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Thursday, October 21, 2021

superficialities and stereotypes

In a CBC opinion piece a Muslim thought leader, Narjis Karani, decries the reductionism of the words race, gender, religion and ethnicity as defining minorities. The superficiality obviously obviates cultural traditions, and patterns of behaviour that accompany the full identity of what are effectively still "colonized" groups.


Constricting those people by phrases like "s/he is religious but does not wear his/her religion on his/her sleeve", while it also has application among majorities, minority citizens feel more compelled to "fit" into their new society.

The tokenism that results, in her view, leads inevitably and tragically to assimilation as the erosion of the details of a minority's authentic choices continues.
It is not only the "devil that is in the details," that devil and those details are actually intrinsic to one's identity especially if we are ever to "do nuance" in human relations.

The collision of "nuance" in public affairs and public debates with perceived power agents and agencies is one of the most intransigent Gordon knots we have still not learn how to untie.
Glossing over a place and way for Jews to celebrate Shabbat and for Muslims to conduct Friday prayers, for example, by arguing there is no money or space or time in the organization's world view, amounts to a perpetuation if the colonial "top-down" mentality and conventional "hierarchy" that will no longer be tolerated.
Values and ethics and relationships are not reducible to their superficial acknowledgement, as.if that were adequate.

"Arm's distance" is a common vernacular for "professional detachment and is a cornerstone of the Praxis of many, including Christian, faiths. Detachment, and disengagement, ("s/he is becoming too familiar") sold under the rubric of "objectivity" and "order" and professionalism will not pass the basic test of human nature.

As one who has been accused by professional peers of "being too close" to the students in one arena and then decades later of being "enmeshed" in a congregation, not incidentally by men in both cases, I embodied the argument of the thesis in this piece.

The historic perception that social order depends on impenetrable boundaries between a public life and a private life lies at the root of Ms Karani's critique. And the linking of personal freedom as rationalization for such boundaries is not only specious but unsustainable.

The current phrase "power differential" that lies at the core of thousand of complaints of injustice, most by women against men, attempts to explain the injustice and the inequity that govern relationships between individuals who hold a rank higher than another in a personal relationship. The assumption, and it has deep historical roots, is that first men are more "powerful" than women and that any abuse of that power is the exclusive responsibility of the men. Often based on "legal" definitions and compilations of specific incident evidence, accusations and convictions are determined, without the benefit of "contextual" or what is deemed perjoratively as "circumstantial" evidence.
And the meme of male dominance and female victimhood not only continues but is substantially reinforced.

If we are going to move toward true equity and equality of minorities with majorities and of one gender with another, (setting aside for a.moment, the multiple issues of gender identity), it seems that a critical examination of who people are in some rigorous detail, how they behave both consciously and unconsciously and how we can and must move beyond religiously-based and sacralized determinants.

Getting to "know" students beyond their test scores and their public masks is essential for all teachers to be effective. Only in this way can appropriate mentorship take place.
Similarly, getting to "know" individuals in a congregation entails hearing their deepest fears and highest aspirations and dreams in a supportive and obviously confidential way.
This dynamic of "getting to know" is the one side of a human coin whose alternative side reads "please see, hear and respect me"!

Ms Karani as a Muslim wants to be able to shed the social and politically correct imposition of superficiality to her life and identity.

My students, without every uttering the words, wanted to be "seen" and "known" as evolving human beings with their talents and their warts. So too, again without ever emitting the words, parishioners want to be "seen" and "heard" and "valued" and respected far beyond their vote at a parish council meeting.

And if and when that sharing the process of "getting and beng known" veers into the intimate, we should not as a culture immediately rush to shame that intimacy as unethical, immoral or worse criminal.

Of course, the wannabe and the authentic "clinicians" among us will cry "Out with this specious argument!!"
Their very professional existence is founded on the objectivity and detachment and disengagement of which I write.

And it is certainly not rocket science to note that all scientific research carries with it the intimate human nuanced traits of the experimenter and that "human element" can never be fully excised from the research or from the results.

Is it not time for educators and religious leaders and practitioners to begin to remove the professional armour/mask their professions impose. Could they not be in  the vanguard of the thaw that melts the "ice" of professional and political faux protection from authority figures (potential colonists) and elevates the thoughts and feelings if us ordinary mortals to respectability.
And that would have to include shedding some dangerous myths about "power differentials" and "ethnic  minorities".

As individuals, we are each amazingly complex and needy and talented and unique. If that is true, why do we persist in subverting and repressing our uniqueness in such highly sophisticated and seductive ways?

Surely, it cannot be legitimately argued "for the public good"!

 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Is a hybrid business model, grafting the non-profit to the for-profit, the next stage?

