Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Appreciating Buscaglia's ironic insight

Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong. (Leo Buscaglia)

While there some obvious irony in the statement, let’s examine it more closely.
Whenever we feel the instinct to hurt another, to seek revenge, to malign someone who has hurt us, at that moment, rather than being our strongest and best self, we have descended to our weakest, most neurotic and also most dangerous potential.

The daily news is saturated with acts of revenge, pay-back, critical back-stabbing, all of them stemming from the weakest and the worst aspect of those perpetrating them. Trump has just tweeted that protesters who burn the flag should lose their citizenship. We can expect an endless of similar tweets, sprinkled with the “look how wonderful I am” mandatory tweets from the president elect.

And, our case for the weakness of the man, as the perpetrator of much cruelty, is made.
For the past eight years, Republicans have denigrated and maligned and even obstructed Obama for being weak, spineless, and feckless, riding the wave of false pride, hobbling hubris, self-deception and truth defiance. And a significant segment of the population has bought their candy floss. All the while Republicans were bugling their bravado, Obama was, in pointed counterpoint, withdrawing from the Iraq war of George W. Bush, persisting in withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, negotiating with Iran to hold off their nuclear weapons development intentions, and helping to provide health care for those with “previous health conditions” that had blocked their coverage.

A strong president, as exemplified by Obama, is not only doing his job, with the best interests of the nation clearly on top of his mind, he is also offering a silent yet highly influential role model for the type of “strong” masculinity offered by his opponents.  When strength is defined and immortalized as “cruelty” as it has consistently been by Republicans on the right, our children are misguided, maliciously and with full intent by people who are in full command of their faculties, and therefore must accept responsibility for the long-term damage they have done and will continue to do, following their malignant stereotype.

It was Samantha Bee, on her show, Full Frontal, who called Trump a “vial of weaponized testosterone” as her pointed and pungent way of stick her thumb through the balloon of his pretension. From such a person, and from the cadre of sycophants he will surround himself with at the cabinet table and in the White house (if he even deigns to reside there), we can expect only more cruelty…targeting those he perceives as his “opponents”, while exempting his loyalists.

Refusing to divest himself, fully completely and legally, from all of his business interests, whether or not the law requires such divestment, is just another example of his “cruelty” to the American people, through insult, presumption and an arrogance that shouts, “If you don’t like it, sue me!” from the top of his also pretentious and presumptuous, arrogant and “weak” tower of greed.

Obama’s strength is on full display around the world, in capitals of both friends and enemies, following the “weak” cruelty and violence of his predecessor, another Republican of the born-again persuasion of Christian fundamentalists. As one writer in the latest edition of The Atlantic puts it, Obama is leaving, for the most part, a “clean desk,” for his successor. And that clean desk offers considerable scope, unfortunately for Trump to make an even bigger mess than Dubya. Even Obama’s refusal to wage open warfare on Assad, following the emergence of clear and incontrovertible of Assad’s deployment of chemical weapons on his own people, while considered inexcusable and indefensible by Republican critics, prevented the United States from becoming fully enmeshed in another war in the Middle East. And while Putin rushed into the crack of a vacuum in Damascus, Obama nevertheless demonstrated restraint, as well as hope and diligence in continuing to negotiate a highly complicated peace process in that balkanized country, headed by an unmitigated dictator.

My role model for strength married to kindness, compassion and the hope that invariably accompanies all of those acts, is my father, of whom I have written elsewhere in this space. Refusing to utter a malicious word against another human being, no matter the provocation, and withdrawing rather than engaging in a turbulent and energy-depleting conflict with those whose actions and attitudes were unacceptable to him eventually cost him his half-century-plus career. When he was expected to collect full payment for an invoice to a quarter-century customer who never failed to pay his accounts, on receipt of the goods purchased was the final straw. My father, silently and inconspicuously without telling another soul, walked to the company corporate office, placed his keys to the building and all of its compartments on the counter where customers did their business, put on his coat and walked away after  nearly sixty years of loyal, committed and honourable service. Of course, there was an immediate invitation to join other hardware operations in the town, after such a professional career.

The cruelty of the weak has been on display too often while witnessing the political processes on both Canada and the United States, where transactional relationships based on ‘what have you done for me lately’ incarcerate the participants in leg-irons of voting expectations, funding assistance, network enhancement, and public endorsements which too often slip into the oblivion of lost memory by those no longer interested in the relationship.

When the Governor of North Dakota tells the protesters to leave their encampment blocking the development of another fossil fuel pipeline, we are witnessing another act by another weak person who is either unwilling or unable or both to engage the protesters with a view to honouring their land, their water and their dignity.
And this scenario is only one of hundreds we are going to witness and perhaps even experience over the next decade as the battle to protect our shared environment literally and metaphorically “heats up.” Strength, as embodied in dollars in investment accounts by oil giants, and their investors (of whom Trump is one in North Dakota), can only see a depletion of their investment dollars through the failure to construct more and more pipelines for more and more fossil fuels for more and more contamination of our shared oxygen. This is not strength, and it exerts the only kind of cruel pressure on the short-term protesters and the long-term health and well being of each of us, not to mention the inordinate pressure fossil fuels put on the health care budget.

