Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reflections on retribution, or as we say in Canada, "revenge"...

Retribution, the word that is becoming attached to the Chris Christie "bridgegate" debacle, is often called "revenge" on the north side of the 49th parallel. Apparently, it is 'stock-in-trade' for politicians. Just this week, it has been reported that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign staff prepared a list of those who had not supported her 2008 bid for the White House, using a ranking from 1-7 with the highest number being assigned to those who were especially guilty of betraying her ambition. Bill Richardson, former Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration is at the top of her list of offenders. John Kerry warrants inclusion, as does the deceased Ted Kennedy.
And, it is a piece of business for which the human species cannot and must not be proud.
And, while there might be some legal curbs to spikes in retribution (an annoyed retired police office shot a theatre-going father who had just texted his daughter from his seat in the theater just yesterday in a Tampa Florida movie theater and has been charged with second-degree manslaughter), the behaviour is so endemic that it seems more like a plague for which we have no antidote.
Feeling "offended," insulted, put down, challenged or even contested will far too often bring out the "get-back" motive in too many of us. There is a deep and embedded feature to our culture that says that difficulties, including scraps while growing up, comprise a most useful and relevant part of that upbringing, as if to face conflict is to grow into maturity. However, there are too many examples of that conflict emerging from an act of retribution or revenge. And such acts are too often resulting from feelings of inadequacy, jealousy, or feeling disrespected.
Shakespeare's Othello is a classic framing of the jealousy that seeks revenge, from Iago, for his having been passed over for an appointment. It demonstrates the ultimate tragedy of such motives becoming the consuming passion of the offended. Nothing good comes from the scheming of Iago's histrionics, and only wife Emilia finally exposes his truth, too late for both Othello and Desdemona. Fabricating a phantom affair between Cassio and Desdemona, as revenge on Othello for having passed over Iago, and continuing the fabrication, comprises the core narrative of the drama.
It is such "fabricating" out of the imagination of the "offended" who themselves are too often unwilling to accept responsibility for their own situation, including being passed over for promotion, that entraps others who themselves can be said to be too "innocent" too "gullible" and thereby victims.
Refusing to appoint aspiring candidates for positions of responsibility, because they simply did not merit consideration, given the options available, has proven to provoke retribution, revenge, even in the hallowed halls of the Anglican/Episcopal church. Entitlements are baked into the expectations of those whose family "funded" the new building; it is also baked into the expectations of those who have a history of "being friends with the bishop" in another life; it is also baked into the expectations of those who have contributed significantly to the management of the affairs of the parish or mission.
One woman, whose family constituted the "royalty" of a small hamlet, considered herself the next warden, while I served as clergy, responsible for filling the post. Her offense at not being given the post included her active, yet secret, participation in my removal. Another woman, whose history of serving as a leader needed a break, actively sought my removal from a different church. She was simply unable to accept not being included in the inner circle. Another woman, this time a clergy, was so offended by reviews that dubbed her "assistant" a leader when compared with her, that she formally sought his termination from further assignments. The bishop called that "chemistry" when asked why those assignments were terminated.
Another, this time, male whose claim to power rested in his "friendship" with the bishop, proudly declared his role in the removal of a clergy "because he was not spiritual enough"....and implied that the bishop concurred with the removal. Another male, desperate to become warden, pleaded his case on the history of another and different relationship with a previous bishop, as his "reason" for consideration.
None of these people, as it turns out, including the clergy, were the least bit interested in pursuing their own spiritual lives, through reflection, prayer, reading and private soul-searching, but were rather committed to a public expression of their "role" of leadership, or pursuit of power for its own sake. And, for exposing that, a price had to be paid.
Would I do it differently, if back in the same situation? Not on your life!
Nor would I be interested in putting my name forward for any public office, requiring as it does, the vulnerability to the most base motives of some of the most insecure people whose capacity to argue and confront, without seeking retribution, revenge, payback...call it what you will....is zero.
The pursuit of power seems to include the power to hurt those who do not conform with your perceptions of how they must perform. It is especially endemic in the workplace, where the power to hire and to fire, as well as to supervise and evaluate is included in many job descriptions.
Unless and until we eradicate the motive of retribution, of revenge...we will continue to witness more debacles like the traffic jam that last for four days, on the George Washington bridge, because some mayor of one political party did not endorse the candidate for governor of a competing political party.
That kind of unseemly politics not only discourages honourable people from offering their names as candidates; it besmirches the whole culture, reducing as it does relationships to functions of power or, more accurately, of powerlessness.

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