Monday, May 27, 2024 #56

 The intersection of a newby with an organization, team, group, while perceived conventionally as a matter of sociology, politics, and cognition, reaches far beyond those academic/cognitive frames. Indeed, any intersection of two entities, whether they are individual humans, with groups of humans, ideas, principles, visions, and even theologies and ideologies between and among human beings, is a multifaceted, complex, seemingly ineffable and almost incomprehensible encounter. And much of the dynamics of these intersections/relationships remain out of the reach of the rational, literal, empirical, diagnostic medical/legal frameworks.

Identities, whether of individuals, or ‘positions’ and thoughts, visions and even proposals, always carry the freight of those who have previously ‘bought into’ their value, and the potential of new men and women embracing those ideas, principles, visions and even theologies and/or ideologies.

Separating the human beings from the ideology or the theology, including the organization that embodies and cultivates the vision (ideology, theology, processes and protocols) is both impossible and frivolous even to contemplate. Indeed, at least in the West, (and one has to guess that the East is also engaged in this process), the name of a person or persons is almost inextricably entwined with an ideology, a theology, a vision, or a process or method. Classical management in the industrial arena, for example, is often, if not always, linked to the name of Henry Ford, whose model T is said to have ‘democratized’ the auto industry, by making cars accessible to a wide and deep segment of American society. Revolutions, too, have the name of their originator, prime mover and motivator, or military victor.

Similarly, the thoughts of philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and historians and even mythologists have been attached to their work, as have the bodies of work of such film-makers as Steven Spielberg and others, composers like Burt Bacharach, George Gershwin and many others. Periods of national history, for example, frequently bear the name of the leader who ‘presided’ over that period as the elected or appointed individual, bearing a personal attitude, perception, belief system, management or leadership style and a set of personal values. A highly reputed and respected example of this dynamic comes from the life of Pierre Trudeau, who remarked to the effect that wherever the weight of the conventional attitude prevailed, he tended to ‘counter’ or balance that conventional attitude. His intellect, training, disposition, biography and character were blended in a kind of vortex that saw things in a unique, individual, somewhat unconventional and clearly charismatic manner. And yet, his theology as a Roman Catholic French Canadian of French and Scottish descent did not preclude his dramatic assertion: “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation!” Indeed, there may even be a case that his ancestry permitted, enabled, and eventually drew out such a significant historic principle, that has stood the test of time. Indeed, such a clear, dividing line between the state and the private lives of the  Canadian people, at that time, has proved foundational for his later Charter of the Rights and Freedoms, which have also proved foundational for the decades following in federal provincial relations as well as the relations between citizens of various and highly individualized religions, ethnicities, languages, and cultural traditions. This kind of perception, attitude, and rhetoric also echoes the phrase from Mark 12:17 (NIV) ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’ at least in its pattern and clarity.

The “news,” through journalism, reports such historic statements (as Trudeau’s above) in the context of the views of a particular leader's opponents, rendering them fodder for political and legal arguments, in both elections and court and board rooms, as well as arguments relevant to doctoral theses of various academic disciplines. Indeed, the marriage of journalism and academic disciplines, infrequently, if ever linked in the same sentence, have served over decades, and even centuries, (as journalism evolved on the strength of the academic traditions, methods and theory and practice) has given us in the West a diet of information, as well as a method of ‘processing’ and perceiving, assessing and discerning that information.

Based on the observation, detailed note-taking (film and recording came later), and the actions/words/attitudes and perceptions of both public figures and their fourth estate colleagues, we have inherited not only a world in which the dominant, even almost exclusive language, perception, cognitive assimilation, interpretation and applications are conducted from what can be called an ‘extrinsic’ perspective. This perception is literal, empirical, nominal, diagnostic, and interventionist on the side of cleaning up problems as they become identified.

Much of four public affairs focuses on ‘messes’ or crises, as the collective ‘we’ perceives them, and whether they are climate, economic, military, terrorist or ideological, our messes comprise conflict between forces identified and funded to persuade potential allies of the rectitude of their position. If the “mess” we perceive is considered by many to be significant, we (collectively, often politically, and often even philanthropically) throw stashes of cash to ‘fix’ it. Identifying each mess, through the lenses of both historians and journalists, in the public square, comprises many of our current headlines, water-cooler conversations, and potentially government policies and legislation. That’s at least in theory, or what we might ‘conventionally’ and hopefully consider to be a minimum expectation. A perception, even expectation, that the ‘conferences’ and the agreements and the announcements and the court cases that attempt to resolve these crises will have their desired change affect, haunts the public anima  mundi, as unfinished, and seemingly intractable open and festering shared tumors. And one of the more prominent aspects of our current global mess is a perception founded on mountains of empirical evidence of failure, incomplete and unenforced commitments and promises hanging like lynchings from the trees of our imaginations, for a tragic legacy. And we all share both a responsibility for and a complicity in those images hanging in the trees.

Our current world psyche is more than murderous, lynching-infested racism; it is complicity in a kind of sleep-walking, drug-induced coma that permits unprincipled, unleashed personal and national and religious ambition and greed to dominate in and through the excessive ambition narcissism and revolutionary zeel of leaders, without seeing the prospect of any relevant or effective antidotes, curbs, or even reckonings. And these forces are aided and abetted by the proliferation of propagandistic lies, cyber-attacks, and conspiracy theories that are designed to ‘destroy’ what have been albeit chaotic and functioning democracies, since World War II to be replaced by autocracies, stripped of human rights consciousness and protection, reliant on the most base, narcissistic, victimhood perceptions and attitudes of millions of cult followers.

We ‘know’ that we are being lied to, misled, and manipulated by forces that many are unable and/or unwilling to resist, confront, and eliminate. It is as if our public square has all of the ingredients of a psychopathology of crisis, which has us in its grip.

In our lives, our ‘messes’ are of a different order and magnitude although they often bear strikingly similar patterns to our public crisis. Forces over which we seem to have no control, or even have no intimate awareness of their existence or their impact, ‘have us’ in their grip, and we seem utterly powerless to extricate ourselves, and our world from that grip. On a personal level these crises evolve in and through such personal catastrophes as injury, disease, death, job loss, examination failure, social embarrassment through some serious mis-step of moral and/or ethical proportions, addictions, changing industrial, technological and economic conditions including both theory and hardware, divorce, betrayal, and although it is not often listed in such a compendium, indifference, apathy, detachment, hostility and zero-sum competition. Inescapably included in such a list we have to add prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and profound applications of such heinous ‘diseases’ on refugees, immigrants, poverty, and homelessness however they might be dubbed in both journalistic or historic language. And those languages, themselves, are really never adequate to capture the ‘human damage’ that our insidious attitudes, behaviours, words, and even such physical, yet unaccountable, acts as ‘rolling our eyes’ in contempt, or crossing the street, as Obama reported grandmother preferred in order not to encounter a black man.

In this cauldron of “messes” let’s defer from the word and framing of ‘disease’ for it carries a cultural, linguistic, perceptual and interpretative set of cultural, intellectual, psychological, religions and political and cognitive baggage. Messes, and the responsibility for those messes, together, bring about a series of perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, assessments and judgements, not only by ordinary folk within the circle of the flow of information, but also those among those professionals who are solicited to resolve, mediate, medicate, punish, litigate or otherwise assess and counter the mess. And, in a general manner both of perception and of evaluation, our personal messes are assigned either or both to our medical professionals and/or our legal professionals. Under the classical psychological appellation, diagnostically speaking, our messes are our ‘abnormal psychology’ cases.

Is that designation of our messes helpful? Is it realistic? Is it redemptive? Is it even honest, from the perspective, not of the professional interventionist, but from the person in the middle of  the vortex of his or her mess? We all know that no single human is or ever will be exempt from his or her mess, and since our messes are so complex and multi-seeded and also the compilation of multiple influences, some of them deeply painful, others not so much. Also since many of the interventions are ‘moderating’ as opposed to ‘curative’ of whatever it was/is that is at the root of the “mess,” we also know that both individually and collectively, we, as a culture are far more interested, invested, even addicted to picking up those who have “fallen” in their mess after the ‘fall’ as compared with a different orientation, value and belief system that prevention, while not nearly as sexy or dramatic, might actually serve each of us, as well as our shared culture, far more effectively, than the current crisis management modality for which we claim our victories, form our social and political policies and teach our undergraduates in almost all academic fields.

The striking parallels between our personal, private crises, and our shared public crises,

·      in that they both have power that overtakes the mind, body and spirit,

·      in that they both seem to have voices within that we are desperate to identify, discern, interpret and thereby reduce the toxicity and control over our individual and our shared lives

·      in that we also know at some level that we are engaged in a vortex similar to those vortexes which have haunted humans from antiquity

·      that if we could imaginatively put a face, a name and a voice to the dramatic mythic characters that have us ‘by the throat’ we might begin to feel both a degree of insight and understanding as well as a release from those clutches (which themselves are also embedded in our imagination)

If we were to wear the same eye glasses, as detailed above, when with the individual messes in individual lives from a social and a cultural perspective, let’s see if we can find a place for the religious sector to play a significant role both in prevention and in intervening when we fall into our messes. This is not to say that each of us bears considerable, if not absolute, responsibility, for the messes we find ourselves in. Indeed, discerning that personal responsibility, identifying it, acknowledging it, and fully confronting it is such an important and personal process that it often requires different and perhaps even additional support than is available from either or both medical and/or legal professionals, including the ubiquitous and recently applauded social worker, and clinical psychologist.