Tom Chappell, founder of Tom's of Maine
Perhaps he was ahead of his time when, after studying theology at Harvard and then returning to operate his natural products (tooth paste, deodorant, shampoo etc.), he wrote a book entitled Managing Upside Down.
In it he outlines how he transformed his business and his role in it.
Dedicating a minimum of 5% of all profits to be donated to charities and public issues in the area in Maine, and those decisions about where the money would best serve to his staff, he found the results quite astounding.
He also established a breakfast club at the local high school, inviting, through the principal, those students deemed most disengaged from the formal learning process and most likely to drop out.
Searching for each student's passion/interest, Chappell then coached each to develop a business plan for a personal profit-driven enterprise based on their passion and seed-funded each with $500.
Naturally, after the business plan, there were dozens of additional decisions for each incipient aspiring entrepreneur to make under his guidance.
Win-win was not merely a nice slogan; it was a template bridge between an innovative corporate leader and those who could best benefit from his experience and wisdom.
Kids developed a new sense of identity, from listlessness to more focus and determination to make their little business grow.
The community basked in the glow of the sharing interdependence and the book was written and published.
Later, on this side of the 49th parallel, Thomas Homer-Dixon, then a professor at the University of Toronto, entitled The Ingenuity Gap, in which he argues that Canada faces a deficit of    ingenuity at many levels, business, political and cultural.
I have no idea if Chappell ever met Homer-Dixon; however, a recent conversation with an enterprising Canadian business consultant revealed that some business clients are quite reserved and restrained about "growing" their business.
Comfort with the status quo, a perception that "if it ain't broke don't fix it" and a deep and abiding trust 8n the current people on staff are some of the cited reasons for holding to what seems like stability and security to decision-makers.
This consultant commented that he far more enjoyed helping clients "grow" their top line than their bottom line. When asked the meaning of "too" and " bottom" he replied, "Top line refers to revenue and bottom line to profit."
There is  a different attitude, perspective and even satisfaction in paying attention to the "top" line from the "bottom" line.
First, it evokes a longer term vision; it demands more creative energy; it provides a different kind of satisfaction and security that is based on critical evaluations of how the business might serve its own best interests.
The "Canadian" status quo preservation, as a cultural archetype has served our banking institutions for  more than a century....although even they have made considerable strides to diversify in recent decades.
Evolution would describe their general approach and not revolution. However,  their eye and mind on market trends and their place in that market require them to develop a vision long with strategies and tactics to "adapt" even if their record on staff working conditions including pressure to "sell" as a higher priority than client need and remuneration remain at historical and embarrassing low's.
An interesting comment from our resident consultant, "Rarely have I seen a business operating at more than 80% efficiency because if the variability in human performance."
And another observation, "It would probably be more feasible to coach a business grossing between $1 and $2 million to move to $5 or $6 million than to help it move to $2.2 million."
"Why is that?" I inquired.
"Well there are obvious new revenue streams that are not being explored or tapped and, if pursued, would result in more than marginal revenue growth."
The marketplace, like silky putty (no ridicule), is in constant motion and needs monitoring regularly.
When I inquired about the level of commitment to "research" business clients commit to, his reply was a disappointing "very little".
With a tectonic shift in how people are living and making a living, this seems like an appropriate time to re-evaluate how Canadian business is adapting to these changes.
Not only "greening" their emissions and raising the horizon on their flexibility on working conditions and paid ma-and-pa-ternity leave, but on the way decisions are made and what those decisions are meant to accomplish.
Power, the elusive, imperceptible, odorous, tasteless, and ubiquitous unmentionable that slides down the corridors linking offices, that glides without notice along computer programs, that invisibly undergirds the cultural structure in every organization bears both critical investigation and even more critical exposure.
Workers are not colonial infidels;
executives are not automatically revered gurus; middle managers, although mostly gutted in the last two or three decades, like many towns and cities, are not automatons.
The military and quasi-and pseudo-military organizational templates that have been the "norm" for too long can transformed into a much more equitable and trusting and mutually interdependent kind of ethos based on a higher quality of relationships than those imposed by power "down".
Just this weekend, in a conversation with a local leader, I heard these words, Don"t tell me how much money you made in your business venture; I want to know about the number and the quality of relationships you developed and continue to nurture and to be nurtured by."
I nearly fell off the park bench I was sitting on.
There is a useful reference back to Tom Chappell here. His attempt to marry the modus operandi of the non-profit to the for-profit enterprise is more needed now than ever.
Care for a community (a cause, a specific group, a deeply felt need, a new venture in inventing and creating, a new health service...the list is endless) requires and even demands the skills and commitments of sentient and enthusiastic business leaders. And....here is where it gets in tricky...those business leaders need and even require the rewards and the emotional invigoration and adrenaline that can come from public service.
Writing a cheque to some non-profit, even if it brings a tax receipt is not the same as full engagement in that non-profit. Tokenism can and will bring only token reciprocation.
We have a contemporary culture fed by the hot pursuit of money and power...and we have millions who are dispossessed in a variety of ways.
Patronizing condescension, a pat on the head in pity will not put a roof over the homeless, nor will a donation to a minor hockey team's fundraising drive rescue the kid who is already thinking about leaving home and "surfing" the couches if his friends.
Leadership, not bootcamp yelling, but sensitive and sensible and compassionate creative and courageous leaders of men and women who seek their own and their community's wellness can machete their way through the thicket of horrendous news, hateful and hopeless rhetoric and the blindness that accompanies looking down the telescope from the wrong end.
Now, can we together find those leaders from among our own communities?
And can they be recruited to colour outside the boxes of comfort and status quo?

Who knows? 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Is obstructionism the new ideology?

 For decades, I have championed the concept and the ethical significance of a "majority of one". Individuals, especially those who have taken serious and troublesome decisions, deserve our utmost respect, honour and support.

In fact, individual decisions to act alone even by remaining silent, have resulted in their own defamation, isolation and public shame...only to have their courage and independent thought and decision revisited weeks, months or years later in the light of "new" additional information. Such revisiting often results in a reclamation of some of the lost dignity and honour of their decision and consequently of their person.

