Richard Thieme News

by rthieme on May 21, 2013

Hello! I will be using this section of my home page to keep you updated on current projects, plans, things I’m thinking about, articles, speaking engagements, etc.

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some thoughts on countermeasures as a foundation for further thinking on strategies published in AFCEA’s SIGNAL …. Also published at the (ACD) American Center for Democracy –


Countermeasures to a Real Threat: Thoughts in a Dire Time

July 27, 2017

By Richard Thieme


The mind of society is the battlefield in the current global struggle for geopolitical domination. The uses of soft power dominate in this battle and information warfare is the name of the game—not “cyber war” in all the ways it has been described but the influence and ultimately control of individual minds that, like cells in a body, make up the Mind of Society. Then control is used as leverage to achieve objectives that are often hidden.

The recent illumination of Russian operations in this area has received a great deal of publicity. Russian operations of this kind are by no means new or unique but the scale is unprecedented. This is thanks to distributed means of communication, which in turn created distributed digital islands of simulated life as a habitat on which more and more people (some of the time) and some of the people, all of the time, live their lives. The fragmented efforts of the United States and her allies to defend our mindspace and respond with equally effective operations have been less than adequate.

Effective countermeasures require unified, coordinated strategies recognized to have a high priority so that they will in fact be executed. They require clout, funding and leadership to succeed. Once executed, they need to be evaluated to determine their efficacy. Offensive strategies must attack enemies as they attack us, by gaining access to the insides of their hives and securing the queen, not easy to do when the control of the information space in authoritarian and dictatorial regimes closes many of the gaps that in our more open society leave us unprotected.

The Russians have several advantages.

(1) Russian organized crime is protected by a global criminal network and the state security apparatus. The United States often operates from a condition of implicit detente with organized crime but not with obvious cooperation, which is a force multiplier. At the same time, cooperation enables malicious state actors to feign plausible deniability—as if, for example, Russian or Chinese hackers operate independently of state approval. The kind of alliance forged by the United States with the Mafia during World War II is needed to level this particular playing field, but for that to be acceptable, the dire nature of the threat must be as clearly apparent as the threat from the Axis during World War II. Then winning does become the only thing.

(2) The ancient Romans knew that a primary means of domination and control was a network of roads. Their roads were physical, however. The roads in question today are digital. Access to every level of a democratic society is available, while access to closed societies and censored networks are curtailed. “Back doors” and software and hardware exploits have provided multiple access points to critical infrastructure, sufficient to create a form of mutually assured destruction, but that is not the same as access to propaganda networks masquerading as journalism in enemy countries, nor to their effective use to deceive and distort over time.

Russians have built those roads.

(3) The psychological effects of the erosion of trust and confidence in our institutions, in journalism, in a shared consensus about what is or is not factually true, cannot be denied, minimized or rationalized away. The sophisticated testing of effective and lasting memes, for example the birther movement, can then collect uncritical citizens like real birds in digital cages and move the cages into desired positions. That has had a profound effect on morale. The mind of our society doubts itself, which is one major objective of soft power, as doubt and mistrust weaken the bonds that hold together a free society.

(4) Legions of soft warriors are deployed in great numbers with intentionality and vigor. The Russian disinformation campaign in the Baltic states, for example, employed hundreds of individual bloggers, but all fed into the persona of a single person. The same was done here during the recent election.

(5) The brain is designed to believe what it thinks it sees. Evolution favors those who act on what they think is real and dangerous and then reflect later, while those who pause in the moment are doomed.  Designer scenarios, conspiracy theories and malicious memes pass with the help of repetition through the filters of even the best-educated critical thinkers. They seem to come from multiple sources, reinforcing the deception.

NATO forces have dedicated a cadre to monitor the major themes of Russian propaganda, for example, but it was discovered that even though they knew they were reading and analyzing propaganda for the purpose of understanding it, they came to believe assertions they encountered again and again—despite knowing they were lies. The well-educated might believe they would not do this, which only makes them more vulnerable and easier to dupe. Hubris is the opiate of the overly educated.

Here are just a few possibilities for responding:

(1) During the cultural cold wars of the ’50s and ’60s, the CIA was full of cowboys free to execute some pretty wild strategies and the decision was made to covertly create global organizations intended (ironically) to celebrate the virtues of a free, open society. That paradox persists and will persist in the national security state we have become. Once we acknowledge that fact, we can apply appropriate limitations to covert warfare waged that way and do it with finesse. In that prior time, the CIA covertly published more than 1,000 books, made films, sponsored periodicals and formed alliances with major news outlets of the day as well as several hundred journalists. The Communist threat justified covert action on that scale. We can apply those lessons in appropriate ways to structures available for manipulation inside enemy lines, being wary of blowback in a global village. Fabricated environments must be grafted seamlessly onto the cognitive artifacts already in the heads of enemy populations as they have been here.

(2) A wide range of synchronized measures must be directed at the systemic weaknesses of authoritarian states. One characteristic of warfare is the exaggeration of the power of an enemy. But their weaknesses are many, and the opportunities for exploiting them are many as well. There are numerous opportunities other than the executive branch for sourcing those strategies.

(3) A cardinal objective of network warfare is to degrade the reliability, trustworthiness and cohesion of the cells in the network. Selective “leaks” from highly placed officials, designed to point to a targeted individual, will diminish trust in a loyal person and conversely can magnify trust in a weak or disloyal one. Big links can be made small and small links can be made to look big. This strategy undermines the credibility of the entire network. Suspecting a mole can be as dangerous as having a mole.

(4) The explosion of alt.right structures is a proof of concept of how easy it is to gather uncritical thinkers and bind them to one another with distortions and lies that meld seamlessly with their core beliefs. One of those core beliefs is the disintegration of the American dream as a motivating force. The most patriotic thing this country can do is enable a majority to believe in America in a genuinely hopeful and realistic way based on facts and opportunities rather than false promises that only make people more cynical.

Last but not least, here’s a noble hope: a massive effort at education that emphasizes critical thinking and how to distinguish truth from lies, document facts, do good research and recognize bad research. That multi-generational project perhaps more than any other can create a populace that is mentally well-armed and suitable recruits for this very real war.

Americans have demonstrated in the past that, once awakened to the seriousness of a real threat, they will sacrifice a great deal to meet and defeat it. With effective leadership, that can happen again.

