Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reflections on Buber's "origin(s) of conflict between me and my fellow men"

There are three principles in a man’s life, the principle of thought, the principle of speech and the principle of action. The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow-men is that I do not say what I mean and I don’t do what I say. (Martin Buber)

How challenging, refreshing, emboldening and inspiring!!

Buber knows of what he speaks: himself. And the implications of his insight are mountainous. None of us say what we mean; and none of us do what we say we will do.

And the question hanging between the lines on this “page” is: “How do we adjust, both to forgive ourselves and others for these omissions, and to move in the direction of saying what we mean and doing what we say?”

One of the first steps in making change is to acknowledge the current reality, the precise state of our being. And that includes looking inward at how we think and feel about specific issues. It is not the practical sense issues, although these do comprise a part of our failure to communicate. When I utter a statement about what is it like for me to be with another, I have to examine whether or not my statement is a true reflection of my experience or, and this is more likely, a reflection of what I conceive to be what the other person would appreciate hearing. And the tension between those two realities frankly really never dissipates. In each encounter with another human being, we very often put our own need to be “liked” ahead of the truth about our experience. Being liked, is a short-cut miniscule wave of applause that takes the form of a smile, a tender touch, a sincere thank-you or perhaps another equally gracious response. And we have all been programmed to elicit these tiny “compliments” or pay-backs, or rewards for our initial “generosity.” You can hear such verbal exchanges every day in every office, store, factory, hospital, school, university, and even some churches. They comprise the liquid “engineering” that keeps the ethos of every organization, family and corporation from flying apart. And we have become so conditioned both to believe that these politenesses are necessary and that our mastery of the technique is essential for our literal survival.  Should we be “schooled” in the rhythm, the melody and the structure of these social graces, we have the opportunity to meet many interesting and perhaps ever provocative individuals who mirror our graces.

 If, however, some sand somehow penetrates the “gears” of our mood, our perceptions, our emotions, and even our sense of (in)justice, then the pattern of “keeping it light” and practicing the skill of “small talk” often rides off our rails of both patience and competence. We frequently revert to spontaneous outbursts of anger, disappointment, criticism and perhaps even libel and slander, whether we really wish to go “that far” or not. Not only do such outbursts fracture our decent, demure, and gentle public demeanour; they also have the potential to shatter the perceptions of the recipient of our explosions not only of our character but also of the potential for a relationship. We have, to a greater or lesser degree, each grown radar screens that pick up signals which if interpreted by our conscious mind as threatening or insulting, or demeaning, or scathing seem to provoke verbal and or emotional push-back that we can often spend considerable time explaining, and perhaps even recanting.

On the other hand, knowing how to express important and deep emotional responses in ways that are both clarifying and clearing is one of the most coveted of social skills. It requires considerable discipline, practice, reflective review and criticism, and more rehearsal. In fact, one of the current “masters” of this social skill is the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. After seven years of being thwarted by a Republican obstructionist Congress, on nearly every modest and not so modest proposal, and having to revert to executive orders, (one of which was overturned, by default, in a 4-4 tie on the Supreme Court, thereby endangering millions of Latino’s who could be deported) many ordinary people would be outraged, dismayed, discouraged and totally decimated. Obama, however, manages to express his disappointment, without in any way softening his positions and also without in any way disparaging the justices on the court, even though he has also been blocked, subverted from gaining a hearing and an up-or-down vote on his nominee for the court to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. Of course, Obama’s audience, when we hear his voice, is the global population, the leaders of the rest of the world, the key players in his own political party, his staff, and the many ambassadors serving the interests of the United States around the world. Leave it to Vice-president, Joe Biden, to tell Charlie Rose, in a Bloomberg interview, “We do get down to shouting at each other, when we are alone, so deep is the trust and the respect we have for each other!” Remarkable, on one level, and yet, really not so surprising. These two men have been through so much turbulence, policy debates, positions and rationales that would fill a library if they were all transcribed.

The controlled discipline of President Obama could, in part result from training in International Affairs (Columbia University) and Law (Harvard Law School). However, the clarity and the control of the character of the president. He does say what he means and offers a model for the whole world, whether those listening agree with his policies or not.

There is, however, a significant difference between politics, geopolitics, the law as articulated on the world stage through the world’s microphone and a grade one classroom, or a conversation on a date, of a conversation in a pub, or even a conversation with God. Rhetoric, as opposed to ordinary conversation, sets a very high bar in grammatical structure, vocabulary, syntax and balanced and parallel sentences. And with all of those disciplines comes a requirement to think through, to write or speak, and then to revisit and revise, to edit and to make clear. “On the fly” when we speak, we are not thinking about or operating on the same number and level of linguistic nuances. We are uttering thoughts and feelings that are, in themselves, forming as we speak. We are not worried or even thinking about how we will be reviewed, interpreted, and whether or not our meaning will be delivered or received as we intended it to be. And often, in an unplanned retort, we deliver a message for which we will spend time ‘making it right’ after it has been lifted, twisted and mis-represented multiple times. There are so many factors at play in our utterances, including our history with the people we are speaking to, including the subject we are discussing, the tenor of the daily water-cooler ‘talk’, the perceived expectations of our colleagues, our ‘background’ on the subject we are discussing...and the list goes on.

I do not say what I a minefield filled with both visible and buried political, diplomatic, psychological and relational IED’s as it were whether we are aware of their existence or not.

And the confusion and conflict that emerge from our speaking those things we do not mean fills novels, attracts both playwrights and theatre-goers, fills courtrooms and petitions, and is poured out of the reports prepared by social workers, police, medical doctors, coroners, journalists and clergy. And many of those written pages follow hours, weeks and months of face to face dialogue. And then, there are the intimate conversations in which individuals are more subject to highly volatile emotions, especially at the beginning of lover-lover relationships. And often the manner of speech is as important as the specific content. Questions like, “Does s/he love me?” and “Will s/he stay with me?” and “What will her/my parents think of the relationship?” and “Will these feelings still course through her/me in twenty years?” and “What kind of family will emerge from this relationship?” And, as we all know 90% of all communication is non-verbal; so body language, eye movement, the tilt of the head, the shrug of the shoulder, the posture of the arms and legs, all of these “signals” flow into a stream of  communication, frequently left to personal, subjective interpretation. For example, recently at an art show, a patron praised a specific piece of work directly to the artist, who immediately retrieved a box, interpreting the praise as a clear indication of a desire to purchase the piece. When she learned that the praise was discreet, and not an expression of intent to purchase, she immediately withdrew, embarrassed, and apologized profusely.

In school, at least in another century, students were taught about writing and reading skills, inference, connotation, denotation, figurative language, and all of these matters as they apply to specific pieces of both fiction and non-fiction. Never, except perhaps in a theatre/drama class, we were taught about the language of our bodies. Still such instruction is primarily dedicated to drama students, given their prospect of performing in amateur and professional theatre following their stint in school. Perhaps, for people in the human resource or sales industries, skills such as how to ‘stage’ an employment interview, or a dismissal interview, and client interview, the ‘closing’ (of the sale) interview are featured. However, such formal instruction, rehearsal and deployment are used mainly by public figures, politicians, reporters, and corporate executives who will have to make public presentations. Again, these skills have a tendency to separate the “performer” from the audience, and if they find their way into an informal conversation, the ‘performer’ will likely alienate the ‘other’.

Now, let’s pause and examine the second part of the Buber quote: I don’t do what I say (I am going to do). And this issue is even more complicated, not only for politicians but also for parents, and for all professional people in their encounter with others. The bests of intentions with the most ethical of persons can and do go awry. And while there are a plethora of reasonable (and not so reasonable) explanations for the derailings. Nevertheless, no matter the arena, the result is often one of an emotional betrayal. And none of us is immune from legitimate accusations that we have not done what we said we were going to do. The most blatant might be the marriage vow, pledging life-long loyalty and ‘obedience’ to the betrothed, with statistically some 40% in North America at least terminating before the death of one of the partners. Whether such terminations are mutual, ridden with conflict or not, they are empirical evidence of the failure to “do” what one has committed to doing. And none of us is exempt from both being the butt of betrayal, and the betrayer. We are not necessarily at the same time, or in the same situation, enmeshed in both sides of the betrayal. However, most of us spend much more time fretting over our having been betrayed, and almost no time reflecting on our impact on people we love by our act(s) of betrayal.