Public knowledge and awareness is often limited and even curtailed by a "rush to judgement" when an unconventional decision brings down public scorn and contempt.
A spouse's persistent silence when facing what s/he regards as  unacceptable behaviour/attitude of the other partner, while disappointing to some, can eventually be seen as both wise and consistent with family stability.

However, the context matters greatly as to when and how to interpret the power of one.
The current example of Senator Manchin's rejection of the clean energy piece of the Biden Social infrastructure bill radiates radioactively and globally as both intolerable and short-sighted. There is no justification for his using his single vote to subvert this specific proposal except perhaps his own political survival in West Virginia. Allowing Manchin "time" to bring his voters on board with the climate crisis we and they already face is inexcusable and brings out questions of the political muscle of Democrats generally and the White House specifically.

Superficially, and technically, Manchin can kill the package of some $2 trillion dollars, given the number of Democrats and Republican Senators is tied at 50-50. However, to permit him this "power of one" is both irresponsible and politically suicidal for Democrats in 2022 and for the Biden presidency.
The nation's highest and best interests  require bold political action to ameliorate and perhaps even preclude further destruction of the planet's atmosphere.

It is prevalent in many small and medium sized projects where the silence of a majority, deferring to a dominant opinion and attitude and preferring to avoid conflict with others they consider"friends", results in the loudest voice being permitted to be the "bully" they are determined to be.
Even if the best and highest interests of the project are to be sacrificed to the will of an obstructionist tyrant, silence and false political correctness/peace-keeping make that sacrifice inevitable.

Some would argue that the compromise answer would resolve the obstruction, each "giving" a little for the larger interest and purpose of the allegedly "shared" interest in and commitment to the project. However, people like Joe Manchin and right-wing religious fanatics and deeply insecure and consequently dominating persons do not and never will qualify as potential equal and equally respected participants in negotiations aimed at compromise.

"My way or the highway" is a slogan championed by the former disgraced president of the U.S. who, by wearing that slogan ("I alone can fix it!"), has given millions of weak and angry individuals license and encouragement to thwart the public good and the will of the majority.
Indeed, the voices of those who consider themselves "empowered" and "entitled" regardless of their unique justification for their empowerment and/or entitlement, effectively replicate the role and power of the colonialists, both official and their angry victims.

The approach of the  "established" (entitled) and those who consider the approach of the entitled to be worthy of emulation (ironically as self-sabotaging of both groups), is guaranteed to fail whether that failure is obvious immediately or in the longer run.
 
Subverting the will of the majority, especially when the benefits of that will are obvious and uncontested, for the purpose of bending to an individual's neurotic and narcissistic need is a step too far.
However, we live in a time when the highest aspirations and.most basic needs of the majority are blocked by obstructionist bullies, with the silent compliance and complicity of too many "nice" people avoiding the risk of losing a friend.

Hundreds of police officers are resigning today in major U.S. cities because they dispute mandated vaccinations, the only currently available protection against a lethal and mutating pandemic...as have thousands of health care workers, for the same reason.

Obstructing both public health and the  protection of the planet, it seems, is part of the new normal.
And the new normal renders us all less safe and less hopeful.

Obstruction, it seems, has become a new political movement and ideology.

And the force needed to beat it back seem to be suffering entropy just when muscular push-back is required. 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Reflections on public discourse

There is a serious problem with the manner in which public discourse is devolving into "hot-button" words that really distort the shared goals of addressing social and cultural malaise.

Even this specific issue is irreducible to another simplistic and glib diagnosis.
When much communication across our cultural landscape comes through 240 digits on twitter or in the form of a sensational headline, the broad term of societal literacy is threatened.

Issues frequently are captioned in a single word with obvious and eager opposition. That opposition seems determined to deconstruct and decimate the "charge" or the perceived radioactivity of the word.
For example, headlines that social media is filled with and exacerbates "disinformation," while literally true, is only a part of the problem. Political propaganda, for example, has been and continues to be the stock-in-trade even of political parties and practitioners in what are considered "democracies".

 Exaggeration and distortion of the views of political opponents are considered "normal" and "conventional" and such words and statements have dogged the practice of politics for centuries.
Inflation of the importance of an idea of which a candidate is an advocate is another of the multiple vernacular lenses that "paint" a picture designed to sway voters.

A similar exaggeration, linked directly and often inconspicuously to omission of significant details is the stock-in-trade of the massive advertising industry. That sector is also appended to the public relations industry, another designed to put a "good face" on, in many cases, deplorable evidence of corporate culpability.

This week, we heard from U.S. Congressional representatives that social media is having its "tobacco moment" in reference to the public and legal acknowledgement that tobacco kills. This truth was denied by tobacco companies for decades. The whistle-blower from Facebook testified to incontrovertible evidence that her former employer consciously and deliberately values excess profit over client protection, even young children.

We cannot "contain" the implications of the unregulated several social media platforms to a diagnosis of "disinformation". Like an objective clinical diagnosis of cancer, it fails to embrace the full complexities of the disease of which there are a plethora of complexities and even families of cancers.
It is our penchant for a clinical and  "hygienic" single word or short phrase to express complications that invariably and inevitably flood over the  parameters of the conventional buzzword that tend to entrap public discourse and comprehension of the full overtones of the file.

