Controlling the story you tell yourself controls the results you get. And controlling the stories you tell OTHERS influences the world, powerfully. Lifewriting, and the techniques embedded in it, is/are incredibly powerful, so powerful that it is critical to remember the most basic gatekeepers of morality. Simple principles like Musashi’s “Do not think dishonestly” or the Sufi “the beginning of evil is to treat people as means, rather than ends.”
Without such basic principles, self-justification can lead us down the path to destruction, as it did Walter White in “Breaking Bad” or as will happen to Jimmy on “Better Call Saul.” Small actions, every step justified…leading to hell itself.
Does power corrupt? I don’t think so, any more than sunshine and rain destroy. They also create life. Whether it bakes the earth or drowns the crops, whether wheat or weeds grow…is all a matter of degree and circumstance. But the things themselves are neutral. The universe doesn’t care.
So we must. Or the most basic principle I know of for the test of good and evil cannot be met: “does it make the children safer?”
Let me tell you about a time I walked away from power, even though all was well, even though everything worked out, even though I operated on the side of the angels.
Many years ago, I made friends with a co-worker. My wife and I socialized with him and his wife. Call him “Harry.” A good, smart guy, maybe a little reserved. I liked him. One day I got a call from his wife that kind of spun me (it was one of those: “why in the hell is she talking to ME?” moments I’ve kind of gotten used to.)
She told me that her husband Harry was deeply depressed. Addicted to pornography. Would lock himself in his office all night watching it on his computer, and hadn’t touched her in months. And…was starting to talk about suicide. She was terrified for him, for them. He wouldn’t see a therapist, or talk to anyone about it.
And yeah, you guessed it: she asked me if I could help.
WTF? I couldn’t believe it. I mean…why me? And then I heard a little voice in the back of my head that said: because you can. And she knows it. Somehow, she does.
I believe that on some level, people can read your mind. I really do. And so I said to her that I’d try.
Wow. Well…I’d been studying Neuro Linguistic Programming for a couple of years, and thought I was pretty good with it. And thought that maybe it could be of use. NLP is the study of intra and inter-human communication, the “machine language” of human consciousness. It controls the symbols that we use to represent reality. The “story” we tell ourselves.
So I decided to tell a story. Could I? Wow. What a challenge! Nothing more than a marriage and a human life possibly at risk. No pressure, right???
So…the next day I called Harry and, with a slight quaver in my voice, asked him if we could meet for dinner. I…(quaver) needed some advice, and he was the only person I could think of to go to. He was surprised, but agreed.
We met the next day at a restaurant. I was uncertain, insecure, had a hard time meeting his eyes. But the whole time I was doing this…I was using NLP techniques called “matching and mirroring” to get into synch with him. I matched his breathing patterns. Body posture. Verbal predicates (he spoke in auditory terms if I recall correctly, so I’d say things like “I’ve heard…” and “sounds to me like” and so forth as opposed to “it feels”, “I see” or “I know” which would be kinesthetic, visual, or digital)
Once I had matched breathing, posture, predicates, gestures and so forth…ALL below the threshold of awareness (It doesn’t work if the person knows you’re doing it) I went deep inside myself and induced a state of deep relaxation/awareness in MYSELF. Because by this time Harry and I were deeply connected, he began to follow me. I slowed my breathing. Relaxed my shoulders. Wove slightly, rhythmically side to side, and noted when he began to follow me.
Well…all the time, I was telling him that my marriage and life were doing badly. That I was depressed, and starting to wonder what it was all about. Whether anyone would miss me. Yeah, I know it sounds bald to you NOW, but I was very careful, and by this time, “Harry” was deeply entranced. Really. Sitting right there at the dinner table. And I asked him what advice he might have for me.
And he began to say something about remembering the good times in life, and not letting the bad overwhelm me. Knowing that I would get through it all, in time.
I watched his eyes. He believed what he was saying. He FELT it, his eyes misting up just a little.
Now, pay careful attention to what I did next. All of this was subtle, but I have to make it explicit to show you how it worked. And it would NEVER have worked had I not established rapport and guided him into a relaxed place.
“Are YOU (I pointed at myself!) telling ME (I pointed at him) that every time I (pointing at him) am feeling depressed, I (pointing at him) should remember the good times?”
He nodded, weaving as if he was drunken.
“And are YOU (pointing at myself) telling ME (pointing at him) that every time I (pointing at him) am driving down the street and see a red light, I (pointing at him) will remember to STOP the negative thoughts, and every time I (pointing at him) see a green light, I (pointing at him) will remember to GO FOR IT, to just put the pedal to the medal and use that good mind I (Pointing at him!) have to solve any problems and take action…”
And so it went. His pupils dilated, weaving like he was about to fall over. I was laughing my ass off inside. This was amazing. Like magic.
Well, after about five minutes, I brought him out of the trance, back to the room, tested to be sure he was cool, thanked him for his time…and we said good-night.
About a week later I got a call from “Harry’s” wife. “Steve!” she said. “What did you do?”
“Ummm…I just talked to him. Why?”
“Well, he came home that night, grabbed me and kissed me and took me to the bedroom and…” I don’t blush a whole lot, but I certainly did during THAT conversation. Wow.
He hadn’t looked at pornography again. He was diving into projects he’d abandoned months ago. He told her he loved her for the first time in years…
Babbling thanks, she hung up. So far as I know, he has not relapsed.
And I stopped practicing NLP after that. What had happened scared the living hell out of me. Why?
Because, even though things had apparently worked out, I realized I was REALLY good at this. And frankly…I knew I wasn’t honest enough to have that kind of power. I KNEW it. Knew that I would use that to manipulate people, justifying my actions at every turn, until it was all at the level of unconscious competence.
At which point it would be too late.
And that little bit of moral rot at my core (remember the giggle?) would hide deeply, and convince me that all was well. I would be capable of twisting and warping my entire world, all the time convincing myself I was the Good Guy.
Thank GOD I’d seen that nasty little bastard inside me, and heard it giggle before it could hide.
I was treating Harry as a “thing”, playing him like a toy. And even though the final result was good…the end did NOT justify the means. Unless I could respect him and love him and honor him at EVERY MOMENT, I could NOT trust myself to have the ability to dive into a human soul like that, and re-wire the works.
So I stepped away from NLP for years, until I healed more deeply, and could trust myself more.
And then, only then…did I begin coaching people again. Once there was no giggle, only a deep and pervasive sense of profound humbleness and thanks that I could help another precious human being heal themselves. To step completely out of my ego and let “it” happen.The techniques are interesting. It is fun to be clever, or smart, or even brilliant.
But there is something more important. To be GOOD. To see human beings as extensions of yourself, not as machines to be fixed or puppets to be manipulated. That other path is the road to hell, no matter what your intentions.
If you want to help the world, heal yourself first. Diminish the need to lie to yourself about why your relationships, your body, your career are what they are. Love yourself, deeply, as you would your own most beloved child. In accepting your own failings without excuse, you join with all imperfect, wonderful humanity.
And then…learn to extend that to a loved one. And then…learn to love everyone. While protecting yourself, love them so deeply that you are sharing your light, not just using “technique.”
Tell them the story of how YOU changed, in a language they can understand. Metaphor, parable, fantasy, fiction, autobiography or biography. Tell the STORY of how change happened. Be honest, not clever.
You can run out of clever. You can never, ever, ever, run out of the truth. Truth is revolutionary. Stories are the most powerful medicine we can give ourselves, our children, our world…so long as they are grounded in truth.
Break the Matrix.