Author Archives: Joe Langen

About Joe Langen

I am a retired psychologist after thirty-five years of professional practice. I am now retired and write full time. I have published five books, all available on Amazon. I also maintain two blogs on Wordpress, Chats with My Muse Calliope and Release Your Stress and Reclaim your Life. I also distribute a free biweekly newsletter on commonsense and mindfulness topics.

What to Expect from Our Leaders Regarding Anarchy


This is my third post on ideas presented by Adrienne LaFrance in her Atlantic article The New Anarchy. These ideas center on what we can and should expect from our leaders with regard to the threat of anarchy.

The author states that leaders in all parts of government must point out the dangers and single out perpetrators. She also states that violence must be confronted where it takes root, in the minds of citizens.

She sees it as the responsibility of our leaders to help us see when we going off track and undermining our civilization by attacking it violently and ultimately destroying the framework of our civilization.

I agree that violence does not just appear of its own accord. It begins with faulty perception of what is required to improve our way of life. There are people trying to take every opportunity to gain advantage at the expense of others and use power for their own priorities rater than for the good of our country. We will look at who this includes and what to do about them in more depth in the next post.

So where do these leaders come from? Some are interested in what is best for our country and for all of its citizens. At the other extreme are individuals who gain power through money where they buy influence or trade favors for electoral advantage.

We can’t just wait for leaders who will work in the best interest of our citizens. It should not be a surprise to find that our leaders end up in positions of authority and power through our votes.

We can elect protectors of our national values or people who use power for their own ends regardless of our needs. In that sense, the leaders we have are the result of how we vote. We all have responsibility for who our leaders are when we go the polls. We will look more closely at citizen responsibility in my next post.

Anarchy or War?

This is another post stimulated by Adrienne La France’s article, The New Anarchy in The Atlantic. She stated that violence in America, which was at a peak just before World War I, “temporarily quelled the violence.” I had never heard of such a thing.

I wondered what the connection could be. How could a world war cause a reduction in domestic violence. The only explanation I could think of is there is a thirst for violence in any given society and at least in a good proportion of its citizens. War can satisfy this thirst.

The author offered her opinion that part of the explanation was that those inclined toward domestic violence left the country so they would not be subject to military draft. This suggests to me that at least some people preferred to engage in antisocial violence rather that participate in the officially approved violence of war.

I thought back to times in my life when I might have been disposed to violence. Once when I was in middle school, I recall having had a bully in the neighborhood who terrorized me as well as anyone else who crossed his path. It finally reached a point where I felt called to action. On the way home from school he made a taunting comment to me. I tackled him into a snowbank, and stuffed as much snow into his shirt as I could. I never had any further trouble with him.

My friends and I developed a game in which we tied each other up and bound the person involved to a tree. Then we waited to see how long it took for the person to work his way out and get freed.

Once we wondered how long it would take for a girl to work her way free. We tied a girl’s hands behind her back. Much to our dismay, she became frightened and ran, slipping on some stones and scraping her face. This was the dumbest thing I had ever done and it took quite a while to be seen as human again.

After eighth grade I went to a residential seminary where violence was frowned on. Just my luck to attract another bully who took to making fun of my mild obesity with rather original names he created for his pleasure and my mortification. I plotted for some time ways to get him off my back. Somehow his behavior came to the attention of the priests in charge and soon he was on the bus back home. That was the last time I had trouble with bullies or needed to plan how to deal with them.

I have had a very peaceful life since then. My father and two of my uncles always seemed to be raging about something, but no violence erupted, at least that I saw. I had three other uncles who were models of peace for me. My most peaceful uncle became a priest. I never saw him as anywhere near violence. I learned at his funeral that he had participated in the battle of the bulge and that exposure to violence does not always lead to adopting violent ways.

Challenge Yourself to Share Your Love

You don’t choose your family.
They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.

~Desmond Tutu~

Morals used to mean principles by which people lived. They were ways to make sense of the world, ourselves and our relationships. Morality was a word bandied about in this year’s election, but what does it really mean? I remember hearing a fair amount of talk about family values during the campaign without much explanation of any particulars.

When I listened closer, I did not hear much about what families, parents or children should do. Most of the focus was on what people should not do, such as abortion and gay marriage. This position implied that outlawing such practices would improve the quality of family life.

Even in families which profess strong adherence to a religion, there is still significant difficulty with infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, abuse and other problems. It does not appear that religious affiliation will always assure family harmony.

While the bible documents humanity’s struggle to come to terms with itself and with God, passages from the Bible have been used to justify genocide, war and many other destructive acts. It seems all too easy to forget there is a God who loves us all equally. Sometimes we are tempted to think we have special favor in God’s eyes and others are lesser beings.