Another example of misleading and dangerous phrases is "systemic racism". Designed to expand the public consciousness of the depth and the breadth of racism, it conversely puts the emphasis and the responsibility for racial bigotry  on the system...that impersonal amorphous faceless and thereby unidentifiable "thing" called the system.

Racism is a personal belief/attitude
/expression of contempt for another based on their ethnicity or religion or
identity such as sexual identity. The target  of racism is a real person and while the culmination of multiple examples of hatred targetting a specific demographic group warrants the term "systemic racism".The hatred and its wounds, serious and even potentially lethal, depend more on the transformation of individual attitudes than on some "training" in racial equality.

Cognitive behavioural therapy has found a receptive and sizeable discipleship in a culture reduced to transactionality.

However, transformation is not reducible to even a mountain of evidence of single transactions. Indeed, such evidence could easily lead to a public minimization of the size and danger of racism and an inevitable disassociation from responsibility for racist attitudes and beliefs and actions.
Words do indeed matter and a public discourse that collapses the language into hot-buttons or euphemisms renders participants in that discourse to potentially simple antagonists in a binary battle for supremacy in the moment.

Unfortunately, our shared reality does not and will not succumb to that game...nor will a full, open, transparent and both informed and nuanced discourse emerge from such a game.

Respnding to Heather Mallick

In her Star column earlier this week, Ms Mallick demanded that men control the men who hate women....as if that were not only feasible but also a reasoned argument.


It is neither!


First men who hate women are the culmination of a biography that inevitably carried a cast of characters of both genders. The misogyny we see today rests on the shoulders of individuals as well as a culture that, admittedly, bears responsibility for a cultural history and anthropology that has been determined, designed and deployed by a toxic masculinity.


Men wrote the sacred books, the philosophy and legal treatises, the medical journals, the scientific "method" and even the parameters that define psychiatry and mental health.


Although many of the "patients" of those theories were, and continue to be, women, the perspective that observed and diagnosed and theorized about their "abnormalities" was and continues to be masculine.
Reductionisms abound for many reasons as do binary approaches, neither of which depict or resolve many human psychic dilemmas.


Literalisms cannot be allowed to erase the poetic and the mythopoetic perspective and their serious gifts of a world perspective that stretches into the ambiguity and the mysteries on which we all depend.
Ms Mallick's authentic feelings about male responsibility for other males is grounded in the facts of domestic and systemic abuse against women.


However, the headline to her column is as specious and effectual as would be its inverse:
"women must control the women who hate men"
In a world where gallons of 'ink' are spilled decrying misogyny, hardly a drop is spilled decrying misandry.


And only if and when women reflect on their personal encounters with men, in collaboration with both genders, and men do the same in collaboration with both genders will the prospect of mitigating the abuse that is inflicted by both on the other as well as on themselves appear on our shared horizon.
If we were determined to examine the details of each life of an abuser of women, in too many cases there were/are women who helped shape the distortion of their self-worth and the unwarranted and unjustified resort to violence and revenge. Doubtless, the same is true for women who hate men even though the expression of that hate takes different forms than the violence perpetrated by men against women.


Pulling the mask off the extrinsic evidence of violence and contempt between the genders is one of the most serious challenges of our public discourse. And that is a task that cannot be accomplished by men only.


Ms Mallick's recent piece could plant seeds of reflection in both men and women if for no other reason than her premise is so misguided.


Sometimes the most unbalanced perspective prods the voices in rebuttal to generate a substantive public discussion. And a substantive and balanced discussion of gender relations will go a long way to helping detoxify other vitriolic public rhetoric.

And that would do much to reduce the tension and the angst that grows hourly, ubiquitously.  

Thursday, September 30, 2021

tranformation from the performer to the person...includes dark nights

 Sometimes we are confronted with the “bottom line” of our own being…the unequivocal, indisputable, and too often both enervating and uplifting evidence and accompanying insight that we may have been too frightened to acknowledge.

If we have lived much of our “career” and family life in a manner of “genuflecting” to authority, of accommodating the will and interests and attitudes and beliefs of others, regardless of our avowed motive, and come to a point where that modus operandi is no longer ‘working’ for us, we often seek to discern why.

And that process of discernment, while at first appearing to us as analogous to the mechanic looking under the hood of our car to find a burnt-out spark plug, or a dirty carburetor, and then replace the spark plug and/or clean the carburetor, often does not comply with such a simple ‘fix’. In fact, how and why we may have been conducting ourselves, in our purest belief that we are, were and always have been ‘doing our best’ as we were counselled and conditioned to do as youths, those how’s and why’s may have escaped our conscious awareness of the more complex motivations, understandings, beliefs and attitudes that have been marinating, like wine ageing, for decades.

We may have had physical symptoms of diseased organs, broken bones, separated joints, broken teeth, or even defective vision and we may also have spent many nights tossing and turning in an anxious and confused twisting that spoke of a deeper twisting within our minds and hearts. Our thoughts and our feelings, right from birth, have been more significant and more complex that our parents, and even our doctors and certainly our clergy have been telling us. Simple diagnoses, bromides for ‘good behaviour’ and diatribes of hell and damnation if one sinned, were not, and never will be, adequate for healthy and effective parenting, nor for healthy medical practice, and certainly not for adequate or even appropriate religious and spiritual tutelage.