Coming to grips with those inhabitants (voices, faces, themes, and patterns) that might be running through our psychic mess, is a matter of pausing to look into our own mirror, in a manner of concentration, hope and imagination that begins to open to how we might ‘see’ the situation slightly more objectively.

An example of this kind of introspection might apply to the United States. According to Anne Applebaum, writer for The Atlantic, the list of autocrats like Putin Xi Jin Ping, the leaders of Iran, Venezuela, Hungary, North Korea (and perhaps others) are aligning their nations to delegitimize democracy, the American hegemony and the pursuit of human rights and the privileges of living in a democracy. Replacing democracy with autocracy, irrespective of political ideology, according to Applebaum, seems to be their expressed purpose and goal. And, she posits that these leaders are confronting the democratic ideals and history of nations like the United States, and others. What she did not reference in her recent interview on MSNBC is that, perhaps, although it is unsightly and very difficult for the United States as a nation to see and to accept, is that these leaders are also emulating, imitating and replicating the most heinous aspects of unbridled capitalism  that seemingly has the United States tightly by the throat. Embedded in capitalism at home, is the almost literal worship of competition, and its ugly cousin, dominance, both at home and around the world. And this grip will only grow tighter and less amenable to removal, should trump return to the Oval Office. 

The world knows that, while America is strong, economically, militarily, hubristically, it is also blind, unconscious and seems to disavow its brutality on the world stage. Millions of people around the world have a love/hate relationsip with America...the shining beackon of freedom for those facing gangland murders and violence, human rights abuses and hopelessness at home, and also a nation that has dominated the world stage for a long time. It is America who, like the rest of the world, and each of us individually, can only develop fully if and when it recognizes, claims and surrenders to its own psychic bully. As long as the American "bully" archetype holds sway, remains dominant, unconsciously even secretly, men like trump will grow in influence and demonic destructiveness. The Greek God Zeus, and Goddess Hybris, as a hybrid and megaphoned voice in the unconscious of American anima mundi, need to have a conversation with the Greek Goddess Aidos, goddess of shame, modesty, respect adn humility. Aidos, as a quality, was a felling of reverence or shame  restriains MEN from their own worst impulses. The cultural meme of never acknowledging having donne anything 'wrong' has become so enmeshed in American culture that generations will fall victim to their own blindness. 

How and if we ‘see’ and embrace the demons, personally, nationally, organizationally, lies at the heart of all psychic, and potentially spiritual transformations. #55

 Newness, from both the group and the newby's pespective, and the business of ‘entering’ and ‘being welcomed’ny new group, in any period in history, is a process fraught with apprehension, anxiety, fear and a cu intltural meme that advocates for, argues for, defends and almost insists upon a deeply embedded mantra: “GO SLOW.”

Is this a sequel to the child’s parentally-inspired, parentally inculcated, and societally reinforced, ‘don’t talk to strangers’?

Or is this mantra another of the carry-overs from the adolescent caution when young men and young women begin to find each other, develop flirtations with each other, and then begin to date?

Is this mantra a hard-wired program, deeply embedded in the feminine psyche, verbalizing, and “cognetizing” a safe perception of how best to be accepted, welcomed, viewed, and integrated into any new situation?

Is it the “politically correct” embodiment of a Canadian heritage, as a middle power attempting to find and take its place alongside superpowers, both geographic (e.g. the U.S.A. and natural (e.g. the wild forest, the wild oceans, and the wild ‘future’?

GO SLOW by its very intonations, evokes safety, security, an approach that, for example, in traffic signs, especially around school zones, hospital zones, construction zones, and fire or storm scenes. The mantra has innumerable appropriate, even essential applications. And, in each of those appropriate situations, it earns the kind of respect that seems to come with its very oral deployment.

At the other end of the spectrum, for example, in the Emergency Department, the Delivery Room, the Operating Room, perhaps in the court room, depending on the occasion, the protocol and the expectations and direction of the presiding judge. Similarly, if and when a law enforcement officer enter the scene of a robbery, an act of reported violence, a prospective suicide, or even if a neighbour hears a cry from next-door, all of the training, memory and establishment of the cognitive and emotional imprint, “GO SLOW” has to give way to the immediate situation, the needs of those in distress, and the need of the care-giver to assess, discern, and to act in the most appropriate, supportive and healthy manner, when they have any specific training or experience for the moment. And the “list” of ‘how to think, prioritize and execute ‘next moves’ that has comprised the training, is, in effect, supposed to ‘take over’ and provide a ‘safe,’ and ‘professional’ and effective intervention into the melee. Protocols, in the face of emergencies, have the expressed purpose of detaching the professional interventionist from the turbulence of the moment.

Respect for funeral processions, too, warrants a mind-set, as well as actions that embody, respect, reverence, and humility and honour for the deceased.

There is an unconscious, conventional consensus that ‘go slow’ brings a degree of respect, reverence and predictability into each situation, almost like ‘elevator music’ piped into elevators, and high-end retail outlets, as a means of ‘calming’ the anxiety of potential victims of an accident in the elevator, and of opening the wallets of those elegant clients.

In academic situations, there are academic presidents who have developed a culture of the appearance of ‘moderation’ and ‘thoughtful,’ ‘reflective,’ and studied policy considerations, in the hope and belief that those working that environment will ‘follow’ that example, as the most appropriate and professional model of managing the enterprise. From an educational perspective, both teacher and student are physically, intellectually and emotionally conscious that in process of learning a new concept, or especially a new skill, there is the conjoined commitment to ‘take it step-by-step’ so that the eventual learning becomes embedded, seeded and then nurtured in repetition, application and more repetition and applications.

Clearly, the mantra, ‘Go Slow,’ has multiple, useful, professional, political and even social applications, implications and relevance. Speeding vehicles, impatient drivers, restless students, angry customers, impulsive decision-makers and unpredictable incongruent words or actions by especially fully mature, responsible adults are not merely dangerous, they are untrustworthy, as a general rule.

Time, applied with patience, as a levelling notion has brought with it the human ‘compliance’ with, tolerance of and advocacy for a ‘way of being in the world’ that has many benefits.

Integrated into the mantra, go slow, is the also-embedded program of planning, pre-planning, surveillance, standing back, testing and testing and testing for anyone and for any group in the intersection of a new person, a new idea, or a new action. One life-long resident of a modest-sized Ontario city explained, calmly, methodically, and even respectfully, that the process of actually opening an open-air downtown artificial ice-pad for public skating was thirty years after the initial proposal was aired by city council.

In a conversation with a realtor in a small Ontario town, about a search for a respected, local prospective leader for a new ‘seniors centre,’ without offering any name, because he would have to think carefully about the question, he urgently volunteered, “It doesn’t matter who is selected as the ‘chair,’ in this town, whatever we do we must ‘go slow’ in the way we do it. That is just the way things are done here!”

And while there is no inherent evil either intended or implied in the ‘go slow’ mantra, like all templates, it has to be viewed from the shared lens of what the situation requires. A polar perspective that ‘assigns’ one of two extremes, ‘instant intervention’ to a crisis, and ‘go slow’ to all other processes, obviates the essential process of discernment, reflection and community and team building that includes the matter of ‘timing’ as an integral, relevant and operational ingredient in all conversations. And that ‘timing’ question is not relegated to an exclusive affordability quotient.

‘Go slow” is a publicly acknowledged, accepted, and even revered ‘arrow’ in the quiver of political leaders who, because of their radar of ‘hot-button’ issues, have become highly sensitized to the potential public push-back not only if they make a move that is not publicly affirmed. Reconnoitering, public opinion polls, focus groups, town halls, have taken on a priority and role in the political arena that has subverted both critical thought and disciplined and collegial decision-making in the public interest, even by apparent political rivals. While acknowledging the ‘pro-active’ core of leadership, at least rhetorically, the truly operational mantra of most political operatives is ‘reactive’ simply because the hostility of virtually all public reactions is so heated, visceral, venomous, and even dangerous as to ‘straight-jacket’ even the most visionary of public figures.

Indeed, “proactivity” or the very notion of ‘taking and showing initiative’ in any situation, not highly and intensely governed by competition, very often in a zero-sum equation, is too often considered haughty, presumptuous, arrogant, invasive, off-putting, inappropriate and even offensive. Of course, ‘how’ one demonstrates ‘proactivity’ in any specific situation also depends on the culture and ethos of the group in which the ‘proactivity’ is being offered. Gradients of enthusiasm, especially from rookies, newbies, new neighbours, new recruits, and particularly for any notions of ‘change,’  depending on the perceptions, receptivity and confidence of the group, however, are often measured in and filtered through the sieve of ‘go slow’…as a precautionary protection that groups and their leaders often adopt for the perceived and avowed long-term sustainability of the group. Naturally, (sarcastically) if there is a process within group for ‘filtering,’ and ‘assessing,’ and welcoming any proposals, that process itself is invariably kept ‘secret’ among the group in order to ‘protect the group’ from unwanted persons or their ideas. So, it is evident that ‘go slow’ can be, even unconsciously, embodied in a kind of undeclared process for ‘listening’  and for ‘mentoring’ and for ‘integrating' and ‘welcoming’ the new ‘stranger’ into the weave and culture of the group.