Over the years, many religions have become institutionalized and fearful of growth. The end result can be a rigid set of rules, commanding what believers can and cannot do. At times, it seems there is more concern about the rules than about finding God. Some people appreciate a well defined path to salvation, absolving them of having to think about their path. Others have challenged tradition and forged their own way to God, sometimes being shunned or even executed for their efforts.

In the biblical story of the Magi, we learn about three wise men following a star in the heaven, avoiding entanglement in political intrigue and discovering Jesus, surrounded by animals and shepherds. There is something peaceful about this scene transcending traditional religions.

While moral guideposts can be helpful, we also need to look into our own hearts to see what lies there. What is important to us? Are we using the gifts God has given us to improve our lives and those of others whose lives we touch? Are we living what we believe instead of just professing our beliefs?

Spirituality transcends religion and connects us with God as well as with each other. In O Henry’s story, The Gift of the Magi, two spouses gave up their most precious possessions to enhance each other’s lives. It turned out that the things they gave up for themselves and bought for each other were less important than the love behind their choices. Our love for each other is the greatest gift God has given us. It is up to us to find ways we can share this gift with each other.

Action Steps

  • What does family mean to you?
  • Do you think of family rules or family love?Selection from my book
  • Do you th aink some people are more deserving of love than others?
  • How do you decide this?
  • Would feeling loved change a person for the better?

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon.



Thoughts on Anarchy: Its Causes

Adrianne LaFrance wrote an excellent and thoughtful article called The New Anarchy in the April 2023 issue of The Atlantic. I would like to comment on several points she made over my next few posts.

She writes that the conditions that making a society vulnerable to political violence are complex but well established:

  1. highly visible wealth disparity
  2. declining trust is democratic institutions
  3. a perceived sense of victimhood.
  4. intense partisan estrangement based on identity
  5. rapid demographic change
  6. flourishing conspiracy theories
  7. violent and dehumanizing rhetoric against the “other”
  8. a sharply divided electorate
  9. and a belief among those who flirt with violence that they can get away with it.

LaFrance does not state how these conditions were determined to be essential for societal vulnerability to political violence but seems to imply that are self evident and commonly accepted. If we look carefully at what goes on in the lower levels of our society, we can see all of these factors at work in creating decay and chaos in our social structure. This is not the only time in our history or in the history of other societies.

Next we will look at an interesting conundrum.

If we look at what has been happening in the past few years, we can see the presence of all of them. It seems to me that there may be other factors as well but her list gives us plenty to think about.

All of these factors have not arisen by chance. Over the course of time, we have demeaned and marginalized each other and not taken seriously the needs of all our citizens. Those left by the wayside have been most prone to suffer from the factors mentioned and to fall prey to anger about being left behind.

I’m Back

I know I said goodbye not so long ago and did not expect to be posting here again. In the past few weeks, I have received quite a number of likes for the posts I have made about my relationship with politics. I found it confusing, overwhelming and depressing.

Maybe I overreacted. I do not consider myself any kind of expert on politics and do not see myself as having any great insights into how to resolve the political conflict our country currently faces. What I do have is my bunch of concerns about where our political squabble are leading us and what they portend for the future of of our country and for the world.

I have decided to resume posting here and hope to share with you some possibilities for understanding our conflicts and ways we might be able to get past them and live in harmony. Please join me.

My next few posts will be my reaction to Adrienne LaFrance’s article in The AtlanticThe New Anarchy.

Listening to the Sound of Silence

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Everybody should have his personal sounds to listen for- sounds that will make him exhilarated and alive or quite and calm. One of the greatest sounds of them all-and to me it is a sound- is utter, complete silence.

~Andre Kostelanetz~

I haven’t been watching much television lately but I did a few nights ago. Earlier in the evening I survived a breathless used car commercial featuring overlapping shouts. There was no space between sentences and little chance to process anything being said. I think the point was to get people excited about buying a car with no time to consider the decision rationally. Later in the evening I watched a new show about a group of men going to a Benedictine monastery to reassess their lives. They were to spend six weeks there and live as the monks did.

One of the chief features of monastery life is extended periods of silence. The point is for the monks to have time to listen to God and to their own thoughts. The men were invited to try the monastic way of life. When I was younger I spent several years living in a monastery. I found myself thinking back to the times when I had periods of silence built into my daily routine.

I don’t think I appreciated silence then. I was young, restless and brash. Silence was a time when I couldn’t be doing something useful. There have been many times in my life since then when I have wished to have some silence to gather my thoughts and consider the direction of my life. I had forgotten that I have a choice of how I spent my time that I could choose to have all the silence I wanted. Instead I chose to immerse myself in the cacophony of everyday life.

There is a line from the movie Cabaret, “What Good is Sitting Alone in Your Room?” What good is standing in a forest, by the seashore or in a silent snowfall? We all enter this world alone and leave it alone. Silence gives us a chance to keep in touch with the person we are between birth and death. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. The alternative is to rush headlong in whatever direction the crowd is going, even if we are in a pack of lemmings headed for a cliff.

