In the wildly popular TV series 24, government counter-terrorist agent, Jack Bauer is described by a former CIA Black Ops colleague with great respect and admiration as a “formidable operative.” What the guy is mostly referring to is Bauer’s ability to kill 266 people over the series’ 8 day timeline in his undying mission to make the world safe from terror. What Bauer fails to realize is that once you’ve killed or tortured your first terrorist, they’ve already won. You’ve crossed the line and joined the ranks of terrorism yourself. And as Bauer finds out over the course of the series, failing to deal skillfully with the Terrorist Within always exacts a heavy price (which Kiefer Sutherland, the actor who portrayed Bauer, seems to have had to pay in his personal life as well!). The brain records every act of suffering we perpetrate and buries it in the archival fibers of our neurology. Each one becomes a dormant memory increasingly more difficult to manage in its push for integrative expression as the body count piles up.
It’s possible, however, to become a formidable operative in a much deeper sense, I think. We can become a force to be reckoned with primarily concerned with being what Buddhists call a bodhisattva or wisdom-being, someone wholly focused on doing good in the world and building things that unshakably support human flourishing (human flourishing is what scientists and positive psychologists who study it call happiness). And as parents, research says we can learn to hit the sweet spot to increase the odds of that happy flourishing happening by trying to insure a ratio precisely between … 2.9 and 11.6 of good experiences to bad for our kids! 🙂
Circumcision: A Game-Changing Neurological Event
If I had to bet, I would put a lot of money on the odds that Jack Bauer is circumcised. I think of circumcision as the first Great Betrayal. It’s a painful event that goes on the inhibition side of the human flourishing ledger. The brain records that unkind cut without benefit of language. It then becomes part of the “Unthought Known.” As the homunculi on the right illustrate, a great deal of neural real estate is sacrificed to the practice of circumcision. Along with it perhaps, some critical capacity to deeply feel? Listening to these 8 doctors, I have the distinct feeling that they themselves have been traumatized by performing the operation! When you lack great capacity for feeling, it becomes significantly easier to kill 266 people in eight days. Or to shoot and bomb civilians in foreign countries. Or to beat kids and batter wives.
Teach Your Kids to Throw
Here’s another surprising finding. At critical moments in the brain’s unfolding, brief periods appear when development can be optimized. Vision unfolds during one such period, language acquisition unfolds during another, motor skills in another. One of the more recently discovered windows that impacts development is the ability to throw things. So, all those thousands of games of stickball I played as a kid and all those things I threw at my sister, paid off by increasing integrated brain development. (Thanks, Mel!). Turns out we don’t want kids to throw more than 100 innings a year however, as this research suggests.
Raise Your Kids to Stand for Something
There’s a dark side to many things that life presents us, and technology is certainly not without its shadow. As James Levine, a Mayo Clinic doctor, points out – for every hour that kids (and us) sit daily – in class, in front of the TV, in front of the computer, at the mall, in restaurants – risk of cardiovascular trouble increases roughly 18%. Not only that, but according to Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, we are in danger of losing the three things that Thoreau considered essential for living life as a Formidable Operative – living deliberately, living fully in moment-to-moment life, and living with no sense of resignation.
Resist Emotional Spell-Check and Your Social Credit Score
Descending even further into technology’s dark side, consider steering kids clear of companies “where the one thing you can’t fake is your Google search history.” Where your search history is then computed and you are assigned a Social Credit Score which is essentially an assessment of your social worth. A kind of FICO score for the Soul. I’m a 940, but you’re only a 780. Who in their right mind would embrace technology like that for their children?
Or what about corporations like Microsoft who want to eradicate emotions from the workplace. Emotions fuel not only brain development, but also operate as stirrings for the soul. Technology called ToneCheck however, developed by a company named Lymbix, works to check and prevent sending messages that violate “tone policy.” Isn’t THAT special. God forbid our kids should work in a place where they’re actually allowed and encouraged to FEEL something! Better perhaps – though obviously not optimal – is for them to go to work for the government with Jack Bauer in the Counter-Terrorism Unit. At least they’d have an outlet for everything they’re pissed off about not being permitted to feel.