By Erin Cafaro MacKenzie

On this Veterans Day I can’t help but think of one friend, former Coach, and decorated United States Veteran Marc “Homey” Homan.  Homey was a no BS, tell you how it is, straight shooter and most everyone loved him for that.  He was like the Dad or Big Brother everyone wants and needs. A month or so before Homey passed from sudden heart failure, I had the fortune to have one last good, deep conversation with him.  One of those that, even at the time, you know you will remember for the rest of your walking breathing life.  

Homey happened to stop by our last PSE RUN Clinic to say hey and show his love and support. I just caught him as I was waiting for an Uber to take to me to LAX.   He said he would drive me up there because he was headed that way.  LAX is never on the way to anywhere because the traffic is abysmal. But he of course said point blank, “Get in the truck kid”.  

As we were catching up, we got to talking about transitions.  My transition from professional athlete to coach/businesswoman and his transition from military to civilian and most recently moving from Coronado up to Santa Barbara to support the love of his life, Lori in her new job.  

The conversation that day in the truck with Homey to LAX has become a pivotal point in my life.  And the gravity of his loss just adds to its significance. I truly realized that I was not alone in my suffering in transition.  I was far from alone.  It is called by many names – PTSD, Man on the Moon Syndrome, Post Olympic depression, or just good ‘ol depression.  While I cringe to compare my sacrifices to become a professional athlete to those men and women who actually do sacrifice their lives everyday for the safety and well being of others, I think that we can all learn from each others stories. I refuse to think that this diagnosis that cripples so many souls and amazing human beings is just chemically and hormonally based and treated.  I believe it goes deeper into the reasoning why you began your journey in the first place and what part of your basic human needs did that journey fulfill that you are missing now.  Homey agreed.  And in great show of dramatic irony Homey also believed that it was, well, all about the homies. 

I want to share with you a follow up email from Homey after our truck conversation that has been sitting in my drafts ever since he passed. Totally raw, untouched, unedited in Homey’s own words. I never got around to continuing the conversation and thanking him before it was too late.  So, by sharing a piece of our conversation and Homey’s thoughts with others, my hope is that this conversation continues by reaching other Vets, athletes, teammates and anyone and everyone in a rough life transition. And that it provides them as much clarity and purpose as it did for me. Thanks Homey.  


Power and Control

1 message

From: Marc Homan Tue, Jul 19, 2016 at 9:27 PM

To: Erin Mackenzie, Brian MacKenzie

Cc: Lori, Bill

Erin & BMac,

 Great to see you guys this weekend, got nothing but positive memories of CFE and wish you guys the best in your next endeavors.  If I can ever be of service please let me know.  Gonna include The Chief and Bill because I actually care what they think…:)

About Power and Control (P&C):

I was first introduced to the idea by the Domestic Violence community – abusive relationships are driven by the abuser exercising excessive P&C: not allowing a spouse to leave the house/have friends; strangulation which is a face-to-face act so you can see your victims weakness; punching the face, again a shaming action where you can see the fear in your victims face.  Granted those are extreme cases.

That lead to thinking about subtler forms such as a parent wagging their finger in a child’s face, a coach getting right up in an athletes grill; but also looking at leadership and corporations where you are expected to toe the HR line or something bad will happen.  We also see P&C in racism, poor policing, Social Media Trolling, etc.  As Brian pointed out when organizations get above a certain size all kinds of crazy things start to happen and selfishness / bullying takes over.

Why P&C.  First it is a learned behavior – to wit: child victims / witnesses of abuse have a higher propensity to become abusers.

Second, our reptilian brains can only take so much stimulus – modern life becomes too damn complex and complicated and our natural instinct is to simplify what is going on.  Economics from Marxist-Leninist theory, through Socialism and ending with Modern Corporate Capitalism is based on P&C and modern economies are wicked complicated.

Third, we don’t trust those things we don’t understand – look at the early criticism of CF/CFE as an example for that.

There are some positives though: Safety is inherently based on P&C and it is not necessarily bad; complex events that call for step-by-step actions (driving, aviation, medicine, law to name a few) are places where we want high degrees of control; early childhood parenting is another place (3 year olds need guidance on what to eat and not eat for instance); contracts and treaties are based solely on power and control.