Richard Thieme ( is a Minneapolis-based author and professional speaker. He has published four books in the past seven years and has spoken for corporations, including Medtronic, Microsoft, GE, Johnson Controls and Allstate Insurance, and addressed security-related and IT issues for the National Security Agency, the Secret Service, the Department of the Treasury, the FBI, Los Alamos National Lab and the Pentagon. He spoke at DEF CON this summer for the 22nd year.



by rthieme on June 27, 2017


by Richard Thieme


We are continually challenged these days to restructure a sense of who we are in response to rapidly changing conditions and reinvent ourselves. A career change, the end of a time of life, a major life event like marriage or divorce or selling a home and moving — any one of those can trigger the dismantling of a life structure that had become habitual. The event loosens the screws that held the structure together and we see it for what it is — a momentary accommodation to the context that framed it but which had become invisible over time. It’s a rickety structure, too, not as earthquake-proof as we thought.

The process of dismantling a life structure reveals that we build psychological structures too — “cognitive artifacts” — that fit seamlessly the external conditions in which we live. We live inside that doll’s house as if it is and always will be who we are.

A friend responded to our decision to sell our home of thirty years and move to another city by saying, she sure couldn’t do that yet because all of her “stuff” brought up so many memories. My experience is that all stuff is attached to memories and while some are useful and practical, their significance is often related to the intensity of those memories. Dismantling my home and home office meant reevaluating everything in the house. The practical concern asked, Is it still useful? But the emotional concern asked, Is it still supportive of who I am — now? Everything was attached to memories I had knitted into an identity that was suddenly up for grabs. Selling and buying, moving from one city to another, was primarily a psychological event.

All of the seemingly external structures of our lives are “objective correlatives” of psychological events, cognitive artifacts that we create to sustain a self-image, a persona, a life-style, a way of thinking about who we are. The others in our life support that self-image either actively or by not questioning it. The things with which we surround ourselves prop that self-understanding up. When we dismantle, we discover that the components of our identities are modular and fluid like images on a computer screen.

The walls of my home office were decorated with photographs, posters from book-signings and significant speeches, book shelves full of books that were “memory markers” of times of life, people, places, and events that supported a persona I created when I reinvented myself as an author, speaker and internet presence. The objects clustered around me as I worked in that office and helped me think of myself as “that person.” File cabinets contained hundreds of pages of notes and research material and correspondence, records of my life that felt “real.”

Then my daughter said at just the right time, “you can see the future, so why not move here before it arrives?” and we realized she was right. That decision triggered the dismantling process that became an adventure as we sorted the detritus of the past that had settled all around us.

The low hanging fruit was easy to discard, sell, or give away. Then handling the “good stuff” evoked intense memories and the past replayed vividly like a voice-over. But in the end, we didn’t keep much, for an important reason – the dismantling process generated its own momentum, increasing positive energy and feelings of liberation. We reduced 9 rooms of “stuff” to 3. I shredded hundreds of pages as I went through files and realized I’ll never have that client again or speak for that venue again. Each time I discarded more, I felt lighter, more free, as the mass-bound energy of the past dissipated and I rose as in buoyant waters toward air I could breathe deeply, experiencing intimations of who I had quietly become while I was busy fulfilling a different role. That gave me the freedom to choose who to be next, which attributes to jettison and which to keep and recontextualize in a new frame. Adopting a new persona is an act of both discovery and creation, and with the wind at my back, it was exhilarating.

When the truck unloaded at our new place, we realized that we did not miss even the smaller cache of things we had kept. George Carlin was right. A house is a shell for stuff. The psychic reality, what we call “home,” is inside our heads and can become as cluttered as an attic full of junk. Dismantling one means cleaning out the other.

I am rebuilding a sense of who I am now from the inside out. All those artifacts were like an exoskeleton which provided strength but enclosed me in behaviors that became less flexible. It did the job for years but as Updike wrote during a divorce, if temporality were held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds. The moral of his stories, he concluded, is that all blessings are mixed.

This dismantling process is a revelation of what stuff does – and does not – mean. When the house is empty, it becomes an empty shell from which meaning has vanished. It is a corpse-like likeness of a body without an animating spirit.

Design ripens over summers of time but when the fruit is ready to fall, it falls fast and leaves the stem at a mere touch. Only bare branches can once again bear fruit. The readiness is all.


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It’s True What They Say About Aging

by rthieme on April 19, 2017

It’s True What They Say About Aging

by Richard Thieme

There are lots of funny stories about the erosion of physical and mental processes as we age, and it’s true that when I meet old friends near my age (73) or older, we often spend the first half of the conversation discussing health issues, friends we have lost, and making jokes about ears, eyes, skin and all the rest. We talk about how hard it is sometimes to sleep through the night while sleeping in front of the television is a breeze.

All that’s part of the game. But there’s a bigger game afoot, a corollary to the slow erosion of our senses, and it’s a surprising benefice. I’m talking about the growth of insight, even wisdom, as our perspectives lengthen like the shadows of an early sunset as winter approaches and we see more deeply into the life of things.

Jokes abound about short-term memory loss and not knowing what you came downstairs to get. But something more important happens to memory. Long-term memories are more vivid, sharper, more readily at hand. Images in dreams follow suit, manifesting with greater intensity. The longer reach of memory provides the perspective which enables us to see the real relative value of things.

In addition, detachment from many of the emotional investments we made in the past just … sort of happens … and it’s good detachment, neither indifferent nor uncaring, but a recognition of the diminished importance of so much we thought was such a big deal once upon a time. We cared so much, we see, about things that mattered so little, and time is short, so we had better give our energy and attention to what matters most.

That detachment occurs in part because when we think about things we have done, places we have gone, the images are somehow flatter and don’t grab attention with the urgency they once did. They move with greater fluidity through our minds. Contemplation of our histories is like watching branches flow past in a fast-moving stream. And time runs faster, and faster, and faster.

We don’t have to work at this – aging always brings new phases of growth, new developmental stages arrive gradually but seem to arrive suddenly, as surprising as all the others when they first kicked in, from adolescence to midlife.

I read a book called The Seasons of a Man’s Life about 50 years ago. It provided an orderly succession of developmental phases and gave them names, but when it reached the mid sixties, it called the rest of the journey “senescence,” a polite way of saying, “beyond these isles be monsters and the deep.”

Longevity has made a mockery of that taxonomy of growth. The sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties carry their own challenges and rewards, like all of the other stages. The fastest growing segment of the US population by percentage is 100 and older. I remain robustly non-retired and continue to travel the world to give speeches – the part of the brain that does that and engages with audiences for hours seems better than ever – and I have published four books in the last six years. I never would have anticipated that and would never have predicted it. But my focus is changing, I want to address what matters most and not waste precious time on what matters little in the bigger picture — and it is the ability to take a step back and contemplate things and simply see that bigger picture that comes with age.