And, in both failing to say what I mean, and in failing to do what I say I will do, I join the human race, in engendering conflict, and angst and turmoil and upset lives, and even potentially decades of remorse and unpacking. However, the silver lining in this personal drama that attends each of our lives, comes from the reconciliations that some permit and encourage, from the insights that our pain help to unfold, and from the conversations and reflections that are quite literally inevitable so long as we breathe. And without those interpersonal conflicts, linked to and emerging from those private, internal conflicts that bubble and even sometimes boil into sleepless nights, a few extra drinks at the bar, some long walks into the night in the forest, and some decisions and revisions that are prompted by our previous omissions.

Just as the artist pays as much or more attention to the negative spaces on his/her canvas, so too, human beings are well advised to pay considerable attention to the negative space in our speech and our behaviour. Although such attention is not filled with that craved applause, nevertheless it can and will pay large dividends as the grey hairs replace the blond and the brown or black and we reflect on the canvas of our life. We will undoubtedly recall how history paid attention to what we said, failed to say, mis-spoke and also to what we said we would do and did not do. And those conflicts will comprise the ‘grist’ not only of our memories but also of our individuation, our becoming a self-before God, the long race to which we have all been invited.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Humility, even driven to one's knees, still a requisite for high political office

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day. (Abraham Lincoln)

In a time of instant gratification and “uber” entitlements expected, if not demanded, by so many, there have been an avalanche of  forces unleashed from so many covered “jars” (or boxes in the case of the Pandora’s Box myth), forces such as:

·       global marketing,

·       digital technology,

·       opening the world to the ordinary consumer of products, services, ideas and even ideologies (including the highly sophisticated seductive techniques of recruitment)

·       the scientific evidence of global warming and climate change,

·       the out-sourcing of manufacturing jobs by the millions, and

·       the obvious lethargy of existing and stable systems to respond in real time to both the nature of the changes and the velocity of their eruption and literally crashing of the geo-political universe, and then we add in

·       the highest number of refugees in human history, human beings fleeing from war, bombs, starvation, terror and hopelessness

·       the insurgency known as radical jihad...

The Lincoln comment could hardly be more relevant, cogent and timely.

In some ways, whether we acknowledge it or not, we have all (with the obvious and dangerous exception of Mr. Trump) been brought to our knees in confusion, anxiety, fear, disconnection, disempowerment, and our own brand of hopelessness. And yet, such humility, and such genuflecting is so frowned upon in a culture in which only the extreme-strong have the megaphone, and only they have the prominent model of how to be human. Modesty, insecurity, confusion, and telling and accepting the truth are so anathema to a culture that gives rise to “Mobile Strike” and to “Extreme Sports” and to a “trump candidacy” (no capitals warranted!). “I am going to”....”just be quiet and let me do it alone”....I am going to bomb the hell out of them”....”I am going to build a wall and the Mexicans are going to pay for it”.....”you’re fired!”.....these are the expletives of the man who could conceivably hold the most powerful office in the world, complete with his hands on, and his mind in charge of the nuclear codes! And the more flotsam and jetsam he spews, the more his supporters cheer, and even shout, and even engage with opponents.

It is such an emotional, intellectual and spiritual distance between the current Republican candidate for president and the perspective of Lincoln in the quote above as to be both tragically clarifying and more tragically frightening. The one quality most scholars of American presidents, and those who have worked for several, hold up for public applause is “he was always willing to listen because he knew he did not know it all”. The current candidate would find such a judgement abhorrent.
Isolating both the mind and the country from the wisdom not only of the ages, (as in the contribution Lincoln would make to the current political, cultural and geopolitical debates,) but also from the best minds currently available in the universities, in the civil service, in the military, in the legal system, and in the arts, is to rob the future of its potential. Just as the voters of Great Britain have robbed their youth (who voted almost unanimously for staying in the EU) of the potential of their collaborative study, travel, trade, and arts appreciation within the EU, given the existing open borders, so if he were to become the “leader of the free world” (God help us, even punching those keys blows the mind!), the Republican candidate would do the same to the United States people.

Greatness, in personal, organizational and especially national terms is not measured exclusively in terms of GDP, and in terms of how many millionaires a nation produces. Greatness, as a nation, as demonstrated by President Lincoln, rises to the level of a proclamation of the end of slavery, albeit after a bloody civil war, and albeit without full compliance of racial equality across the nation. Greatness, in historic American terms, evokes memories of  opening the doors of diplomacy to China (Nixon and Kissinger), the New Deal (F.D. Roosevelt), the nation’s interstate highway system (Eisenhower), the national parks system (Teddy Roosevelt), The League of Nations (Woodrow Wilson), the end of the Second World War (Harry Truman), The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Lyndon Johnson), the Marshall Plan (Harry Truman).
All of these presidents also had to deal with the expected economic twists and turns, the employment rate’s rising and falling, and the normal balance of power tensions between the Congress and the White House, the White House and the Supreme Court. Greatness embraces diplomacy, relationship building both on the personal and the international level, intellect and vision, the capacity to persuade and to join with others often strong opponents to generate both legislation and the moral ethos in which government can and does function.

And while President Clinton is on record as having told the country “the era of big government is over,” there is a continuing, if not enhanced need for the American people to be able to offer deep and profound respect for their government, as part of their pride and their confidence that government is truly of, for and by the people.
Exceptionalism, a raging perception among many Americans, as a defining quality of the people of the country, is, nevertheless a highly seductive trap for many who are having trouble reconciling it with a reality in which labour protection has vanished for millions of labourers, in which environmental protection initiatives are thwarted by a science-denying Republican majority in both houses of Congress and a decades-long lobbying effort by corporate bank-rollers like the Koch Brothers, in which attempts to introduce single-payer health care (like the program successfully operating in Canada for a half century) are thwarted by big business lobbying, in which responsible gun control measures are thwarted by the lobbying buy-outs of legislators by the NRA, in which learning levels are dropping while budgets are sucked empty by wars and security monoliths.

It is not through a suffocating diatribe of hubris that greatness is either demonstrated or developed among ordinary people. In fact, it is hubris that not only impedes the potential for greatness, hubris makes greatness unreachable because it blinds the ingenuity and the collaboration of those empowered to lead.
Lincoln understood this basic truth. So did most of the now-derailed Republican candidates by the trump-tsunami, completely undergirded by a sycophant media whose only interest is in their own ratings and their own careers.

Knowing what one does not know is one of the first steps to maturity. Mr. Trump has simply not made that step, if any or more seriously, all of his belches are to be parsed. Knowing what one does not know, rather than being a defect, or a vulnerability, is rather a significant, hopeful and discerning strength. However, in the current political climate, acknowledging “not knowing” graces neither Mr. Trump nor Ms Clinton who, by her own admission, has a “plan” for every exigency. Reading her book “It takes a Village to raise a child” one is literally overwhelmed by the detail and the depth and the ubiquity of her “proposals” as if she has spent years making political recipes for everything from education to military strategy, to tax policy to human and civil rights, to international relations.

Of course, selling, recruiting votes in the American political culture is not the time for humility; or is it? Would both candidates not have a better chance of earning legitimate trust of the people if they were open to their own limits, and if their stories were imbued with more stories of not knowing, of being brought to their knees, in the overwhelming conviction that they had no where else to go....what a different campaign we would witness and what a different country would emerge from what is admittedly a pivotal turning point in American history.

There is, after all, no inconsistency and no incompatibility in being both humble and bold; in fact it is only through humility that authentic boldness can find its true voice. And the missing ingredient in the current campaign for the White House is humility. And there is no excuse for its omission.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit into this a symptom or the full disease?

So they did it! 51.89% of the voters of the United Kingdom voted yesterday to leave the European Union. “Brexit” as it was called, triumphed by some 3+% over “remain.”