“Impostering” unconsciously as “loving parents” as an effective, ethical and inspiring archetype for nurses, doctors, teachers, and clergy, for starters, is a cultural model fraught with serious dangers. Each ‘client’ in the exercise of that cultural model is necessarily a child, while the ‘professional’ is, by definition and by default, the parent. A healthy culture, however, requires and even demands that those constricting ‘roles’ be excised like the skin of a rocket as it enters space, leaving the incipient adult free to fly like the unburdened space ship, unencumbered by those protective shields. And yet the comfort of knowing “what” one is, as opposed to “who” one is reaps tons of social, political, medical, and corporate/economic endorsement, wages, affirmations, ladders to climb, offices to occupy, targets to design and then strive to reach, awards and rewards a plenty verbal, anecdotal, promotions, family accolades, and even, for some, albs, chasubles, and stoles, for others, epaulettes, stars, stripes and rank.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that the shift from “a what” a “human doing” to a “who” a “human being” is treacherous for the individual and potentially even more threatening to those who “love” him or her. It is not only the shedding of the politically correct, and career-driven behaviours that “go” but also the very foundations of how we see ourselves and the rest of the world is potentially shifted, as are tectonic plates in an earthquake. As Jung reminds us, for the first forty-five years, we concentrate on our extrinsic being, our career path, our capacity and success in climbing whatever ladder we have selected as the one we consider our best opportunity….sometimes even based on something vague like a deep interest or even a passion. In the second half, Jung reminds us we pursue intrinsic, personal, spiritual, perhaps intellectual or religious interests and passions and pathways. It is as if a kind of metaphoric birth/death conflation erupts inside of us, seemingly pushing us to dig deeper into our past, our memories, our childhood, and whatever pain that might be inhibiting our daily psychic sunrise, our evolution/transformation from chrysalis to butterfly in the natural world. And inevitably, such a process of shedding, is an invitation to experience a hint of loss, a kind of death, as if we need to prepare for our ultimate human demise.  This experience of shifting from a full-bodied commitment to career, salary, children, travel, furniture, highly rated dining experiences, the best films, plays and books, for some. For others it might be a shift from a senior executive office to a volunteer philanthropic non-profit working in the developing world. For others, it might mean turning from an accounting position to becoming a film-maker, writer, director or even actor. These shifts could also emerge out of failed relationships, failed connections, of which both parties are an integral part.

Of course, the original birth process is and was painful, implicitly and explicitly embracing life-threatening dangers to the mother, and a similar set of risks to the new baby. New ideas, new structures, designs, programs, equations, new medical treatments….all of the plethora of images and examples of change, bring with them a similar set of both literal and metaphorical risks, dangers, threats and complications. And, as creatures of both what we know and what we do not know, clinging naturally to those things we know best, (then transforming themselves autonomously into “fixed facts” and potentially even beliefs), we have a built-in psychological and cognitive ‘instrument’ or mechanism or habit or inculcated scepticism to question, to doubt, to probe and to speculate about whether or even if the ‘new thing’ (or approach, or process, or even the potential viability) makes any sense.

This scepticism is at the heart of science; it walks into the patients’ room with every doctor, whether perceptible or not, especially if the presenting symptoms seem foreign. Doubt is also at the root of not only our perception of the value of a new idea; it also comes to the fore when we meet new people, especially in an age when so much public discourse is focused on distrust, lies, dissembling and narcissistic self-interest. Link a new person with a new idea, to a larger community in which both new people and new ideas are especially troublesome, and the potential negative impact might be inevitable, even if such potential is not part of the polite and superficial discourse that tends to dominate in a culture of anxiety and fear and uncertainty and doubt.

So this two-edged sword known by various names like doubt, ambiguity, scepticism and uncertainty, prods the scientist, the detective, the defence counsel, the doctor, the scholar, the researcher and the anthropologist, and possibly a few theologians and even fewer clergy, all reporters and artists and philosophers, can have the impact of a plague sociologically and culturally and politically. Social change, cultural transformation, even with a company or a specific business, is demonstrably fraught with complexities that only recently have researchers open that ‘pandora’s box’ unpacking the multiple dimensions of the equation, the multiple symptoms, the interaction of many persons and actors on any given ‘stage’…It is not to say that all of our human interactions are merely theatrical, and thereby only play-acting and covered in mascara. Nor is it to say that many of our human observations and speculations and judgements are based on the intersection of a few “images” with the deepest perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. And all of those perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs, themselves, have been gathered and stored and marinated in our consciousness and our unconsciousness during the whole of our physical life.

Some of our conscious awareness of those ‘hidden’ forces, influencers, nudges and perceptions comprise much of our public image, while many also lie under the leaves of our forgotten memories, our buried traumas, our having been ‘stood-up’ on a promising blind date, our having been scorned by an ‘alpha’ mentor/coach/parent who put his/her needs far ahead of our needs at that moment, or our subjection/submission to the will of a tyrant/parent/teacher/clergy/doctor whose own perception of his or her role and responsibility were so deformed as to manipulate him or herself as well as his/her clients/patients.

Something in the language of therapy, known as ‘transference’ as well as another process also from therapy known as ‘projection’ are two of the cultural torrential rivers that flow in and through the many conversations that are conducted in all scenes of our lives. And yet, neither of them is either comprehended, nor openly acknowledged in most of those exchanges. Nor are they meant to be. We are not therapists for each other; we are not doctors or nurses, or teachers, or professors, or especially parents for each other.