Viagra jokes aside, the progressive lessening of intense sexual desire which once pervaded every waking hour makes room for a sublimation of sexuality into a different kind of love, not just love for special partners, but a more general love that is concentrated and focused on whoever is before us. We relish the achievements and the promise of youth as the unity of life claims our allegiance more and more. We owe what we have, what we are, to the world. The technical term in Greek is “agape,” a selfless love directed at just about everyone, and a love for being, for creation itself. That happens more and more. We’re still ourselves, but the ability to revere others ripens. We know the difference we each make is very little, but we also know it is the totality of the difference we can make, and we are here to make that difference while we can.

The special love for partners evolves too – it includes greater degrees of gratitude, respect, even piety toward the other that transcends mere affection – and as the more manipulative search for an emotional buzz wanes, the desire to nurture, support, care for others grows.

So yes, there are struggles to adapt as the cold friction of expiring sense, as Eliot put it, becomes a daily challenge, and there is genuine grief for what is lost, but the compensatory expansion of understanding and feeling, what I am trying but failing to describe adequately, expands our opportunities in rich and unexpected ways. We want to make this torch of life in our hands blaze even more brightly while we can, as Shaw said, and be all used up when we die.

In the moment, there is nothing but life to live with intensity and ardor and mindfulness and focus. We hope we have miles to go before we sleep, but however many miles there are, here and now is where we are, and here and now is the opportunity to use our power to reach out and make the difference that we can.


Richard Thieme is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee and Minneapolis. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, NML, WE Energies, UOP, and Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.


Marriage and Divorce

And now for something a little different.

I was an Episcopal clergyman for sixteen years and this post derives from that time and that context (1977-1993). In the Episcopal Church, a lectionary specifies three lessons to be read each Sunday over a three year cycle – one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the New Testament, and one from one of the Gospels. So there are three different lessons every week for three years. It’s like turning over Tarot cards, in a way (Tarot cards contain archetypal images), in that the charge to the preacher is to “read the space” of the group mind of the congregation in light of the archetypal images in the lessons, which are generally narrative images (word pictures) of renewal, contextual change, deliverance, transformation, or healing. Clergy are expected to illuminate how one or more of the lessons make sense for the people with whom they have engaged during the week, often in counseling situations, and whose collective concerns they have internalized and abstracted, and on Sunday morning, with that internalized abstraction ready at hand, I would read the emotions or energies of the people assembled and follow the “ley lines” of the group psyche into the collective consciousness (and unconsciousness) that I intuitively discerned to be there.

Once in a while that lottery of lessons produced a zinger. On Sunday, October 3, 1982, when I had been divorced from my first wife for six months, the lesson from the Gospel of Mark confronted me with the tension between my all-too-human life and the ideal articulated in the Gospel. My charge, as always, was to do justice to that tension, preaching with honesty and integrity from my own experience in light of the call to a wholeness humans have difficulty reaching. This sermon was an attempt to honor both marriage and divorce and respect married people and divorced people alike.

I was married one year later, and I met the woman who was to become my wife on October 2, 1982, the night before I had to preach on this lesson. The next morning, after people in the congregation had gone home, I called her and said that everyone has been kind and loving but now they were all gone, and I had all these raw feelings left over and no one to share them with. She said, I was hoping you would call, and we spent the rest of the day together. Two weeks later, I told her, I’m going to marry you, she said, you’re crazy, and we were both right. On October 15, 1983, one year later and one third of a century ago, we were married. We have been sharing feelings and more ever since.

The sermons I preached then were attempts to articulate a genuinely spiritual perspective true to my experience and also true to the upward call. The charge was to close the angle if one could, a little bit, and tack (as it were) closer and closer to the wind. Sailors know you can never align perfectly with the wind, just as humans know you can never become the ideal, so life consists of tacking back and forth across the wind, closer and closer to the wind but never hitting it just so. It’s like a Lorenz attractor, a fractal to the defining point of which we can come infinitely close but never touch. I encourage you to watch a simulation of the Lorenz attractor in action on your computer. (Another way to say this is, we notice that golden mean over our shoulders as we pass it, going back and forth, and turn around to come back toward it, hopefully coming closer and closer).

So this post is not about politics, security, or technology. It is about life, and as I am more and more inclined to reflect on genuine spirituality at this point in my life, I am choosing to publish past reflections like this one. It was delivered from an explicitly Christian base, but can be understood in the context of any tradition or no tradition. It is about life, real life.

Richard Thieme on Divorce and Marriage, a sermon delivered at St. James Episcopal Church on October 3, 1982, on Mark 10:2-9: “Some Pharisees came up to Jesus and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his. wife?’ He answered, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has Joined together, let not man put asunder.”

Some gospels are easier to preach on than other gospels. When I checked these lessons a week ago, I thought, surely I must be in the wrong Lectionary. Surely I can use Lectionary A or C instead of B. But no matter how I tried to get around it, this was the gospel for the day. So I presume from that that this is the one on which I am intended to preach. Also, as I try to do with all the gospels, it is one about which I am intended to tell the truth of my life as much as possible, both God’s truth as I understand it and my own truth as I have experienced it.

I was sitting the other night with a couple new to St. James, and we were talking about divorce. We were talking about the process of going through a divorce [pause] – I just realized that I assume that, since the whole parish family is my family, everyone knows what I have gone through this past year. For those of you who don’t know, I was divorced about six months ago after separating nearly a year ago, and that was an occasion for the whole community to deal with the issue, in an implicit way but not in an explicit way, because at that point I didn’t think it was appropriate, given what I was experiencing, to speak in a way that did not yet have distance and therefore authenticity about what I was going through. I would have just put out my personal situation and emotions in a way that was not helpful.

That was almost a year ago, and I have had a chance to experience a lot since then and to think about it. So I think this is an appropriate time in which to bring in my own personal situation in a way that is appropriate – so, as I was saying, I was visiting this couple, and we were talking about divorce, I was talking about my divorce and each of them had been divorced before and were in a second marriage. And at one point she said, “Do you really think that God is angry with us?” It seems to me that that is a key question which this gospel invites us to ask. Because the gospel is very clear. It says a husband and a wife are a psychic unity and are intertwined in a deep and inseparable way that ought not to be torn apart. When I look out at so many of you who I know are divorced or have been divorced and are in second marriages, we have to ask the question, “What does the scriptural text really say to us about all this, given the circumstances of our lives? What in the world is going on here?”

We can approach this from a sociological perspective. It’s good background but we don’t need to dwell on it. We all know what pressures are on families today and what pressures are on couples. Couples and marriages used to be part of extended families, used to have uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters and so on and so forth around so that all the pressures of life did not come to focus on one primary relationship. They were diffused through a network of relationships. Most of us today move from one place to another and the marital relationship has come to bear much more of the burden and stress of modern life than it ought to. Home can’t be the only place you take your stress. It just doesn’t work. You have to find a way to diffuse it. Now, I’m talking about marriage really, although it sounds like I’m talking about divorce. Just as the work we do with the dying really is teaching us about life, and looking at the stages of dying is important for what we learn about how to live, while I’m talking about divorce, I’m really talking about marriage.