And then the clone of Donald Trump, on the other side of the “pond,” Boris Johnson the unofficial leader of the Brexit side, bombasted his way to the “favourite” contender  spot to take over from Prime Minister David Cameron, who has vowed to resign by October, at his party’s convention.

Is this the victory of the ordinary people, over the establishment, or the victory of bombast and political lies, the stock in trade of both Johnson and Trump.

Of course, there is a mood of political anger at those people and organizations considering themselves “ensconced” in the perks of power. Establishments quite literally hate turbulence, as does the business and corporate sector. The linkage of the business/corporate power bloc with the government, as still-attached Siamese twins, linked especially to the military production sector of the corporate world. Nevertheless, turbulence is what the United Kingdom and the European Union, possibly the rest of the global market system as well. No longer are the predictable patterns predictable; no longer as the normal ways of operating in the political arena normal. There is no normal, except to say the no normal is now the norm. We are living in a period of political chaos, and it did not start with this vote. Nor did it start with the nomination of Trump as Republican candidate for president.

Bank Governors, starting with Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, and now Governor of the Bank of England, will do whatever is in their power to stave off another deep and troubling run on the stock markets, so that the world does not have to go through another episode like that of 2008-9. However, announcing that the Bank of England has some $350 billion pounds in reserve to be accessed should the need arise, Carney hopes to quell fears of another massive sell-off without a return to a level acceptable to the global business community.  So there is a range of fiscal and monetary issues that will have to be resolved following this vote. And there will be a range of political/contractual issues that will have to be worked out, after the 27 other members of the EU have their say. And then there are all the travel, and passport issues, the trade issues (after five years’ of negotiating to arrive at the free trade agreement between Canada and the EU (of which Britain was throughout a full member of the EU), and political housekeeping just to replace Prime Minister Cameron, after he put all of his political “eggs” in this basket, now that the bottom has fallen out of that basket.

One of the most tumultuous and troubling issues underneath the vote to leave the EU was the question of immigration and the European Union’s approach to it. With 65 millions people now classified as refugees by the United Nations, the largest number at any one time in recorded history. This mass of humanity, twice the population of Canada, roughly 5 times the population of New York city, is not going to suddenly evaporate, nor is it likely to “return home” anytime soon, given the depth of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, some of the major sources of refugees, all of them attempting to survive by scurrying to Europe. Great Britain is also complaining of too many immigrants, and those seeking to leave the EU want some national control over immigration, rather than having to share the burden under the EU banner. However, immigration, migration, refugees....these are important but certainly not the only source of global chaos, uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Political chaos abounds.

Political chaos includes “spontaneous” terror attacks, the abduction of hundreds of young girls, the explosions of suicide bombers’ vests, an increase by 900% in the illicit market of rhinoceros horns, the slaughter of hundreds of elephants for their tusks, the wanton dumping of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the front pages of hundreds of dailies (their number shrinking daily, as the mega-media corporations swallow the smaller units) painted in 72-point type about the dangers and the fears of ordinary people about our capacity and ability to trust what formerly were trusted political organizations. The United States Congress votes down four reasonable and responsible gun control measures, including no sales to those on “no-fly” lists and background check enhancements, in spite of the “sit-in” reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the sixties. Iran just signed a multi-billion ($300B+) contract with Boeing for jets, for their civil aviation operation, while North Korea just fired a missile that can now reach the American base in Guam, although there are serious doubts they can mount a nuclear warhead on it yet. North Americans are “stuffing” their angst with sugar and salt, just another way of “voting” that does not enter into the calculations of the pollsters, as “votes”. The health care budgets are stretched to their breaking points, while the pharmaceutical companies literally control the Food and Drug oversight agencies. In Canada, for example, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to treat seniors who have been prescribed medications by various doctors, none of them knowing what the others have prescribed, so the pills argue with each other making their recipients “sick”....but the sickness is only a symptom of the systemic collapse of the design of the drug administration system, whereby no central medical doctor and/or pharmacist keeps a running monitoring of all the prescriptions, potentially throwing up red flags of warning. Individuals, by themselves, are running the show, when the show is so far about their “pay grade” yet, because of privacy and the freedom of the individual, chaos reigns in this sphere too.

We listen to the daily drum beat of how the markets, the stocks and the price of a barrel of oil all rise and fall, more turbulently than a riff by the Rolling Stones. In fact at least there is some musical structure and discipline to that riff, a structure and discipline that is completely absent from the global political turbulence. And we haven’t even mentioned the chaos we drink, breath and eat every day. Fracking threatens the drinking water of millions with the energy companies throwing billions in advertising/information campaigns to prevent environmental attacks from taking their legitimate toll. Coal companies are continuing to fund political campaigns to keep their doors open, while they belch toxic gas into the atmosphere, in many countries, without a regime of transformation that is sustainable and enforceable. Food processing, including the mega-corporate control of all the seeds necessary for the propagation of vegetable and fruits, the mega-imprisonment of pigs, chicken and other animals with hormonal-infested “feed” in order to maximize the profits of their corporate investors, the health of the consumer taking no mention in the equation of production, distribution, pricing and the impacts on the health care systems.

It is not only that political chaos seems to pervade the global map; it is also that none of the major issues seems to be attracting the kind of focused, determined, and muscular attention most of the issues merit, and even demand. And that in and of itself is also quite unsettling, for those still willing to read the papers and watch the news. Many, unfortunately, have turned away, given the hopeless of the situation. Yesterday, in Great Britain, however, some 70% of eligible voters turned out to vote, apathy not being a major factor in that outcome. Today, the New York Times is warning, following the shock of this vote to exit the EU, that Americans from all segments of the society have been taking a Trump candidacy far too lightly, and that he could actually win the White House in November. No thinking, sentient human being would wish for such an outcome, and no sane American voter would pull the lever in the voting booth for such a result. However, this is not a “sane” period of history, and events have a way of overcoming predictable, normal, conventional patterns. Will Trump ride this wave into the White House?

Brexit, of course, could lead to other “independence” movements in Quebec, Scotland* ( the First Minister of Scotland has already announced that a second attempt to separate Scotland from Great Britain in order to remain inside the European Union will be held, given the overwhelming support in that country for the “remain” side in yesterday’s vote), Northern Ireland. Independence movements however, without public insistence on reasonable and responsible controls of the people and the money in charge will result in little more than another illusion of freedom, compassion and well being of the people who are at the bottom of the “food chain”....the people who vote, and who pay the taxes. This is not an argument that attempts to say the world is ending because the Brits have voted to divorce from the EU. However, it is to say that such a vote will bring into question the validity, stability, efficacy, and effectiveness of many of the other political structures, organizational structures, and those previously invulnerable power blocs that we thought were created for the purpose of enhancing the lives of ordinary people, when it can be legitimately argued that the interests of those with power were more prominent in the design than we ever wanted to believe.

The world also faces health epidemics, Ebola, Zika, and the threat of bacteria immune to the antibacterial drugs we have depended upon for decades. In the face of all these turbulences, signs of chaos, and uncertainty, the words of a young woman coach of young Canadian women athletes, when asked about her uneasiness about flying to Rio and the Summer Olympics, “In a world full of threats and dangers, we just have to be more courageous and more bold!” Her words startled me, and gave me a shot of adrenalin and hope, adrenalin that charged my thinking into revisiting the cloudiness that is so readily visible, and hope that a new generation of mature adults facing the world with enhanced confidence, and even a little “strut” of bravado may be the best antidote to the threats and the dangers we all face.

Let’s not forget too, that in Mandarin, the word for threat is the same as the word for opportunity. Are we up to the opportunities, of these many profound threats?

 *The First Minister of Scotland has already announced that a second attempt to separate Scotland from Great Britain in order to remain inside the European Union will be held, given the overwhelming support in that country for the “remain” side in yesterday’s vote.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reflection on Kierkegaard's observation: truth rests with the minority

Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion. While the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion---and who, therefore, in the next instant (when it is evident that the minority is the stronger) assume its opinion…while truth again reverts to a new minority. (Soren Kierkegaard)

Very early in my life, I heard, and continue to hear in the drum beat of my memory, the urgent voice of my mother: “If everybody runs down to the town dock and jumps into the water, are you going to join them?” The words were always uttered at the moment when whatever popular purchase or trend came crashing into her value system, belief system or her world view. She represented the ultimate individualist, libertarian, and objectionist perspective, although none of those monikers were available to me at twelve.

