Thinking Strategically About How To Live In The 21st Century

After the Terrorist’s Attack on America
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Tuesday September 11, 2001 will live in all of our minds as a day that the world changed. Theterritory of reality that we woke up to that day revealed to us that life would no longer be “the life that we all had lived in the 20th century.” Probably it was not that the world had just then changed, it had already changed. We had not noticed. It was rather that we all, as a global community, woke up to the change on that day.

On that day we were challenged to change a lot of our understandings, beliefs, neuro_semantic definitions, and model of the world. After the hijacking of commercial jets, terrorizing innocent people on them, and turning them into weapons of mass destruction and then destroying thousands of people from nearly all countries of the world in the World Trade Center Buildings, we could no longer think of “war,” “terrorism,” “madmen,” “crime,” “criminal mentality,” etc. in the old ways. From now on we would have to change our paradigms.

In this sense Tuesday September 11 became a signal event designating an entirely new and different way of thinking about life in the 21st century. We even have to think about “patriotism” in a different way. No longer can we think about the people of our Country against the rest of the world, the people of our race against the rest of the races, the people of our religion against those of the rest of the religions, etc. The terrorists slaughtered Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Moslem, etc. They indiscriminately turned their weapons on people of all kinds of political persuasions. Theirs was a sick toxic fanaticism driven by hatred, anger, and insecurity … a political psychosis that had broken with the human shared reality that treats human life and dignity as basic.

  • How shall we now live?
  • How do we need to update our mental maps about these things?
  • How can we use the modeling tools of NLP and Neuro-Semantics to empower us to live more effectively in this new century?

While none of us have all of the answers, we do have enough of the answers to begin to forge a map that will enable us to navigate in the unknown dangers that face us. I offer the following as suggestive.

1st We Have to Wage War
Against the Psychosis of Terrorism & Fanaticism

There are sick, toxic, and utterly destructive ideas. There are “wrong” ideas. We have to get over the political correctness of thinking that all ideas are equal. They are not. Some beliefs are sick. True enough, no “belief” is “true” or “false” in any absolute sense. Yet while there is a “relativity” to all beliefs in the sense that they are all human constructs, this does not make them all equal or equally useful or valid.

Some beliefs so wrongly map out the way to be in the world that they are utterly destructive. They are comprised of thought-viruses that undermine the well-being of all human beings.

There is a limit to free speech. In the USA we have made it illegal to yell “Fire” in a crowded building. We have taken away the right to express ourselves in that way. Why? Because we know that the symbolism of language is not neutral. Language carries neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic effects. Language signals our nervous systems, body, physiology, and motor programs to do things.

Perhaps now the media, especially the Entertainment Industry, will get over their toxic belief and P.R. delusion that what they present and represent in movies, songs, plays, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. is “just entertainment.” It is not. It never has been. It never will be. For a symbolic-class of life, a class of life that lives and breaths and has its being based upon symbols, symbols are never neutral. Symbols are always semantically loaded. And the media operates in the field of symbols.

The sick and toxic Games that Hitler played with the world was expressed in symbols–in the words and ideas that he wrote in Meine Kampf. He dispensed in words his psychotic thought viruses about race superiority and inferiority, about blood purity, about the right to exterminate the lower forms of life (the races he didn’t like). He also dispensed it in his speeches, mass rallies, and pamphlets.

More recently neo-Nazi groups influenced the boys at Columbine High School and played upon their anger, rage, insecurity, and shame. Through the use of language and symbols, they poisoned them with the destructive mental virus and invited them to play Terrorists Games to their own destruction.

In both instances there was the original sickness. Then there was the multiplication of that toxic thought virus by “believing in that belief.” This meta-state created fanaticism. It created dogmatism. It provided a validity for the infected persons to act out their psychotic delusions.

This is why any and every extremist position politically, religiously, and philosophically that comes to believe in its beliefs, and then discount any evidence or data to the contrary creates a sick and toxic mental state.

This is true for Christian fundamentalism and Moslem fundamentalism. It’s true for even right-wing conservative political fundamentalism and even for left-wing liberal political fundamentalism. It lies in the very nature of fundamentalism to believe in its belief, to close the mind to contrary evidence, to then arrogant its “rightness,” to feel proud about being right, etc. This opens people up to then jump yet another logical level and to actually begin believing that they have a “manifest destiny” to act on their beliefs and to impose them on others. This is where the thought-viruses become psychotic. This is where the deranged mental mapping now endangers innocent people.