Divorce is epidemic. It is epidemic in that it is catching, and that tells us something about the social nature of reality. If you have reinforced for you over and over again that divorce is permitted, that it is tolerable, it leads to more divorce.

Everyone that I have ever talked to who is going through a divorce has had to deal with this question: What will it be like on the other side of the wall? That is a powerful motivator for not getting out of a marriage, for not leaving a marriage even after it has become destructive and painful. But it tells us again, in a backdoor kind of way, that we need to be supportive of one another’s relationships. This is one of the reasons I am supportive of Marriage Encounter. One of our obligations is to do what we can for those who are in marriages to relieve some of that stress and to create the opportunity for marriages that are good to come alive again and to be truly sacramental relationships. We have a corporate responsibility to people in relationships. We say that in the marriage ceremony. We ask those in attendance, Will you support the people entering into these vows?” We all shout out, ”We will”. That should not be just a rote bit in a rite. We ought to take that seriously. We have an obligation to do that. So the words, “The two become one flesh,” express a literal truth. It is not merely that two become “kind of together” or “get to hang out together.” Their lives, emotions, intentions become so inextricably intertwined that when they separate, the words “tearing asunder” are really what it 1s about. Marriage is an organic unity, in other words, and divorce means two human beings are being slowly, painfully, torn apart. So the answer to the arithmetic of marriage and divorce is that one plus one is more than two. Yes, of course there are two individuals, and it’s good to emphasize how important it is to be an individual and interdependent, and certainly one must have a commitment to oneself and one’s own life or the marriage isn’t going to work, but with­out a doubt, the two individuals come together in a way that makes them a psychic unity. They are more than merely two individuals cohabiting. Over and over again during the a marriage ceremony, the moment at which people say “yes” to each other and vow to intend to be together for ever, that moment, that declaration, that statement of intention transforms the nature of the relationship. Sometimes couples that have lived together for years make a decision to come in and say “yes” to a commitment to each other and then separate. Making that commitment, in­tending that your life be lived in the context of another person’s life, changes the nature of your own being.

One of the things I have had to look at in my own life is the question, “How did it happen? What caused the divorce?” I want to share these things with you so those of you who are married and value your relationships and value your marriages, can take a look at what may or may not be happening in your own relationships. The first barrier to realizing what is happening – [pause] – I just heard a heavy sigh of anxiety – look, I know this is rough, and if it’s any consolation, everybody is in the same boat. You are not the only one listening to this with a feeling of anxiety. This is heavy. I understand.

At any rate, one of the things I tried to do for a long time was not be conscious of what was happening. It’s almost as if we do everything we can to keep ourselves from looking at our own lives, from really looking and saying, ”This is who I am, this is what is there, and this is what is really going on in our relationship,” until suddenly one day you wake up and you realize one person is living in this part of the house and the other person is living in another part of the house, whether metaphorically or literally. You find that you are living separate lives. Resis­tance to truly being conscious of what is going on in your life is the biggest threat today to living a truly spiritual existence. The reluctance to explore with another person, resistance to therapy, resistance to talking with friends, resistance to being open about who we are, is the biggest barrier we have to allowing our­selves to look at the reality of our lives as if by not looking, it will go away. It won’t. You are not doing anybody a favor by ignoring what is present and is a difficulty or stress in your relationship, or in any area of your life. Not that you should brood on it, but you can’t ignore it. If you do, it will grow and fester into something much more difficult to confront.

Another thing that was going on with me, which is often going on, is that each of us were going through a lot of changes that the other just couldn’t handle. My wife was changing in ways that I didn’t want to see. and didn’t want to experience, couldn’t really experience,and I am sure she says the same thing. When you sign on for a lifetime contract you are committing yourself to the void, committing yourself to a voyage across an ocean which is trackless. And all you have is a sail and no map and no compass. And you are committing yourself to allow the other person not only to be who they are when you get into the relationship but to change in ways that are at worst tolerable and at best that you allow or support. We don’t marry people, we marry constellations of attributes, and when one star shifts and suddenly there is a bear instead of a wolf,we say, wait a minute, I bought a wolf. I did not buy a bear.

Another problem that is very common are the kinds of insecurities out of which we cling to another person as if they really can make up in us what is lacking, as if they can provide in our own lives what we haven’t got. Again, it doesn’t work. Synergy is one thing, with two people both alive and working together and going in the same direction, but looking to the other to make up what you haven’t got is not being a complete person. That was true in my marriage. I was looking to someone else to provide what I didn’t think I had.

This is why it is so shaky for marriages when one person wakes up in the morning and discovers that they are a whole being and that they do not need the other person in the same way or to the same degree. This often happens in mid-life – where I am, as it happens – as part of the process of what Jung called individuation. When we begin to include and integrate qualities from within ourselves that we had projected onto the other in youth and therefore felt as if they were completing us by providing those qualities, we round ourselves off, as it were, in a new way, and become more separate, and then the relationship has to be renegotiated on a new basis. We see this in the relationships of alcoholics and alcoholic spouses all the time. The insecurities of the one feed the insecurities of the other. The one encourages the other to do exactly that behavior which the other says they don’t really like. This is true not only of alcoholics and alcoholic spouses but of all of us. When one changes, either the other changes of necessity, or else. Al-Anon came into being in part because one pressure on an alcoholic is an alcoholic spouse. When an alcoholic stops drinking, an alcoholic spouse often goes through a deep trauma, often a depression, often a divorce, because we. count on the weaknesses in others to satisfy our own needs. And we sabotage their efforts to achieve a more healthy wholeness to maintain the stability we thought we had, based on mutually unhealthy dynamics.

Another thing to watch for is, where are you spending your time?Are you working longer and longer hours? Are you putting more and more into your job?Are you getting more and more of your strokes and praise from people who are saying,· “Good, keep it up, do more?” And are you creating a psychic home somewhere else?When you leave home, does it feel as if you are going home? It doesn’t have to be an affair. In our case it wasn’t. Some people asked, was there another man or another woman? It was a little irritating. There are always other men and other women in your life, but not always affairs. You kind of wish that if you are going to be accused you had had the pleasure. The real bottom line of this one is: we would sometimes go home and say what we really need is a wife and wish we had someone who would welcome us home, pour a drink, and come out and say to both of us, “How nice to see you come home,” because we weren’t able to give that to each other any more. The other person was no longer the home to which we could return.