Following the crowd was not her picture of a healthy life. On the other hand, in all of the half century-plus I knew my father, I cannot remember his every expressing an opinion, except about the weather, the safest topic of conversation in Canada.

There are some important reasons why truth might be more likely to rest with the minority. One might be based on the urgent need of many people to “belong” and to develop and deploy radar ready to detect that latest whiff of rumour, of gossip, of sensation and even perhaps of personal trouble that may be floating, or more likely “thundering” through the neighbourhood. And while there may be a high sensitivity to these winds, the degree of accuracy with which the radar screens in the minds/ears/eyes/hearts of most people is quite low. Just try the age old experiment of forming a dozen people in a circle and then whisper a single sentence into the ear of one person, asking that person to whisper the same sentence to the next person. After the message has gone round the complete circle, ask the last person to hear it, to repeat it. If you have not experienced this piece of “social research” you will be astounded by what comes out of the mouth of the last person. If it bears any resemblance to the original sentence, it will be a very attentive, and certainly not typical group.

And then there are some other barriers to the truth. One is the stark quality of the truth, in so many cases. The history of medicine, for example, has run hot and cold on whether or not to tell a patient s/he has cancer, given the conflicting evidence that such tragic information might, and often has, triggered other perhaps equally fatal symptoms. At this writing in Canada, it seems that the profession is favouring full disclosure. And then there are other obstacles to truth telling in so many professional and personal situations. For example, depending on the local culture, specific individuals and also particular professions are viewed through a “community lens” that, like a fuzzy camera lens distorts the truths it purports to reveal. Doctors who have performed an outstanding piece of recovery surgery early in their career, for example, continue to hold a platinum reputation long after the shelf-life that legitimizes that reputation is past due. Similarly, if a local attorney drops the ball on a high profile case, through no fault of his or her own, that reputation sticks like glue for decades, unless and until a new and different case provides different evidence, so different and so dramatic that the “public” is forced to alter its virtually frozen view. It a professional from another career stubs his or her toes, his career is finished in that community, regardless of the quality of his or her teaching, or his or her social work, or his or her accounting expertise. The public “majority” is enshrined with a view of the truth that, by definition, ignores much of the evidence that those with intimate knowledge know to be true, and also know that they do not, or will not, or may not disclose. The herd mind set (self-designed truth) is extremely powerful, especially to those who really do not have an opinion, and prefer the opinion of the masses, in order both to avoid the effort to ascertain the full truth, and to avoid having to appear to be too interested for whatever personal and private reasons they might have.

On the larger social policy stage, the complex and often obscure issues which are driving a public posture are rarely exposed to a wider public than those with what is “affectionately” knows as “a need to know” thereby keeping the rest of the public in the dark except about the headlines, designed to evoke strong emotions from predictable constituencies, favourable to the people most in line with benefiting from their support. And the mass movement on which most public issues rotate is remarkably free of the finer nuances studied by and disclosed to only a minority. Mass media outlets know profoundly that their ratings depend on sales or viewers that can and will consume only the headlines, and thereby dedicated space/time (depending on the medium) to those positions. Nothing could be more relevant to this point that the preponderance of time/space devoted to the candidacy of Donald Trump, without even modestly assigning investigative reporters to probe his plethora of deceptions/lies/exaggerations/and even character assassinations. On issues like racial equality, especially, starting with women, blacks, LGBT members...the majority view has always been bigoted, with only a very small minority willing and courageous enough to take up the cause of those repressed and maligned minorities. Within the minorities themselves, of course, the truth of their abuse is widely known, as is the truth of a child’s physical, emotional and psychological abuse known only to that person (and perhaps one or two close and trusted loyalists) while the public blithely think the family’s golden reputation is both warranted and worthy of support.

In the selection of criminal juries, of course, those ‘in the know’ of the public information surrounding the case are excluded from serving, in order to attempt to paint the picture generated by the trial process on a ‘clean canvas’ of minds free of any opinion that might colour their decision.

In the file commonly known as “social safety net”...the public support for those in need, the majority in both Canada, would rather repeal its existence, and certainly restrict its expansion. On the question of the right to carry guns, the majority, in the United States at least, would prefer the support of the Second Amendment, as opposed to any legislative move to restrict the ownership, especially of assault weapons. Only a minority, at this time, seek gun control legislation, as only a minority seek public support for the PRIDE movement and the parades they are holding in an increasing number of communities.

With respect to war, especially in the United States, the public majority position has been in favour of going to fight in VietNam, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, while a minority continued to oppose these wars, based on the honour and the valour of the American military machine in previous conflicts, especially WWI and WWII, and perhaps even Korea. Tradition, by definition, will most times garner a majority of public support, given the well-documented public resistance to change, an issue that starts with only a single person’s writing or thoughts, and spreads very slowly out to a minority who are willing to challenge the status quo, and are willing to look at the fundamental truths of new research. A classic model of this dynamic is the large majority who have rendered global warming and climate change a hoax for decades while a few lonely voices at first, and then only a small minority became fully conscious of the impending dangers and risks the human race faces should we collectively drag our feet or completely resist the changes to our tax system, to our purchase prices of fossil fuels, and to our development and purchase of carbon neutral renewable energy sources.

Many of the original majorities, unfortunately, can be traced back to the teachings of the Christian church (more specifically the Roman Catholic church) with respect to divorce, to birth control, to abortion, to doctor-assisted dying and to a support for military recruitment, without objecting to a draft. The majority of the public is so easily and so readily supportive of a national effort for war, at least in the United States, that only recently has the current president dragged his feet on invading Libya and Syria, and for both decisions he has been roundly and soundly criticized by a majority.

Minorities, on the other hand, are much more reflective, much more inquisitive and clearly much more sceptical of the public utterances of public figures, than are majorities and are thereby much more likely to dig beneath the surface in order to begin the complicated process of forming their own opinions. And at the root of minorities, are individuals, prophets, writers, song-writers, dancers, choreographers, playwrights, and composers who think complicated thoughts about complicated subjects and issues. Whether or not they are “public thinkers” like Noam Chomsky, or philosopher/professors like Charles Taylor, innovative thinkers like Bill Gates, or investors like Warren Buffet, or original feminists like Betty Friedan, or literally dozens who carried the torch for centuries, these people were on the cutting edge of public opinion, without ever garnering the public majority to their various nuanced views. Marshall McLuhan, Bertrand Russell, William Buckley, George Bernard Shaw....these are other examples of individuals who, without the support of public majorities, ventured into the dark unknown of a truth so deeply feared and often distrusted by the mainstream.

And the disciples of any of these people were always, and remain, a solid cornerstone of minority opinion. In fact, minority opinions are more often and more likely to remain the cutting edge of public and social truths, so resisted and so even despised by a majority. Such a dynamic could foreshadow a commonly held world view by the majority that only the proven is worthy of their support, and that includes both ideas and persons whose public image in unsullied and untarnished by scandal or by libel. It may not be that the majority really cares about the truth, but more about their retention of whatever slim-hold on power they flaunt.

On a personal note, I have resisted purchasing the most popular item in the market offering, basing my decisions on the premise that those in the shadow of the spot-light of international advertising are more likely to produce a quality product and a quality service, given their need to compete with the “most favoured” offering. Nevertheless, in politics, only the majority win elections, when the most appropriate and most relevant ideas may well find their roots in the minority. In Canada, one sterling example is the national health care program, begun by a very small minority, under the then premier of Saskatchewan, and only decades later, spread to the rest of the Canadian provinces, and eventually into the federal government.

Lights begin to shine in the privacy of laboratories, or private studies, or over an easel in a private gallery, or over a pen and paper, and more recently over a laptop....and only very slowly, if at all, with those ideas spread to the majority. The velocity of such spread depends on the specific arena: in pop music, it could take a few moments for millions to view a U-tube upload; whereas in the field of cancer research, it could take decades of painstaking research by hundreds of scholars to reach a break-through advance.