The problem though is P&C is inherently a zero sum game.  The current debate on racism is simply one side has too much power and the other side wants to get some of it.  International Relations is zero sum, economics is zero sum – all entitlement (programmatic, professional or personal) is zero sum.  Contracts are zero sum.  The Prisoner Dilemma performed poorly is the classic zero sum example.  Zero sum means there will be a loser and it is not in our psychological DNA to accept losing.

If you want to get real Evolutionary Biology wonky about it, if my drive is to protect my genetic lineage (don’t have my library in front of me so I can’t reference the Selfish Gene author), then losing is against our very nature.

The realization of P&C as the way of life is stuck in my cray for quite a while, because it is pretty damn depressing if you look at the world through that lens.  It explained to me why there are so many sheeple out there (just tell me what to do coach!) and why people do so many fucked up things to each other.  But I had been in great organizations many times that didn’t act that way and I couldn’t figure out how we got to the good stuff – and conversely why the wheels come off so easily.

Enter Trust and Respect (T&R)

The alternative is T&R and that is where Junger’s Tribe hit me square in the face – as I was reading it, it was like he was writing about all the organizational joys and shit shows I had ever seen or been a part of – and I mean organizations in the broadest sense: relationships, teams, squadrons, gyms, etc.

Many years ago I was part of a two-week retreat where we were looking at why people behave the way they do in groups – it was post-9/11 and frankly we were trying to figure how to unhinge Al Queda.  The group was half military and half academics (psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists and historians) 14 of us total.  I learned that primates social habits release dopamine and serotonin when certain actions take place.  I also learned about Acephalous society’s where different people take on different roles for different events (a war chief, a religious leader, a movement leader, a political leader, etc) – most tribal societies are Acephalous so killing the leader doesn’t solve the problem (i.e. Somali war lords).  The way you destroy those groups is to either kill them all (very unlikely), take away the thing they are pissed at you about (usually your mere presence pisses them off) or you build a relationship with them (the Hearts and Mind shit is perverted P&C, I’m talking actually getting to know them and trying really hard to get along).

I also learned that normal humans can only deal with 3 people in a highly stressful situation (infantry units are made up of 3 riflemen lead by 1 fire team leader, 3 fire teams make a squad, 3 squads make a platoon, 3 platoons a company, 3 companys a battalion, and so on).  I also learned a normal human can only be intimate with 7-15 people or things (part of the reason your rowing friends missed so many events and lost friends, we just can’t deal with that much intimate knowledge).  Large, complex & complicated groups are not natural to humans

I have learned through the years that humans are naturally altruistic, if you are balanced you are giving.  Takers are viewed negatively in all societies.

What all this means to me is if you have trust in the people around you, you will allow them to grow and that trust will come back to you.  If you respect the norms of the group you will get respect back.  To go back to game theory, it becomes a positive sum game – I give you something and I get something back.  Giving allows us the psychological security to continue growing (which Google has identified as the key component of their successful teams – the psychological security to try new stuff and grow, and literally change the world in their case)

This trust and respect (altruism, right people for the right “job”, psychological security, intimate relationships) is what we naturally seek.  For me that knowledge changes the game.  And this is not pop-psych, it is a physical necessity to keep ourselves healthy and alive in a primitive survival sense.  It is literally effecting the chemistry in our brain – we seek it out.

So where do we go from here:

We are never going to get away from P&C, indeed as Junger points out, the most benevolent societies internally can also be the nastiest in their external dealings.  Case in point are elite military units – SEALS are very tight knit and take care of there own but are fucking killing machines.  So this isn’t some flower child theory – the world will happily kill you and keep on going without a care.

I think the point is to recognize the internal or local need for Trust and Respect – gotta have it to be mentally healthy; however the greater, global world is based on Power and Control – groups will strangle others to see the fear in their victims and to protect “what is theirs”.  That understanding, that knowledge becomes the key for how we go about our business.  Build our groups, our workplaces, our families based on Trust and Respect; but understand there is a place where that ends.  Doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it, just understand which situation you are in and act accordingly…

Love to hear your thoughts

Much Love, Homey

PS – Erin, think you are on to something with that elite athlete transition to civilian life.  Let me know if you want me to hook you up with my buddy John

Sir William, Buy and read Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, you can bill me for it, call it your birthday present!