Are You Evolving?

Or are you being left behind?

I was listening to NPR and the host brought up the Michael Vick dog fighting story. He spoke briefly about the seriousness of Michael’s crimes being up for debate. I assumed that I was the only one who was ambivalent about the story. Apparently there are others.

Michael Vick deserved to go to jail, he committed a stupid, pointless crime and got caught. He deserved to be punished for this. The uproar in the media and among animal rights activists regarding his transgressions seemed excessive. Where is the outrage when every Friday night 22 teenage boys are set out onto a field and told to go kill another human being? Where is the outrage when MMA fighters are unleashed for 3 minutes at a time and told to go out and kill another human being? Where is the outrage when high school age wrestlers or  boxers are released inside of a ring with crowds gathered around in order to see them fight and try to kill another human being? We have betting lines and professional organizations that make up a multi-billion dollar industry training teenagers to grow up to become gladiators, sent out to kill other humans for our entertainment. Where is the outrage at the NFL and its precursors in High School and Collegiate Football?

If these activists and animal nuts care so much about dogs that have been bread to fight and kill but don’t care enough to try and protect teenage humans from harm, what does that say about them and our society? We sanction teenage violence, no, we glorify it, and yet I don’t see them lining up to harass and protest high school parents and coaches. Why the hypocrisy?

The counter-argument is that they kill the injured dogs. These people need to be consistent with their outrage. Race horses are killed when they break a leg in competition. These animals are bred to race and if injured during a race they are killed. Why the hypocrisy?

I am not advocating dog fighting. Far from it. I am simply playing devil’s advocate and leading my actual point…

My point is that these dogs that were trained and bread for hundreds of years to fight were being allowed to fight each other and guys were watching. Just like we pit our teenage boys against each other on Friday nights. Again, not my point. Let me try this again…my point is that these dogs were bred (evolved through artificial selective pressure) to be fighters. They are strong, viscous, have massive heads with sharp teeth and incredibly powerful jaws. They are excellent at what they were bred for. This idea got me thinking about how we have evolved, what selective pressures influenced our path as a species and what we are each doing as individuals to play our part in the continued evolution of Homo sapiens.

What were we bred to do? We have evolved as sophisticated environmental adaptation and knowledge accumulation and integration machines. We evaluate our milieu and then work to increase the complexity in how we address our niche; both as a group and as individuals. We each have the choice whether to accept our reality as the best possible option or keep our heads out of the sand and test hypotheses and learn and grow. Tibetan Buddhism comes to mind. The Dalai Lama  integrates the newest neuroscience and research in the reality of our world into the Buddhist religion. Tibetan Buddhism progresses along with our knowledge of the world and our history. It is a religion that does not have to defend itself from reality. Tibetan Buddhism not only accepts reality as we understand it but works diligently to help our species to grow, learn, and progress.

I began wondering if I am helping us in this process? Do I blindly accept what I have been told and taught or what the media feeds me or do I actively evaluate, integrate and find creative solutions to the challenges and opportunities that I encounter? I would answer: Maybe? I don’t know…not nearly enough?

Each week of the football season I take time with my players before each game to help them prepare mentally for the challenge ahead.  5 years ago I would simply take them through a guided visualization exercise (just like most PhD Sports Psychologists) where they would imagine playing and try to experience the visceral and tactile feelings that they would feel during the game. I still use this as a fundamental segment of their preparation but also integrate Affect Theory, trance induction/hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, priming, JPMR, process goal setting, parasympathetic/apical breathing activation and Script Theory into the session. Two weeks ago one of the kids came up to me and asked me “are you getting a PhD?” I asked him why, he responded that I was always integrating new concepts and teaching them new things they had never heard of before. I chuckled and said “no, I just read a lot of neuroscience and use it on you guys.” As I reflect on what my athlete said I think maybe I am, in my small way, helping us to evolve. If I can teach 90 teenagers how to handle dense emotions with poise in a group setting preparing for a big stage with a huge success/fail performance component then I have given them each a useful tool that the previous generation did not have. One of my former students told me last week that the most important thing that I taught him was how to meditate, focus, visualize and relax through our game-prep sessions.

I am proud of the way I am helping the next generation to evolve in this way. When I look at the other roles in my life I realize that in many cases I just do it the way I learned it. I go through the motions. I do it like I was taught 20 or even 30 years ago. So much has changed in the past 20 years, heck in the past month! There is so much for us to learn and build upon in order to enhance and evolve ourselves and our sphere of influence. It is in our genes to adapt. I know now that I must look at my life objectively and commit to building upon what is already there. I’m not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater, simply that we continue to stack bricks on top of the foundation that has already been laid.

We humans are an amazing species. We have the capacity for an incredible rate of increasing complexity in all realms. Scientists are doing their part helping us grow by advancing knowledge of the physical world. The rest of us must do our part as integrators and not couch potatoes. We must not sit around watching everyone else do the important work. We must help advance the next generation. We must not simply teach them to be like us. Our youth are not responsible for helping us evolve, we must each do something unique to add depth to our sphere. With each step an individual takes, one giant leap is taken together. For we are all in this same place in time and we have a core choice: either choose to help us grow or sit back and watch our species pass us by.

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