Trigger Me–I Dare You (Pt. 2)

The Politics of Triggers

“Trigger Warning” has become a common expression in modern media. A trigger warning is simply a warning that what comes next might cause someone who suffers from prior trauma to remember or relive their experience. On the face of it, it is a sensitive and welcome acknowledgement that painful conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are real and prevalent.

However, the use of such warnings and the thought process behind it have become part of the country’s divisive political discussion. The extreme elements of one faction seem bent on bludgeoning the other side into submission by placing nearly every normal human behavior in the category of a “trigger.” For this group of people, saying a pronoun, asking for a date, opening the door for someone, wearing a certain hat, flying a flag, or singing a Christmas song have all become triggers that any caring human being should refrain from doing.

Meanwhile, extremists from the other political faction are attempting to shame the “overly sensitive” victims of trauma and violence by calling them names like “snowflake,” hinting at their extreme fragility. Rhetoric from this group commonly minimizes and denies what may be real, debilitating trauma felt by many innocent people.  

Both sides have valid points, and both sides should work to reign in their most extreme elements. Yes, it is true that anything–literally anything can become a trigger to someone who has experienced trauma. Society should be sensitive to this. But it is not productive or sane to ban benign human behavior in an attempt to guarantee no one will ever be triggered.

Some speech and behaviors, in and of themselves, are violent, degrading and inappropriate. Common sense and conscience tell us what is included in this category. Members of a civilized society have an obligation to avoid such expressions. But all other speech and behaviors, even those that can be triggering, should be processed internally by those who feel inclined to be offended or triggered. It is incumbent on the offended person to learn coping skills. Any other configuration of accountability could be destructive in our society.  

Look for Part 3 in this series: “Triggers are Opportunities.” If you have experienced triggers in your life, learn how to take advantage of them to bring more growth and healing.       

Why Do the Chinese Butt in Line?

My wife and I recently stood in line at an American-style fast-food burger shop in Beijing. When it was finally our turn, we reached for the laminated menu card near the cash register and started looking at the menu options. Out of nowhere, a young man pushed forward, grabbed the menu out of our hands, and started giving his order to the cashier. That’s when I reached over, quickly slipped the card out of his hands and blocked his view of the cashier with my body while we proceeded to order.  

This wasn’t the first time we had encountered this kind of behavior during our stay in China. In fact, over the 18 months since arriving in Beijing from America, we’ve seen it nearly every day in various situations and venues–from train ticket queues to subways to grocery stores to airplanes. Everywhere we’ve turned, we’ve noticed locals who do not seem to accept or honor the concept of “wait your turn.”

We enjoy talking about cultural differences with our Chinese friends. One friend, a medical doctor, heard me lament about this encounter. He thought for a moment, then proposed a possible explanation. Recent research into an emerging field called “epigenetics” indicates that animals and human beings may pass along ancestral memories via their genes. In short, our behaviors, attitudes and preferences may be greatly influenced by environmental factors suffered by our ancestors. He postulated that trauma from serious famine in China’s past may now be to blame for an unreasonable feeling of urgency, pushing a person to skip ahead of others in line to be the first served.

I believe that whatever experiences we’ve had, or whatever traumas our progenitors may have suffered, we do have the ability and responsibility to overcome our own programming to act in ways socially acceptable in the current environment. We cannot blame our genes for bad behavior. However, the doctor’s explanation has caused me to re-think my own responses to these behaviors. Instead of reacting with irritation, I am now more likely to feel compassion for those whose genes might nudge them to move ahead of me in line. If echoes of China’s past whisper to the person behind me that he is starving, I may see his behavior differently and choose to respond accordingly.

Trigger Me — I Dare You (Pt. 1)

Are triggers real? What do they mean and how do they work? Why are political factions discussing triggers? How can I deal with my triggers?

Man experiencing a trigger

Part One—The Power and Scope of Your Subconscious

Picture a cruise ship.

If you successfully pictured a cruise ship just now, ask yourself where that image came from. Where was that mental image 30 seconds ago? If you’ve taken a cruise, then surely your own memories were involved when you conjured up an image. If you have never taken a cruise, then you’ve likely seen pictures of cruise ships, or recall seeing “Titanic” or “The Love Boat” or some other program about a cruise ship.

If the ship you brought up in your mind was not in your conscious thought immediately prior to reading this article, then you have just experienced a powerful proof that you have a subconscious mind. How much of your mental “storage” is taken up by your subconscious? Imagine a large balance scale, with the weight of all your conscious thoughts on one side and all your subconscious or unconscious content on the other side. Which way would the scale lean?