What would it be like if every person in the world took time to be alone? What would happen if everyone listened to their thoughts and then shared them with each other? What if we all listened to each other as we shared our thoughts? Most of us are in a hurry. I wonder how many of us think about where we are headed or what we will do when we reach our destinations.

Action Steps

  • Choose some time today to be with yourself in silence.
  • See how hard it is to shut off the outside world.
  • See if you can be comfortable just being alone with yourself.
  • Listen to hear your dreams, hopes and fears.
  • Later tell someone you care about what you learned.

Selection from my

Can You Hear Me Now?

Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of the gods.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

If you watch television at all, you have probably seen a man appearing in the most remote corners of the earth. He stops to make a call on his cell phone asking, “Can you hear me now?” It is possible to stay connected with others no matter where we are. I recently called my brother who lives in Honolulu. He answered his phone standing on a street in Las Vegas.

Even though we can stay in constant touch, is it necessary or even desirable? Due to the danger cell phones present, it was necessary to pass a law banning their use in cars. For a while I did not notice anyone calling while driving. In recent months I have noticed an increase again. A friend of mine told me of a conference she recently attended. Despite a request to turn off cell phones, the speaker was interrupted several times by electronic renditions of various melodies announcing incoming calls.

I don’t know what the calls in the cars or at the conference were about. In an airport I overheard people detailing the minute to minute progress of their trips. I am sure some calls are substantial and some even critical. But I have a feeling many are just so people can be engaged in conversation without any particular purpose. Do we really need to be in constant contact with each other?

Another meaning of the word cell occurred to me as I was thinking about this topic. A cell is also the cubicle or room a monk lives in when he is not involved in community activities. In his case, his cell is a place of solitude rather than a means of constant connection with others. Much of my writing has focused on better communication with others. But that doesn’t mean we have to engage in it constantly.

Even when we are not on the phone, there is often a radio or TV in the background. What would it be like if we spent some time in silence? We might hear our own thoughts. Maybe we would have a chance to get in touch with our hopes, fears, dreams and wishes. We might have a chance to reflect on our interactions with others, with nature, or with God.

I have suggested to over stimulated people that they turn off all the noise around them and sit in stillness for a while. It is amazing how many people find this prospect uncomfortable.

Plato said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Without stopping to reflect on our lives, we are like cogs in a machine with no awareness of our place in the larger picture. Some factories take their workers on a tour of the whole assembly line so they can understand the place and importance of their particular contribution.

A period of silence helps us understand how we fit in with those of our fellow life travelers. We have time to gain a sense of the path God has laid out and offered for our acceptance. We also get a better idea of our decisions and their implications. Rather than mindlessly plodding through life, we will be able to make more thoughtful choices.

Action Steps:

  • Do you feel it is important to be in touch with others every minute?
  • What would it be like to have a few moments of silence?
  • Can you learn to be comfortable with your own thoughts?
  • Try tuning into your own thoughts and feelings?
  • Learn to enjoy silence.

No Is a Complete Sentence


I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure which is: Try to please everybody.

~Herbert B. Swope~

Sometimes the best thing we can say to someone is no. We have focused on understanding others’ needs and responding to them the best we can. But we sometimes go overboard meeting other’s needs and forget about our own.

We are not machines and do not have endless resources. Sometimes we are exhausted or just tired. We have our own stress. Sometimes we just need to take a break. Codependence is a term from the chemical dependency field which has taken on wider use in our culture. It means going beyond our limits to take care of others, helping them avoid taking responsibility for themselves. In the process, we do harm to ourselves. Another way to put it is being too helpful.

We have physical, mental and emotional limits. Our bodies can do just so much before we become worn out. Mentally, we may not know how to help someone in a given situation. Emotionally, we can become overwhelmed by someone else’s needs, leaving us feeling helpless.

Why would someone feel the need to go to such extremes to help others? Some of us have come from families in which our own needs were not met on a physical or emotional level. We may come to see it as our mission in life to meet others’ needs at all costs.

Some of us came from families where we had a loved one who continued to struggle with issues such as alcoholism, despite our best efforts to help. Having failed to save our loved one, we may go on to find others to save. This may account for people marrying a series of alcoholic spouses, despite swearing they would never marry someone like their alcoholic parents, or feeling they learned their lesson when their first marriage to an alcoholic failed.

Some of us took on the role of caretaker in our family while we were growing up, seeing it as our job to take care of the rest of the family or to rise to the occasion when anyone needed anything.

Melody Beattie in her book, The Language of Letting Go, gives us daily exercises to help us feel okay about ourselves. In another book, Codependent No More, she helps us learn that we don’t have to depend on others for approval. Our self worth is not dependent on how helpful we are to others. We don’t have to overreact to everything in our lives and we don’t have to fix everything, especially if we did not break it.