And yet….how diligently many of us deploy into roles to spread the “gospel” of whatever institution, school, ideology, guru, or even a unique and selective compilation of teaching and thinking and process “answers” to life’s many problems we have experienced! And as we mature, naturally we find correlations between some of the themes, ideas, processes and learn somethings about how and when to apply them.

Roles do not automatically, like snake skin, slide off, leaving a new and fresh and perhaps even  more protective and also highly attractive new skin. There are nights of driving around throughout the dark, trying to decide whether or not to put that envelope in the mail that finalizes a resignation, a retirement, a divorce, a partnership, a business ownership, perhaps even the title to a residence that one has called home for decades. That same night, after the mail has been deposited, the road seems to close in, and the morning seems as if it will never come.

Self-doubt, even vibes of terror waken nerves previously sleeping. What have I done? And whatever that is can never be undone! And what will person x,y,z…think about this decision? And how will this decision impact those people who were counting on me?

And the ride into and through that night can be as frightful as waking at 90 kilometers/hour on the wrong side of a two-lane highway, with a U-Haul trailer dragging behind a sub-compact, filled with furniture, books, typewriter, clothes and a few household items like brooms, lamps, and the usual personal items. Only after a second instance of waking on the left side of a two-lane road, comes the realization that one might be advised to stop, slap his face, take a deep drink of water and even a slow walk around the car, in order to proceed safely until a safe place to sleep comes into view.

And then, after the personal shock, there are seemingly numberless shedding of those previously treasured roles, expectations, personal meetings, agendas, plans and investments of both finances and personal energy that were calculated to enhance both current reality and long-term retirement. If one seemed ambiguous or insensitive to ambiguity previously, there is no mistaking its rearing its ugly head in the darkness.

Where am I going? Why am I doing this? What is it that I am really trying to do? Whom will I encounter who tries to send me back to a former life? What will I say if and when that happens? Am I really searching for ‘who’ I am, or attempting to find a new person, previously unknown and unavailable to me, or so I thought? What if all of those anxieties and failures, insults and defamations of character that I felt like arrows in my back were true? What if those worst enemies of mine could see through me and I merely put up a fortress wall to appear invincible?

It is not so much a search for absolute “correct” answers to these questions that one needs. It is more like opening a new box of attributes, like a personal Pandora’s Box of hidden feelings, memories, experiences and their meaning that now come face to face with the feeling of nothingness, worthlessness and meaninglessness, the kind of feelings the existentialists once dubbed the ‘existential moment’ when one becomes conscious of one’s own meaningless.

Only, different from adolescence or early adulthood, this time, the force of the clap of thunder and the shock of lightning that erupts over the highway send one further into uncertainty, and potentially even despair.

Soldiering on, alone, in the dark, perceiving that all ties to the past have been ruptured, may seem to many quixotic, to some even suicidal. However, there is a part of this narrative that accompanies the millions of crossings of thresholds, of careers, of relationships, of geographies, of ideologies, faiths, and even into that cave of faithlessness. Soldiering on is neither heroic or necessarily fatal. It is a challenge for which no one can know if they are ready, prepared or even suited. There are no maps, except those of the galaxies, the histories, the biographies especially of those whose descendants we are, and the DNA’s genome, the existence of which we can only see faintly in the mist.

It is a walk along a river shrouded in mist, this walk/drive into the night. There may be a few stars, only a few are perceived. There may be the occasional own in a tree by the road; yet only a faint echo of his call is heard. There may even be a few raindrops in this London fog of the mind, the body and the spirit.

And, yet decades later, on reflection, the trip is one that can never be forgotten, in its most intimate detail. It is also one that, somehow infuses and injects a large dose of psychic adrenalin, so potent as to linger for decades, at least in memory, if not in body and mind.

That compliant, politically correct, perfectionist who once heard words like ‘fag’ and ‘jesus’ shouted from afar in contemptuous derision, and whose mind was filled with chants of worthlessness, inadequacy and shame, will eventually emerge from the darkness into a different kind of light. And in that new light, there will be a new kind of perception and consciousness that enables a different kind of strength, less exercised to impress others, less desperate for applause, and far more amenable to being comfortable with being ordinary, which we all are from beginning to end.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Reflections on current angst of septaginarians

 Unhinged, floundering, afloat, adrift, even frightened….these are just some of the words we are hearing almost daily, from those in the autumn of their lives. There is a sense that issues that threaten not only our ‘way of life’ as in our democracy, our social safety net, our national security, our global trading system, even the way we conduct our public discourse, and certainly the manner in which we are pillaging the planet, as well as the oscillating pattern of a pandemic that has already killed more than 4.5 million have swept over our consciousness like the tropical storms of the Atlantic and the fires in the western forests.

Nothing is holding our little ship of state, whether it be a national state, or our business state, or a faith community state, or a military ship or scientific ship ‘of state’. It is as if ‘statis’ has been flooded into the detritus of the storm along with shame, and compromise, and collaboration and meditation and even balanced arbitration. A few people have grown excessively wealthy, in the pure sense of money, stocks, stock options, bitcoin cryptocurrency. And some of their money has gushed into the political campaigns of a few highly opportunistic, ruthlessly ‘focussed’ and ambitious individuals, families, political ideologues and charlatans.