If we do not want ‘outsiders’ to know who we are, and how we ‘do things’ as a deeply revered premise on which we operate, both as individuals and then as groups, then that is how we will behave. And for the individual to ‘risk’ a suggestion, or especially a proposal, or even to ask a probing question, from the perch of a newby, is invariably regarded as ‘presumptuous’ and ‘haughty,’ ‘arrogant,’ and for some, repulsive, more for the presumption than for any ‘value’ or relevance of the idea.

And there are numerous, seemingly innocuous and almost imperceptible ways to erect and to establish a protective ‘wall’ around the insiders, to protect them (and the group) from the intrusion of the ‘outsiders’. Warning that the stereotype of the former professional credentials of the rookie ‘are not welcome here’ seems innocent enough, until one realizes that such a defensive statement says more about the fear ingrained in that warning of the speaker than necessarily of the group. And yet, because both the rookie and the speaker will forever remain anonymous, whether the group actually concurs with the warning or not, will never really be addressed or even raised.

Personal attitudes, personal perceptions, and personal belief systems are all embodied in the words, and the behaviour, ever the raised eye-brows of those who ‘wonder where you have been’ if some interruption in attendance has resulted from private concerns, prompts their ‘anxiety’ that as a newcomer, you are not reliable, dependable, predictable and thereby trustworthy.

And, in the midst of all of these hypothetical meanderings about ‘go slow’ and about how new comers are or are not integrated into a new town, a new family, a new occupation, a new corporation or a new athletic team, there is the question of integrating both the skills and the attitudes and the insights of the new recruit into the established ‘culture’ of the situation. In athletics, especially, or even in the arts, where the talent and skill of the rookie can be evident fairly quickly, the ‘stamp’ of acceptance and approval can be and usually is applied soon after the rookie’s arrival. Similarly, in a professional situation, the credentials and the ‘performance’ of the new recruit are observable for all to witness, and to celebrate and welcome.

It is in those more abstract, amorphous, and often unstructured or unconsidered or even incomplete processes and methods of how any group perceives, plans for, and executes a long-range plan for welcoming new people into their melieu, the process very often amounts to a ‘welcoming’ greeting, an approach even adopted by Walmart, to greet customers on their arrival.

Mentors, for example, like ‘god-parents’ for many newly baptized or dedicated children, are too often merely titles of ‘good intentions’ without the granularity of an actual disciplined, convenanted and acknowledged hand of guidance, support and leadership. It is not only at the ‘top’ of any hierarchical organization where leadership is both needed and needed to be acknowledged. Leaders, like Bridget from the last post in this space, are also leading by their entry into and their embrace of the highly needed and often absent process of ‘orientation’ as an integral part of ‘welcoming’.

Hand-outs, and citizenship tests, and ‘go slow’ mantras and even the basic ‘getting to know the name’ of the newcomer, are so minimal; and yet, too often, as in paying lip-service to those ‘soft-skills’ in many of our organizations, they are regarded as inconsequential,  unimportant, and thereby irrelevant. “The strong and confident and self-possessed individual does not want to be supervised and monitored” might be the unspoken and unwritten rationale for the ‘go slow,’ ‘hands-off,’ approach of many groups. On the other hand, there might be another unacknowledged, unofficial and unspoken, unwritten group expectation that, among the members, there will be a few individuals who are curious, interested and ‘pro-active’ who might fill thee gaps of any ideas, questions or suggestions that might be emerging from the mind and heart of the rookie.

The intersection of an individual “new” to any group or situation, especially one that disavows rules, regulations and acknowledged needs, both of their own members and of others entering, is a moment of  intersection about which we have too often deferred to happenstance. Nevertheless, relationships, the sine qua non of all healthy effective and thriving groups, begin at the beginning.

And, if we were as attentive to new ‘beginnings’ among adults as we are to new births of babies, there would be less disintegration, segregation, separation, alienation and confusion and certainly more welcome, a benefit not only for the rookie but also for the group.

Saturday, May 25, 2024 #54

 Whether ‘newness’ is a qualifying ‘filter’ for anyone attempting to ‘enter’ a new group, is, of course, an almost imperceptible and highly nuanced issue. Who is going to suggest that someone’s newness, as expressed in their unfamiliarity and even awkwardness in attempting to enter seamlessly, without making a fuss, a disturbance or especially a ‘scene,’ is what makes them a long-term outsider. And yet, outsiders are so visible, and so audible and so highly recognizable, especially by those whose tenure within the group is the longest, that, almost as if ‘we’ were of another race, or ethnicity, from the majority in the group, we are scrutinized and sanctioned, in the hope that, somehow, if we comply with those sanctions, we will eventually ‘merit’ or ‘warrant’ a place of minimal respect.

Let’s pause and reflect on the moment if and when a newcomer crosses the ‘threshold’ of a new group. It could be a new nation, or a new community, a school, a church, or even a workplace. And, even after hours of serious reflection, planning, and possibly even researching, by the neophyte, of the group, including its history, its purpose or mission, its foundational ideas, principles, goals and organization, those first steps, ‘into’ the domain of that group are, to some degree filled with tension and apprehension. (No, this is not a foreshadowing of a narcissistic ‘pity party’.)  At the same time, the group has already put in place some steps, processes and persons to offer a ‘welcome’ to any who venture within. And underlying this dynamic, there are the group’s attitudes to new entries, whether as staff, volunteer, or even as a passive participant. A ‘welcoming’ handbook, of some kind, with suggested gestures, words, tones and even possible orientating and welcoming ‘script’ along with some potential ‘training’ and familiarity for the HR professional, or the volunteer responsible for hospitality, has been thought through, discussed, written and revised, after experience in its application. If all of this sounds over-done, like an over-done round roast of beef, and far too micro-managing, especially given that we are talking here about adults (not kindergarten children coming to school on their very first day), perhaps it is not over-done at all.

Welcoming a new person into any group, (think of the adage, we have only the first thirty seconds to make a first impression) is more than vital, both to the individual and to the way the group sees itself, respects itself, and seeks to sustain itself. And while the anecdote comes from a personal experience on entering a retreat centre operated by a disciplined, committed and highly intelligent and emotionally intelligent group of women, it serves here as a model for others.

This scribe, ‘in another life,’ requested a time in retreat from a Benedictine centre, some full day’s drive distant from where I was working. And, upon receipt of acceptance, I began to plan for the needed respite, reflection and serious consideration of whether or not I could continue to serve in a ‘wild-west,’ ‘frontier,’ and alpha-male dominated town of cattle farmers, sheep herders, a massive coal-fired electricity plant and near-by open pit and underground coal mines. Not only did I know nothing about such a culture and life-style, I was so steeped in my perception of my ‘outsider’ status, perception and distance from the norms of the community, that my estrangement had two foster parents: the community’s history and tradition and my formal and bookish education and training. Keeping my distance took several forms.

·        Staying inside and refraining from too much visiting, so that the circle in which I was working would not ‘feel’ exposed and vulnerable to ‘talking’ given how averse to any kind of structured conversation about their personal lives they were.

·        Addressing a service club about the history of adolescent alcohol-related accidents, especially after the local prom, through a proposal for a teen-help-line with trained volunteers sponsored by the local McDonald’s franchisor who immediately offered his support.

·        Preparing and presenting vocal music that was both foreign and ‘too eastern’ for their palate (they preferred anything ‘western and gospel’)

·        Tentatively inviting a very small number to reflection-meditation sessions, without offending the majority of others who considered such activities unwanted and unwelcome

·        Expecting no prospects for any formal or even informal orientation or training that might be considered.

Somewhere deep inside my ‘gut’ (certainly not my brain, or ‘head’ or even ‘heart’ given that I had already shielded these from whatever the oncoming, unexpected, yet inevitable harshness that accompanied the arrival, and especially the protracted stay of an ‘alien’), I knew that I did not belong here and try as I might, I never would, even at a superficial and reciprocally respectful level. I was seeking both clarity and support from a mature, experienced, possibly trained and certainly insightful counsellor, director, or even pastoral friend. Deeply committed to ‘taking care’ of myself, however that process might unfold, I was also looking forward with both anticipation and confidence to this ‘time apart’ but not alone.

When the time came to make the trek, one that promised both length, considerable traffic on extended freeways, and unpredictable weather, I rose, showered, pack a few things I thought I might need, and set off in a Pathfinder, whose vehicle name most appropriately identified its driver. Only this ‘path-search’ was not for the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National, or the Grand Tetons; rather it was for next steps in my personal spiritual and professional path. Had I taken a detour from who I was, in even venturing into a staunchly traditional, staunchly politically correct/incorrect, and even more staunchly ‘stiff-upper-lip,’ (“The Frozen Chosen,” by Guy Richard), and fossilized frontier cowboy-outlaw geography and culture?

