In this week’s edition of “Time to Head North”, we speak with Psychologist Matt Larsen – Veteran and Director of Combatives at West Point – about what it means to be a warrior. The answer centers around culture, which lead us down the conversation path of tribalism, an uptick in violent crimes and the difference between respect and kindness.
“People of character seek the truth.” Matt has spent his adulthood doing just that as a evolutionary psychologist who specializes in combat psychology. Who better to lead the charge to train future warriors and leaders. Matt believes in not just teaching and memorizing combat techniques, it’s asking the question, How do we raise a culture full of people who are going to be virtuous people? Warriors but also productive members of society upon returning from war. That’s why Matt is developing a new belts system and what lead us to a fascinating discussion about how our cultural values and patterns guide our actions and thoughts.
Something that is prevalent in society right now is tribalism. People are desperate to belong and have an identity associated with a group. Matt says this can be problematic because instead of listening and having a discussion to learn, people double down on their opinions or statements and refuse to open their minds. Social media is exacerbating this.
Morality works in two ways, according to Matt. The first is signaling morality, this is essentially proclaiming righteousness of your side on an issue. “What they’re really doing is signaling loyalty to their group. A lot of the time, virtually.” The other way morality works is by shaming. “It’s enforced loyalty. If you want to be part of our group, you have to believe this.” Matt says because of this, we see people at each other’s throats. It’s happening on a national and global scale and Matt reinforces that education is key to curbing the attacks.
Education, in the form of teaching the psychology behind choosing our ingroups. This is especially important during younger and pivotal years. Teenagers get a bad rep he says, because at their age and developmental stage, fitting in is what they are learning. Matt says they can’t avoid being susceptible from peer pressure but as adults, there are things we can do to help. Instead of trying to prevent that from happening, we should encourage a group that will be a positive influence.
Admittedly this can be harder to do with different segments of society. Matt says we don’t give young people many options for success. We don’t often see shootouts in higher end neighborhoods because as Matt puts it, “Those people have a lot to lose. For people that have nothing to lose and only their reputation, violence is usually the way. ” That’s because it can get an immediate response to a need or want. Matt says, “All you have to do is get on radio channels and it’s all about violence. Here’s the kid who has or does x, y, z, that gangster guy gets the girls now.” Again, understanding the psychology of it all and offering different paths is how to abate the problem.
What we should be cautious about, according to Matt, is teaching young people that everyone should be treated with respect. “People should be treated with courtesy and kindness, but respect is earned.” Civility after all, is a method of avoiding violence. That’s why Matt says the core message to children should be treating each other with kindness, not to be confused with respect.
Hear what Matt has to say about preventing school shootings, recruiting future warriors at West Point, and how anyone can use facts to favor their opinions. This truly was a fascinating podcast and we hope you enjoy it. As always, please check back on our website for more episodes! We are here for to answer any questions or take in suggestions for future topics!