Is the person with whom you are deeply interrelated, your spouse, is that where you feel you are home? Or does that become a place you have to leave in order to look for a home? Watch yourself on that one. If you find yourself justifying working longer and longer hours, doing more and more out of the house, not because it really needs to be done, but because of internal pressure, look out.

Then, through all of this there is a great deal of fear. Fear of it becoming public, which in our case it was. But really fear that someone else will find out who you really are. My God, if we go through with this thing, we are saying that we had a relationship which has died and if we do that people will find out that we had a relationship which has died. It’s amazing how many people were not surprised when we divorced because they saw us more clearly than we dared to see ourselves. Denial is a good friend, until it isn’t. We don’t really hide anything from anybody, although sometimes we pre­tend we do and we choose friends who conspire with us about pretending. We set it up so that we say, “If. you’ll agree not to notice what I know you’re noticing I’ll agree not to notice about you what you know I’m noticing.” We call that support. But it isn’t really. Sometimes your real friends are the ones who say, “Now come on, who do you think you’re kidding? What is going on in your life?” Support looks funny sometimes. So you’re afraid that everyone will know but you’re also afraid of finding out what you really feel. Who you really are. What your real life tells not others but yourself about how you deceived yourself.

One of the payoffs of denial is not having to be responsible for your own life. By putting it out there, by finding out in therapy or in life or in any situation what you really feel, who you really are, and therefore who you really want to be, how you want to be in the world and then acting on it, is the most authentic and, sometimes, the loneliest way of being in the world. Sometimes it seems less lonely to just not look, not find out, not feel what you feel, spend your time and energy keeping away from your consciousness who you are because then you don’t have to have the courage to make a decision either to affirm who you are or to deny it. To act out of who the real self you know yourself to be can take courage.

I’m not advocating divorce; I’m not saying you ought to get divorced, I’m saying that you ought to know who you are, and if, out of finding out who you are, you can choose to be in a relationship and be alive, and aive to each other, then you will have the very best possible. I have no doubt that to stay alive in a relationship through your lifetime with your spouse is the best possible relationship. That’s what we ought to go for. So you do have an obliga­tion to work at these things and to do everything humanly possible, everything you know how to do, in order to allow yourself to be alive again.

We all resist therapy; we only get into therapy or counseling when the pain of not being con­scious becomes greater than the pain of being conscious. You choose a trusted person and find yourself saying things you’ve been dying to say. It’s an opportunity to find out what we really feel so that you can know what you want to do next in life.

And in the process of divorce, there is a moment when you know.I can almost pinpoint it. I was facilitating the divorce support group and someone was talking when suddenly there was a shift in my consciousness, and I realized I wasn’t listening and talking to a “divorced person”, I was talking to a person. It was like a light bulb going on. I thought to myself, this person was the same person when they were married and they are the same person now that they are divorced. I realized that I had set up a category of “divorced persons” and I wasn’t relating to the people of the divorce support group, I was relating to a category of divorced persons. I was saying, “You are divorced people and I can help you, I know how to facilitate a support group,” but I wasn’t able to just be there as a person because I did not see them simply as persons. And suddenly something shifted, and that was necessary in order for me to realize that I was a person and not a married person or a divorced person. I was a person who had been married and for the first time I was abe to think, I could be a person who was divorced. I stayed myself, as funny as that may sound, while the categories in which I understood myself changed. The context changed and therefore the possibilities of my life.

If you’re still asking questions, then you’re not ready for divorce. When you’re ready, there are no more questions. None. And if you’re not ready, you ought to thank God you’re not – because it’s no joke to go through it. We are also aware, we divorced people, that we are sometimes a very threatening kind of Rorshach test. Sometimes we have a very perverse pleasure in just showing up and seeing what kinds of projections get put on us. We do notice how much people reveal about their own relationships by responding to the blank page that we are. We get a variety of projections – sometimes anger and hostility, some­times condemnation and judgment, sometimes attempts to live vicariously through our supposedly liberated lives. It is true, of course, that you cannot know what something is like until you go through it. In the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzinitzin, we have a man who is very cold, who is in a slave labor camp in Siberia, who is trying to get something from a guard. For the first time that day he is inside in a warm, lighted office and tries to stay there as long as he can. “How can a man who is warm,” he says, “understand a man who is cold?”

I was talking to someone last night who said, “I’ve never been married but I can imagine what divorce was like,” and I found myself getting angry because I thought, there is no way you can imagine what it is like. There is nothing more magical in interpersonal relationships than saying, “I know,” in a way so that the other person knows you know. So it is a kind of club that you join by getting divorced. “I know” then resonates with a different harmonic.

I remember, when I was married, how smug I was and how defensive about my relationship when it was fraying. I remember there was always a feeling that I must be doing something right to be married. I· was doing something virtuous or communicating better than other people, doing something that kept my marriage alive. The difference between someone who was divorced and myself, I thought, was that they hadn’t had the benefit of my wisdom. It reminds me of a poem by Shel Silverstein called ”The Slithergadee”. It goes like this: “Oh you won’t get me, old slithergadee, you may get all the others but you won’t get me. No you won1’t get me, old slithergadee, you may get-” and then it ends, because he has been eaten by the slithergadee. As divorce which I thought had been impossible for a righteous person like me, ate me.

So what does all this say about marriage? How can I use my experience to get at the real lessons here? I’ll tell you what my attitude toward marriage now is. It’s much more pious, and I don’t mean that in a stained glass religious sense. I mean I have discovered a genuine piety in my attitude toward people who are doing everything in their power to maintain a bond which I have come to know deeply is extraordinarily precious and extraordinarily fragile. By piety I mean I have a kind of reverence for how special this relationship is. I respect in each one of you who is married how much you are doing to keep your relationship alive, and to keep energizing yourselves and your relationship, and to be true to your relationships. When you wake up in the morning and look over at the other person, and they are lying there next to you, you ought to say thank you. Thank you for being here. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking they are there be­cause you made them stay, no, they are freely· choosing to relate to you in a deep and sacramental way. It is a choice every minute of the time. Your attitude ought to be “thank you” in every area of your life for the same reason. Marriage, life, love – these are not things you deserve because you are better or because you are special but because they are gifts, freely given, undeserved, but we forget to say “thank you.”

And I now speak in premarital and marital counseling with a different kind of authenticity about the tenuousness and the value of the bond because most people do not understand what they are beginning when they marry. And now that I am on the other side of the divorce, I no longer subtly prevent the issues that threatened me most – because they were mine – from surfacing in the discussion. I am more effective, more present, more whole.