Nevertheless, the truth is  more treasured by the minority, more likely to originate in a minority, often of one, and more fully comprehended and assimilated by the minority.

It is the pressure to belong to the majority that can be considered one of the significant impediments to ingenuity, creativity and innovation. And, I thank my mother every day for paving the way for a life of getting and staying comfortable in the minority, often a minority of only one.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflections on religion's 'wicked corporate and dogmatic dominions' (thanks to William James)

 In (“The Varieties of Religious Experience,”) William James distinguishes between various religious experiences and “religion’s wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and religion’s wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law.” (From David Brook's Column, Religion's Wicked Neighbor! June 17, 2016, New York Times)
The problems inherent in starting and in sustaining a religious "organization" that purports to incarnate a belief system dedicated to the worship of God are monumental. One of the more insidious, even self-defeating, problems is the baked-in-the-cake culture of the people who are charged with leadership in such an organization. Most of those people have and will come from enterprises designed to deliver services and/or products either on a for-profit basis, or a not-for-profit basis. Historically, organizations have borrowed templates from top-down, hierarchical, patriarchal organizations that demanded discipline to both the tenets of the theoretical design (dogma) and to the authority of that template. In religious organizations, there is also an over-riding impulse to perfection in the service of the divine, as if the only kind of "service" or engagement in the organization that can be acceptable to God is nothing less than perfect.
Within the hierarchical (etc.) organization that is dedicated to "perfectionism" lie the seeds of the very demise of that organization, in spite of all the best intentions of all of the people who attempt to provide leadership to that organization. Starting with the assumption of a top-down structure, as reflective of the "holy" is dangerous, simply because it necessarily infantilizes those who submit to the authority and the creeds of such an organization. The premise of "knowing" the will of God, regardless of the scripture on which that body of belief, is presumptuous in the extreme; and the preaching, teaching, modelling and conversion to those beliefs and then the monitoring and enforcement of attitudes, behaviours and liturgies that conform to those interior demands and expectations is among other things, the substitution of human power and will for the power and will of God. Just this week, Pope Francis spoke freely off the cuff to the effect that most people entering into marriages in the church are not committed to the life-long endurance of that union. They have not been indoctrinated in the church's teaching of the permanence of marriage, (only annulment permits the termination of marriage, within the church). Such comments were immediately interpreted as judgements on the married Catholics who marriages may have ended in divorce, separation or simply atrophy.
The contemporary culture of 40-plus percent of marriage dissolutions is obviously a great concern to the Vatican. Yet the original immutable linkage of sexual activity to marriage and procreation, exclusively, as part of church teaching, is not included in the discussion of the "results" of such a narrow teaching. Allegedly based on natural law, the church's original position has been promulgated and defended to the exclusion of all other possibilities, even in the face of counter-intuitive other perspectives on natural law.
And, to be fair, there is no scriptural or even doctrinal evidence for a God that is analogous to a frozen unchanging and unchangeable titanium ring. Nor is there scriptural evidence for an organizational structure that replicates the original military model. However, we have all bought in, to some degree, to both the dogmatic teachings and the military structure. And in so doing, we have promulgated a religious experience that is bound within the expectations of both the "corporate" culture (in terms of structure; more about motive below) and the dogma. As both of these are the results of human experience, in the collective sense, as opposed to the individual experience, they cannot be considered exclusive nor sacred.
And in considering both dogma and structure from human design as exclusive and sacred, we participate in the erosion of what started as a "permanent and indestructible" faith system, just as time as eroded the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and many other cathedrals whose crumbling walls remain to attest to their previous existence and their vulnerability to the elements.
The work of the leadership in such organizations is, and continues to be as a matter of necessity, inordinately dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of the "purity" and the relevance of both the dogma and the order, (read hierarchy) of its continuing existence. Corporate public relations, the management of the corporate identity, including the crisis management of those incidents in which embarrassing events might negatively impact the ability of the "corporation" (church) to sustain membership, and more especially to generate a flow of cash to pay the bills, becomes a very high priority and thus a time-consuming agenda of leadership, not to mention the high cost of such management of the message.
Unfortunately, some of the core tenets of dogma, (celibate clergy, for example) are often at the heart of some of these embarrassments. Nevertheless, the immediate management of the public image trumps the possibility of a review of the core dogma. And for that management strategy, the church turns to the corporate "consultants" whose practices have been recruited by the global corporations like BP during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to "stop the bleeding" of public confidence. None of this kind of campaign is even indirectly related to the "faith" of the institution. It is nothing more than micro-management of a public image, too often based on a dogmatic position that, it could be argued, is simply unsustainable given the evidence available on the nature the church is attempting to manage (read control).
So we can easily see the merger of dogmatic tenets with the corporate dominion that renders the ecclesial body beholden to the "spin-masters" and their expertise to trim the potential losses of public confidence. And the rhythm of the rise and fall of public confidence becomes the energy for much of the public discourse, within the church, about the church's viability. Spiritual issues, the lives of individuals struggling with their own real pain, in their own private lives, is, if not completely ignored, at least considered much less urgent, when that might be the central concern of the organization.
In fact, organizational needs, the building maintenance, the cost of stipends, the development of training programs and facilities, the demands of academic research in the universities, including those operated under the auspices of the church....all of these become, similar to the needs of a corporation, the driving issues of the organization. There may in fact be a case to be made that personal spiritual pilgrimages are incompatible with the corporate agenda of many church bodies.
Also, the exercise of authority, a core issue in all organizations, subsumes spiritual issues, although it can be argued that such issues cannot be separated from the spiritual issues of the pilgrims.  Some research has attempted to parse the perceptions of God, with respect to the kind of "authority" God demonstrates, using archetypes from the secular world: king, shepherd, father (mother), brother, friend, healer. And the way in which pilgrims encounter the exercise of "power" (in this case the supreme power of God) can and often does provide clues about how the individual experiences power in his/her secular life.
And so, while the enemies of the religious experience are clear, those very enemies can also serve as clarifying agents for those ready, willing and open to such potentially painful discernment. For example, many churches deploy clerics as primarily evangelists, (in the contemporary culture, marketers) to provide charismatic preaching, in the hope and belief that a segment of their congregation (or their target market) will be sufficiently attracted to become more diligent and dedicated adherents. Others deploy scholars in the hope that such leadership through homilies and educational opportunities will attract a different demographic. Others still deploy those they consider "pastors" (care givers) who will spend their time comforting their "flock" in the hope that such experience will gather new adherents. In the case of churches transitioning from conflict, the hierarchy will of ten deploy those cleric considered especially "strong" and "Churchill like" in order to bring order back to the chaos. And the pastoral needs of the parishioners will take a  back seat to the organizational needs of the corporation.
Ironically, that divide may have also played a significant role in the development of the conflict in the first place.
Clergy, tragically, have to operate in the confluence of the plethora of these forces, (and likely others, depending on the situation locally), many of them in direct conflict with other forces, and those forces will inevitably have lay voices demanding the cleric's attention. And so the "politics" of religion will tend to drown the individual spiritual pilgrimage of the people in the pews. And so long as the organizational "traits" dominate, (the cash flow, the numbers of attendees, the size of the church school, the numbers of social events, the size and the musical quality of the church choir, the inspiration of the homilist) then the important personal "spiritual experience" of the individual will serve these "higher" needs.
And to the extent that an individual wishes to remain "private" (as many in fact do) these external organizational issues provide the kind of cover that protects their privacy.
It is the question of growing a community of pilgrims in support of all members that seems quite problematic when the organizational "needs" tend to dominate...and for many, the divide between the personal and the corporate has driven them into the forest, to find their spiritual sustenance. And many of the corporate churches have empty pews, depleting fiscal resources, sliding recruitment counts, and rising sales of beautiful cathedrals.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Part 2: True religion is a profound uneasiness about our highest social values (Niebuhr)

There are some important implications about a profound religion that starts with the “divinity within” the human.