*    Paradoxes, like the convergence of art and design with the Smith-and-Wesson ‘insured’ half-ton trucks that roared through the streets of town with their rifles hanging in the cab rear window,

*    Paradoxes of beautiful, awe-inspiring mini-mountains and river valleys cohabiting with the Butch-Cassidy-and the Sundance Kid myth along the Green River,

These images and paradoxes were and remain, all of them, new and somewhat extreme, in proportion, in temperament and in their combined impact on a middle-aged, single, naïve, idealistic and somewhat adolescent (in perceptions) school-teacher-cleric from north of the 49th parallel. Movies of cowboys and ‘frontiers’ had crossed the local movie theatre screen of my youth, and had left an imprint of a ‘foreign’ culture and time, into which I had inadvertently, innocently, and somewhat unconsciously lived and worked for over three years. The ‘interloper’ (as I quickly came to believe I was in the eyes of the originals), was an identity with which I was totally unfamiliar. The ‘foreigner’ the stranger, the dangerous man, who, although dutifully clad in a white alb on Sundays, never lost the gut-sense that I was wearing black, in the eyes of these people. Tree-huggers, and ‘effete’ intellectuals, and gays and lesbians and blacks and socialists and environmentalists, and death-penalty abolitionists, and unionists, democrats and even city-slickers were all on an unwritten, and even unvoiced ‘enemies list’ for many of the men, and likely also many of the women in the country. The word ‘woke’ was not in parlance, back in the nineties as it is today; nevertheless, the soil from which it emerged comprised, at least in part, this frontier county, on the western side of the Continental Divide. The town was comprised of two dozen churches among some 10,000 population, merged with at least the same number of liquor outlets, many of them drive-through, a small community college, a high school and a middle and elementary school, and a small privately-owned and operated hospital, a few restaurants and a weekly newspaper, a single mortuary, a couple of banks and a cluster of Basque immigrants who worked for the local landowning cattle and sheep ranchers. And the tumble-weed blew through the intersecting main road, from the scrub brush surrounding hills and valleys, dusting what looked like papier mache store fronts to some forgotten movie set. There was always hanging over the town a vision of a dream that this town was still fully engaged in the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as if they were self-selected from ‘central casting’ to perpetuate the myth as a badge of pride. They were damned well determined to preserve, protect, defend and incarnate the myth of the anti-hero as their badge of honour, ready at any given moment to ‘fire’ any invading newcomer.

Although I desperately wanted ‘out’ of this encasement in a culture of my undoing, I nevertheless was groping for some guidance and perspective in my ‘escape. And this day-long drive would/could be critical to my future. The Benedictine retreat centre beckoned, opened its arms and doors to my plea for a listening ear, and a clear-thinking observer-friend. I could hardly wait to make the trip, having dotted the ‘I’s’ and crossed the ‘t’s’ of duties to be covered by willing surrogates.

I knew that the drive would have to start early, if I were to arrive in a timely manner. As nature would have it, in late winter in the central U.S., the forecast voiced both winds and heavy snowfall throughout the day and night of this trip. Beginning at 8:00 a.m. and travelling some six hours, I found myself both slowed and tiring from the treacherous drive on U.S. freeways, as the snow continued to fall. Nearing 4:00 p.m., and anticipating that my hosts would be expecting me, I pulled off into a truck stop and phoned ahead, to tell them I was still ‘coming’. The snow continued, and by the time darkness had descended, I was still some sixty miles from my destination, and the snow was now some 8-10 inches deep on the roads, slowing my pace to 30-40 miles per hour. Coffee, from a purchased insulted cup, and a few sandwiches I had prepared for the trip were keeping my energy from flailing into dreariness. Nevertheless, both fatigue and anxiety were creeping into my mind, body and spirit. Was this trip proving This scribe had requested a three-to-four-day retreat within the Benedictine Centre. Living some eight hours (by road) from the centre, to be ill-advised? Should I even continue driving through this storm? Was this a venture far beyond my physical, emotional and personal capacity to complete? As one drives more slowly, through blinding large snow flakes in the dark, one’s thoughts tend to race, as one expends energy better suited to paying attention to the road, the road conditions, the traffic, and the wiper blades that were becoming covered with snow and ice. At approximately, 9:45 p.m. after the last 50 miles of heavy driving, I pulled into the parking lot of the centre. Turning the key off, I pulled by bag from the back seat of the SUV, a Pathfinder, ironically, and found my way to the front door of the large, brick three-storey building, opened it, an noticed a single light bulb hanging in the opening of the small office up the dozen stairs, and off to the right. Slowly, I climbed those stairs, and presented at the front desk as I heard these words: “You must be John!”

They still ring in my heart, as four of the most welcoming, heartfelt, connecting and reviving words I have ever heard. The tiny, bespectacled mid-sixties lady behind the desk announced her name, “Bridget” who had been charged with the responsibility of hospitality for the centre and had waited up for my arrival. “I will be happy to show you to your room; you must be exhausted after such a trip!” were the next words from her mouth. And, for each of the days of my retreat, at every single moment when I was wondering what I was expected to do next, I would open the door to my room and several feet down the hall, as if in full anticipation and full expectation and full readiness, I would look up to see Bridget standing waiting for me. She intimately seemed to know every need I might have, the moment when I would have each need, and how to usher me into each of the activities, meals, chapel services, and free time at my disposal.
As Joe Biden frequently explains, “Please don’t compare me to or with the Almighty; please compare me with the alternative!” Similarly, I am not attempting to exhort all members of a group, when facing and welcoming newcomers, to imitate or even to be compared with Bridget. She is, however, my lasting image of the ‘angel’ of welcome in my life, welcoming a total stranger, in the darkness of night, into the warmth of the retreat centre, without asking or expecting anything by way of compensation, reward or even of recognition, except the engagement and the curiosity and the imagination of the reciprocal encounter, over a matter of only three days. And, whether we consider the rising tide of refugees, immigrants, homeless, and even jobless in our respective cultures, the soul and the spirit of Bridget, (who knows which images, models and stories she took as her guiding lights for her profound hospitality?) is desperately needed, as much or more than the kind of overt, public, high profile and committed, and authentic leadership that is found in people like Mandela and Gandhi.

Indeed, there is a plausible and necessary case to be made that in and through encounters like the one I had the honour and the humility to experience with Bridget, and potentially exclusively in and through such encounters, that the world will come to its senses and begin to see the sunrise of a new and different and hopeful morning on the horizon….not the current inflamed, burning, destructive, implacable, narcissistic, deceptive, and absolutist both religious and nationalist demagoguery that the world is currently facing.

Nothing that Bridget did, said or even felt is beyond the range, imaginatively and cognitively and emotionally, of each of us. And nothing of her example, here so briefly honoured, is also outside of the personal need and desire of each of us. I write here as the recipient of Bridget’s hospitality, empathy, curiosity, and eagerness to help in a most unobtrusive, effective, meaningful, purposeful and connecting manner. Doubtless, Bridget also experienced considerable fulfilment, value, respect, and profound honour, both from her community and from here guests, like this one, for her dedication, commitment, conviction and delivery of a profound need.

And while my need was obvious, stated, acknowledged and met, so often we are hesitant or even resistant to having and to expressing a need, in a social, group, or even work situation. And, perhaps our shared need for ‘being seen, heard, respected and valued,’ not by those who walk and eat in hallowed and powerful halls, but along the same streets and cafes we walk and visit, but by those walking the same streets and visiting the same cafes, is what is hampering the unleashing of the kind of imaginative, creative and engaging energies of the many Bridget’s among us.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024 #53


No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

Emily Dickinson:

Much Madness is Divinist Sense

Much madness is divinest Sense-

To a discerning Eye-

Much Sense-the starkest Madness-

‘Tis the majority

In this, as All, prevail—

Assent—and you are sane—

Demur---you’re straightway dangerous—

And handled with a Chain—


The relationship of the individual to the world, to his family, to his community, to his co-workers, to his God and to himself has and will continue to be a perturbing, provocative, energizing, motivating, frustrating, enervating and enlivening question throughout each person’s life. Framing the concept of relationship(S) between words from Heraclitus and Dickinson, in this way, offers a kind of coalesced ‘lens’ that speaks to the ‘river’ outside each of us, into which we ‘step’ and ‘swim’ each day, (if we do make that choice) and also from ‘inside’ the notion of the ‘madness’ (that is divine) and the ‘majority’ (that is sane).

Reconciling the slight, and often epic, changes from one moment/day/week/month/yead/decade, in everything, requires both an acknowledgment that the ‘river’ never ceases, even though, on its surface, it seems perfectly still, sedate and peaceful. And that ‘river’ flows, not only in its recognized channel between the rocks and the trees and the twists and the turns of topography, temperature, winds, and whatever dams have been constructed to ‘control’ its flow, but also within each of us.

And curiously enough, those dams that we and the beavers have erected, some for our capture of the energy, some for sheer protection, often fall into our gaze even more than the ‘flow’ of the river. Indeed, from an economic, political, social and even a survival perspective, those dams are considered not only essential, but actually necessary. Indeed, we do need the energy that comes from the much more dramatic, dynamic and powerful rush of water over a dam, and we feel justified pride, not only in the accomplishment itself, but in its sustaining physical energy for the sustainment of human life. The formal study of hydrology embraces both distribution and movement of water on and below the surface of the earth, as well as the impact of human activity on its availability and the conditions of its state. Also examining water, from a variety of perspectives, are legal experts, water quality professionals and watershed management specialists. Hydrogeology, specifically, studies groundwater.