That brings me to the other part of the lesson. This is something every divorced person, every human being, does not want to look at. It is definitely not fashionable to try to interpret these words in our context. I mean the part that says, Moses made up this law for your hardness of heart. Jesus was pretty clear that what was intended in marriage is that we continue to find ways to stay alive to each other. And when we don’t, it is a form of sinfulness or separation from what is best, and the hardness of heart part means, simply, well, we can’t always do what we ought to do and so we break. We can’t make a dead relationship live again any more than we can always renew other areas of our lives. One of the hardest things for me to do after the divorce, and something you can only do it when you have reached a point later on in this process at which you can face yourself, because you can’t do it at the beginning when it’s just too painful, is take a look at how you were responsible for what happened. The divorce did not just happen. Something outside you didn’t make it happen. Who you are and how you expressed yourself in that relationship contributed to what happened. While the other person contributed to it too, it doesn’t matter any more what they did, not to you, but it matters a lot to you from now on what you did and choose now to do with your life. Have we learned anything, anything at all? Of course there are things you cannot help. I look at myself now and I just know there are ways I will always be cruel or insensitive. We all have to come to terms with the darkness within ourselves and say, “Yes, the darkness is .part of me too, part of who I am.” God help us distinguish what we can change or control from what we can’t.

In a climactic scene in “The Empire Strikes Back,” Luke Skywalker is fighting a phantom Darth Vader and Luke cuts off his head. When he tears off the black mask to see who Darth Vader is, he confronts his own face. That’s chilling. It suggests that life is a journey through the various per­sonas we all are, and we have to come to terms with the devils within yourself as well as the saints or we will doom ourselves to repeat past mistakes unthinkingly. You must ask, what am I responsible for? What have I done to contribute to things getting to this point? We are all the “other” we hate and fight as Luke fought his father but when we see that and integrate the darker aspects into ourselves, it is humbling and liberating. We nay not be who we thought we were, but we are who we are in a more robust way.

There are things we can do to keep from getting to that point. First, express anger appropriately. We talk about anger a lot because we know that when it is not expressed in a clean or healthy way, it undermines a relationship. It will come out somewhere. It will sabotage a relationship and intimacy as sure as anything. I’m not saying you have to get into an encounter group to feel and express anger. I am saying that in your primary relationship you had better find a way to communicate when you are angry as well as many other things such as joyous or tender or loving. If you don’t deal cleanly with who you are in the relationship you are going to do something which will express it covertly and it will accumulate until one day there are grenades going off and you look at each other and say,”What happened?? Where did that come from?” Don’t be afraid of hurting the other person in a clean expression of anger. We are not fragile. You are not doing the other person a favor if you do not express to them what distresses or upsets you. It will get expressed one way or another.

Then, there is always a fear of losing the relationship. So I had better not rock the boat. But really, you had better rock the boat. A rocking boat is a lot better than a boat on the bottom. Those are your only choices.

Now what all this leads to, all this hurt, the inevitability of anger, is the question of forgiveness. This is what the lesson is saying when, again, it states that divorce is given for our hardness of heart. We have the capacity truly to forgive the other and ourselves for what we have done and. what they have done. But do we have the courage to forgive and accept forgiveness? Much of the time many of us do not.

All marriages have hurts. Let’s be real. There is a story about a fellow who went to a divorce lawyer and said, “I want a divorce but I don’t know if I have grounds.” The lawyer said, “Are you married?”

The minute you said yes you started to go to work on each other. That’s not all that’s happening, you’re probably being pretty nice to each other sometimes too. Sometimes I imagine you are even wonderful to each other. And that’s what you don’t want to lose. But if you’re married, then you are real, and if you’re real, and then there’s garbage in the relationship, and you have to clean it up. So you have to look at it. You have to look at how important it is to you to have to win all the time. How much of the time, honestly, must you dominate? How important is it to you to survive rather than be vulnerable? I had to confront in my own life that I was not good at what we call “getting off it”. My need to be right and my need to dominate, my need to win, and the fact that when I did open myself up, I got hurt so I just shut down my feelings and stopped making myself available and vulnerable – that meant I was dying inside. What is hell about winning is that you’re not really winning. If you are winning you are losing just as much as when you are losing. We know enough about victim behavior to know that victims aren’t always losing. People who look like victims are often being a victim to win. Victims often do all sorts of covert things. People who are dominating and look like they are tyrannical are often not winning, not really. If it’s a win-lose situation, both are losing. The only way for both to win is for neither to be playing win-lose with each other in the relationship or at least, if they are, to be committed to get past that stage. All relationships have power struggles. .It’s an important part of relationships, but that cannot be the primary mode or only mode out of which you are being with each other. You just have to have the courage to continue to expose who you really are. Each time you expose yourself and you are hurt, yes, it does make you less and less inclined to expose yourself the next time and it does take incredible courage to keep coming but that’s what we have to do.

So what does happen in relationships that work? A friend of mine who had been married for 35 years said, “You know, we go through these same awful times that everybody goes through.” I said, “Then what is the difference?” And he said ”We always have been given the grace to fall in love again. Somehow we have been given the means to be able to turn to each other and enjoy each other’s company again and just be with .each other, and we fall in love again.”

So what all this really comes down to, I think, can be summed up in a quote by a good friend of mine who was divorced. He said, “Divorce is not something I would wish on my worst enemy nor hesitate to recommend to my best friend.” That is exactly the way it feels. It is not something you would ever urge anyone to go through and experience but it is liberation from a relationship that has become destructive and painful and there does come a time when you know that you have done everything you can and it’s over. That is not justification for avoiding doing everything you do know how to do or can do in order to keep the relationship alive. The rewards of being able to re­create your relationship and have a relationship that is alive are without equal.

So when I return to the question with which I began this sermon, “Is God really angry with all of us who are getting divorced?” I have to say “no”. I don’t experience God as a stern unforgiving presence. I experience God during my divorce as compassion, love, a presence during my deep grief, and then, as resurrection. I’ experience the image of a suffering God that Christians worship or contemplate as a way for God to say, “I know.” Had it been God’s will to pull strings and prevent things like divorce – or disease, or war – from happening, the crucifixion would never have happened and would not have persisted for two thousand years as an image of what it takes to be transformed. Instead we would have an image of someone sitting in a coffee shop sipping a latte.

I was with a couple recently, both of whom I love very much. The sense I got of the relationship was like a video game my son plays with tanks behind barriers. The tanks peep out, fire a salvo and then pop back behind the barricade. I had the sense that after 20 years of marriage that was what their relationship had become. There were huge barricades and they would kind of lean around with an almost desperate longing to connect, trying so hard to touch, to reach each other. They cried and I cried, because we all knew what was at stake. Either it gets put back together again and they find a way to reconnect, or it doesn’t.