For starters, the notion of the divine light within is extremely difficult for many to swallow, given the centuries of brain-washing, initiated by the disciple Paul, about man’s ignominious “falling short of the glory of God” and prayers like “I am not worth so much as to gather the crumbs from under Thy table”. Augustine, too, bears considerable responsibility for starting from his own shame, evil and sin, and then writing about it in tomes considered by the church to be full of the wisdom of God. The hair-shirt of a kind of religious morality, premised on an inherent evil of human nature, is both self-sabotaging; it also generates rational for all attempts to explain, to monitor, to control and of course, to punish human behaviour. Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing attempted several years ago to attribute a very different interpretation on the “Fall” in the Garden of Eden, an interpretation that, if it had been available and acknowledged and accepted centuries ago, would have generated millions of people who did not have to cower in caves of shame, guilt, embarrassment and even death at the voices and the hands of their persecutors, not to mention their prosecutors.

Starting from a positive perspective is not only psychologically more generative of healthy relationships,(including especially one’s relationship to God) but is also a start on moving from what psychology today would call “an external locus of control” to an “internal locus of control” by which one takes responsibility for one’s actions, decisions, attitudes and relationships. The outside influences, thereby, while not ignored or denied, play a less dominant role in an individual’s life. There is a greater likelihood of a human developing a healthy “awe” (the translation of the original word in scripture, “fear”) of God, the Deity, if one starts from an enhanced reputation of the biblical notion of “imago dei”, humans being created in the image of God. (With considerable acknowledgement of debt to Rousseau!) The notion also enhances the potential for a different “kind” of decision-making, from one of avoidance of punishment, embarrassment and castigation, to one premised on one’s better angels, one’s highest purpose and potential, one’s best deployment of one’s gifts. Development of the “internal locus of control” as a more creative, responsible and caring path to child development, however, does not negate the need for parents’ warnings of specific dangers, like hot stoves, speeding cars on streets, or unbalanced bicycles for neophyte riders. However, helping others to start from a perspective that others seek and will to ‘the good’ and not to ‘the evil’, while to today’s audiences seems naïve in the extreme and a radical proposal, and then to deepen that perspective through experiences that are grounded on such a premise as one passes through middle age and into one’s dotage, would not only serve the individuals themselves in a significantly positive manner; it would also generate multiple benefits for the culture.

Another aspect of enhancing both respect for and nurture for the ‘imago dei’ notion of the divinity within, is that one’s primary responsibility in serving God is to accept and sustain responsibility for one’s own mental, physical, spiritual health, before attempting to “care” for others. Of course, in the time narrative of our lives, these two dynamics play out congruently, and opportunities to ‘care’ for a loved one will present themselves without regard for one’s spiritual health. However, there are some important questions of discernment when contemplating caring for others. I am reminded of the Friday afternoon homily of a Bishop, to a private boys’ school, in the school chapel. With everyone anxious to leave for the weekend, and no one really interested in listening to another old man in robes drone on, he mounted the pulpit and uttered these words: “Mind your own business!”

And then he sat down to the utter surprise and amazement of everyone.

His poignant recommendation to those boys is one needing utterance in so many situations in which the “Good Samaritan” parable is about to be applied by well-intentioned religious persons, intent on caring for another in distress. Too often, the needs of the caregiver to be needed exceed the immediate needs of the target of their good intentions. This is not to say that acts of compassionate caring are not needed and valued; it is, however, to point to the rather perplexing notion from a lecture by one John Kloppenberg, at Saint Michael’s College, that the Christ figure in that parable is the Jew taken for dead in the ditch, not the Samaritan who provides him with rescue and hospitality. In our head-long effort to demonstrate our compassion, and thereby to earn a good name for ourselves, we are quick to run to the Samaritan role, thinking and likely even believing that we are emulating, if not responding to the Jesus model of care-giving. And while the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other, and the story does attempt to bring them together in a level of empathy, there was very little inconvenience to the Samaritan’s act of charity, worthy at some level though it is. So many acts of charity and compassion are, however, so superficial, so duty-originated and duty-executed, so worthy of the resume, so eagerly recounted, and so often based more on the needs of the care-giver than on the need of the object of that care. It is in examining, more patiently and also more deeply, our own situation, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, to determine our motives, our agenda, and our projected outcomes of our kindnesses, that we are more likely to discern motives worthy of us, and of the person we seek to “help”. Perhaps, how we approach the potential encounter, seeking out the feelings of the other as to whether or not they wish care, what kind of care would be most appropriate, when that care would be best offered, and by whom, would help us to determine the most “sacred” way for the encounter to take place. And that means that we have to become conscious of our intent, our need, our motives and our appropriateness for making the gesture. And that process is one we have already practised, if we are learning to mine our unconscious, long before the encounter presents itself.

In an “extrinsically” driven, even formulated world, the “fix-it” notion is attached like a globule of gorilla glue to each of our minds, our hearts, our spirits and our world views. Fixing it, whatever it is, in the spiritual realm, may be a notion incompatible with not only our individual capacity, but also the capacity of medical science, or of many of the other disciplines even including reconciliation, mediation, and all of the known strategies and tactics of clinical and pastoral care.  And not only are some problems neither avoidable nor fixable, God is not “the fixer” of our lives, nor the fixer of all our problems. And the “extrinsically-driven” notion of the universe imposes such a metaphysic on all of our faith communities, leading to the highly problematic cry from many who become tragically ill: “Why is God doing this to me, given that I have lived a good life for X decades?” Being embedded in an objectively-premised relationship with God, one considers God the primary cause of all of the bad things that happen, and sometimes even utters thanks when a baby is born healthy, or a sick person is healed after surgery. Another brief story, from the memory bank:

While witnessing a hernia surgery operation, as part of training, I heard these words from the surgeon as he was stitching the flesh: “My surgery professor always reminded us that we could put the sutures in, but we could not and did not heal the patient!”

So we can see the inner-directed life enhances the potential and the opportunity for enlightened self-discipline, enhanced expression of compassion without the need to fix, and there is also the added, but often overlooked notion that our lives are not driven to, nor expecting rewards in the usual definition of that concept. We are not all the time striving for those trophies, medals, crests, and expressions of praise that have become an integral part of our transactional culture. Used as motivation, used as conditioning, in the classical Pavlovian sense, rendering the recipient little more than a trained seal, (or dog, in the case of Pavlov) we might witness a far more vigorous and sustained and authentic extension of our natural tendency to “relate” to others in a far more authentic, and far less transactional manner. If we already relate to God in a transactional manner, attempting to pave our own path to a “happy eternity” rather than the opposite (a theory that has been so debunked, both as to the geography and even the very existence of both heaven and hell), why would we not also consider it both appropriate and ethically, morally and spiritually to engage in a bargaining process with others, thereby rending both ourselves and others as little more than agents of our needs.

It was Kant who reminded us never to be the agents of another’s agenda. It was Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order (not Benedict XVI) who reminded us never to do the work that is properly belonging to another. We cannot do another’s work, especially spiritually. And the idea of building a community in which a level and degree of holiness, dignity, respect and especially agape love, demands that we each consider ourselves created in the image of God as Scott Peck wrote in his introduction to A Different  Drum. The Prior, exhausted and despairing about the level of morale and enrolment in the Priory went to the visit the Rabbi. He too was despondent about the state of his synagogue with its low attendance and low morale. “Remember the Messiah is among you!” were the words of support from the Rabbi. Upon the return of the Prior to the Priory, everyone asked him, “What did the Rabbi tell you?”

“Remember the Messiah is among you!” were the only words he spoke.

And of course, as time went on, and the abbots continued to ask, “Is it him?” or “Is it you?”….the tone and the atmosphere, especially the relationships among the men were transformed, the enrolment rose and the prior became a place of peace, contentment, joy and spiritual fulfilment.