We no longer have a ‘set of agreed-upon facts’ upon which to conduct our debates and discussions, in an ethos where there are only two options, winning and losing. Binary has drowned ambiguity. Nuanced has succumbed to the onslaught of this overweening and richly funded cabal as if the medieval gladiator individual combat has exploded into our primary method of conducting ourselves.

People who have spent their lives in study and research, in the spread of contagious diseases are now attempting to have their voices heard, respected and honoured in competition with podcasts that trumpet the use of ivermectin as a therapeutic for COVID-19. Elections that were monitored, transparently audited and announced are now the subject of phoney, subversive, highly manipulated and fraudulent re-audits. No longer is a mere military combat the tail wagging the dog, the whole system has reverted to the tail on the dog, while the animal itself lies gasping for life on a ventilator.

The right to choose a vaccine and the right to refuse to mask as symbols of personal freedom is demonstrably killing hundreds daily. Personal freedom, as a cry is drowning out the access to clean air, free of a killer and rapidly mutating virus whose original release, like the Kennedy assassination, will remain a vaulted mystery, long after the next pandemic has killed its millions.

Carbon emissions too, the product of a human-engineered manufacturing, chemical, capitalistic and avaricious business system is choking our capacity to breathe literally, as well as metaphorically. And we blindly debate the literal while the metaphorical continues to have us by the throat. We are not subject only to a raging virus against which many of us have been vaccinated; we are subjected to an even more lethal, perilous and seemingly intractable and untreatable malaise of an atrophy, entropy or perhaps even mortally wounded ‘social’ instinct to work together.

We blame digital technology, or we blame the veering of our academic institutions from liberal arts colleges into trade schools, or we blame the myopic, naval-gazing of our descent into the literal reading, writing and ‘protection of laws, as if they clocked us from our worst tendencies. We think we have found the devil in the details when we expose hundreds of dead bodies near residential schools. We write and read and then forget headlines that expose hundreds, if not thousands, of dead and missing or murdered women mostly of minority populations. We believe that the state must seek vengeance, revenge, euphemistically termed justice, through the deployment of another system that is unprepared, unschooled, and disproportionately numbered in anal specificity and quotas.

We have descended down a rabbit hole of narcissistic micromanagement in a deluded belief that by that process and culture we are gaining even more control of our individual world. Transactional relationships that worship the shortest distance from A to B, in all of our interactions, based on a self-first need to justify both the time and the energy we ‘contribute’ to whatever enterprise, whether for wages or for the far less concrete benefits of volunteering.

We have turned ourselves into the kind of robotic, sterile, reactive and frightened shadows of our full selves in a headlong slide into not only Orwellian newspeak where hot button words mean precisely their opposite. We have surpassed even
Orwell’s worst dystopia, where nothing matters except which guru you choose to follow.

Rock stars and the millions of aspiring wannabees, religious evangelists, haloed billionaires, professional athletic superstars, female revolutionaries shattering the ‘glass ceiling’ or podcasters or governors determined to mount the papier mache mountain of perceived power and success are not the role models we need. Nor are they even role models worthy of the kind of genuflection we so blindly and appeasingly offer. It is not that the pursuit of the excellence of developing individual skills and talents needs disparaging. It is that the body politic, ordinary people, are not merely the hungry mob who can be easily and willingly seduced by that old Roman adage, “bread and circuses”. We are not merely pawns in another’s power game; we are not merely consumers driven both by an obsessive need to look perfect and to appear to be successful; we are not merely gluttonous and starving appetites for leaders who lie, who cheat and who manipulate their available levers of power and influence for their own advantage.

And yet, we have defaulted into those worst examples of self-inflicted victimhood that have been the hunted and the conquered and the decimated and the dispossessed and the starving and the irrelevant for centuries. Oh, there may be a kind of hierarchy of dispossession, based on matters of ethnicity, religion, education, gender or portfolio. Yet, at its core, the balance of power is no longer even perceptible to those clinging for life, literally. Millions of starving children, mothers and fathers, with their numbers growing exponentially hourly, are homeless, stateless, food and care less, and most depressingly, hopeless.

And the rest of us yawn and utter some bromide like “it was always like this” or worse “let them eat cake” as if there were even a morsel of cake in their reach. And we do not have to stretch our consciousness into the third world to see the disparities, the dispossessing, the desperation and the hopelessness. It is walking up and down the streets of our towns and villages; it is crashing the emergency room doors of our hospitals; it is tethered to the towing rigs on our highways; it is hiding underneath our bridges, behind our bandshells and our gazebos, in the alleys between our highrises; it is staring us in the face, while we worship in our oak pews and our Sunday finest; it is knocking at the doors of our consciousness in ways that exceed the desperation of the depression of 1929.

Today, this dislocation, desperation, dispossession and hopelessness has become a global phenomenon that embraces all skin colours, all ethnicities, all religions, all linguistic and tribal traditions and all ages. And perhaps it is the overwhelming scope of the plight, combined with the obvious cultural norm of ‘dithering’ and dabbling and placating our individual and collective pain in our own preferred ways that leads to the spectre that nothing can or will be resolved in the spirit and for the need of all of us.