Now if I, all too human me, with my imperfections and flaws and problems, can experience love and compassion in that situation, how can I believe that any God worthy of the name would not? That God would be angry? No, I’m sorry, but that dog just don’t hunt.

So ask yourself: Is there anything in your primary relationship that you are hiding? Is there anything that you want to have the courage to reveal? Is your marriage still sacramental? Are you alive to each other really or do you find your lives slipping away? Do you really give the other person room to change and grow? The miraculous is always a possibility. Rebirth is always miraculous. The point of all this is – if we stay in our relationships with hope and can still be alive to each other, the rewards are unsurpassed. That’s why we call marriage a sacrament. And that’s also why divorce breaks our hearts.

Richard Thieme ( speaks and writes fiction and non-fiction about real things as best he can.


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by rthieme on December 9, 2016




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What’s real in the post-truth era?

by rthieme on December 4, 2016

What’s real in the post-truth era?

by Richard Thieme

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 4, 2016.

A web of truthiness, post-truths, and half-truths is replacing a once-shared goal of knowing the truth itself. The task of understanding our world has become more and more complex and difficult to navigate. As the recent presidential campaign illuminates, knowing what’s real is a non-trivial enterprise and the effort to understand is a task for experts, if they still exist. The relationship of the maps in our minds to the territory we call “the real world” is blurred and uncertain.

Ever since Eddie Bernays changed his occupation from “advertising man” to “public relations expert” a century ago, the distortion and manipulation of the truth through covert campaigns has been a mainstay of public life. We make light of it by calling it “spin” instead of covert information warfare, but covert warfare it is, and the prize is the capture of friends and enemies alike in webs of disinformation. In a world of global interconnections, it is impossible for information to be aimed at only one group. What intelligence professionals call “blow back” is inevitable and we deceive ourselves in the process of deceiving others.

“Post-truth” is a silly word for distorted images and ideas. The ubiquity of social media and the diminishing importance of responsible journalism has serious consequences. Words — stories, narratives – have been weaponized and collateral damage is extensive.

Here’s what’s coming our way:

(1) Propaganda from multiple sources. The Russians excelled in the use of stolen material, disseminated through Wikileaks, to impact the recent campaign. They have done the same with neighbor countries to undermine clarity about their intentions and actions. There is a NATO group, for example, that does nothing but peruse Russian propaganda to understand it, but it was discovered that even though they knew that was the task, they unconsciously absorbed false material as if it was true, because that’s what the mind does, it treats data as data, even when it knows the data is a fiction. So the NATO group has to be debriefed in order to recalibrate their maps of the real to … well, to the real.

But who debriefs the debriefers? Who debriefs us?

(2) Julian Assange has one goal, to “crush the bastards,” as he said, meaning anyone in power, anyone with authority, and to that end, he has disseminated stolen documents without discrimination, resulting in a great deal of “collateral damage.” Self-righteousness if a tricky path to walk, however, without a debriefing from outside the group-think of the inner circle. It will be interesting to see if he pursues messages from Trump with the same zeal.

Given the ease of hacking into servers, we can expect more of this from multiple parties but the narrative gets even hazier, because material can be (and has been) altered. We can read emails as if they are true, but we don’t know if they are true. This is a game that will be played both ways and many ways. A spectrum of amateurs and professionals with access to purloined materials will distribute both real and false information selectively and strategically. It will be a full-time job to untangle that mess.

(3) That job used to belong to the professional journalism, but the erosion of journalism and the substitution for it of hundreds of web sites has resulted in a world in which people believe anything and everything, and the critical thinking needed for research and discernment is missing in action. Confirmation bias is only a click away. A recent study showed that most teens do not even question what they read online or think about sources.

But it’s not just teens who check their brains at the door of web portals. The recent campaign revealed the impotence of newspapers which expressed near-universal disapproval of Trump – because many Trump supporters do not get “news” from those untrusted sources who are called out as dishonest crooks at mass rallies and booed by the herd. Let me provide one example of the outrageous narratives this leads some to accept.

I was asked to submit a bio to a local group as a possible speaker. My topics were misunderstood, distorted by the framework through which the contact for the group read them, and he sent an email defining the speech he hoped I could produce:

“ … it would be fantastic to have a “dream speaker” that could link the topics of the Power-Elite, Occult ritual, who’s teaching them how to do this, why they are doing it, pedophilia, bohemian grove, Eyes Wide Shut parties, the Clintons, technocratic globalism, child trafficking, main stream media, main stream entertainers/Hollywood, Alien/UFO government mythology, Lolita Island, War, Alister Crowley followers, state sponsored assassinations, CIA, FBI and much much more…. a speaker who can skillfully link all of these dark connections in an eloquent, matter-of-fact way.”

The email provided a link to a video in which three men discussed all this and more in sensational unsupported terms and added satanic ritual, cannibalism, and child rape to the antics of the power elite, crimes that are unreported by “the media” because publishers are at those parties, participating in rape and human sacrifice, hence unwilling to tell the truth about them.

That group is a mainstream group. That video has more than half a million hits. That absurd narrative collects unthinking people into a homogeneous group which by repetition reinforces the credibility of their assertions. In a similar vein, I am sometimes asked after speeches if I believe we went to the moon or have rovers on Mars.

How does one even begin to respond?

The inability to discriminate between plausible and crazy plus the impossibility of knowing what’s real in this perpetual fog of information warfare causes anxiety and fear, which people counter with narratives to comfort the afflicted soul. Then it’s called “truth.” When we feel helpless and lacking control over our lives, we project impossible narratives onto fragmented data and comfort ourselves with theories which, if examined closely, would be seen to be foolish.

And many won’t read these words in a newspaper, or if they do, will dismiss it as the propaganda of coastal elites, written between pedophile parties. These are omens of dark times ahead with dire consequences for the existence of a consensus reality, a sane map we can share, which is the basis and fabric of civil discourse and a free society.


Richard Thieme is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.


by rthieme on November 20, 2016

Trump Trauma

by Richard Thieme

November 11, 2016

Op Ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – a USA Today Publication

A younger colleague, a brilliant guru in the security world, said of the impact of “the Trump event” on his family, “Well, on the galactic scale, none of this matters one whit.”

That was not the first time that I or someone else had to stretch our thinking to the cosmic, the galactic, or the ends of time to find a benchmark by which to say “in the big picture this will be insignificant” or something like it. During a crisis in my life years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and looked down the walls toward layers deposited millions of years earlier and thought the same thing. “Keep this in perspective,” I thought, trying to diminish the impact of a traumatic event. People are doing that now, alluding to the Trump victory, and have invoked evolutionary time scales, the galaxy, the cosmos, all of known history, to make the felt impact of the campaign feel smaller than it actually is.