Why would such a microcosmic story not have legitimate “macro” applications?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

True religion is a profound uneasiness about our highest social values (Niebuhr)

Religion, declares the modern man, is consciousness of our highest social values. Nothing could be further from the truth. True religion is a profound uneasiness about our highest social values. (Reinhold Niebuhr)

What are our highest social values? Let’s start with our ideals,and then let’s look at achievements as measures of how well we have represented our ideals. Ideally, we are working collaboratively, on an equal basis with our colleagues. Ideally we are comporting with the rules and regulations of our families, our schools, our colleges and universities and especially our employers. And then, of course, it also follows that we are obedient to all of the traditional expectations of our church denominations. We are ideally patriotic, tax-paying, hard working, debt-free, and dutiful to our families and our “form” of worship, as detailed by the leaders of our churches. We are compliant when asked to donate to those charities whose work we support. We are compliant if and when our neighbour asks for a ‘hand’ in fixing the broken fence between our two properties. We are respectful of our employers’ and our unions’ regulations, and confused when they are in conflict. We detest any sign of conflict, especially between those who matter to us and we seek to “make peace” through whatever method of tilting the scales with our secret thumbs that is available. We keep our mouths shut on contentious political and spiritual issues, given our deep and historic convention requiring “political correctness” and we present to the world a face that refuses to disclose whatever it might be that deeply troubles us. We preserve our privacy, as if it were our holy grail, even from our intimate partners, to keep them from having the burden of our worries. We never want to be a “problem” for our families, and we want the world to consider us both successful and a “good person”, affable, easy to be with even fun, and helpful, up to a point. And given all of these ideals, we are also extremely judgemental of others who refuse to comply with the ‘rules’ or, more euphemistically, the social expectations. We are constantly, almost obsessively comparing ourselves to our peers, on a plethora of ‘social scales’ including: the kind of car we each drive, the kind of house we each live in, the kind of clothes we each wear, the kind of language we each us including the specific topics in which we are interested in discussing (preferring the weather, or the social gossip to the questions that beset the culture, like doctor-assisted dying), the way in which we ingratiate ourselves to authority, the vacations we plan and take (or not), the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to, and the work we do.

The work we do is so important in our self esteem and our estimate of others, as to be virtually defining. If we have a professional job, a white collar job, for example, we have more social status than those who collect the garbage, or who stock the shelves in the supermarket, or who deliver the mail. And we trade on our “work” identity; if we have both a relatively high income and professional status, we purchase influence in all of our encounters, especially those where money counts. If we have neither a high income or professional status, we frequently fall into the trap of reverse snobbery, depicting those “snobs” as thinking they are “better than they really are”.

Our compliance in maintaining our sexual purity until marriage, or at least until we find a “life partner”, and in many small towns and cities, our repression of any sexual urges that would suggest or even imply a homosexual preference, or at least keeping such impulses private from our families and our social circles, along with our sustaining a reputation of sobriety, including a drug-free (non-prescription drugs are referenced here), all contribute to our compliance with the highest social values. High marks in our education, social acceptance and adjustment indicated from our school reports, a vigorous competitive spirit in all athletic, artistic, and any other personal hobby or interest and a level of commitment to “giving back” to philanthropic causes would also add to our total “package” of the ideal example of the highest social values. Leadership, in any of the above activities would cap off the crowning achievement of having adjusted to, and complied with the most treasured of social values.

And none of these qualities, behaviours, attitudes, or actions would, in any way, necessarily be based on a “true religion;” in fact, no religion at all  would be needed to check all the appropriate and required “boxes” on the values scale.

This above litany of extrinsic expectations are both imposed from without and internalized as ‘normal’ and normative by most individuals to fit into whatever family, community, ethnic, provincial and national culture(s) in which we reside. Out exemplary modelling of each of these, and other, behaviours, attitudes, ways of presenting and being in the world, could and, for most, would comprise a “gold standard” of social character.

In our world view, we would integrate the lessons of adherence to sound planning principles, for our studies, for our diet, for our hygiene, for our banking and financial future, and, naturally we would need and would seek out the most skilled, the best trained and the most respected mentors and advisors for our specific interest or passion, and for our projected post-secondary education and career. And we would attend to the gestalt of these expectations, “values” in a methodical, organized and predictable manner, without resorting to spontaneous urges, passing fantasies, whirlwind flings with the opposite gender. We would, naturally, scrupulously watch the words, the actions, the demeanour and the attractiveness of how those adults we found representing these very values, and emulate their presentation to the degree to which we are able, given our resources.

And in the pursuit of the highest social values, we would also integrate a way to measure our progress along the continuum toward full incarnation of these values, as a way of staying focused (the one word which can be said to characterize the expectations on the shoulders of our children) so that we would effectively and successfully meet any impediments, competitions and thwarting we might (and will) encounter along the way.

And objectivity, detachment, measurement, achievement and recognition would all naturally flow to each of us who had committed to these highest social values.

And in conjunction with, and support of these social values, perhaps for millions would be the opportunity to experience a religious liturgy that encompasses both physical observances of long-standing traditions, based on a the sacred writings of those who established the specific faith community, including specific food, festivals, liturgical expressions of worship, prayer and exposition. For many, these could involve what are often referred to as “national religions” being so deemed as being the ones co-incident with the founding of the nation, or perhaps consistent with the majority of people in the demographic group, and those religions would likely also teach their adherents the important tenets of their belief, expecting their neophytes to commit such tenets to their memory, and, if required, to their individual life choices. Mentoring, monitoring the development of the inculcation of these beliefs, and developing their integration into the individual’s life, and into the lives of the families of these faith communities depends on each faith community’s adherence to how authority is exercised. Sometimes, there are individuals charged with such responsibility in each ecclesial community. Sometimes, the community itself takes responsibility for these matters. However, both the beliefs and the level of obedience to these beliefs are integral to each faith community, and are objective identification markers for membership in the community.

In history, religion has depended highly, if not exclusively, on reason to argue its tenets, to prosletyze its benefits to new converts, and to sustain the scholarly pursuit of the nuances and the implications of beliefs such as the moral lessons contained in the Decalogue, (Ten Commandments). The sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman is an example of such a belief. Its rational includes the security and sanctity of the family, the security and stability of the village, and the generational justification for centuries of disciplined practitioners, believers and teachers.

Reason, rationality, and the calm detachment that accompanies the intellect as compared with the emotions is and has been for centuries at the heart of our highest social values. It underpins all academic research, both in the formulation of the research project, and in the methods used in its development. Our courts demand a national, objective presentation of facts, as determined by those trained in the procurement of the relevant facts. Our medical profession is interested primarily in the objective facts of a person’s health, or illness, measured by a universe of testing instruments, some of them invasive (blood testing), and some of them through question and answer. How the doctor, or the lawyer or the judge “feels” about a patient or a client is put aside to the degree that such a discipline is possible. How the teacher feels about the student, too, is far less important than the score the student achieves on any of several testing instruments, most of them as objectively designed and administered as feasible.

To the extent that has been and continues to be possible, our social values depend on a highly trained and vigorous rationality, from the professional so engaged, and on the part of the people in their “care”.

On the other side of the ledger, (and even that metaphor embraces the logic of objectivity in order to help our reader), true religion harbours a “profound uneasiness about our highest social values.” How could Niehbur even have thought and uttered such an observation?

Let’s start unpacking the onion of that question.

First, there is the template of “good” that has been generated, and repeated for centuries about how God wishes man to live. Scriptures in all faiths have the intent, if not the pretense of such a template. It addresses the group values, without acknowledging the importance of the individual.

Second, the template presumes to know and to understand the mind of God (Jews do not hold this view, although they too have many rules of good conduct for their believers. Such presumption not only demonstrates the gall of those who originally wrote, spoke and taught such notions; it also presumes that there are some who “know” better than others, and the dependence on expertise, and the experts who propagate their knowledge either negates or eliminates by implication the importance of the individual experience, the period in history in which the individual lives, and the potential for continuing and differing revelations from any deity, who, if impotent and omniscient and omnipresent (as the Christian Bible asserts) is and will never be restricted to either a single template, nor a single epoch of history.

Third, the dependence on objectivity, on objective standards of behaviour written and expounded by humans, as if revealed to human by a deity, demonstrates a kind of superiority and even supremacy of those standards, says much more about human arrogance than God’s example, model, exhortations and even expectations. Compliance with a set of standards also implies a level of acceptance by a deity, that begs questions of validity, and of whether or not the standards are “life-giving” in the broadest sense of those words. One of the essences of “life-giving” for human beings, regardless of their ethnicity, or their faith community is something termed Love. We need to be loved, as much or more than we need to be fed nourishing food. And, there are legitimate questions about how following a “script” as if acting in a play is not restrictive of one’s full expression of one’s whole person.