There is no longer an “all of us”; there is only “me and mine” “here and now” and no thought or care for the ‘other’ and the ‘then’ and ‘there’. Our vision has not only been narrowed into a pin-hole, as if we look at the world through the keyhole of our own front door; our vision has turned inward so that we are exclusively looking inward through our own keyhole, in a bunker mentality evocative of those war-bunkers in the first world war. Only our bunkers have washrooms, kitchens, air conditioning, running water, flowing gas and instant-on electricity and a surfeit of entertainment to mollify us into semiconsciousness or for many oblivion.

The old Roman bread and circuses now reaches into every television and computer screen around the world, opening up “markets” for every shill-artist and cult-obsessed narcissist. And every one of those ‘marketers’ (because all human interactions have become mere business transactions) dubbed the new generation of entrepreneurs, has something to sell, something to convince buyers that his/her method is the only method worthy of consideration.

And not only has sales and marketing become the cultural language, but the method of doing both has replaced the quality and value of the “thing” for sale. It really doesn’t matter what enterprise one is engaged in, the enterprise has become a crude imitation of a business enterprise. And those who are and have been business magnets in their lives now are in the ascendent class while those who have spent their lives in a different mind-set, modality and culture have joined the dispossessed.

Hospitals, even in countries like Canada where universal health care is the basis of the care model, hospitals are now cutting corners to shave dollars, to become more efficient, to eliminate waste and to reduce the care-giving process to the least costly and the least cumbersome and the least time-wasting process possible. The business model, based on the most simple, most efficient, most impersonal and most “effective” transaction limits the time doctors have to spend with their patients because their fees are based on numbers of patients seen, not on the outcome of their consults. Digital answers for illness, disease, legal processes, forms and enterprises that rely on these platforms for their profits abound. And while some access seems appropriate, the basic model provides a hygenic and clinical distance between client and service.

Phones and zoom visits are now the norm, and while those pathways permitted some care during a pandemic, many in positions of power have and will continue to use the argument that those pathways are more efficient and therefore less costly and make them permanent long after this pandemic dissipates, if it does.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with a classmate from university who was  overflowing with stories of men and women we both knew in the early 1960’s. We glimpsed lives long forgotten, yet still very impactful simply because we had a face and a voice, and a series of memories, however distorted, that we could listen to, reflect upon and consider from the perspective of our shared dotage. We knew, without question or doubt, that we each were telling our truth, however imperfect it might be. There was no question of trust and integrity on either end of the conversation. There were laughs, some tears and some deep sadness as we learned of the darknesses that have plagued people we knew as successful peers.

Those darknesses were hidden in their specifics from our world on campus. The alcoholic fathers, the mistresses, the demonic mothers, the manipulations and self-immolations that inevitably ensue from tragic and traumatic families of origin, the weddings that were planned without knowing if primary characters might attend…what did our generation know about projection and anima/animus, or bi-polar or PTSD, or ADHD, or genomes or even family violence, except on the occasional movie.

Ours was and is a generation of abundance, even affluence and certainly peace, interrupted by the Cuban missile scare. Dag Hammerskjold, then Secretary General of the United Nations, only birthed in 1947, was a world figure whose name we all knew and whose office we all honoured and respected. John Kennedy’s peccadilloes were off our individual and collective radar, given the compliance of his family, his staff and the national media. Some of us even attended church services where we were interested in learning whatever we being ‘taught’ from the pulpit, and actively reflecting on its meaning and the impact it was having on our lives. Rhetoric, the shaping of phrases and their delivery were as important as the intricacies of the theologies, except that we could and did discern hate or abuse or patronizing transcendence in whatever denomination it reared its head.

We knew war was both futile and abhorrent; we did not know that our factories were as toxic and our waters were being polluted as they were and are. We did not know about the billions of pharmaceuticals that were then emerging from the laboratories many of them toxic and life-destroying, like thalidomide, for example. We went to dances in nurses residences, where the entrance cost was twenty-five cents, and perhaps to a pub for a relatively inexpensive pint.

We did not know about, or even consider the capacity of our banks to take advantage of us, their customers. We did not imagine that our teachers and professors were anything but boring or provocative and stimulating. Their ideology and their core beliefs or attitudes to various social issues were never exposed to us, as were the attitudes and beliefs of our parents never really open to us either. Many of us were the ‘first in our family’ to even attend university given that our parents were factory or retail workers, or occasionally businessmen. Most of our mothers were ‘stay-at-home’ mothers while most of our fathers were bread-winners.

These are not merely nostalgic warm feelings; they are merely pencil lines of our time and place and culture. We did not know about or engage in illicit drugs, or even smoke marijuana. We lived a relatively simple existence, in which the reliable light-houses of faith, learning, commerce, health care and sports were trust-worthy and reliable.

Even our movies and music can now be compared to a paint-by-number canvas or a KD dinner….pablum with a rock-beat, or love songs with a soothing melody. As for our movies, there were good guys and bad guys both chasing the woman or women, and racism even when blazing on the screen was never even noticed let alone mentioned.

Have we, or the culture grown up, matured, become more ethical, more healthy or more dependable….on a few files, perhaps a little, but on the big files, certainly not.

We are still living in the outdated simplicity of those days, fighting the wars of the past with technology that has evolved without bringing our brains and our attitudes forward.

Little wonder we are left mouths gaping when a neighbour declares she gets her news from “podcasts in Utah” and her belief system from a debased and defaced former lying narcissistic occupant of the White House.