Can you see that the amount of content in your subconscious mind far outweighs that of your conscious thoughts? You have a very comprehensive, emotion-filled subconscious “world” within you. Your entire history of memories, experiences, perceptions and beliefs resides largely in your subconscious, not in your conscious thoughts.

Your mental life is really divided into two different realms—on-stage and off-stage. Living and thinking is like producing a Broadway play. Most of the scenery, props and actors are off-stage waiting for their cues to perform. At any given moment, only a small percentage of the staff is on-stage reciting lines and interacting with the environment. Occasionally, an actor on stage says or does something to prompt another actor to enter “stage left.” The new actor might bring additional props or baggage from backstage with him. The new actor then recites his lines and acts out his part. Sometimes, an actor says or does something to prompt an entire change of scenery.    

How do you access this hidden, powerful dimension within? Or metaphorically speaking, how do you prompt someone or something to emerge from backstage? In your conscious, everyday world there are certain objects, words, thoughts, people, music, smells, feelings and sounds that act as little cues or “triggers” to bring things forward from backstage. This might sound mysterious, but it is the mechanism upon which the entire skill of reading is based. We train young children to associate a visual, conscious symbol (letters and words) with something in their subconscious mind. Because you are trained in that skill, when I wrote the words, “Cruise Ship” above, you opened a doorway to your subconscious. You could say that by simply writing the words, “Cruise Ship,” I “triggered” you into bringing thoughts of a cruise ship into consciousness.

A trigger is simply a stimulus leading to a doorway or portal into an internal dimension of subconscious content. When triggered, long-lost thoughts and feelings emerge to interact with your current environment. When summoned, portions of your subconscious world ideally come to the forefront–on stage to offer up the lines you need in your daily story of life. However, when those backstage characters represent trauma, shame, pain or grief, something often prevents them from coming all the way on stage. Instead, they can muck around behind the scenery, creating chaos just out of sight. The audience might hear noises or see onstage props being knocked around from behind. They might wonder what is happening to the play.

In our lives, triggered negative emotions and thoughts can cause chaos, taking over our lives as they sit just beneath the surface causing disease, anger, depression, or other problems. And because we are just as much a part of the audience as anyone else, and don’t understand what is happening, we feel blindsided by strong, chaotic feelings that seemingly come out of nowhere.

[Stay tuned on this blog for Parts two and three. You will have a better understanding of triggers and learn ways to turn triggers into opportunities for growth.]

Laraine and the Dumpling Gang

China Foreign Affairs University sponsored a gala the week before Christmas. They correctly surmised that some of the “foreign experts” on campus would want to learn how to make Chinese dumplings.

Laraine (second from left) enjoys some quality dumpling time with Ruth Ann Martin (3rd from left, from South Africa), Shelly (4th from left, CFAU administrator and Communist Party liaison) and Lynn (2nd from right, CFAU administrator). They are joined by some expert dumpling makers on the ends.
Ruth Ann is a natural dumpling maker
The finished product! YUM!

Is Christmas Gift Giving a Mistake?

Christmas Gifts

The spirit of giving is a beautiful part of Christmas. But when families have so many things gathering dust in their closets, the “wonder and awe” that is such a big part of the Christmas spirit can suffer. In their yet-to-be-published book, “Surviving by a Thread: Finding Joy, Abundance and Resilience in a Turbulent World,” the Chamberlains identify a survival “thread” called “Give Up and Let Go.”

Learning to give up and let go is critical to the flow of abundance in our lives. This is no more evident than at Christmastime. In the book, Jeremy recalls an unusual discussion with a young mother:

“I remember coming across someone else who seemed pretty conscious of this ‘letting go’ thing. It was the mother of a family I met once. They were getting ready for Christmas. There were several small children and their Christmas tree was surrounded by many wrapped gifts. But at the same time, they still had a good number of toys and games left over from the last Christmas in their children’s rooms. When I talked to the mother, she said something I’ve never forgotten.”

“What did she say?” Laraine asked.

“She said, ‘We love this time of year because it’s a perfect time to sort through the toys and games from years past and get rid of those that are unusable or seldom used. Our children have learned to give away or throw away their old toys at least one time every year.’ . . .

If we could help our children shift their mindsets away from accumulation towards the direction of abundance, which includes the concept of “flow,” we would be teaching them a valuable lesson. They would appreciate their toys a little more, learn to experience the joy of giving, and avoid the bad energy that comes with too much clutter.  

There is certainly nothing wrong with gift-giving at Christmas. But by taking a few subtle steps in the direction of abundant thinking, we can make the giving more positive and meaningful.