These attempts in fact signify the huge significance of it all, right here, right now. Those vast scales enable us to live with the event as if it is less manageable by ordinary means.

I am not hearing this just from liberals. I dined this week at a meeting of a very conservative forum of business people and government officials who gathered to hear an economist discuss the likely impacts of the election. Similar feelings were expressed. So it’s not just the crowd I run with: The impact spans the spectrum of political partisanship.

I spoke with a dear friend who is 101 years old. She was born during the Wilson administration and has lived through seventeen presidents. She said she could not sleep after she heard the election news and spent the day crying. She said we have had good and bad presidents but she has never seen anything like this.

By “this” she means nothing about Hilary or Trump as candidates; she knows that both candidates brought less than honorable records in business and politics to the table and that no one reaches those heights with clean hands. She means something deeper, she means the deplorable vitriolic assault on decency and the Republic that we dignify by calling it a campaign and which can not be erased from memory or our daily consciousness.

The lacerations caused by Trump’s words against so many people and groups cut deeply and indelibly into our souls, and healing will not be quick or easy. He did what he did and said what he said, regardless of whether he now acts “presidential.” Anyone who directed and followed the scripts of a reality show – yes, Virginia, they are scripted – knows how to play a part well. Transparent postures and role paying do not fool victims of trauma into thinking that everything is fine now, everything will be just fine. Instead we become hyper-vigilant, somewhat paranoid, and binary in our thinking.

The impact of traumatic events is what I am seeing, hearing, feeling. Trauma is what this is about. I have addressed traumatic impacts lately in speeches, and it is obvious to me that we are in shock from a trauma that struck many individually and the entire nation as a whole.

The symptoms of trauma are identifiable and present in the body politic. Other markers include the minimization and rationalization that pervades so much discussion and punditry. Smoothing things over is an attempt to normalize the abnormal, the aberrant, and make the flow of historical events include and tame this event, but it resists taming. It bobs along in the rapids like a movie monster with its head above the water, looking for its next meal.

Three people called this week to ask if I had tickets yet – for NZ, Australia, or Canada. I wish they were less than half serious. Older people have said, well, we can still live out our lives, we’ll be OK, whatever happens, and younger people have asked, how will this effect the decades ahead of me? What will my life – and my children’s lives – be like? One mentioned the flood of refugees that we mostly relegate to brief scenes on the nightly news and wonder if it could happen here. Walls, they fear, keep people in as well as out.

These are all markers of trauma, that’s all I am saying. This is something new under the sun, this is serious, and how we respond will be important. I am giving a speech these days called “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals.” It’s about trauma and secondary trauma, the latter coming from engaging with people who are traumatized. For those people, rates of substance abuse, divorce, and suicide are high. I conclude that talk with a set of strategies for dealing with trauma in more life-giving ways They include restorative time with friends and family, music and gardening; they include greater mindfulness, awareness of our bodies and what they are telling us; they include the necessity for mutuality and frequent feedback from trusted others, for deepening bonds of community and strategies for collective response. Sanity demands at the least advocating for a fabric of civil discourse and mutual respect in our country to replace the derision and insults of shout shows and the recent spectacle of a campaign.

Acknowledging what has happened, knowing it and feeling it, is dark knowledge indeed and reveals painful wounds, it is visceral awareness of the darkness in the American psyche that we like to pretend is manageable or just not there. But it is there, and we are obligated to confront denial not with despair and pessimism but with realistic self-awareness and building frameworks for concerted right action.

Richard Thieme ( is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, and Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.

{ 1 comment }

One of 3 talks at Def Con 24, this short mini-keynote for r00tz Asylum spoke to “kidz” ages 6-16 on critical thinking, using biohacking and UFO studies as examples.

Richard Thieme: UFOs & Biohacking @ r00tz’16 DEF CON 24
In this talk at r00tz Asylum ( at DEF CON 24, Richard spoke with kids about critical thinking and importance of challenging the norms.

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Richard Thieme is an author and prolific speaker focusing on the impact of technology on individuals and organizations with an emphasis on security and…


Richard Thieme at Def Con 24 August 2016 on “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals”

Dismissing or laughing off concerns about what it does to a person to know critical secrets does not lessen the impact on life, work, and relationships of building a different map of reality than “normal people” use. One has to calibrate narratives to what another believes. One has to live defensively, warily. This causes at the least cognitive dissonance which some manage by denial. But refusing to feel the pain does not make it go away. It just intensifies the consequences when they erupt.

Philip K. Dick said, reality is that which, when you no longer believe in it, does not go away. When cognitive dissonance evolves into symptoms of traumatic stress, one ignores those symptoms at one’s peril. But the very constraints of one’s work often make it impossible to speak aloud about those symptoms, because that might threaten one’s clearances, work, and career. And whistle blower protection is often non-existent.

The real cost of security work and professional intelligence goes beyond dollars. It is measured in family life, relationships, and mental and physical well-being. The divorce rate is as high among intelligence professionals as it is among medical professionals, for good reason – how can relationships be based on openness and trust when one’s primary commitments make truth-telling and disclosure impossible?

One CIA veteran wrote: “I was for a while an observer to the Personnel Management working group in the DO. I noted they/we were obscenely proud of having the highest rates of alcoholism, adultery, divorce, and suicide in the US Government. I personally have 23 professional suicides in my mental logbook, the first was an instructor that blew his brains out with a shotgun when I was in training. The latest have tended to be senior figures who could not live with what they knew.”

The bottom line is, trauma and secondary trauma have identifiable symptoms and they are everywhere in the “industry.” The “hyper-real” space which the national security state creates by its very nature extends to everyone too, now, but it’s more intense for professionals. Living as “social engineers,” always trying to understand the other’s POV so one can manipulate and exploit it, erodes the core self. The existential challenge constitutes an assault on authenticity and integrity. Sometimes sanity is at stake, too, and sometimes, life itself.

We might as well begin our discussion with reality. Choosing unreality instead means we have to spend energy and time on a trek from unreality to reality simply to begin. This talk is about reality – the real facts of the matter and strategies needed for effective life-serving responses, a way to manage the paradoxical imperatives and identity-threatening pressures of our lives and work.


“Biohacking: A Voyage on the High Seas without GPS or Sextant or Stars”

August 23, 2016

My keynote for the unique security conference Corn Con in Davenport Iowa on September 17 2016. Home Biohacking: A Voyage on the High Seas without GPS or Sextant or Stars” Distinguishing the transhumanist hype from the sane science is not always easy. Then add the antics of real hackers to the mix – adventuresome sometimes […]

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