From a scholarly perspective, we might counter with the study of dams, by civil engineers, in conjunction with those hydrologists, and the hydrogeologists, on the earth’s surface and its potential to bear the weight of such dams. Internally, from the human perspective, there are numerous professionals whose focus is on the ‘dams,’ the obstructions’ that somehow enter the ‘flow’ of the many rivers of water, blood, oxygen, carbon dioxide, nutrients, waste, not to mention those more abstruse things like thoughts, images, visions, dreams, hopes, and those other even more ephemeral things like emotions, senses, beliefs and attitudes. Medical professionals are trained to discern any ‘change’ from what is considered ‘normal’ in any of the various systems, all of them dynamic, at least from a benchmark base line, up or down a scale of measurement devised by those whose lives have been dedicated to such pursuits. Indeed, as the sophistication of the measuring instruments rises, so too does the detail of diagnostic perspicacity of the diagnostician. And like the proverbial snap-shot, previously a static hand drawing, diagram, sketch, each numerical piece of data is contiguous with, and expressive of a frozen moment in time. And taken over a period, then a line of numbers may show a trend line, lead to a projection and even help with a diagnosis and an action plan.

In a culture hungry (starved?) for special moments, ‘aha’s, they’re called, we have a strong desire, if not obsession, to know the ‘right number’ for ‘getting better’ or for ‘no hope’ and very often we, without even learning the numbers, jump to one end of the spectrum of hope or the other. Our emotions, in fact, are like buoys in the river, far ahead of the precise moment of the pain, the assessment and the diagnosis. We are not only ‘existing’ in the interior ‘river’ of our thoughts/sensations/feelings/opinions/perceptions/beliefs/ at any (and all) given moments, we are also engaged with the information that comes from those with whom we interact and the expression(s) of their respective thoughts/sensations/feelings/opinions/perceptions/beliefs…which are also in some dynamic ‘flow’ whether calm or turbulent, or somewhere in between.

Taken collectively, from each individual’s complex, systemic, ideational, cognitive, emotive, social, ethical, moral, religious, spiritual identity, there is another ‘river’ of the group into which models, examples, we have been learning to swim from a very early age. Intuitively, each of us has acquired a repertoire of images, like an interior moving picture, of social interactions, engagements, specifically with groups, teams, families, classes, choirs, hobbies, of how groups ‘tend’ to form, grow, operate and even erode. Such images, whether based on a representative sample (to borrow a statistical term) or not, comprise a portion of our identity and our relationships with any group.

Within each group, we have learned that there are those to whom the group consensus has conveyed ‘respect,’ ‘trust,’ ‘authority,’ and something more abstract we call ‘leadership’…whether in the formal or the informal sense. In each and every group, there is a ‘normative’ and conventional set of expectations that help both to define and to sustain the group. Over time, with various incidents, experiments, risks and successes, the determining ‘current’ of the group’s ‘river’ has been established, and the consciousness of this ‘current’ has enabled new participants to ‘swim’ successfully, socially, politically, ethically, morally, and eventually nudged their initial anxiety about ‘entering the water’ of the group into a mutual ‘acceptance,’ ‘welcome,’ ‘embrace’ and more predictable participation. Swimming, effortlessly, confidently, and eagerly in the ‘river’ of the group is one of the primary goals of many individuals who cross the threshold of entry. Indeed, for many, that state of ‘mutual flow’ in which the river’s flow and the person’s personal ‘flow’ each support, sustain and enhance each other is one to be so treasured, valued, and sought after, that, whether the group intentionally, or consciously, or deliberately knows, or not, is one of the primary goals for discerning the success of the group.

“Fitting in” is a phrase all of us learned in high school, when the respect and friendship of our peers was tantamount to our self-respect. And ‘fitting in’ is a social, political, and even ethical and moral minimum standard expected by most groups. By fitting in, we are able to demonstrate that we are dependable, trustworthy, approachable, negotiable, willing to co-operate, purposefully collegial, and thereby welcomed and embraced by various members of the group, including the ‘leadership’ and at least a cross-section of the members. There are significant advantages to fitting in in addition to acceptance, tolerance, respectability and comfort and security of both the individual and the group. These include a growing interest in the thoughts, opinions, attitudes, perspectives, of the neophyte, by a growing number of members. As this process continues, there are usually opportunities for new challenges and responsibilities and the satisfactions and success from achieving new goals, in co-operation with others. Status, while not openly discussed, is conferred to those who have demonstrated a capacity and a willingness to ‘fit it’ and to adopt the mores of the group, at least to a degree that permits and enables a mutual decision to join together.

There is another perspective to ‘fitting in’ with the group ‘flow’ that may not be as highly valued as conformity, compliance and mutuality. And that perspective, although highly risky and even dangerous for both the individual and the group, is the ‘irritant’ the pesky inquirer, seeker, questioner, provocateur, who, while bringing a serious interest in, and commitment to the group, also brings a kind of ‘interior river’ of ‘restlessness’ and ‘challenge’ not only for him or herself, but for the group. And the initial predictable and likely inevitable intersection of this individual and the ‘group-norm’ is one of anxiety, almost as if, without warning the group feels and even believes that it has encountered some unpredicted ‘white water’ and the group has neither prepared for the white water, nor even recognized the need for a vessel in which to ride through the rapids. Individuals who are perceived as ‘white water’ to a group that considers itself a calm, inland, spring-fed lake, surrounded by forests, and filled with small forested islands, will be analogous to the ‘motor boat’ that presumptuously launches into a ‘no-motor-boat’ declared lake. He/She will upset many on first encounter, and will be considered so obnoxious and even dangerous, not only because of the ‘noise’ of the motor of ideas, questions, enthusiasms, or suggestions, but more importantly, because of the ‘arrogance’ and the ‘presumption’ and the ‘impatience’ and the ‘unpredictability’ that has been signalled just by the launch of that motor boat.

Without the ‘benefit’ of the ‘historic,’ and ‘traditional,’ and ‘conventional,’ and ‘expected,’ probation period of trial, usually without mentorship, guidance, or especially support, the public declaration of ‘welcome’ in which the group identity is proclaimed, is challenged, perhaps even threatened, as indicative of the unlikelihood of eventual mutually beneficial relationship. And the individual who might consider himself/herself a misfit, or at least an iconoclast, a searcher, an inquirer or a seeker, re-visits a theme that might have accompanied much of his journey.

Inevitably, and predictably, the interactions of an individual with an organization, irrespective of its purpose or agenda, and irrespective of his/her history and motivation, will continue to be determined more from the perspective of the ‘group-mind’ and the ‘group-attitude’ which itself has been determined by those who have already subscribed to the stated purpose and its delivery. Power, within the group, and in its interactions with ‘newbies’ (rookies, recruits, freshmen/women, temporaries, interns) especially, is the component that, like the phantom uncle alcoholic in every family, is never spoken of, recognized, or even considered to still be alive.

The “power of the individual” in relation to the over-weening power of the group that is determined to ‘protect and to preserve’ whatever it considers its ‘established and appropriate’ modalities, is like the feather of a bird that merely flew over the river, in relation to the rush and the flow of the river. Of course, it will be picked up and examined with the question, “I wonder what kind of bird it was!” and then either dropped or retrieved for a personal artistic experiment in which it might be included.

Those ‘in power’ irrespective of the determination and the commitment to ‘welcome’ the new, the innocent, the naïve, and especially the searcher, are left in the position of having to ‘uphold’ and ‘support’ and ‘sustain’ the history and the long-term members of that group. Those of the ones who have demonstrated their loyalty, their dedication, and their concurrence with the approach, attitudes, beliefs and goals of the group. And there is really no established, effective, even desired, process for formally or informally getting acquainted with those who might be stretching their ‘wings’ ever so tentatively, and ever so riskily and ever so deliberately, in the hope that, this time, they will find acceptance, tolerance and perhaps even a glint of interest in learning ‘who’ they are, not only by the leadership but by those who adhere to the principles advocated by leadership.

Not all of us can of will be Mandela’s or Gandhi’s, as leaders of revolutionary groups; not all of us seek that kind of public acknowledgement, accolades and responsibility. However, in an age when everyone seems more and more anonymous, lost in the digital and the actual ‘crowd’ of mixed and dangerous messages, ‘seeing’ and ‘really getting to know’ the other, formerly taken for granted in small families and small towns, seems to be one of the ‘manifest destinies’ of which we are in danger of losing both sight and grip. And, it is the responsibility of the leadership of all groups to pause and to reflect on the question of how the ‘group’ ‘sees’ ‘the other’….irrespective of the ethnicity, nationality, gender, racial or even age identity of that ‘other’. And that ‘other’s “newness” to the group ought to have an equal relevance to the tolerance of the group as does any of the above demographics. Newness need not be a disqualifier, as a starting point for tolerance, acceptance, and even potential membership by the group.

Pluralism, as an objective study, will never replace the deep subjectivity of its deepest implications. Getting to know the ‘other’ irrespective of the identity of the ‘other’ brings with it the mutual responsibility of both ‘the other’ and ‘the group’ behind which many can and will hide.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024 #52

 From the last piece in this space, we all learned (from Ali Velshi, MSNBC host, in reference to his father and grandfather) of Gandhi’s commitment to a father (Velshi’s grandfather), a Muslim living under apartheid in South Africa, upon enrolling his son (Velshi’s father) in Gandhi’s school, about how Gandhi committed to read the Muslim texts and teach the son about ‘his’ (the son’s and the father’s) faith. We also learned of Gandhi’s commitment to read the Jewish and Christian texts in a determined, deliberate and dedicated pursuit of religious tolerance, as a premise for social and political tolerance, co-operation, collegiality and pluralism.