Even in the announcement of a former orthopedic surgeon as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services, a man determined to tear up the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts and vouchers both of which we pad the insurance company profits. Eliminating people with pre-existing conditions will only line the pockets of both insurance companies and hospital corporations while eliminating the prospect of universal health care, on a single payer basis. Here again, weakness generates cruelty, when compared with the strength of people like Bernie Sanders whose compassion and kindness is clear in his advocacy for a single payer health care system, along with free college tuition for all deserving and committed students.

No differently in human interactions than in the way government conducts its business, gentleness comes only from the strong. Just today, the Canadian Auditor General issued a scathing report on the modus operandi of several government departments, notably the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. One of the pithy observations in the report recommends that bureaucrats focus on providing effective programs for their clients, rather than waiting for another litigation to force program enhancement. At the root of his critique is an attitude prevalent among governments of all political stripes to  greater or lesser degree: that recipients of government largesse will always and inevitably abuse that largesse and make the bureaucrats embarrassed when the abuse is disclosed by some news report(er). Tight-assed political correctness as a governing principle demonstrates weakness on the part of the government itself and especially on the part of those ministers and bureaucrats executing the program.  This bogus argument that people must be self-reliant and absolutely independent, while currying favour with the right wing conservative ideologues, flies in the face of human lives and their various trajectories, many of which turn “south” through no fault of the victims.

Governments, for example, in their oversight of health care, have to know and take into account the statistical reality that well over 75% of all costs on the system are attributable to those in the last decade of their life. That truth is unlikely to alter with a change in geography or climate, throughout the various regions of Canada. Budgeting for such a “strain” on the system, as a given rather than some exorbitant and inexcusable demographic drain, can only result from a perspective of strength and kindness. It will never flow from a bureaucracy that is so fixated on each of the personal careers in middle and upper management and the reduction in spending on which those career advancements are premised, a premise that from the perspective of the public good and the public interest is short-sighted and weak, and also cruel.

Similarly, middle ranking bureaucrats in the health care system who impose their “accountability” instruments like the old scientific management icons formerly known as “time clocks” in order to have more control, without regard to the various exigencies that confront health care workers at all levels every day, as another way to “save money” (and thereby enhance their professional reputations and likelihood of career advancement) are out of touch with contemporary theories of enlightened management as well as the strength to admit and envision a workplace culture that begins with trust that employees will do more than they are asked, (they always have when they respected and trusted the employer knew them as people and behaved in a respectful and trusting manner toward them!) and will do it with a sincere smile. This show of “strength” is counter-intuitive to human relations, to enlightened management theories and practice and will only increase pressure on the “bottom line” supposedly the holy grail for middle and upper managers.

Gentleness, as a guiding perspective, is neither weak nor ineffectual. Ironically, for those “black-and-white” minds who impose such systems, compassion and gentleness not only demonstrate strength, but also produce more of the kind of healing in patients, and helping in health care workers.

A similar perspective applies to the law enforcement apparatus. Weakness generates cruelty in the law enforcement business, especially when and where prisons are operated as private for-profit businesses. Hard-edged, hard-assed wardens and guards are, acting under orders from above, much more interested in dominating control of their inmates than in rehabilitation, restoration and re-entry back into society. The premise of this culture is overt strength, masking the fear and weakness of the system that the public will enlarge and expand their objection to prisoners’ living in luxury and costing the public purse more than their lives are worth.

Cruelty, in this instance, comprises legitimized revenge and an indication of strength, when the gentle approach of rehabilitation would prove to be both less costly (generating less profit for the corporations that operate the institutions) and stronger in terms of providing the talents, skills and income to families and through income taxes to the state and nation.

Policing itself, is taking notice of the advantages of something they call “community policing” whereby instead of first looking for offenders, including opportunities to lay charges, police are getting to know their communities, building trust among their people and thereby reducing the need for hard power, growing statistics of crime. Once again, gentleness is a sign of strength, whereas cruelty and disempowerment demonstrate weakness, in the form of fear of loss of control.

Even in the ways in which professionals of all types treat their clients: gentleness demonstrates the strength of the practitioner, not weakness, where cruelty exhibits weakness.

If only at the geopolitical level these clear ironies that strength is demonstrated in gentleness and weakness in cruelty could be lessons learned by those practicing diplomacy….if that trajectory could ever become enshrined in at least a few graduate schools of international relations and diplomacy, then perhaps, such a shift in what is considered normal might offer the prospect of arms reduction, the curtailing if not the closing of arms factories, and the sale of such products as symbols of national pride.

Only if and when ordinary people begin to concur with the Buscaglia insight will those agents of political, military, legal, medical, instructional and spiritual influence shift their focus, and turn this deeply ensconced ship of conventional mis-wisdom.

Turning the world on its ear, while readily considered quixotic, is nevertheless a proposition worthy of serious reflection.


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