Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reflections on trust and trustworthiness*

Have you ever told someone you do not trust them?

It is a very memorable moment and it comes only after years of resistance to the finality of such a judgement. You try and you try to forgive others when they let you down, even betray you because you are trying to “live and let live”….to “cut them some slack” (after all none of us is perfect! Right?) Sometimes people in positions of responsibility, your hockey coach, your scout/guide leader, your piano teacher, even your next door neighbour offer models that build a repertoire of experiences helping to shape your picture of what and whom you trust.

In a dysfunctional family, one is offered multiple occasions to test out the “trust” muscle, and by corollory, the “distrust” muscle. When you listen to words that you do not understand, even after you have asked for explanations and been told, “just because I say it is so” as the reason to trust, you learn that the first hurdle in establishing trust has been breached.

As a youth, you are, at least at first, hardly motivated by malice to undermine; rather you are curious, somewhat bold and courageous and filled to overflowing with questions….especially about questions you seem to need to ask. Questions like, “How does that happen?” when you mother tells you after school one day when you are twelve, “You are going to have a baby sister!” And when the answer comes like this, “When you are old enough I will tell you!” you immediately know enough to store the moment for future reference simply because it might be something you will really need to know someday in the future. (When there is never an offer of an answer, you know there was never any intention of answering, preferring to rely on the “street” to do your job of parenting.) Just a small example of how trust is eroded.

When you listen on Sunday’s to homilies that distort and even abort the letter and the spirit of the New Testament with moral imperatives that seem designed to establish and maintain control by the church and its clergy, even your body, as well as your mind and spirit rebel, and you begin to lost trust for the words spoken and for the person uttering them. A “black-and-white” world view of right and wrong at home reinforced by the same authoritarian view from the pulpit have an impact on one’s capacity for trust. This is especially true when you are learning that to many important questions most people, including your teachers, are honest enough to acknowledge uncertainty, doubt, ambivalence, and a shared curiosity.

When you test your mother who is smoking in the kitchen, pleading with her to stop when you are twelve, and she responds, “If God had not made tobacco, he would he would not have wanted us to smoke!” implying that God has sanctioned the behavioiur, you know immediately and implicitly  that there is no use arguing because you will not be heard, listened to and effectively respected. Just another moment when the pursuit of a conversation about something that seemed relatively significant at twelve was derailed by “imperium” a similar imperium that was pouring from the pulpit.

When you meet your family doctor on the main street while you are experiencing a dramatic and suffocating cold, and ask innocently what he might recommend, while you are still a university student, and, after mentioning some remedy, he blurts, “When are you going to decide what you want to be!? in a condemning and judgemental tone (remember that “imperium”) you bristle with embarrassment and tension, as if your general arts program without a clear life flight path is inadequate, insufficient and, thereby, so are you in his view. Even then, I spent much time exploring my attitude to university lectures, in which professors (some not all) read musty and tattered lecture notes from decades of repetition, while others bought new insights seemingly each day to present to their students. Similarly, the larger questions  of where I felt most “at home” and what reading felt most challenging and interesting were always paramount, without seeming to have to foreclose on a single narrowing path, the kind obviously taken by this doctor and all others in his “orbit” if they were to earn his respect.
When your are called into the dean’s office because you have been reported “missing” from Zoology class by your professor while preparing to host the campus formal, and Dean Stiling comments, “You ran a helluva dance; now go  and make your peace with Dr. Battle.” (Her name is not a literary device for humour; ironically, it is her actual name!) At that moment, your capacity to trust, and to believe in the appropriate deployment of power and authority are restored, reclaimed and resurrected in a way that the long-deceased Dr. Stiling will never know.

Of course, there are multiple memories growing out of encounters with politicians, journalists, theologians, administrators and colleagues whose willingness to acknowledge vulnerability, and insecurity, a kind of innate unknowing as a core element of character seemed to be a kind of litmus test for trustworthiness, and for emulation and admiration. It did not seem to matter whether one was male or female, if there was evidence of openness and a moderated need for control (over matter, belief, or others) there seemed to be evidence, (inferred at least, if not full-blown) of humanity in a mature form. It was evident in the surgeon who, while closing a hernia operation commented, “My professor reminded us often, ‘You can insert the stitches but you cannot cure the patient’!” Its was evident in the pastoral counselling supervisor who remarked, when the anxious ‘apprentice’ noted that he had complete fewer hours than mandated by the curriculum fearing “failure” and removal from the program, “No one said you would ‘fail’ because you did not reach the exact number of hours.”

This continuing pattern of discernment and thereby finding a place in which one feels accepted, and worthy, and respected is one in which we are all engaged, some to a more energetic (and perhaps obsessive) degree than others. And our chosen signals, while different for each of us, continue to be tested, whether we are conscious of our hard-wiring for the testing or not. Not only is “the other” being tested, but so too are we testing our own tolerance for how we are being treated. If we are more willing to let go and to let live with some people, we know (at least cognitively, if not emotionally) that we will enjoy a much more fruitful and engaging relationship with those people than with those for whom our nerves and our muscles and our blood vessels constrict when we are in their presence.

Even people who function in our lives as plumbers, electricians, drywall installers, mechanics, and of course co-workers are all within range of our physical as well as our emotional and spiritual, ethical and moral “eyes” (read perceptions). And correspondingly, we also know that our perceptions help to shape how the other is perceived, as to whether their sense of emotional security/insecurity seems to indicate their own searching path, and the degree to which their search is founded on confidence or a false modesty that seems to block their path to the confidence they so desperately seek.

For false modesty too is another of those two-edged swords on which we can all become impaled. We know that modesty is more socially acceptable than a raging confidence or arrogance (and in Canada, too often we fail to make the distinction, hiding unconsciously behind our “national archetype” of the “nice guy”). We also know that, in a moment of encounter, without time for reflection, we very often veer toward taking the “modesty” path so that others will find us acceptable. Yet if we were really honest with ourselves, we would know that, for most adults, the other is quite capable of seeing right through our mask of false modesty as a sign of the importance of the “mask” covering for the empty or hollow ego. And herein lies another of those ‘barometric mercury levels” that indicate a change in the “weather” of the interpretation of how this person is likely to be in our experience.

And, once again, if we think or believe that the other is masking his or her insecurity with something that has the scent of falseness, whether that falseness is bravado or extreme modesty, we often withdraw, not “trusting” whether we will be permitted authentic encounters.

In one of many previous lives, a therapist gently nudged my “I do not trust” phrase toward, “I can and do trust” that the other person will do X, rather than that they will NOT do X. Re-framing my own perception of “trust” into a positive mode strengthened my own sense of myself, and my trust in my own intuition and sensibilities. I still revert to my original “do not trust” especially when I am especially exercised, anxious or angry.

I was accosted by a former colleague, a former supervisor, who had learned from scuttlebutt that I was unhappy with him and he opened with “I will counter each and every argument you want to make no matter how long it takes” to which I replied, without taking a breath, “For God’s sake, it is not about winning an argument, it is about trust and I do not trust you.” It was in that emotional state and sae conversation that I found myself having to confront not incidentally, his inappropriate and unprofessional (if not illegal) use of a clinical diagnosis in a reference for me. I expressed my deepest disappointment and even anger that, after nearly twenty years of loyal service under his supervision, he nevertheless had  “thrown me under the bus,” and when I added that a long-almost-forgotten incident in which he had betrayed my confidence also disappointed me, his rebuttal was, “That never happened!”
And at the core of our search for what we can and will trust, is a deity, a God in whatever form we have that reality conceived, whose fundamental nature is one we can and continue to believer we trust. Attendant to all faith pilgrimages is the notion that God is the most trustworthy, and trusting of entities. Comparably, humans generally fall short of that perfection, although our pursuit of such a high bar has both positive and potentially negative repercussions.

Trust is not attained merely through the literal keeping of one’s word or one’s oath, even if sworn on a holy book. While we all attempt to dot our “I’s” and cross our “t’s”, there are the inevitable occurances when we fail. And others too will occasionally ‘drop the ball’ on their literal commitments. However, it is in the larger picture, by which we lay the groundwork for both our own self-image and our respect for our circle of family, friends and even professional colleagues that we can be relied upon to “show up”….

And here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road: at the intersection of presence (showing up) and “trust”. I believe it is the Alcoholics Anonymous movement that reminds us that 90% of life is “showing up”. (This is highly reminiscent of the proverb that 90% of all communication is non-verbal.)

In even the most miniscule of human encounters, we are all able to discern whether or not the other person is “present” through eye contact, verbal responses and body language, for each of which there are gizillions of messages. It was T.S. Eliot who wrote that the “eyes” are the window on the soul of the person; it was also T.S Eliot who wrote that humans cannot tolerate too much “reality”. Our perceptions of showing up do not depend on the intellect of the other, nor on the economic or political status of the other, nor on the reputation or holiness of the other. Our expectations of ourselves, too, vary with the degree to which we perceive the other to have “shown up” in our space.

And if and when we are in a situation in which we feel we have shown up, while the other has only dipped his/her toe into the water of our encounter, we immediately shrivel ever so little. Everyone knows what this feels like. And if the pattern repeats itself with the same person(s), we are most likely to back away a little further each time.

Showing up takes courage; it also takes resilience and optimism and hope that the other will reciprocate. Repeated experiences in which we find others either showing up or failing to show up will engender a perception, and even potentially a belief, either that we are putting our signals with which others are uncomfortable or by which they are intimidated. At that point, we have a choice to make: we can amend our attitudes and behaviour (we cannot do the latter without altering the former) in order to better integrate our presence with the other’s. Or we can refuse to adjust and continue down a path that might eventually find us alone in a very dark place.

Whether or not we trust, and whether or not we are trusted, are two ends of the same equation or dynamic. And there are literally no formal lessons for developing our capacity to trust, nor for developing our capacity to be trustworthy.

And, after seven and a half decades of journeying along the pathway towards trusting, (and having such traumatic experiences in which we are neither trusted nor asked for “our side” of the story) we learn that compassion, respect, love and support are the only and the essential nourishment for an attitude that trusts and that can be trusted.

That is why I concur with Rabbi Heschel’s observation: When I was a young man, I admired those men who were clever; as an old man I admire those men who are compassionate. 

* Although most politicians leave us a little short on "trustworthiness" Trump is by far the least trustworthy political leader of my lifetime.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Megalomania moves into the Oval Office

Although the book was written seven decades ago, there is no surprise in the fact that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has zoomed to the top of the best seller lists following the presidential election in the United States. Replete with manipulated realities by the Ministry of Truth, it foreshadowed the new definition of “alternative facts” (an oxymoron if ever there was one!), Orwell stretched his imagination to write a dystopia rising out of the ashes of World War II and the rise of Communism.

Often, it is not the ideologies that divide people so much as the nature of the propaganda and the unashamed deployment of rhetoric completely detached from current or any other reality that poses genuine threats to the mental stability of all within earshot. Appearing on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC last night, former CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, described the current political/media ethos in America as a “twilight zone” in which we are being asked daily if not hourly to accept that 2 plus 2 is no longer 4, but rather is 5… something that we all know is simply not true.

Megalomania is defined by Merriam-Webster  as a mania* for great or grandiose performance…a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.

*Mania is defined as excitement manifested y mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behaviour and elevation of mood.

Although there are literally millions of American voters who feel their “institutions,” including their government has abandoned them, and they fear for their fiscal, and social survival, (and there is certainly some justification for their fears and their anxieties) just because their world looks bleak and hopeless is not reason to gulp a kool-aid of rhetoric that surges forth in 140-character tweets from some self-imagined Mount Olympus.

Recent books on the vulnerability of John F. Kennedy evoke the kind of contemporary political culture that tragically too often depends on some definition of “masculinity” ….usually inferentially the fear of its lack. Men quite literally, from the earliest times, have been (and with Trump’s example) paranoid of being portrayed as wimps. Girlie cars, and girlie jobs,…girlie dress (unless for satire and entertainment) …..and among straight men, homosexual men, are a kind of killer pandemic. And yet, for men to come clean about our collective and massive cover-up of our deepest fears, our most puzzling uncertainties, our need for power and control….that is the most telling feature of this unhealthy relationship of modern men to their dependence on strength, power, superiority.

And, using Trump as the latest manifestation of aborted masculinity, it seems that there is a large number of both men and women who long for a “real man” in leadership, without pausing to contemplate its implications.

The fact that the Atomic Clock was advanced by 30 seconds today, from 3 minutes to midnight to 2½ minutes results from the pugilistic, ballistic, and media-dominating most toxic test tube of testosterone to have strode (Trump moves only through striding like a colossus, as if to incarnate the image of hard power) onto the world stage since the middle of the twentieth century.

Let’s not be seduced any longer!

This machismo and this bravado comprise the Mask, the Persona (in Jungian terms) to cover a dangerous and fundamental neurosis. While the man himself may believe it is his “identity” (and that in itself is reason for deep anxiety), there is no reason to conclude that Trump’s bloviating is anything more than a “show”. It is nothing but a show, a public display of all of the worst traits of the “Ugly American” about whom books were written in the mid-twentieth century.

Megalomania is, in a word, unsustainable because it is false. While every word from the mouth of Trump is beavered over by the media trying to dissect its relative “truth” Trump continues to dominate the news cycle, as if there were no other news by “Trump-News”. He is not only a reality television creation ( an entertainment based on a business model that finds the cheapest way to generate ratings, and to sustain them, without providing real content.

However, ratings must be segregated from “elections”….and the business model of racing to the bottom in costs, wages, protections for workers, protections for the environment and even to the bottom of the barrel in shifting production and jobs to third world countries where both the workers and the environment literally have no legal or cultural support and protection must not be allowed to become the model used to sustain democracy.

Ratings are being purchased, through manipulation, propaganda, message generation and deviance from proven valid information. Trump may have mastered the business model in its most “base” incarnation; he has not and will not ever comprehend or provide leadership for his own country based on its honoured tradition of integrous institutions of government. The two facts that have provided much of the impetus and the soil for the rise of this hominid of vacuity are the blatant purchase of the election campaigns by the rich and the personal ambition to become wealthy that seems to be an intimate component of the political DNA of a preponderance of Washington politicians.

The acquisition of wealth, just as research demonstrates the ability to pass academic tests, provides proof only in its own silo. Neither passing tests and exams nor acquiring wealth assure competence or the promise of success in any other field of human endeavour. And the acquisition of wealth is not and will never be a  national purpose or a national goal worthy of the name. The facts that two Canadians own as much of the nation’s wealth as 30% of the people of Canada, and that eight billionaires own half the world’s wealth are not jewels in the human crown of achievement of the last century.
 They are just the opposite.

We are growing, nurturing, fostering and aiding and abetting our own demise, both in our flagrant disregard of the doom forecast by serious scientists on the ecosystem on which we depend for our physical survival and in our flagrant contempt (through our public figures) for both the public interest and the mechanisms, traditions and protocols that have been generated over time and from serious political and often violent debate for its enhancement.

Caring solely and exclusively for himself and his personal reputation, and using the language of “making America great again” to cover his raw narcissism is one of the most successful con jobs to have overtaken the ballot box in modern history. And the sooner we adopt the position of the president of Mexico to cancel all appointments with the occupant of the Oval Office, to cancel all media coverage, to refuse to interview this charlatan, to simply exercise the editorial and ethical responsibility of going silent on his Cecil B. de Mille epic, yet hollow, productions.

The Canadian Centre for Policy today released a report on the serious threats facing the Canadian news media, following the dismissal of hundreds of reporters at the very time when a strong, aggressive and courageous cadre of reporters and editors have never been more needed to protect the public interest in the face of the tidal wave of “alternative facts”.

Have we so abandoned our capacity for critical reading and reflecting that comprise the various literacies (print, media, digital) that we no longer value the opportunity to deploy our critical faculties in our own defence?

Are we so full of our own capacity to withstand even previously unimaginable threats (like a new nuclear arms race, the return of waterboarding, the listing and deporting of people we don’t like, the barring entry to authentic and desperate refugees fleeing for their lives from despotic murderers, trade wars, and the triumph of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and the death of science all in the name of some hollow sounding faith in the only one who can “FIX” everything for us?

Wake up America!

Wake up Justin Trudeau and stop planning our government in response to this monster!

Wake up all the editors in all the major networks to your responsibilities to the public, not merely to your investors! Forget covering the "policy" options, and bring your investigations to the dangers implicit in the moment!

Wake up teachers, and activists, environmentalists, and incipient politicians to both the potential for real leadership and the dangers of its faux dominance!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

We are marching with the millions who oppose Trump around the free world

Obsessing about the size of the crowd attending the inauguration of Trump in comparison with the size of the crowd attending the inauguration(s) of Obama, by both the media and the Trump gang, demonstrates the vacuity and the paranoia of the new administration.

On the other hand, detailing the numbers, and the 673 locations of the “Women’s Marches” around the world, demonstrates the energy, determination, anger, frustration and “early warming signals” of the impending storm of protest that faces the new American administration.

If we thought there was a wave of protest in the uprising that erupted in the Middle East, we had better fasten our seat belts for a political weather forecast of considerable turbulence emerging from the untapped well of anger of the many “demographics” who have been offended by Trump.

In many ways, the friction and tension, the roots of much of the conflict that drives cultural shifts in the last decade can be found in the competing definitions of masculinity and femininity. The “traditional” male, (represented by the John Waynes of Hollywood westerns, the General Pattons, the Alexander Haigs, and the Donald Trumps) has been threatened, if not frontally attacked, by both the moderate and the nasty waves of the feminist movement, and the infilling back-surge of evolving men. Bravado, narcissistic lies, denial of nuance, inflated ego’s (demonstrating a profound neurosis) and a desperate grasping for a return to an out-of-reach past, symbolized so effectively by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” … these traits comprise the pathetic fading pixels of a mirage of power that underlies, shouts, votes for and thrusts its flailing gust for personal dominance from the various mouth pieces deputized by Trump.