Fourth, extrinsic accomplishments, far from expressing a religious conviction, are the human (and not some deity’s) way of defining success, meaning, purpose and the proper expression of a faith conviction and belief. There is little reliance on the more subjective, the more reflective, the more private and the more penetrating inquiry into one’s own mind, soul, spirit and identity, as to how that identity reflects or not the expectations of a deity worthy of human adoration.

Excluded from the objective standard of worship is the emotional component of the human disciple. And the various churches have relied heavily on such exclusion, just as they have those who do not “believe” the appropriate tenets, or those who do not fully comply with those tenets. Emotion has for centuries been linked, sadly and tragically, to the dark side of humans, to the monster of Satan. And that characterization of the emotional life of humans has relegated it, like the psychiatric hospitals, to the boondocks of our geography, outside our towns and cities, just the same way in which those considered insane were imprisoned in the attics of hundreds of thousands of homes, and castles, outside any thoughts of God, of heaven, of beauty, and of ‘good.’ The religious life of a disciple was restricted to hours of silent prayer, silent walks in priories, writing and memorizing scripture, and even the gathering of communities of like-minded and like-committed men or women. These men and women were, for the most part, committed to lives of poverty, chastity, purity obedience and humility. Essentially they were segregated, historically, from the life of the community, and thereby relieved of the many secular temptations of the world of the street. Idealized as the epitome of religious life, these men and women garnered the highest respect and admiration of their families and their close associates. Their talents, skills and learnings were dedicated in thanks to God, as they depended their commitment to his worship. And they served a motivating purpose in helping others to follow their lead.

However, there was a separation between belief and emotion; there was a separation between “inside” the faith community and “outside,” implying a holiness and a sacredness “inside” and a smorgasbord of temptations that brought men and women “down” from their highest moral level. Similarly, there has been for centuries a separation between the things of the “body” and the matters of the spirit, as if the latter were good and the former were potentially evil. This separation, segregation, alienation, and the detachment implicit in its validity has left millions of people wondering if, and how, they might bring these two “halves” together in unity. The division was a human inspired division, not a division created by a deity and the integration of the mind/heart/spirit existed from the beginning, in spite of the vain attempts by humans to disprove the reality.

And the single most toxic separation between emotions and reason has relegated generations of humans divided from themselves, and also divided from God. Within the last two decades, when attempting to achieve some recognition of the significance of human emotional life, in the pursuit of his spiritual and religious development, I asked a church leader to consider the proposition that men (male gender) could and must learn the vocabulary of their emotions and that such learning was an integral part of their religious life, their life as disciplines of God, and their full psychological development. Completely unhinged, he screamed, “You can’t do that! It’s much too dangerous!” It was as if I had struck both him and his organization precisely where both were most vulnerable. (Or, was he so personally vulnerable that he was so exposed without even realizing his own ‘undressing’ as if the emperor had no clothes?)

  It is more than a little interesting that this week, two different but related pieces of scholarly research is digging up new discoveries about the significance of our emotions in our decision making and the choices we make. In the current edition of The Atlantic, a piece dedicated to new research in neuroscience points out that the emotional component of our brains is activated prior to our making a specific decision. Also, (from CBC Radio 2 Tempo with Julie Nesrallah) comes evidence that research on brains damaged where the emotions originate, illustrates that those individuals had significant difficulty in making decisions, apparently because they did not “feel” any emotion. And so, if most, if not all, of our decisions have an emotional root, and perhaps even a cause (although further research will be needed to go that far), then all of those macho men who want no truck with the emotional life, and who disdain the emotional life might have to eat their thoughts, their beliefs and their hubris. And the churchs will finally be so influenced by the new discoveries of science into the neuroscience of the brain to broaden their perceptions of the real nature of the human being, and also the relationship between humans and their God. And all of the poets, playwrights and novelists who have been painting pictures of the inner life will finally be given their due respect for having been our guides to the universe of our spiritual lives. And the prophets who ruffled so many feathers, especially those of the ‘establishment’ will also join the gallery of spiritual guides who saw beyond abd before the rest of us.

Objectivity, rationality, detachment....these are the boundaries that surround a life of public presentation, the gestalt Jung called the Mask. “The face that we prepare to meet the faces that we meet” as T.S. Eliot reminds us, is also so indentified with the highest incarnation of the best social values. However, underneath, or above, or outside of these boundaries, lies the “inner life” the emotional, psychological, spiritual and even intuitive truths, all of which we can assume are already known to God, and continuously protected by our pride, from ourselves in many cases, certainly from others, and most tragically, from God.

When we consciously and unconsciously repress, bury, deny, ignore all of the impulses that stir in our Shadow, those experiences we could not face when they occurred, and unconsciously identify our ego and Mask (enantiodromia) we risk losing both, ego and Mask. And, naturally we also grow increasingly detached from our inner life. It is this detachment from our inner life that puts our whole existence in jeopardy, morphingus into little more than a busy gnat buzzing frenetically over the surface of the pond of our life. We are neither connected to our own truth, nor can we connect with another who, too, is too likely to be spinning across his or her own pond, barely able to breath and certainly not able to empathize with or even to comprehend who we are.

And it is this potential for sacred space that might exist when two individuals fully encounter each other where we find Martin Buber reminds us in his wonderful work, I and Thou. And the only way to enter this space is to shed all of our pretensions, and all of our fears and all of our inhibitions, as ‘the other’ also does. And this process of off-loading all of the cosmetics (the social graces, the public faces, the programmed smiles and frowns, and the buttoned or bitten lips) we have applied for decades as well as the reasons for their prominence in our performance opens us to the stark truth of who we are, and thereby opens the door to a kind of conscious appreciation of the complexities of the other that makes a space for God.

So, when we accumulate all the degrees, and the wealth, and the investment accounts, and the BMW’s and the Bali vacations, and the summer home by the lake, and the wardrobe replete with Armani suits, and the corner office suite when we became “partner” in our auspicious law firm, let’s try to recall that none of those acquisitions, or any of the titles, or any of the awards we dust on our mantle, are nothing when the moment of the dark night of the soul comes to us. None of them, nor the kinds of associates that acclaim such awards, will be much support when the night is darkest and the meaning and purpose of our lives seems to have evaporated. It is then, regardless of what path we took to that point, that our mask comes off, our eyes open, our hearts bleed and we welcome the love of whatever God we believe Him to be, a love that was there all along the way when we were so busy “accomplishing” what we believed deeply in our hearts that we were ‘supposed’ to accomplish. An appropriate analogy to the “dark night of the soul” could be the existential moment, when, in late adolescence or early adulthood, individuals become aware of their own meaninglessness, and then recognize and accept responsibility for finding and putting meaning into their lives. The “dark night of the soul” on the other hand is that moment when, perhaps as a result of a trauma, a death, an accident, or an epiphany, we turn our attention from the pursuit of extrinsic externals (wages, power, status, houses, cars, wardrobe, exotic vacations, summer homes, and high-powered associaltes and colleageues) and start to focus on matters of the heart, the spirit, the soul and the intrinsic values that trump all of the accomplishments and acquisitions that have preceded this moment.

It is not that our previous accomplishments have no meaning, purpose or value; they do. And their historic legacy will fill our biographies and our obituaries. Nevertheless, these accomplishments result from our hard work, our determination, our discipline, our seeking and finding mentors, coaches and fellow travellers who guide us along the path. The second half of our lives, (as Jung puts it) are naturally and necessarily pointing in a different direction, and not from the perspective of so many “religious” people: to warrant an insurance policy for a happy after-life. God is not an entity open to such bribes; those are the stuff of frightened men and women. And the single most significant quality of humans that illustrates a faith far exceeding the minimalist rituals, the penitentials, the eucharists, and the spiritual retreats so dominant in the annals of religion and theology. Faith is still the belief in things unseen and worlds as yet unexplored; nevertheless, we have an open invitation and opportunity to open the door to that exploration, within our own hearts, minds and spirits. And the intrinsic rewards far outweigh those pretentious trophies of an earlier life of social success.