This is not to suggest that we should forget about everyone else and just take care of ourselves. We should look for a balance in our lives, taking care of ourselves first, and then looking at how we can help within the boundaries of our ability. In looking to help others with their needs, we should also consider whether we are capable of helping them, whether they really want or need our help, and whether they will appreciate our efforts.

Action Steps

  • How clear are you in setting limits with others?
  • How good are you at accepting others’ boundaries?
  • Do you know when you efforts are being wasted?
  • Can you protect yourself from others taking advantage of you?
  • Learn to balance generosity and self protection.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon.

Hear What You Want to Hear and Disregard the Rest

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.

~John Lennon~

No, the title of this reflection is not a suggestion but paraphrases a line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer. Every time I hear it, I think about context. We don’t live in a vacuum and our words don’t live in a dictionary. Our environment influences our actions and our relationships form the context of what we say as well as hear.

The first pink hues in the sky don’t constitute the whole sunrise nor does the last hint of purple before the sun fully rises. Another example is the story of blind men touching an elephant and drawing very different conclusions about its nature depending on which part of the elephant they were exploring.

For many years, I met with couples locked in the throes of marital problems. Spouses often quoted each other, citing statements their partners had difficulty recognizing as their own. They only heard part of the story. Psychologists have a term for this, selective listening.

Why do we hear only part of what others say? One explanation lies in how we look at life. We tend to pay closer attention to statements which support or radically disagree with our point of view. The rest of the time following a conversation presents more of a challenge. We might lapse into a fog until something relevant sparks our attention.

If we agree with what people say, we compliment them for being right. If we disagree, we berate them for their ignorance. In both cases, we attend better and react more strongly if we consider a statement relevant to our lives and then, as the song says, disregard the rest.

I remember times when I took pains to explain myself carefully only to feel people completely misinterpreted what I said. I thought I should have been clearer in explaining myself. Then I realized they were listening with their ears, mind and experience, not mine. My words registered with them in the context of how they viewed life and not as I viewed it.

So what’s the point of all this? To me, it is a reminder to know my audience and how they are likely to hear what I have to say. Of course, that’s not always possible. I can’t know what other people think, especially before we start talking. My job is to be as clear as possible with my words and listen to their reaction. Then I need to find words which explain what I mean in a way others will understand. We have a choice. We can take insult when others misunderstand us or take responsibility for clarifying what we mean.

Action Steps

  • When was the last time you felt misunderstood?
  • Did you clarify what you meant or keep insisting you were right?
  • Next time, ask your audience what they heard you say.
  • Accept that language is tricky and miscommunication is no one’s fault.
  • Be patient and try explaining yourself again.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage. available at Amazon

The Legacy of Our Loved Ones

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
love leaves a memory no one can steal.

~From a headstone in Ireland~

Sometimes when people die they leave us money. Sometimes they leave us something more important- part of themselves. We think about our loved ones to keep their memory alive. We share stories of our good times, and lessons we have learned from them while they were alive. Although these memories comfort us in our loss, there is something better we can do. Rather than just treasuring our memories or sharing them with others, we can make them an ongoing part of our lives.

How do we do that? Let’s take an example. When we are having a bad day, it’s easy to let it show. We might be looking for sympathy from others. In the process we make everyone else’s day a little worse. We drag people into our troubles.

Think about loved ones who always had a kind word for everyone no matter what their mood on a particular day. Their challenges that day did not change their cheerfulness toward everyone they met. What if we act the way they did, making a point to share a little joy with everyone no matter how we feel?

If we are in the habit of complaining, doing something different will be a challenge. It will probably be a struggle at first. How would people know we are having a bad day?  Does everyone have to know we are having a bad day? Do we really get more sympathy by playing the martyr? Maybe on the surface we do. But think about how you feel about someone who complains all the time. It is a relief when they stop complaining or find someone else to complain to.

Do you have a trait which frequently gets you in trouble or annoys others? Many times we think we are stuck with who we are and can’t really change. Maybe the truth is it is too much trouble. We might not know how to go about making changes or what else we can do.

Do you have loved ones in your memory who did not act the way you do now. What they did differently from you? Imagine watching them handle the situation which gets you in trouble. Think about what they would do and at the same time imagine what they would be thinking or feeling. Can you put yourself in their place?

The next time you are in this situation, pretend you are your loved ones. Think their thoughts, take on their feelings and act as they would. In short, be them for a little while. Although strange at first, it might work better for you as well. Maybe you could make it a new habit.

Action Steps

  • Make a list of things about yourself you would like to change.
  • Pick one out and think about how your loved one would have handled it.
  • Try being that person for a little while.
  • See if you feel any different.
  • Practice you new behavior.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon.