfair to blame my public criticism for any failure of the Shadow program. They also know clearly while the controversy of the 2007-08 (approximate years) Shadow weekend’s nudity and silence, I was loyal to my commitment to them and promised to help them make the program work.

My offer was for all of the Breakthrough weekend leaders at the time, including Kurt, Joe and Steve to work collaboratively to develop a program that could be successful. They refused my offer, choosing to slog on on their own in the stubborn “silo mentality” position they knew better than all of us, certainly me, and continued in their determination to keep the Shadow program true to their preconceived notions.

I always believed the Shadow weekend was a very weak imitation of the Warrior weekend with several research based problems, especially the lack of sensitivity to potential trauma memories and risk of participants being retraumatized. One doesn’t need to know a male victim of sexual abuse might be triggered or injured by being asked to remove their clothing and remain naked in a public way during a weekend.

It was just bad judgment and their Shadow program never really recovered from a community support perspective. There were other problems I experienced at the first or earlier Shadow weekend I helped staff, including a flawed attempt at a sweat lodge.

My early attempt at collaboration regarding the Shadow weekend was naive. The “silo mentality” of the programs leaders remained firmly intact. The result has been a very poor outcome.

Now, Victories principals will say it’s a great experience and a legitimate next step for Victories participants. I have no doubt participants really benefit from the experience, but my opinion is the Shadow weekend and all the Victories programs would have been more robust and successful had Bob and Buddy and the executive leadership of the Board been more accountable and loyal to the written 2004 Victories strategic plan.

Historically, Victories has relied on a leadership structure of two men who are devoted to each other and dedicated to leading one of the organization’s weekend programs.

This type of leadership structure has some strengths and vulnerabilities. The main strength is in the continuity of the leadership dyad and their ability to improve their skills without fear of competition from other potential leaders. I’m sure Victories principals, especially the “old guard”, would describe other strengths, like the deepening of the love in their relationship and it’s impact on participants in programs.

Having had a lot of leadership experience, mainly on athletic teams and in community education programs, such as the substance abuse prevention program in Illinois, Operation Snowball, and within Victories itself, I believe the leadership dyad has caused strife, competition, lack of cooperation and collaboration (failure of weekends to occur), lack of innovation, barriers to communication, confused messaging about sexual orientation and a host of other problems.

About the confused sexual orientation messaging, the founders of the organization, the late Buddy Portugal and Bob Mark are quoted by Michael Jackman writing about men’s weekends in his the article Band of Brothers.

Jackman states:

“In some of these (men’s weekend) situations, the level of physical intimacy involved, men touching and holding each other, calls for new ways of defining what’s proper. (Bob) Mark and (Buddy) Portugal take care to discuss it frankly: “We are two men who love one another, who have developed a powerful bond in a nonsexual relationship. We do not intend to red-flag the nonsexual aspect, although it is important.”

The fact that the men’s movement is so friendly to gay men is likely to cause homophobes to break out in a cold sweat. As Mark and Portugal explain, “Gay men have the same needs as heterosexual men for connection with other men in a safe, respectful relationship that includes a sense of brotherhood and deep compassion for the welfare of the other person.”

I have read this passage many times and am always struck by the lack of clear meaning. Why stress the “non-sexual” aspect of their relationship? They say they don’t “intend to red-flag the non-sexual aspect”, but in writing the words and sentence structure in such a way, they do red-flag these ideas about a non-sexual relationship.

While this dyadic (two person) leadership model worked for Portugal and Mark, it’s not a leader structure made in heaven. It’s cumbersome, tough to develop and last, and stirs the pot related to sexual orientation without the program structure to give voice to these feelings.

It’s still hard for me to believe this happened, but a small group of Victories men thought it would be a good idea to create a video spoof depicting Bob and Buddy as the principal stars of the movie Brokeback Mountain at the annual dinner for families. I and my family found it to be a wierd and uncomfortable experience.

Such faulty and confusing decisions were more common in Victories. I won’t go into all of them, but many of them deal with the sexual innuendo and the poking fun or ridicule of male sexuality. Think the original name of the organization was “the Men’s Room and support group was “the keep it up group.”

Was it hahaha or something more hostile and negative. Most would vote for humorous, but I remain unconvinced of the jovial intentions for this sexual innuendo in organizational messaging. I have come to think of this messaging as a type of code, inside jokes and subtle hostility for those inside this sub-group or silo.

The vulnerabilities of the twosome leadership structure naturally led to the development of dysfunctional “silos” within the organization with each leader dyad developing their own teams further reinforcing barriers to communication, collaboration, and connection, thus the term, “silo mentality.”

Research shows that groups without a clear hierarchy and organizational structure fragment into sub-groups for safety due to anxiety and fear related to the more chaotic larger organization. (add Yalom citation here) Sub-groups in conflict was the norm for Victories in the 1990-2008 time period in which I am familiar. It was a time filled with excitement and meaning and horrible stress from unresolved conflict between leader dyads and other sub-groups.

As an example, I still do not know all the details about the threat of the Wisdom years program and new leaders splitting from the Victories program and going off on its own around 2007-08. I do want to know and think this is something current principals have a right to know about so as to not allow a replication of such an enormous and egregious error in the implementation of the 2004 Strategic plan.

While good men om the Board were working and donating to the larger goals of the organization, the two founders and unknown potential Wisdom years leaders were going to leave the organization and become a separate organization? This was more of a weaponized sub-group or silo doing damage. The fact that all these details and others are kept secret weakens the integrity of the organization and makes the efforts of current Victories principals more difficult.

Likewise, the controversy over the extensive nudity and silence during the 2006 (approximately) Shadow weekend was not just about nudity and silence. For me and others it was the lack of transparency by the two Shadow weekend leaders. They planned and implemented their program without sharing any information about their controversial plans for nudity and silence.

I was responsible for four participants attending this Shadow program and like others, was shocked by what I learned from participants after the weekend. Bob Mark called me and perhaps others to see if we knew about the nudity and silence, as he did not. I explained to him I knew the Shadow weekend I attended 10 years earlier had nudity, but had no idea nudity was such an extensive part of the current program.

I was a co-leader and Board member, as were many others. We not only had a right to know, but a legal responsibility to know what would happen. For two other leaders to assert themselves, plan and implement a controversial program, is perhaps the most crystal clear example of dysfunctional silos in historical Victories.

The fact the Shadow weekend has limped along with less than universal support is a clear by-product of the faulty, grandiose thinking related to the program’s origins. I have written more about this program and I know my criticism of it is the source of some effort to stifle my 1st Amendment rights by threatening to sue me if I wrote anything about Victories they didn’t like.

Silos and silo mentality are widely known organizational concepts and an excellent article can be read here.

During my involvement in Victories from the early 1990’s until 2008, the problems related to the dyadic leader model was obvious to me. A key problem was the almost delusional view that the power to change participants during what they called “heartwork” or as it’s commonly known, psychodrama, resulted from the two leaders relationship.

As a result, to be a leader in Victories, you had to find another man, develop a relationship, and somehow demonstrate you were intimate enough to join the leadership team. Words like “matchmaking” were not uncommon to hear when attempts to find leader partners for men were made.

The fact that men’s sexual orientation was not often an open topic of discussion was a ty pe of institutional homophobia. All men were assumed to be heterosexual unless they were “out” gay men. This allowed closeted gay or bisexual men to remain closeted, but ensured an internal bias against an appreciation for non-heterosexual men.

Recent research on the Breakthrough weekend found underlying heterosexist bias as experienced and described by a participant. You can read my posting on this here.

So, all of this is to say, I enthusiastically support the idea of collaborative teams and hope the staff team for this weekend have a great time and encourage this trend!

Why not offer it to the community, and not just alumni! I’m sure the principals involved explored this, but I hope to see more creativity like this from the principal group at Victories.

And please, be more transparent. Why not have someone write about the process to create this weekend and how the structure and process are similar and different from other Victories programs? I’m willing. 🙂

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Feb 09 2013

James Arthur Ray: “Spiritual Warrior” Guru Sentenced to Prison

When writers resolve legal maneuvering to stop the publication of negative information, perhaps more will be known about the inner workings of personal growth weekends and their charismatic leaders.

If James Arthur Ray is an example, many of these leaders are more show than substance.This ABC video tells the story about how Ray manipulated his followers, then caused injury and death in his sweat lodge. His followers demonstrate how shocked his followers were by the incompetence and criminal neglect shown by Ray.

For Ray, his was the “big lie.” During his trial, his claims of expertise were proven to be lies and distortions. He really had no training in what he was doing, but had learned how to use his charm and ability to engage crowds in a way to make money. He knew the first rule in this game was to show your followers you knew what it took to be successful. Bluntly, you knew “The Secret” and would reveal it to them for a price.
Knowing several of the Chicago based version of this phenomenon, these individuals can be very charming and persuasive. They dress in role, whether new age jeans and silver bracelets or gucci loafers and big SUVS or flashy sports cars.

When you see them, you sort of think, “wow, they must know something I don’t…” The truth, though, is they know how to carry themselves and sell their biggest product, themselves. They can thrill you with attention and leave you wanting more or at least trying to figure out what you are doing with them.

In the USA, a large men’s program, The New Warrior Training Adventure, operated by the Mankind Project, has made an effort to create more transparency in its programs and reduce potential harm to participants. Still a client died on one of their programs and another committed suicide shortly after participating on a weekend.

Unlike Ray, no one on these weekends was arrested for negligence and while there were lawsuits and investigations, no charges were brought against any of the leaders of those particular programs.
When the guru is a psychotherapist or personal coach, the risk of harm gets amplified. Ray was convicted of negligent homocide in the deaths of three of his clients/followers. Prosecutors in the case wanted him to serve a total of 9 years, but the judge reduced the prison time to two years for each of the three counts of homocide to be served concurrently.

This means Ray will serve only two years in prison for the betrayal of trust which led to the deaths of three people who idealized him and paid exorbitant sums of money to attend his programs.

James Arthur Ray rose to fame via Oprah Winfrey’s interest in the “Secret”, a popular self-help movie and book. With Oprah’s seal of approval, Ray’s programs became more popular and costly.

Oprah has been strangely silent about her prodigy James Arthur Ray’s conviction on negligent homicide. I wonder what she really thinks.

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Feb 05 2013

“Personal Growth Weekends”, Cults, and How They Use Recruitment as a Strategy for Survival and Profit

Cults…I talk a lot about the Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ Ranch) and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), but what are some of the characteristics of a cult?

Keeping it simple, it’s an organization of narcissistically driven (usually) men who use a variety of methods to manipulate and exploit vulnerable people.

Here are the essential characteristics of a cult:

  • mind control…use of bizarre religious or secular ideas to enforce the obedience of followers
  • emotional disclosure…participants are encouraged to disclose private, emotionally important information…while the leaders do not share emotional information with the larger group
  • recruitment…participants are encouraged/expected to go out and recruit others to join the cult organization using deceptive and manipulative tactics
  • restriction from all outside ideas and influences ( no radio, television, computer/internet, newspapers)
  • claims that the outside world is evil and will lead to the death or damnation of anyone who betrays the cult
  • participants are manipulated to believe that they can not survive without all the cult offers them
  • participants may also be physically and sexually abused, in addition to the pervasive emotional abuse
  • intimidation by threatening to harm others or animals, especially pets, like a pet white rat, a rabbit, puppy or kitten
  • leaders are a few men who directly benefit from the cult by abuse, manipulation, threat of harm, sexual control of women and intricate financial arrangements
  • methods during the activities include various rituals, guided imagery, psychodrama, native american spirituality, sweat lodges, and over-simplified and out of context psychological ideas
  • key to all these experiences is the claim they can “change your life”
  • marketing literature will often claim the programs are based on science, but they don’t mean research. These claims are often followed by non researched based psychological ideas, such as those of Carl Jung (the shadow and persona in personality archetypes)
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Nov 13 2011

Penn State and the Catholic Church

Examining the religious right wing activism defending catholic clergy sex abusers and the response of the church, it’s pretty easy to understand why Joe Paterno didn’t do anything to protect the children being raped by Jerry Sandusky.

He’s Joe Paterno and probably feels entitled to do whatever he wants, just like Bill Donohue, Bishop Finn of Kansas City, the catholic pope, and the entire catholic church hierarchy.
Bill Donohue, Executive Director of Catholic League Center for Religious and Civil Rights,

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Jan 20 2011

Scope of the Child Abuse Problem in America

The numbers of children abused in America each year are staggering.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates 879,000 children were victims of child maltreatment in 2000. Of this total, 63% of the children were neglected, 19% were physically abused, 10% were sexually abused and 8% were psychologically abused.

I think we all have to agree it’s easier to ignore or deny the estimate that 87,900 children may be sexually abused in our country each year.

How do we wrap our minds around these very high numbers of children abused and neglected?

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Jan 14 2011

Facebook Revolution: Truth to Power

We are truly living in a remarkable era.

Truth telling via internet media like Facebook, blogging, and  other ways to transmit words and images has brought revolutionary change to places like Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya, one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.

Truth to power. May it bring us more peace, justice and democracy all over the world.

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Apr 20 2009

Kate Winslet and the Movie, The Reader: The Critics View

Many of the major movie critics identified several flaws in the movie, The Reader.  The flaws included being hard to believe, reductionist (the death of millions of Jews to the issue of literacy), morally ambiguous, and character development lacking depth and sharpness.
Read them here.

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Apr 14 2009

Pat Bowlen, Owner of the Denver Broncos and Josh McDaniels, New 32 Year Old Head Coach, “The Emperors With No Clothes” Fired by Jay Cutler

Ok, making the symbolism easy, Pat Bowlen and Josh McDaniels represent the shallow, narcissistic leaders in our world who have been exposed as the “emperors without clothes!”

I have really enjoyed this story. Just as McDaniels and Bowlen have been trying to manipulate Jay Cutler, treating him slightly less than a piece of property,

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Apr 05 2009

Ad Hominem Logic: The Denver Broncos Begin Damage Control or How You Explain Why a Potential Hall of Fame Quarterback Refuses to Play for Your New 32 Year Old Head Coach, Josh McDaniels

Damage control. It usually starts with finding ways to impugn the character of whoever is causing you trouble.  Ad Hominem Logic. I have talked about his before…it doesn’t matter what someone says, they are bad, so whatever they say is bad too. And don’t do it yourself. Have someone else spread the rumors…enter Stefan Fatsis.
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