Looking through Gandhi’s lens, let’s review the words of the current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Michael Johnson, from a report on, October 27, 2023, by Sarah Beth Hensley. Reporting on a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity,

‘Someone asked me today in the media, ‘People are curious, what does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun? ’I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.’

From the same report:

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said in a post on X that Johnson’s speakership ‘is what theocracy looks like.’ Speaker Mike Johnson? Anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, anti-gun safety, anti-democracy. This is what theocracy looks like,’ Raskin wrote.

Ms Hensley continues to write about Johnson in this piece:

Johnson mentioned his religion prominently in his acceptance speech, saying God helped elevate him to the top House job. (quoting Johnson) ‘I believe that Scripture, the Bible is very clear, that God is the one who raises up those in authority. He raised up each of you. All of us. And I believe that God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific time,’ Johnson said after his election.

Later, on the Capitol steps, Johnson drew on Scripture as well: ‘I was reminded of the Scripture that says, ‘Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope,’ What we need in this country is more hope.’

Johnson has indicated he does not believe in the separation of church and state spelled out in the First Amendment’s establishment clause: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Pluralism, we have learned through formal and informal instruction and mentoring, by so many sources, is inextricably linked, even embedded in, democracy. defines pluralism this way:

Pluralism, in political science, the view that liberal democracies power is (or should be) dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure groups and is not (or should not be) held by a single elite or group of elites. Pluralism assumes that diversity is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations and ethnic minorities.

The contains these words in a piece entitled Religious Pluralism 101, July 17, 2019:

Religious pluralism is the state of being where every individual in a religiously diverse society has the rights, freedoms, and safety to worship, or not, according to their conscience. This definition is founded in the American motto e pluribus unum, that we, as a nation, are gathered together as one out of many…But religious diversity on its own is not religious pluralism; that requires a bit more: Individuals have the legal rights and de facto freedoms to worship, believe, practice, and join in community with others according to their conscience. Individuals are also able to abstain from these activities. In the U.S. these rights and freedoms are guaranteed by the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment; Individuals and communities protect their own and others’ rights and freedoms to worship, believe, practice, and join in community with others, or not, according to their conscience; Individuals and communities protect each others’ safety to worship: and Communities engage with each other, acknowledging areas of deep and irreconcilable difference, but focused on areas of common ground. And finally, since religious pluralism does not happen without sustained and diverse religious communities: Diverse religious communities themselves thrive, meaning leadership is good, community institutions are sustainable, community ties remain strong, and congregants know the basic theological content of their own traditions….Religious pluralism is NOT: The simple fact of religious diversity in a society; A synchronistic mix of religious beliefs that pares down theological ideas to the lowest common denominator; Religious belief being prioritized over non-belief.

As a Canadian confronting these words, concepts and precepts, for the first time, formally, I am somewhat confused. On the one hand, the ethics and the tolerance of various religious iterations, beliefs, practices, and rituals are totally acceptable, reasonable and even highly valued. Stating these precepts, however, in a bald, assertive and almost legalistic phraseology, seems to be more the language of the public square, and not the religious sanctuary, as I know or conceptualize it. In Canada, for instance, we have no ‘Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in a First Amendment.

From the Centre for Constitutional website (in Canada), we read:

The freedom of religion is one of the fundamental freedoms protected by section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…According to the Supreme Court, the charter-protected freedom means that no one in Canada can be forced by the government to act in a way that is contrary to his or her religious views. For example, the Supreme Court has determined that religious officials cannot be forced to perform same-sex marriages if doing to violates their religious beliefs. In practice, having the freedom of religion means a person is allowed to entertain whatever religious beliefs he or she chooses. Freedom of religion also allows a person to declare his or her religious beliefs ‘without fear of hindrance or reprisal,’ and to worship, practice, and disseminate those beliefs. The freedom of religion protects only ‘beliefs, convictions, and practices rooted in religion, as opposed to those that are secular, socially based or conscientiously held. What does the term religion mean in this legal context? ‘Religion,’ according to the Supreme Court, ‘is about freely and deeply held personal conviction-connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to one’s self-definition and spiritual fulfillment. It often ‘involves a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship’ and the belief in a divine, superhuman or controlling power.

Acknowledging that both the U.S. and Canada have some legal framework and protection of religious freedom, the words, the tone, the perspective and the implications of both positions are quite unique and very different. Also, the exercise of law enforcement, and ‘shading’ of the law, in the U.S. at this moment in history, is very different from the religious ethos in Canada. And given the Canadian history of a degree of not only tolerance, but also accommodation of different religions in the public school system, we see and are oriented to the question of religion, in the public square somewhat differently.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission, ( displays these words:

The right to freedom of religion under s. 2(a) of the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms in Canada) has also been found to protect the right of confessional schools-including Roman Catholic schools- to teach from a confession all religious perspectives. The (Supreme) Court affirmed that other aspects of the ERC (Ethics Religion and Culture) program (in Quebec) dealing with ethics and other religions should be taught from a neutral perspective, in keeping with the program’s objectives preparing students for living in a plural, democratic society which was described as being constitutional and ‘of immense public importance.’

The history of religion and religious debate, legislation, practice and its place in Canadian society, while asserting principles of pluralism, tolerance, and protection, is also fraught with pain. Small towns, especially, have, too often, been deeply divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and more recently, with the surge of immigrants, there still remain social pockets of division, given the influx of Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and other faith communities. These divisions also have a racial and an ethnic aspect, whether these include religious intolerance or not. Religious tolerance, for example, as reported in the assaults on individual Muslims and their mosques, as well as on Jews and on their synagogues, remains a serious, contentious and seemingly intractable blight on the Canadian cultural, religious, ethical and ethnic landscape. Doubtless, we are a deeply divided nation when examined from a religious pluralism perspective.

The U.S. House Speaker’s ‘adherence to the Bible,’ as the sourcebook for his world view is very unsettling to many in Canada, who consider ourselves Christians by education, and pluralists by thought, practice and tolerance. The Bible, as well as any of the religious texts that have been developed as foundational of a faith, are wide open to interpretation, by both laity and religious scholars. At a very basic level, the various literary forms, poetry, prose, literal, metaphoric, mythic, visionary, utopian, dystopian, apocalyptic, judgemental, morality guides, war histories, legal documents and pronouncements, prophetic assertions….require a rather intense and critical scrutiny by all who venture forth into those texts. And yet, throughout history, the major religious, faith communities have stressed, along with nuances of difference some basic themes, attitudes, ethics and norms.

Pluralism, as a sociological, political, ethical, and even more idea, concept, notion or even a philosophy, for many, may not be a ‘religious’ or spiritual exercise or process. However, that question may also require revisiting, given whatever each individual considers his/her spiritual/religious journey.

Karen Armstrong, in her insightful work, The Case for God, writes these words about religion:

Religion is a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart. …It is no use magisterially weighing up the teachings of religion to judge their truth or falsehood before embarking on a religious way of life. You will discover their truth-or lack of it- only if you translate these doctrines into ritual or ethical action. Like any skill, religion requires perseverance, hard work and discipline. (p. xiii)

At the core of religion, from very early times, lies the unseen dimension of existence. In many parts of the world, the moon was linked symbolically with a number of apparently unrelated phenomena: women, water, vegetation, serpents, and fertility. What they all have in common is the regenerative power of life that is continually able to renew itself. Everything could so easily lapse into nothingness, yet each year after the death of winter, trees sprout new leaves, the moon wanes but always waxes brilliantly once more, and the serpent, a universal symbol of initiation, sloughs off its old withered skin and comes forth gleaming and fresh. (Armstrong, op. cit. p. 11)

Armstrong is enlightening, too, from a modern perspective, about the way religion is ‘conceived’ in the twenty-first century.

She writes:

We have become used to thinking that religion should provide us with information. Is there a God? How did the world come into being? But this is a modern preoccupation. Religion was never supposed to provide answers to questions that lay within the reach of human reason. That was the role of logos. Religion’s task, closely allied to that of art, was to help us to live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there were no easy explanations and problems that we could not solve: mortality, pain, grief, despair and outrage at the injustice and cruelty of life. Over the centuries people in all cultures discovered that by pushing their reasoning powers to the limit, stretching and compassionately as possible, they experienced a transcendence that enabled them to affirm their suffering with serenity and courage. Scientific rationality can tell us why we have cancer; it can even curs us of our disease. But it cannot assuage the terror, disappointment, and sorrow that come with the diagnosis, nor can it help us to die well…..Religious insight requires not only a dedicated intellectual endeavor to get beyond the ‘idols of thought’ but also a compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break of out the prism of selfhood. Aggressive logos, which seeks to master, control, and kill off the opposition, cannot bring this transcendent insight. Experience proved that this was possible only if people cultivated a receptive, listening attitude, not unlike the way we approach art, music, or poetry. It required kenosis, ‘negative capability,’ ‘wise passiveness,’ and a heart that ‘watches and receives.’

