Friday, November 18, 2016

A brief look at oscillation

Let’s have a look at the notion of oscillation* as it applies to human behaviour.
A fluctuation between to outside points around a central position offers a kind of “energy” that could be useful, or perhaps counter-productive.

Robert Fritz, author of “technologies for creating” speaks about the oscillation that occurs between two mutually exclusive goals, operating simultaneously. For example, if one seeks to lose weight, then one often becomes excessively hungry and eats more…oscillating between the two mutually exclusive goals.

Fritz posits that, in order to reduce, if not eliminate the oscillation, one has to decide which goal is primary, and which is secondary to help the individual to move more effectively toward the preferred goal, even if it takes a little longer than anticipated. Even the awareness that one seems to be oscillating, from Fritz’s perspective, can help to curb the tendency and shift to a more effective achievement of the desired “creation”.

In music, the notion of resolving tensions, between an unsettled sound to one of finality creates a “cadence” leaving the listener aware that the phrase or the piece of music has come to an end. It was the tension itself, however, that was playing out through the manuscript, as the phrases rose and fell in speed, or pitch or volume, depending on the composer’s intent.

For much of our lives, we are mostly unconscious of the playing out of those “phrases” of activity, varying between quick, slow, loud, soft, high pitched or low pitched….each of them signalling a different emotion, mood and comfort level. And most of our consciousness focuses on how “others” are impacting the music of our lives. A phone call, an email, a text….they each can and often do send a ripple of emotional energy depending on the nature of the message, the relationship to the sender, the timing of the message and the anticipated next step. Managing these micro-impulses, however, can often render us blind or unconscious to the larger patterns of the way things seem to be “flowing” or not in our lives.

One example of a kind of oscillation that appears in some lives is that between the victim and the bully. A victim is usually the receiver of negative messages, perhaps abusive messages, from others who project their insecurities onto him/her generating the inevitable feelings of insecurity, resentment, anger and revenge. If the abuse of negative messages is protracted, the negative emotions only grow generating a compelling need to release the pent-up negative emotions, generating a new “self” as a bully…one that gives out, rather than receives, similar negative messages. Of course, much has been written about being “OK” or “ NOT OK” (See Eric Berne’s Games People Play, Transactional Analysis). And, from a cliché perspective, we all want to be OK, rather than “NOT OK”.

However, being “OK” is not cast in granite, for most people, depending on the culture in which the early and highly impressive early messages were positive and negative. The culture, itself, can and often does oscillate between a historic period of “positive” messages and “negative” messages. An example of this oscillation can be seen in the American education culture in which positive messages to every student have generated kids who believe they can accomplish anything and everything, while many of their scores on demanding tests demonstrate a lack of learning the basics needed to pass those tests. There is a profound gap between “feeling good” and accomplishing one’s required goals.

How both the culture and the individuals perceive any oscillation, and their place in the oscillation, can offer some clues both to personal identity and to a larger picture of the nature of the world we live in. Recently, an election in the United States illustrated one dramatic oscillation: following a period of calm, rational, predictable and even smiling leadership under Obama, the country swung wildly in favour of an irrational, impulsive, unpredictable and mostly angry candidate, believing that the former was a “weak” leader and the latter much more “strong” and unable or unwilling to be “pushed around”. It is not incidental to note that Obama (the rational and predictable and moderate) followed immediately on the heels of another “war monger” in George W. Bush, whose over-reaction to 9/11, with the full compliance of the American people set the stage for the election of Obama.

It is not only from the perspective of the nature of the nation’s leadership that this oscillation can be considered. It is also an oscillation in the unfolding of the search for masculine identity that is playing out, both in the oscillation from Bush to Obama, and from Obama to Trump. Identity is one obvious stage on which both individual and cultural oscillations develop. Who is this person? And what is the country’s identity? These are critical questions is the evolution of personal and national identity. And they emerge from the existential search for meaning and purpose….following the inevitable “existential moment” in which the person/organization/nation recognizes its own meaninglessness. And for many, there is not a single “existential moment” in the course of history.