Sneaking Around the Summer Palace on a Bum Knee

China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU) participated in an annual activity with other schools at the Summer Palace in Beijing. The purpose was to walk around the large lake which constitutes the majority of the center part of the property. Instead of doing the 8 kilometer walk this year, we decided to sneak off the path and see other sights there. We realized that by staying with the group, walking the perimeter of the massive estate like we did last year, we missed out on many of the wonders of this beautiful area. Because there were checkpoints located at various spots around the property, and we were wearing the blue sweaters provided by the organizers, we had to sneak around so they wouldn’t keep telling us we were lost. So we did NOT get a certificate or a prize for completing the walk. Instead, we got a greater appreciation for the palatial beauty of the area.  It was awesome. 

Danger! Deep Water! No Romping!

With his knee bothering him from so much hiking, Chuck sat at the bottom and waited for Laraine to come back from a hike up the stairs to the top of the palace. Going up would have been no problem for him; it’s the coming down part that’s bad.

Laraine’s climb was to the top of that building in the background.

The view was rewarding from the top. Here’s the sunset over the Summer Palace grounds in Beijing.

Lots of stairs to hike. Chuck and his bad knee did okay. He only chose to sit out on just one of the climbs.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon? Nope. . . It’s Usually Blue in Mongolia

Our October, 2018 National Week holiday trip to Inner Mongolia included a visit to a temple in HohHot (pronounced: ho huh hot). It differed from the more traditional Chinese temples south into the main part of China. Here, the locals tend to bring brightly colored (especially blue) cloth to leave behind as a sign they want their wishes to come true.  

It is always fun to see couples in traditional dress.

This sweet lady came up to us begging for money. Many of the handicapped there do not have wheelchairs so they sit on rollers to get around.

Sand, Gnats and Mad Max: Exploring Mongolian Sand Dunes

Part of our National Week (October, 2018) tour took place at a desert resort in the sand dunes. We did not stay the night, but enjoyed several hours at this very unique venue. We had certainly been to many American dunes, which are usually very undeveloped.  We didn’t know what to expect at a sand dunes in Mongolia. We were surprised to see a massive tourist site with able cars, odd post-apocalyptic dune buggies, a Disney-like train, a large swimming complex, camel rides, sand sleds, and even a massive tent arena all plopped into the middle of an ocean of fine powdery sand.

Most of our fellow tourists were Chinese nationals taking their week-long holiday with us. It took over an hour in line to finally climb onto our cable car ride to the dunes. During our wait in line, we were engulfed by tiny little gnats that descended in swarms. We had to cover our mouths so we could breath without sucking in little creatures. Once we got to the dunes, there were no gnats (thank heavens!)

The view from inside one of our “Mad Max” post-apocalyptic vehicles.

 

Each “Mad Max” sand boat (or dune buggy?) carried 30-40 people. They traveled easily in the sand and it felt a bit like floating on water.

Is it just me, or does everyone else feel like their in a Star Wars movie?

Ahead is a large tent where theatrical productions are presented.

Sitting on cushions on the sand floor of the arena, we saw a traditional Mongolian wedding with all the dances. It was very interesting and surreal at the same time.

No sand dune trip would be satisfactory without connecting to a camel. We’ve come to love our camel rides in China and Mongolia. They seem like such docile creatures, although we understand they can get quite belligerent. It was only a five minute camel ride but it was fun.

We took a “Disney” train to get us back to the gate of the gate of the resort.

Cable car rides are enjoyable when you’re with good friends. Here is Leslie Pelton, Laraine, and Barbara Openshaw. We again had to stand in line to catch this cable car back to the bus.

Family Makes a Visit

In October our second daughter, Brandi, and her fiance’ (Rob) were traveling with a tour group through China.Their few days in Beijing wouldn’t have been complete without some time with her mom and dad. Here she is trying something new . . the Chinese version of a candied apple. It is a “Hawthorn apple” candied skewer, a popular treat in Beijing. 

 

Taking a selfie is an art form that we do not have a handle on, as you can see. What good is it to show yourself in China if you really can’t tell where you are?

It is always nice when family comes to China. Brandi and Rob were on a tour but we did snatch them away for  a few hours.

It took a long time to find them, but we finally met up with them in Forbidden City. Maybe next time they’ll learn to hide themselves better. 

Can you picture this couple in ancient times? What role would they have played in the court of the emperor?

Rob and Brandi make a cute couple on the moat outside the Forbidden City. They seemed to enjoy themselves, even if it was with the ‘rents (parents). A strange thing happened later in their trip. Their last venue before leaving Beijing was the Summer Palace, a sprawling estate that takes several hours to walk around. It was a Saturday morning and Brandi’s parents were also scheduled to go with their university to the Summer Palace in the early afternoon. Therefore, it didn’t appear there would be any overlap, so all goodbyes were said on Friday. However, as Brandi and Rob were leaving the Summer Palace, her parents were just arriving, so their was one last hug before they left the city.