Searching, through reading texts, has been central to the process of ‘learning’ and ‘grasping’ not only in a cognitive manner, but also in an emotional, psychological, spiritual sense. Words, it turns out, however incomplete and fallible they are to convey the fullness of meaning, as intended by speakers, writers, people at prayer, composers of songs, poets, historians, are really our only (original) means of conveying whatever it is that we wish to convey. Like musical notes, and different from those, words come from a source and bridge to another ‘receiver’ who then has the chore of discerning the meaning of those words. Scripture(s) have used the words ‘mythos’ and ‘logos’ from early time, to discern and attempt to separate different kinds of messages and their respective impact on the recipient.

Although only a general characterization of these two modalities of communication, logos, a Greek word, is generally defined as word, thought, principle or speech and relates to factual, objective and empirical reality. ‘Characteristic of the brain’s left hemisphere’ logos can describe only a portion of what we consider as our reality. Myth (mythos), (today) ‘is something that is not true. If accused of a peccadillo, in his past life, a politician may say that it is a myth—it did not happen. But traditionally, a myth expressed a timeless truth that in some sense happened once but which also happens all the time. It enabled people to make sense of their lives by setting their dilemmas in a timeless context. Myth has been called an early form of psychology: the tales of heroes struggling through labyrinths of fighting with monsters brought to light impulses in obscure regions of the psyche that are not easily accessible to rational investigation. Myth is essentially a programme of action: its meaning remains obscure unless it is acted out, either ritually or ethically. The mythical story can only place you in the correct spiritual or psychological attitude; you must take the next step yourself. The myths of scripture are not designed to confirm tour beliefs or endorse your current way of life: rather, they are calling for a radical transformation of mind and heart. Myth could not be demonstrated by logical proof, since  its insights, like those of art, depended on the right hemisphere of the brain. It is a way of envisaging the mysterious reality of the world that we cannot grasp conceptually; it came alive only when enacted in ritual without which it could seem abstract and even alien. Myth and ritual are so intertwined that it is a matter of scholarly debate as to which came first: the mythical story or the rites attached to it. (Karen Armstrong, the Lost art of Scripture, p. 11)

Living in a world dominated by ‘logos’ and the empirical lens on each of our lives, one has to wonder if Mike Johnson is offering a ‘literal’ and ‘empirical’ interpretation of The Bible, to his political audience or a mythos, right-brain driven and directed interpretation. And the convergence of the logos and the mythos, even in religious institutions, is a confusion that seems to attract and to benefit from a closer look that a merely superficial glance.

Pluralism, as considered from a ‘logos’ perspective, can be considered in it political context. If considered from a mythos perspective, it takes on a very different meaning, application and implication….Pluralism, from a spiritual perspective, embraces, celebrates and honours the notion of ‘love’ likely from an ‘agape’ (Greek, the highest form of love, charity, and/or the love of God for humans) lens. This love shows empathy, wants good for the beloved, extends help and is intended for everyone. On the political (logos) level, humans are expected to respect, and to refrain from judgement, harm and insult of another; we are also expected to permit and to endorse the permission of every person to engage in his/her religious actions and beliefs without interference, prejudice or judgement.

Mike Johnson, in his declaration of ‘go and read your Bible’ does not carry with it the kind of agape love in the Christian modality, that has been considered to be the core of the gospel. Rather, his aggressive assertion reads, for many, like a kind of ‘power trip’…of self-righteousness, piety and superiority….even in the alleged pursuit of ‘hope’ which Johnson says we need more of.

Could someone introduce the Gandhi example, of committing to read, to comprehend and to share the texts and their meaning from the main world religions, to Mr. Johnson?

Thursday, May 16, 2024 #51

 In 2024, whether we are prepared to acknowledge it or not, behind the bombs and missiles, the drones and the killings in both Ukraine and Gaza, there are words, strategies, tactics and philosophies, even religious roots, lurking both within the conflicts and among the observers outside the boundaries of the conflicts.

(In Sudan, from most reports, the conflict seems to be primarily between two military forces, the SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). However, from the website,, in a piece entitled, Sudan Civil War: History & Implications (6 Root Causes), Updated January 22, 2024, we read, as one of the causes, ‘The Second Sudanese Civil War, which spanned from 1983 to 2005,,,,,was fueled by long-standing religious and ethnic divisions between the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum and the predominantly Christian and animist populations in the southern regions of Sudan….The imposition of Islamic Sharia law by the Sudanese government in 1983 heightened discontent in the predominantly non-Muslim southern regions, contributing to a sense of cultural and religious oppression.)

Reporting on military and civil strife remains ‘spotty’ and inconsistent, given a number of factors, among which are news resources, editorial slant, audience level of literacy and concentration, and bald economics and politics. Currently, both Gaza and Ukraine are dominating media reports in North America, while Sudan hovers like a storm cloud of millions of desperate refugees and migrants, many of whom face starvation and death, if the world, though the United Nations, does not intervene. Reporting on daily newspapers and live television networks, tends to focus on the immediacy of the casualties, the numbers of bombs, drones, missiles, and the response of the defence. Horse races, and their coverage, rarely dig into the back-story of the histories, traditions, religions and ideologies of the participants (combatants) except peripherally, superficially and perhaps ‘nominally’ in an editorial conviction that the audience either does not know enough to be capable of assimilating the finer details, or that the concentration of the reader/viewer is so brief that it is not worth including. Magazines like The Atlantic, or the Foreign Affairs journals think and act from a different set of both perceptions and convictions.

In the secular world, attempting in vain to maintain a ‘berlin wall’ between religion and politics, including the military and the diplomatic, religion is sidelined in both the news and in the public rhetoric, almost exclusively to sustain the separation of church and state (a propounded, propagated and deeply held public conviction of the United States nation and its various publics, challenged vehemently recently, by a Christian white religious nationalism in the U.S. Congress). Also, in the secular world of American politics, the pervasive and divisive issue of a woman’s right to an abortion, formerly considered  legal as well as socially and politically enshrined, at least in the culture if not in the precise wording of the constitution, is/has and will continue to tear apart the fabric of the American body politic. And this, too, is primarily a ‘religious-based’ conviction among those who vehemently oppose all abortions as ‘the killing of the fetus’. The secular and political/philosophical/legal/ethical stance of those who support a woman’s right to choose, in the privacy of her doctor’s office, is currently under threat in the U.S. and more recently in Canada and elsewhere. While the public protests, debates, even violence among and between activists, like the wars, are reported in granular detail about numbers of protesters, evidence of weapons, use of weapons, injuries, and possible deaths, the underlying religion versus the public domain, is left off the pages of the scripts and the paragraphs of audio and newspaper reporters. There is a cultural aversion to public judgements of any specific religious faith community, among both politicians and reporters/journalists/analysts/editorialists, for more than a single reason.

Condemning another’s faith position, or framing an issue in the public square as having a single or even a primary ‘root cause’ is a cultural and cognitive concept that has fallen by the wayside, in and through the processes and histories of both the legal and the medical professions. Lawyers for the tobacco companies, for example, have for decades argued that cancer can not be laid at the feet of smoking cigarettes, given that there are many other root causes. Similarly, the public argument over environmental pollution has evoked legal cases in which lawyers for the prime polluters maintain that the rise in carbon dioxide cannot be attributed exclusively to the smoke billowing from the smoke-stacks of manufacturing factories and coal mining and oil refineries. Oil, gas and coal, and in some cases uranium, as corporations and their collective ‘establishment,  have coalesced to attempt to block any restrictions on carbon emissions, arguing about the loss of both jobs and community income and survival rates in the immediate future.

Nevertheless, even with the vortex of  conflicts swirling over and around the planet, in and out of negotiating board rooms, terrorist tunnels, Ukrainian villages and Black Sea warships, what individuals, especially when grouped in religions, faith communities and faith traditions, believe, have learned, have grasped from their ancestors, and hold to be true about their place in the universe and in their relationship with a God, will take actions that, perhaps without such faith support and convictions they would be less likely to take.

In small towns and villages, especially the depth and breadth of religious traditions and faith communities has been, for decades, if not centuries, one of the primary ‘agents of cohesion’ as well as division within those communities. Men’s and women’s groups affiliated with and supported by religious communities have provided social and connective tissue for the portion of the body politic that has embraced each faith’s belief system, ritual celebration calendar, dogmatic dicta, and the expectations of that faith community. At least that is the public posture of each of these groups, and their faith peers. Detailed conversations about what each person actually holds as a firm faith conviction, even after echoing the verbiage of a creedal statement, are rare among laity, and only occasional between laity and clergy, excepting the need for and desire for a confession/penitential encounter. We hold personal convictions about what we consider, and have been instructed to believe, the expectations of God, the nature of the human being, as portrayed in what is called holy writ, and the relationship between life on this planet and any prospective afterlife, if our faith holds fast to such a conviction. In that light, and also in the manner in which ‘our’ family/personal/church beliefs and attitudes have been depicted in relation to other faith communities, we tend to see the world through a similar, if not identical, lens….favouring or even despising another faith community as ‘tolerable, reasonable, strong, weak, or even contemptible. Case in point: in North America, the tension between protestants and Roman Catholics has prevailed as a tension that has (and continues to) impact the ethos of many communities. Similarly in Northern Ireland, the “Troubles” comprised a period of conflict began during a campaign by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to end discrimination against the Roman Catholic nationalist minority by the Protestant Unionist government and local authorities. (From, (T)he overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists) …desired the province to remain part of the United Kingdom and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted Norther Ireland to become part of the republic of Ireland. Much diligent and highly effective social, political, cultural and educational work has ensued in Northern Ireland, in pursuit of reconciliation, toleration and even mutual respect for the two sides of the religious divide.