The identity of feminism is another curve that demonstrates a kind of oscillation from the “victim” archetype to the “dominant” or “warrior” archetype. This oscillation can be witnessed in the many upheavals in domestic relationships, where, for example, the female begins as completely compliant with the male interests and over time, emerges (sometimes seamlessly, sometimes more turbulently) into a much more assertive individual. And parallel to this evolution is the shift from a male archetype of “warrior” to the “compliant” or “passive aggressive” model, neither of which effectively provides an authentic and responsive partner for the evolving female.
Gender identity as one of the primary cultural, sociological curves of our time, oscillates between images of “strength” and images of “weakness”….just another of the many reductionisms that plague much of contemporary public consciousness and discourse. What seems to be missing from this discussion is the concept of androgyny, the notion (offered by Carl Jung) that in both men and women, in our unconscious, there are indications of the opposite gender. It is a resistance to the reality of androgyny, especially among men, that is often at the centre of the extremes in oscillation in the gender identity drama. “Bush” attempted to project an image of “macho masculinity” in response to the 9/11 attack supported by most Americans. Obama, on the other hand, adopted a much more evolved and more moderate leadership approach, in part because it is consistent with his own personality, and also because he believed it was essential for the country’s long-term interests geopolitically.
The recent push back against Obama’s weakness, (at least as perceived by those men who have been emasculated by their many serious losses of jobs, income, status and even respect, as well as those who feel “second class” in their relationships, rightly or not) has catapulted Trump to the most powerful office in the world. Is the vote an over-reach demonstrating a risky oscillation? Of course.

And it is the over-reach of most of our personal, organizational, and national oscillations away from whatever it is we perceive to be the “force” we are saying “No” to that comprises much of the drama of our histories. If things feel “stuck” we will oscillate into dramatic “action” just to demonstrate that we are capable of “action”….and vice versa, if we perceive our lives as strung-out, overwhelmed, and out of control, we will seek either to escape such turbulence, or perhaps some “medicative” escape, whether that escape is within limits or not.

When we observe and discuss the dynamics of a group, we can easily perceive the modus operandi, in terms of, on one hand, clear decision-making, or conversely, murky and indecisive co-dependence with much “niceness” and almost obsessive feel-good messaging of all members by the others.

Here is a typical illustration of one of the primary oscillations, between action and being. In seminaries, we hear many times the expression, “I am a human BEING not a human DOING,” as if to underline the difference between justification only from accomplishment, achievement, extrinsic rewards and appreciation as compared to “the who” of our being. Our culture is much more interested in rewarding, recognizing and perpetuating the “doing” of individual lives, and not their “being”. The latter is considered peripheral to how much of our work and home lives are structured.
It is the race to the bottom line, the cutting of costs, that is the current culture of most organizations, especially those whose leaders are rewarded by such accomplishments. Do more with less, accomplish more with fewer people….these are the mantras of many in middle and upper management….If they only recognized and accepted how counter-productive is their approach.

Neurotic organizations come in many varieties and colours. One obvious example pervading much of our work culture is “do more with less” so that targets of decreasing losses, or increasing profits can be met. And of course linked to that “corporate philosophy” is the acceptance of the fact that full disclosure of the real “figures” and the authentic fiscal picture will never be released. Once launched on the path of “cutting costs” these gigantic corporate ‘ships’ cannot be easily and quickly turned around to move in a direction of respect and dignity and honouring the workers and their already proven ways of accomplishing their tasks.

And so, ironically, the deficit of respect from supervisors to workers only grows, thereby completely defeating the stated goal of reducing costs, a goal designed to be implemented by all managers in training, so easily trained and measured is the skill.
Worshipping the bottom line, just like turning every relationship into another transaction demonstrating “profit” or “loss” to the participants, is so demonstrably counter-intuitive and counter-productive that a concerted oscillation back toward honouring personal dignity, personal feelings and personal respect for all, while much like pushing water uphill is more than worth the effort.

And this energy dedicated to real human encounters, ones that are not dependent on classical conditioning, the tool of the control management operatives, includes a recognition of and respect for androgyny, for discussing our own oscillations, for perceiving and naming the oscillations of the organizations in which we are involved, in helping our children to moderate their vacillating and oscillating intensities so that they too can and will escape the ensnaring trap of the many oscillations, and learn to fly their own unique flight path, neither too high (like Icarus) nor too low (like too many Canadians who have been told “we are not that kind of people” by their parents when they wanted to go to med school).

It is true that through oscillations, we find our limits, and our boundaries. However, when the culture marches to the drum beat of the one percent, it is only the interests and the values of the one percent that become the dogma of the new religion. And we all need to put our thumbs on the scales to balance the inordinate power and influence of that one percent, the same one percent that will be moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on January 21.

Surely, the church of the plutocrats is no authentic religion, but rather a machine perpetuated by the powerful, of the powerful, and for (only) the powerful. And the refuse it generates every day in the losses of human potential will soon suffocate the very edifice in which it worships.

*Oscillation:

(physics, statistics) regular fluctuation in value, position, or state about a mean value, such as the variation in an alternating current or the regular swinging of a pendulum. a single cycle of such a fluctuation. (from dictionary.com)

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