It is at this point that the “believers” are no longer healthy, respectful, loving, humble, and open to reason in their believing. They have become what Eric Hoeffer called “true believers” –fanatics. They have confused their maps with the territory. They have forgotten that all of their thoughts and their “beliefs” are but human ideas and constructs– fallible and subject to error.

It is here that the NLP and NS models of human functioning, thinking, feeling, and acting offers an antidote to this sickness. As we enable people everywhere to recognize the Map/Territory distinction, we invite people into a more humane, sane, and scientific point of view. No one can be a Terrorist who knows and keeps refreshing this difference. The Map/Territory distinction keeps us humble, open to new information, receptive for how we could be wrong, and willing to question our own assumptions. The Map/Territory distinction keeps us from over-identifying with our ethnic origins, racial heritages, religious and philosophical beliefs, homeland, etc. It invites us into a higher patriotism– the patriotism of being a human being and of a higher racial point of view– being a member of the human race. [Patriotism literally refers to “love of one’s country” yet patrios and pater (father) can just as easily refer to the entire world, the entire human race.]

NLP and NS gives us the ability to more directly and mindfully quality control the thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and models circulating in the media. It gives us the ability to create a series of questions that we can ask about the content of the things that we write and the movies that we create:

  • Does this idea support people as people?
  • Does it enhance respectful conflict resolution?
  • Does it enable people to be more thoughtful, questioning, less dogmatic, more sane, more scientific in their approach, more open to reasoning and dialogue?

Any belief or belief system that undermines human dignity, that creates barriers between people of different cultures and races, between different theological and philosophical belief systems, and that promotes hatred, distrust, rage, revenge, etc. should not be allowed to be expressed in a civilized world any more than we allow the yelling of “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

2nd We Have to Attach Massive Pain
To Those Involved in the Psychosis of Terrorism & Fanaticism

It is not only the right, but the sacred duty of Governments to protect its citizenry. Coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, this principle is well-established in the Bible. We also find it in most other religions and philosophies. This means the right of the State to hunt down, punish, and even eliminate any and every threat to its people, to civilized life, to the freedoms and rights of the its people. This gives us the right to act as a body politic. This establishes the right for police and military action. And this is what preserves the life, liberty, rights, etc. of any nation.

We in NLP and NS know this is also true neurologically. From a neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic point of view, we know that it lies in the very our nature of our body and nervous system to move toward pleasure and away from pain. We don’t have to invent these mechanisms. They are wired into our bodies and minds. Attach massive pleasure and we move toward something; attach massive pain and we are out of there. Every one of us is wired to so respond.

In NLP/NS, we call these toward/away from energies a “propulsion system.” They simultaneously push and pull us; they create the attractions and aversions of life. And we even use this distinction as a meta-program distinction as we read people. We use it to recognize any given person’s first tendency (Toward / Away From) and the specific content items that a given person uses. We also know that if we play on the Desires (attractions) and Fears/Angers (aversions) of a person, we can increase our communications to make them maximally impactful. It’s just the way the neuro-semantic system works.

In terms of managing change, coaching, counseling, and psychological work with people, we use the distinction to bring about transformation. It’s what we do on a daily basis as we work with people. We attach massive pleasure and massive pain.

Yet we do not do this with those convicted of crime. We have the technology whereby we could “rehabilitate” them. But we do not. I say that from my experience over the years of working as a psychologist with hundreds of men going into and out of the Department of Corrections in the State of Colorado. With them I conducted more Anger Control Trainings than I can remember. I conducted trainings in “life skills” seeking to integrate men coming out of the Federal Prison in Canyon City and worked with individuals sent to county jail.

The “pains” that the State, local, and Federal governments attached to these men and their behaviors were not “massive.” Not by a long shot. And the men knew it. And a great many of them played that to the hilt. They took advantage of everything they could to file grievances, lawsuits, to blame, to accuse, to create a sense of security in their prison life, etc. All of this seemed to direct their attention away from what they could do to improve themselves. Very few seemed interested in that.

I have mentioned many times in Trainings that they most surprising Frame of Mind I found among the prison population was a high Moralistic Frame. They were so “sensitive” to injustice. Any “unfairness” and they would become outraged in a nana second. One fellow told his story of going through a red light, having a policeman come after him with red lights flashing, and by the time the policemen got to his car he was so worked up about being “treated unfairly” and “taken advantage of,” that he got out of the car and slugged him.