The rising tide of white Christian nationalism in the United Sates, while still a minority of the Republican party (if that party name still applies), has gathered allies to their ‘cause’ under the guise (ruse, rug, pretense) of campaigning for the former president, currently sitting in a New York court room as a criminal defendant. Politics and religion, in that example, have so fused, in the presumed assumption that ‘Christian evangelical voters’ will more likely vote for trump if they are given a voice in that political ‘initiative’. Simultaneously, Putin vehemently argues that his invasion of Ukraine is to defeat the fascists ‘who govern Ukraine’….another ruse to induce (seduce?) the Russian population to support the illegal, unjustified invasion, given the historic Russian contempt for the fascists of the Second World War. Staunchly and resolutely supported by the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, Putin proudly dons the mantle of religiosity (a la trump with his upside-down Bible), as part of his propaganda campaign to appear to sacralize his war killings.

Terrorists, too, over the last few decades, have donned the vestments and the attending religious and political dogma of their faith, according to many reports, eventually to establish a Caliphate of and for the Muslim believers. In a piece entitled, The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism, by Shmuel Bar, on Policy Review, Jun/Jul 2004, 125: Research Library, p27, Bar writes:

While Terrorism—even in the form of suicide attacks-is not an Islamic phenomenon by definition, it cannot be ignored that the lion’s share of terrorist acts and   the most devastating of them in recent years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam. This fact has sparked a fundamental debate both in the West and within the Muslim world regarding the link between these acts and the teachings of Islam…..Modern International Islamist terrorism is a natural offshoot of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism. The ‘Islamic Movement’ emerged in the Arab world and British India as a response to the dismal state of Muslim society in those countries: social injustice, rejection of traditional mores, acceptance of foreign domination and culture. It perceives the malaise of modern Muslim societies as having strayed from the ‘straight path’ and the solution to all ills is a return to the original mores of Islam. The problems addressed may be social or political inequality, corruption, and oppression. But in traditional Islam-and certainly in the worldview of the Islamic fundamentalist—there is no separation between the political and the religious.  Islam is, in essence, both religion and regime and no area of human activity is outside its remit. Be the nature of the problem as it may, ‘Islam is the solution’.

Irrespective of the detailed teachings of Islam, this conjoining of religion and regime is in direct, and confrontational, contrast and comparison to the long-held ‘separation’ of church and state in the United States. A similar conjoining of religion and regime is at the heart of the state of Israel also. Historically, the monarch of Great Britain is also the titular Head of the Church of England, in at least a ceremonial conjoining. In Canada, we historically have spoken and written of ‘two establishment churches’, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. Many national and political, as well as corporate leaders have been raised and have emerged from both of those Christian denominations. Also in Canada, we have a deeply embedded ‘social convention’ in order to avoid personal, political and ideational conflict, ‘to avoid the topic of religion and politics’ in public company. It is almost a ‘social grace’ to adhere to such a rubric, and a social disgrace to disavow it. Religion, in Canada, has been presumed to be, and has operated as if, it is an exclusively private, personal, secret and hidden preserve, the exception being among those who ‘know’ the faith of their colleagues, friends and pew-mates. And in that light, there is a rather strong bond among strong advocates and believers of a given faith community, as part of the cohesion of that faith community.

In Canada, too, the mainline religious institutions, along with the government, have actively engaged in a program of religious, educational and moral/ethical colonization of the indigenous youth, commonly referred to these days as the ‘Residential Schools Crisis’. From the Canadian, in a piece entitled, Residential Schools in Canada, by J.R. Miller, (updated by Tabitha DeBruin, David Gallant, Michelle Filice, published October 10, 2012, and last edited, January 11, 2024, we read:

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture….Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. The last residential school closed in 1996. Since then, former students have demanded recognition and restitution resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Metis children attended residential schools

The shame, guilt and residue of bitterness, like an indelible stain on the national psyche, lingers not only in public debate about resources, health care, land rights and the real legitimacy of the indigenous peoples after all these decades. Advocates, artists, teachers, elders and leaders of the indigenous communities grow in both numbers and in influence across the country, while the pace of reconciliation and accommodation of the legitimate needs and demands of these indigenous peoples drags on almost glacially, at least from their perspective.

Religion and regime, the tension that has reverberated in the West for centuries, has reared its head in violent acts and especially violent rhetoric, as fundamentalists in all faith communities, like minorities on every scale, in fortissimo and vengeance, and the results will only be assessed long after this generation and century close.

Religious dialogue, whether among and between public advocates, or among and between friends and family, has a history both of ‘secrecy, silence and privacy’ as well as a cultural perception of division and separation, alienation and meagre, yet significant initiatives at reconciliation and openness.


This pattern, so deeply buried in the cultural ethos, the anima mundi, of Canada, illustrates how the affairs of state, while ostensibly separate from the religion(s) of those writing and voting on legislation, were, are and continue to be deeply impacted by the ‘religion’ and belief systems of those in power. Recently, while being interviewed on MSNBC, Ali Velshi, host of Velshi on Saturday mornings, recounted a small vignette from his family’s history that brought this viewer to the edge of my seat.

Velshi’s father was a student of Gandhi. In the course of that enrollment, Velshi’s grandfather rhetorically commented to Gandhi, “I am a Muslim; how can I send my son to your school, given that you are a Hindu.” As recounted by Velshi, and reported here, Gandhi is reputed to have responded: I will read the Muslim teachings and I will teach your son the Muslim faith.” And the Velshi added, ‘Gandhi also read the Christian scriptures and the Jewish scriptures attempting to respect and to honour all of the major religions.” (these quotes are imprecise in their detail, yet summative of the conversation on MSNBC).

In addition to his fame, historic elevation and secure place in the history of the human species, Gandhi might also be revered for his embrace of a depth of both understanding and compassion, integrity and the embrace of humanity, as he ‘saw’ it, from the perspective of the reverence of the main religions of the world.

This space is and has been dedicated both to the proposition that biography is significant as a specific study in history, psychology and also in the affairs of state, politics, economics and social policy. And at the centre of biography, although not always the focus of the historians’ lens, is a religious component, perhaps even an essence, of the ‘worldview,’ ‘attitude,’ ‘perspective,’ and, to borrow an over-used and minimally-understood word, ‘values,’. It is the segregation of religion, faith, psychology, from the ‘human’ integration, in many of our educational curricula, to which these pieces are addressed.

Menus, templates, procedures, regulations, and even treatment plans of various highly educated, professional, honourable and ethical practitioners, while useful and even somewhat aspirational, too often omit, or ignore, or dismiss, or worse, denigrate the interaction and the judgement of the persons who are attempting to implement those ‘procedures’. Also, in many instances, deviation from those ‘templates,’ for whatever might seem to be a justifiable perspective and opinion, too often results in sanctions of the offender, when, it just might be (actually is!) the offender who is illustrating the ‘hole(s) in the template. Decades ago, there was a bandied-about phrase, situational ethics. From, we read:

Situation ethics, in ethics and theology, the position that moral decision making is contextual or dependent on a set of circumstances. Situation ethics holds that moral judgements must be made with the context of the entirety of a situation and that all normative features of a situation must be viewed as a whole. The guiding framework for moral decision -making is stated variously as that of actin g in the most loving way, to maximize harmony and reduce discord, or to enrich human existence. Situation ethics was developed by American Anglican theologian, Joseph F. Fletcher whose book, Situation Ethics: The New Morality, 1966) arose from his objections to both moral absolutism (the view that there are fixed universal moral principles that have binding authority in all circumstances) and moral relativism (the view that there are no fixed moral principles at all). Fletcher based situation ethics on the general Christian norm of brotherly love, which is expressed in different ways in different situations. He applied this to issues of doctrine. For example, if one holds to the absolute wrongness of abortion, then one will never allow for abortion no matter what the circumstances within which the pregnancy occurs. Fletcher held that such an absolute position pays no attention to the complexity and uniqueness of each situation and can result in a callous and inhumane way of dealing with the problem. On the other hand, if there are no principles at all, then the decision is reduced to nothing more than what one decides to do  in the moment, with no real moral implications involved. Rather, Fletcher held, within the context of the complexities of the situation, one should come to the most loving or right decision as to what to do.

Having devolved into a literal, baseline, zero-sum approach to many of the most important questions, in a climate and ethos of acidic rhetoric, in which even respect for the other has dissipated, perhaps a re-reading of Fletcher’s thought might be in order, for many of our current crises. Balancing the situation with some relevant and cogent principles, in each situation, however, requires a detailed, detached, documentation of the situation and an even more wholistic, nuanced and discerning judgement, requiring considerable time, reflection, conversation and, in a ‘instant’ society, also more money. In the interest too often of the deciding authority, in order to preserve and protect his/her power and authority, and not to burden the budget, the application of templates replaces the complexities of implementing Flether’s thinking. And the results are often tragic.