The Institutional Mindset

usa-1663297_640In the movie The Matrix, Morpheus reminds us that we’re all in a prison of one kind or another, and don’t even know it.  Perhaps we all have our own prisons.  Mine happens to be a cruise ship at the moment, and I suppose, doing corporate magic shows can also be a prison at times.  Someone stuck in her 9-5 cubicle office box, box lunch, box car, box house lifestyle is in a prison, as well.  I want to talk about a “prison mindset” and why, in some ways, it is a good thing!  We all need structure and discipline to function.  Don’t you agree?  You don’t have to look too far to see the results of a hapless existence without discipline.  It goes without saying that many who lead such an existence wind up, you guessed it, in an actual prison.  Even if they don’t, as a general rule, if you won’t discipline yourself, God, society, etc. will step in and do it for you.  I think the same holds true for hubris.

To stretch the Matrix metaphor further, there are some prisoners who believe not only that they are innocent, but that they’ve successfully managed to escape from the mental prison that defines the greater society.  Some such prisoners are mentally ill, but I guess it’s all how you look at it.  It’s interesting if you consider prison from a classical conditioning viewpoint.  From the age of five onward children are subjugated to incarceration in the prison system of the educational industry known as public schools.  Those who escape from the system are considered dropouts or criminals of a sort.  In fact, according to Paulo Freire, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, all man-made institutions, be they prisons or schools, serve a single purpose:  to preserve the status quo of the ruling class, the few that oppress the rest of us, the minority that rule a vast oppressed majority.  Although Freire’s theory seems like liberal baloney to me, stop to consider – how many of our own beliefs were acquired while being institutionalized in the educational system?  Can we really claim those beliefs as our own?  Weren’t they someone else’s first?

Hey, I don’t want to convey the idea that prison is a wonderful place.  Let’s face it, while there, your routines are structured by someone else, choices are made by others, basic needs are met without any effort, you have to constantly prove and protect yourself, respect and safety is generated by inflicting fear in others, and any appearance of weakness or fear invites aggression from others.  The goal in prison is simple:  survival.  This all reminds me of something I read once in an article in The Herald Examiner in which someone was quoted as saying “There is no justice. There is only power.”  It may not be very spiritual.  But I don’t think that we stop to think enough that this is how kingdoms are won.  Did you know much of the New Testament from the Bible was written from prison?  The apostle Paul, inspired by God, was not only imprisoned, but standing in flooded excrement while jotting down much of what is now The New Testament!  So clearly, solitude can be produce some wonderful things.  You probably don’t know this, but a lot of magicians were only children.  David Copperfield, Houdini, Dunninger, and David Blaine come to mind.  Why?  It’s difficult to learn a lot of magic while older brothers are constantly coming in your room giving you wedgies, playing sports, etc.  Magic requires solitude.  Prison is solitude.

Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who survived the death camps of Nazi Germany, made a very significant discovery as he found within himself the ability to rise above his humiliating circumstances.  He became an observer, as well as a participant in the experience.  He watched others who shared in the ordeal.  He became absolutely intrigued with the question of what it was that made it possible for some to survive when others didn’t.  He looked at several factors, including their health, vitality, family structure, intelligence, and survival skills.  He finally concluded that none of these factors was primarily responsible for survival.  The single most significant factor, he realized, was a sense of future vision, a sense of meaning, the impelling conviction that they had a mission yet to perform or some important work left to do.  Many survivors of P.O.W. camps in Vietnam and elsewhere have reported similar experiences.

You don’t have to go through an unpleasant experience like Victor Frankl to develop a deep sense of purpose.  You can spend a day thinking about it right now.  In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.  This book shows a great way to set a mission statement by beginning with the end in mind.  As blasphemous as it may sound, you’re going to have to be your own Messiah.  Rely on your own strength instead of somebody else’s compassion.  Get tough and self-reliant.  By the way, I read a quote by John D. Rockefeller in The Enquirer last month to the effect that nothing is as satisfying as self-reliance and I totally agree. But don’t be confused. Don’t become a fighter in the physical sense.  Become a “Fight Avoider.”  Avoid fights without losing your dignity.

If you want to walk through the world with self-respect, you’ve got to respect yourself.  This means respecting your body.  A fat, sloppy, or skinny and weak body tends to broadcast to the world that the owner of that body is lacking self-respect.  The owner may also be lacking aggression.  Tough animals have a tendency to prey on weak or helpless animals.  Here is something else to remember, then: DEFENSIVE BEHAVIOR INVITES AGGRESSIVE ACTION!

In life in general (and in prison in particular) there is very little sympathy for a weakling.  You needn’t run out and sign up for Aikido classes.  Plain simple toughness will do.  I remember in an interview with Donald Trump, when he was asked about making business deals he quipped, “I will not be pushed around.”  I like that mindset.  Most predators, when it comes to their victims, are very practical.  Let’s face it.  If a couple of guys decide to go to the park and mug somebody, they aren’t going to pick on some big gnarly looking guy.  No, they will go after the victim who looks like easy pickup.  In fact, I believe that if you have two guys of the same height and same weight and you dress them both in a full suit of clothes that most of the time you will still be able to tell who is the toughest.  You see, when you “get tough,” not only does your appearance change; your “signals” change also.  The way you move, the way you hold yourself, your reactions to outside stimuli – all of that changes.

Basically, most people in society seem to think like criminals, anyway.  They think like those who are incarcerated in a system, trying to get their share.  Another interesting book is called Prisoners of Belief: Exposing and Changing Beliefs That Control Your Life by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning.  Its message kind of jives with my blog It Takes A Brain To Use A Brain.  The book helps you get to the foundation of your own “self-portrait,” i.e., how you see yourself.  I mean, how do you deal with other people’s anger?  Their praise?  Their criticism?  How do you deal with mistakes?  Do you cope well with stress?  Are you comfortable trying new things?  How do you express your feelings?  Are you able to say “no”?

So be your own Messiah.  Decide what your life’s mission statement is and get self-institutionalized.  Get some self-imposed structure and discipline into your life and don’t wait for for God or society to do it for you.

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