“That probably made things a lot better.” I said. And I said it as a joke, as a way to step back from it and evaluate it, to see if that short-term pleasure was really worth it.

But the man didn’t lighten up. With a serious and still angry tone, he said, “You bet your ass, it did!”

Usually I do not want to explore much content with people. But with him I couldn’t resist. Why? Mostly because his frame of mind was so foreign to mine. I really couldn’t imagine what “good” he thought he derived or could derive from slugging a policeman. So I asked.

“I’m not going to be treated unfairly. No one is going to pull that B.S. on me! Not me.”

“I suppose you’ve heard that the world is not fair…”

“Don’t give me that B.S.!” he quickly shot back, interrupting me and becoming enraged.

“A long time ago I decided that for me, and this is just for me,” I said, “… that I didn’t expect the world to be fair and that sometimes I would get a bum rap about this or that, but that I would do the best I could with what I have … and not get all that wrapped up about whether something was exactly fair or not.”

“Not me! I expect the world to be fair and I’m not going to take less and by God, I’ll slap anyone around who mistreats me.”

He just couldn’t help himself. His frame of mind was rigid and dogmatic about his need to be treated fairly. The Moralistic Frame had been elevated to a place where it was toxic for him. But he didn’t see it. Now his “moral” frame did not make him a crusader for the rights of others, he only crusaded for his own rights and so he was so quick to see mistreatment, injustice, and unfairness everywhere.

Did he experience jail time as “massive pain?” No way. In fact, I later discovered that he didn’t think of Federal Prison as all that bad. He spoke about it as a decent place. He didn’t have to work, didn’t have to worry about bills, didn’t have to “fool around with idiots.”

He and others taught me something else. They feared the Death Penalty. Prison was fine, but the Death Penalty, that was a different story. Two had moved to Colorado from some states that had the death penalty, saying that they didn’t want to take that chance. Several told me that they didn’t mind getting into fights and brawls, or even using knifes, getting caught would only involve a matter of time that they would have to serve. Using guns was out of the question for them.

For them, the “massive pain” of the Death Penalty was just too much.

There’s many other ways that we could attach “massive pain” to prison life that I personally think would turn our prisons into places where “rehabilitate” would actually become possible. It would undoubtedly not be nice. It would not respect all of their rights and privileges as citizens, but it would get their attention and create a mental image that would give others a pause about committing crimes.

For instance?

I would recommend that every man convicted of a sexual abuse crime: sexual molestation, violent rape, etc. be castrated. Make that the automatic penalty and watch the effect of what attaching massive pain to an activity. If he misused his sexual organs and violated innocent people, he can live without them.

As long as prison is not all that unpleasant of a place, as long as its a place where we mostly just warehouse people and let them learn even more “the ways of crime,” recidivism rates will be extremely high and the individuals will not be rehabilitated for living a different kind of life.

3rd We Have to Develop Political and Group Models
For Empowering Dialogue, Understanding, and Conflict Resolution

The way the media presents news and information is an utter travesty of the human mind in terms of accuracy, precision, and usefulness. I have found this true regarding the way the media operates in the USA and in many other countries around the world. The media operates mostly by presenting short sound-bites of information in formats that encourage dogmatic, black-and-white, linear thinking, etc. Seldom do we find programs where participates debating an issue ever ask questions and actually dialogue. They debate, argue, make speeches, lecture, moralize, and teach. Very seldom do they seem to listen or ask questions.

“Debate” programs have been growing in popularity on American television and radio programs. And the program directors know that the more extreme the speakers, the better for ratings. Yet this only models debate, taking positions, arguing, and snide remarks and insults. It does not model healthy conflict resolution based on respect, understanding, asking hard questions, saying “I don’t know,” and the sharing of perspectives.

From a neuro-semantics standpoint, if we “have to be right,” if we “cannot tolerate even the idea of being wrong,” if we are fearful of failure or even worse, embarrassment, then we cannot engage someone of a different opinion with an open mind. That in turn prevents learning. It prevents resolution.

You would think that after the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s that Political leaders today, at least in the USA, would know better than to become defensive and engage in all kinds of cover-ups, that if they would just come out, own up to a flaw or mistake, they would experience a lot more resilience. But no. The need to protect their reputation and the fear of acknowledging even the slightest possibility of doing wrong still predominates. We saw this to the shame and even impeachment of President Clinton a couple years ago. From his “I did not have sex with that woman” to his confession of sin at the Prayer Breakfast, he could have saved a whole nation lots of grief, investigations, millions of dollars, etc. if he had just owned up to his misbehaviors and gotten on with it.

Political leaders need a healthy and appropriate models for being congruent, authentic, and ethical. And ethical doesn’t mean without faults, without human fallibilities. It means being willing to own up to being a fallible human being, acknowledge weaknesses, take appropriate actions to correct things and then to move on.

Leadership itself is the art of managing meanings and to manage meaning, as we know in NS is a function of the skill of framing. What a leader in any field mostly does is to provide a way to think, frame, interpret, and understand things. Yet if a leader does not know how to discern the current frames, then he or she cannot and will not be very effective in generating new meanings. The leader will not be able to discern what old frames need to be addressed, then deframed, reframed, or outframes.

4th We Have to Develop More Powerful Models & Tools
For Personal Mastery and Resourcefulness

What saved the fourth jet from being used as a weapon of mass destruction was the fact that at least 3 or 4 individuals on that flight rallied to stop the terrorists. Perhaps there were others on the other planes and they just didn’t have time or were just not successful. But on the fourth jet there were men and women, in the air and on the ground (their wives and loved ones) who tapped into the personal resourcefulness to take effective action at the critical moment. And that, perhaps even more than any and everything that governments can do, will enable us to win the War against Terrorism in the 21st century.

Here again, the NLP and especially the NS models provide the tools and technology for achieving this. NLP does this because it is all about getting men and women to “run their own brains.” And when we can run our own brains, we can then begin managing our own states. We can manage our negative states so that we do not do damage to ourselves or others when we experience them, and we can manage our positive states by identify the states of excellent that enable us to operate with love, compassion, passion, commitment, faith, perseverance, power, focus, etc.

Neuro-Semantics takes this even further by providing tools for creating the higher frames of mind that enable us to access states of personal mastery and genius, states wherein we live out of and for much higher intentional states. This creates a sense of power and resourcefulness. It enables us to handle the challenges with more resilience, un-insult-ability, commitment, focus, etc.

Already such technology can and does eliminate irrational fears and phobias, frees people from old traumas of the past, inoculates people against current traumatic events and enables them to resiliently bounce back into the adventure of life, live for purposes much larger than just themselves, to transcend selfishness and weak ego-strength. Already we have technology in NLP/NS that can transform old habits, break through to new skills of creativity and productivity, and rehabilitate people addicted by old toxic beliefs.

We already have technology that can transform the field of education, psychotherapy, and health. We already have technology that can transform people so that they are healthier, happier, more engaged in life, more proactive in their choices, more able to create wealth and productivity, etc. We now only need larger level models for creating a tipping point with NLP/NS so that it enters the mainstream of everyday life. This is our current challenge. And it does mean that we (the NLP/NS communities) get our acts together–stop the scarcity, the fussing, and the incongruency.

NLP and NS is not a substitute for theology, philosophy, or ethics. NLP/NS are just a model for how to encode, represent, and frame the great and awesome ideas of human dignity, the value of life, respect, love, compassion, cooperation, equality, democracy, spirituality, etc. NLP/NS is mostly about structure and process, not content. It’s a meta-discipline or domain that offers the structure of how these experiences work.

In the field of Neuro-Semantics, we are currently working on bringing NLP/NS to critical mass through the development of the Frame Games model (that makes Meta-States and NLP more user-friendly). To that end, there are several Societies of NS around the world, and dozens of Institutes of NS already established or in the process of being established. Come and join the NS revolution.


How Shall we Live in the 21st century?

We need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” to quote Jesus in the gospels. We need to recognize that toxic beliefs can create great harm and “evil” in our world if misused … as it did on September 11, 2001 with the terrorist’s attack in America. We need to open our eyes to both the possibilities and the dangers of modern life … and preparing ourselves to fight such “evil.”

We need to take a tougher stance against fanaticism and terrorism and to use our stubborn intolerance to refuse to put up with morbid beliefs that threaten the well-fare of our world.

We need to develop better global, political, and national models so that we cut out all of the senseless waste of time and energy on minor differences and invite the human race to step up to new levels of cooperation, congruence, leadership, etc.

We need to get the NLP/NS models for resourcefulness into the mainstream consciousness so that we can rejuvenate the schools, governments, business community, families, etc.


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. is a psychologist turned entrepreneur who lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. He developed of the Meta-States model and has co-founded Neuro-Semantics with Dr. Bob Bodenhamer. Michael is an international trainer in Neuro-Semantics and prolific author.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.