Money, opulence, papier-mache ego’s constructed on a fundamental lie, that the people are so gullible, needy, desperate and easily seduced with smoke and mirrors, evoke all of the many examples of the abuse of power that litter the floor of American history. These “riches” like the proverbial mascara “on a pig” are so thin and so easily erased by the tears and the sweat that continually beat the drum of the truth of our self-deception. Of course, Trump reverses the responsibility away from himself and onto others for anything and everything that does not fit his picture of “reality”. And in doing so, he demonstrates the depth and the breadth of his need for complete control, all the while blaming the media for using the tactics of “fascism” by putting out fake news.

Trump and his hollow victory are both symptom and root cause of their own demise. As symptom, they grasp at straws desperate for control, and as root cause they capture the essence of the moral and ethical bankruptcy at the core of Trump’s business history.  We need look no further than the core of his inauguration utterance: “buy American, and hire American”.

We would perhaps expect and even tolerate such emptiness from a candidate for class president in a middle school, “more burgers and pizza in the cafeteria and more dances in the gym”. Pandering to the most base desires fails the smell test dismally, when put beside the potential of the details of a portrait of the ways in which our highest aspirations demonstrate the unity of people everywhere, a unity which threatens the very existence of the Trump-strut. Dividing one segment from all others, illustrates how deep and permanent is the new executive’s obsession with complete control—“paint a stick-picture on a very small cameo” and shout it as the new “absolute” fails as a modest test of leadership, throughout history, and especially now when the forces that demand innovative and creative, collaborative and inclusive new initiatives are so ubiquitous.

Building walls, withdrawing into a fake cocoon, even building opulent “towers” of the mirage of power (while failing to compensate the workers who built them)…these are not the stuff of authentic leadership, inspiration, and aspiration but rather the stuff of mere marketing.

And we have had our fill of marketing lies: Volkswagen, Takata, are just two examples.

As one colleague put it the day before the November vote in America, “I kind of hope Trump wins; perhaps it will shake us out of our complacency.” Riding a wave of fear and anger, epitomized by the disenfranchised and the unemployed, fueled by an insistence on the dishonesty of the media, fulfils only his private, isolated and disconnected version of truth and the landscape over which the constitution requires the president to govern (not rule, not dominate, not tyrannize, not distort, not stride like the colossus).

Importing the salesman’s world view into the heart of the government, as the electorate has done, also illustrates the illiteracy, the vacuity and the desperation of the voters who have been “played” for suckers by this complete huckster. Transactional consumerism, in which the sizzle trumps the steak, and the profits of the trumpeters doing the selling eclipse the honourable and honest expectations of the purchaser does not a competent, or trust-worthy government make. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

We are “in for” such a buying and selling street marketing fight that will eviscerate many of the most honourable and proven traditions, practices and cornerstones of diplomacy, collaboration, sharing of both facts and resources. And this surgical and deliberate “business” take over of the levers of government has already witnessed the obliteration of all responsibility for any conflicts of interest, and the normal shame of such devastation. Hosting an inaugural luncheon in his own “trump-tower-dining room” in Washington is just another of the plethora of instances in which the new “leader of the free world” snubs his nose at the expectations of decency, civility, modesty and authenticity. Since he himself can be bought, has been bought, and will continue to be bought, he automatically assumes that every other leader and country and interest and person can also be bought.

Just to illustrate the bankruptcy of this truth: human rights can be neither bought nor sold. The truth is neither for sale nor does it have a financial price. The human spirit is not for sale, and not even on the market, for people who base their identity on a “not-for-sale” proposition. Ethics, at least the kind observed as valid by those much smarter than this scribe, are not reducible to a price, to a “deal” and to a transaction. The government is not merely an extension of the trump conglomerate. Nor are the people of the United States merely a cluster of consumers whose habits and perceptions can be manipulated by the marketing gurus whose vaults of data are gathered and stored exclusively for the purpose of increased sales and profits. The people of Germany, Great Britain, France, Israel, Japan, China are not for sale, along with the integrity of their leadership, their co-operation and the honour of their history.

Our shared and threatened environment is not going to be healed or cleaned by someone who considers the science nothing more than a “hoax designed by China”. Nor are the out-sourced jobs going to materialize merely from the huckster’s imaginative, narcissistic and self-serving musings. The health care of all American people will not suddenly materialize out of the fog of trump’s marketing genius, nor from the bowels of a Congress dominated by Republican puppets. Friendship with Putin, collaboration with China, protection of the NATO countries...none of these is magically going to jump out of a magician’s hat, at the beck and call of the master magician.

The American people, on behalf of the world’s citizens, have demonstrably moved into the proverb “we bought a pig and a poke”….so naïve, so innocent, so gullible and so angry and frightened were they that they fell into their own swamp of single-man, silver bullet answers to their many complex and interminable issues.

Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry, with its pill for every ailment, has so captured the culture of the United States, that, with another “drink” of another emulsion, they believe, they will eradicate their most terminal tumors. Adolescence, that period of our lives that rides waves of energy, in, for and of “the moment” and in for and of the “whatever feels good” and in, for and of the orgiastic has to give way to a healthy adulthood, still a distant glint in the eye of the American culture, where the rock star, the show and the most dramatic sensation epitomized by Trump, are still in charge.

When the dentist asks, “What do you think of Trump?” the answer, without skipping a beat blurts out, “I’m anxious; I simply do not trust him!”

Friday, January 13, 2017

We are all enemies of Trump...and we will be heard!

It is only one week until inauguration day!

The bedrock of lies on which the Trump candidacy is based,
·      along with the presumed impunity exonerating the person from any responsibility for lying

·      plus the tweeting ejaculations that have seduced the media, and

·      the appointment of billionaires/millionaires whose capacity for public service is clouded by their self-serving ambition, and

·      the scurrilous, if so far unvalidated reports of dangerous and secret connections between the candidate’s campaign/transition with the Russian government….

all of this taken together, one would think, would disqualify the man and his entourage from entering the Oval Office.

The nerves of ordinary people in America and many other countries around the world are fraying with each new revelation of potential conflict of interest, and of potential danger for ordinary people. The recalcitrant revoking of Obamacare will result in deaths resulting from the inability to pay for medical services. There are several clauses within the Affordable Care Act that protect people with pre-existing conditions, people up to age 26 covered by their parents’ insurance, and providing access to enhanced Medicare and Medicaid benefits, as well as subsidies for premium coverage.
The presidential-elect’s refusal to disclose his tax returns, along with his refusal to divest himself from all of his business interests, his nepotism in the appointing of family members to his senior staff, and his voracious appetite for wealth and power, for its own sake and not for the public good, without even consideration of his bigotry, chauvinism, racism, xenophobia and fundamental disregard for both laws and norms of traditions in public service and leadership, again one would think would have disqualified his candidacy months ago, with the support of both his opponents and the Republican Party.

However, it is time for the world, including this scribe, to stop wringing hands, to stop fretting, and to stop with all the melodramatic expressions of angst.

It is time to take that energy that is rooted in fear and depression and turn it into public activism in opposition to everything and to everyone that has anything to do with supporting, aiding and abetting the new administration.

While Democrats and progressives can and will concur with infrastructure rebuilding, and with fair trade deals that protect both workers and the environment, their primary purpose must continue to be focused on the potential to remove the occupant from the Oval Office. He cannot be permitted four years (and certainly not eight) in which to undo all of the many steps accomplished by the Obama administration on behalf of the American people, and also on behalf of humanity and ethical social responsibility, as a beacon, for all countries around the world.

It is not only through legislation, but also through his restrained and measured approach to every file (except the risky and dangerous capture and killing of Osama bin Laden and the targeted attack on radical terrorist cells), and also through his eloquent, balanced, even poetic rhetoric that Obama gave the world eight years of a positive role model for leaders everywhere. Trump by contrast, offers precisely the opposite every day, every hour, every tweet, and every bullying utterance. It was never through ideology, nor through a sense of personal narcissism, nor through vengeance, nor even through frustration and pique that Obama pursued his responsibilities as President.

Now, it is impossible to turn the television on without exposing another demonstration of an unbridled (and consequently hollow) ego seeking the narcissistic obsession of attention and fawning that only a president or a wannabe president can command. Hollowing out the Obama legacy is not the only threat posed by the upcoming presidential term.

It is also the hollowing out of the honourable and trustworthy reputation of the United States itself that is threatened. Foreign leaders, and their envoys, from every country will have to acknowledge their relationship with the new administration, and how they have been “had” by the chicanery that can be the only attitude to be attributed to the plans the words and the policies of the new administration. Restricting our observations to the floor of the House and the Senate will not remind us of the “supporting impulse” that the new administration gives every day to racists, bigots, and the far right around the world. The reducing resources to feed, clothe, educate, employ and care for and thereby offer hope to  the millions of poor, dispossessed, and increasingly disregarded living not only in third world countries but in the ghettos of major urban centres around the world, combined with the rise of “narcissistic” self-possession and insouciance for “out brothers and sisters” around the world and the triumph of the “will” of the ultra-right-wing political class is potentially as explosive as any military device currently in our stockpiles.

And the intelligence systems so far designed are and will be more focussed on the cyber attacks than on the “human intelligence breakdowns” that plague the United States of America.  Take for example “incident” in which Russian Television interposed itself into coverage of confirmation hearings on C-Span yesterday inside the United States Congress, without warning or explanation. It is the far more potent and blatant disdain for a common reality, truth, body of facts for which people and political actors have to be held responsible that is linked to the levers of power that threatens many of us, given our extremely limited access to the finer points of penetration and interpretation of state secrets from enemy nations. And since both truth and shame are terminal casualties of the Trump onslaught, and there are apparently no laws requiring or expecting either truth or responsibility of an incoming president, a different path will have to be found to de-rail this runaway train wreck.

How can anyone look at an American television news program these days without thudding the heel of the hand against the forehead in complete shock and amazement at the tragedy of conflict between and among the “intelligence community” as the “James brothers” (Comey and Clapper) do their politically correct dance of keypads, microphones and cell phones, to and from each other. Who can be surprised if the capitals of foreign nations are not also shaking their individual and collective heads at the charade that purports to pass as the American government? Trump’s disdain for the competence of the intelligence community’s work, including its clear and firm decision that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee, for the express purpose of re-railing the Clinton campaign, has, among other things, set him against the very resources he will have to rely upon as chief executive, formally and informally distanced that community from the Oval office, and thrown a bucket of sand in the eyes of all those in foreign capitals who previously considered the American intelligence apparatus to be one of the best in the world.

The Trump wrecking ball has taken aim at the character and reputation of all rivals, opponents, critics and those, like this scribe, who have become so jaundiced by his antics that I can no longer watch or listen to the verbal junk that erupts from his mouth. The Trump wrecking ball has also targeted the American intelligence establishment, the constitution a document he must swear to uphold and support, on the dais next Friday… And those words, like all other words from the new “leader of the free world” are worth about as  much as a can of warm saliva from a drooling golden retriever.
Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Shumer, and all the other Democratic leaders need a permanent medical doctor to accompany their next several months, given how little sleep, and how little healthy nourishment they will get, if they are to mount the kind of “war” of ideas in the towns, villages, counties and hamlets across the country that is needed in order to strip Trump of the Republican majorities in both Senate and House of Representatives. Refusing to accede to formal hearings for confirmation of any nomination for the Supreme Court is also a tactic that will help to shorten the life of this administration. Could we be witnessing, in the very near future, another Democratic ‘sit-in’ holding the Congress hostage to any further debate and votes, thereby impeding any move the new administration might make to strip protection for vulnerable people.

As for the rest of us, we are all now formal members of all minorities, blacks Latinos, LGBT, refugees, immigrants, and all who are not part of the top 1%. And unless and until we fully adopt that attitude we will remain immune to the impending thwarting of the rights, protections and access to health care, education, social services that comprise government’s responsibility. Only by joining forces with immigrants, refugees, the unemployed, the underemployed, the destitute and the uneducated will the voices of opposition gain the authenticity needed to counter-punch every day, every hour and every moment for the next four years.

And even with such a massive progressive movement, there is no guarantee that these 'trumpites' will not find other even more divisive and seductive measures through which to acquire electoral victory in 2020.

The blind hubris and hate that elected Trump has to be supplanted by a conscious, acerbic, conscientious and persistent level of opposition through every media, every water cooler conversation, every town hall meeting, and every nomination meeting. If complacency characterized an electorate of which less than 50% showed up to vote, commitment has to be the guiding principle of the opposition.

And, together, in 2018 and again in 2020, this regime will be first curtailed and then evicted from power. Even though much damage can ensue between now and then, it may be our best hope.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Can we disable the tyrants?

If reports in truthdig.com by Gareth Porter are correct (Inquiry Points Toward a Pentagon Plot to Subvert Obama’s Syria Policy, truthdig.com, January 5, 2017) then the Generals ordered this attack on what they described as “ISIS” positions were really Syrian army posts. They also knew that by attacking they would subvert Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently achieved agreement with Russia to work together in Syria against ISIS.

 The truthdig.com report documents an American attack at Deir Ezzor on September 17, 2016 that killed 62 Syrian soldiers and wounded dozens more.
John Kerry told the Boston Globe (according to the Porter report) that there were parts of the U.S government who were strongly opposed to any agreement with Russia to work together in Syria, opening to the public the kind of chasms of opinion, within the government itself, that now threaten the optimum functioning of the American government.

When the public is and has been awash in fake news, for the last several months, including Russian cyber attacks that have been characterized yesterday by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as an “existential threat” to the United States, (information that is now disputed by the “Donald”), this kind of new report throws public confidence in public institutions out the window even further. Some argue the world is moving quickly to some kind of “boil” in geopolitical affairs; perhaps, the boil has already begun and the people of the world are like the proverbial “frog” in the boiling pot, “fine until too late” when the boiling water finally kills the frog.
Of course, such apocalyptic pictures are so frightening that the public media and most water cooler conversations studiously avoid “going there”. Fear, as we all know, is a toxic weapon in any search for a resolution of serious conflict. It debilitates all participants, whether their wounding is clearly evident while attempting to lower the temperature or not. And while deception is considered an essential “arrow” in the quiver for any international conflict (Russia v. United States, for example) deception with one’s own people will ( or at least it once would have) erode the trust of the people in their leaders.

It would seem fitting to observe that we now have two “pugilists” (Trump and Putin) who are engaged in a monstrous and dangerous campaign of deception, mis-information, and they both will, on January 21, command massive military arsenals. Both have publicly mused about the renewal and enhancement of their respective nuclear capabilities. Both have demonstrated contempt for the truth and also for the normal modicum of trust based on truth from their respective “people”. Both are happy to surround themselves with sycophants, and to punish their enemies, without limits to their methods. (Trump has announced the beginning of an “enemies” list!) Both are engaged in blatant and unapologetic manipulation of the media, whether they “own” them or not. Both have amassed fortunes, regardless of the methods of their respective acquisitions. Both are clearly sparring for a “title bout” that would trumpet the formal beginning of a new Cold War. And both are so overflowing with hubris that they hold even the normal levers of governing in contempt.

And the number of their “gang of thug” leaders grows, with all of them fawning in their approach to superpower leaders. Setting the bar for “acceptable” leadership among especially ‘democratic’ nations, on a rung at the bottom of the sewer was never a concept conceived as acceptable in our lifetimes. Angela Merkel and Barack Obama must be writhing in political pain at the world they are witnessing. Clearly, millions of their constituents, and former electors) certainly are!

Turning to the new global “progressive” leader, Justin Trudeau, a neophyte in domestic politics and a kindergarten student in foreign policy (friendships with foreign leaders is not equivalent to foreign policy gravitas!) is neither comforting nor justified. While his motives for “doing good” may not be in question, his capacity to seek and achieve complex foreign policy ententes, himself or through the agency of his Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, has never been tested. His propensity to “balance” in the interests of the environment with the need to grow the economy may seem reasonable, as it attempts to balance two competing interests.

However, the international cauldron has many mutually exclusive competing interests and factions, and few fully functioning negotiating agencies, including, it would seem, the United Nations. “Shooting stars” like Trump and Putin will do whatever it takes to move in the opposite direction from international collaboration. They will attempt, in putting their own country’s “fortunes” ahead of all others, to fragment even further the global consensus, gossamer as it already is.

When a self-appointed and self-designed “hero” archetype takes over the national stage, it takes a compliant populace, a sycophant media, a narcissistic corporate structure, and a politically correct culture that frowns on dissent to contribute to their rise, and more importantly to sustain their emptiness.

So fragile and trembling are the cultures of both the United States and Russia that these two dangerous tyrants have mounted their serf-like “votes” to the pinnacles of power in their respective nations. And, even that little potential agreement that Kerry had worked out with Lavrov over Syria and ISIS could have been a first step in reining in both Trump and Putin.

It is to those committed to formal and informal dissent, at a time when dissent is becoming ever more challenging and potentially dangerous that the world must look, as we enter what many consider the darkest period in human history for the last half century.

Dissenters, activists, “artivists” (artists who are also activists), small, medium and large information organs, academics, thinkers and all of the lunch-bucket armies who make our world function have to come out of our political closets, and fight, not only for the repair of our streets, bridges, schools and hospitals but also for our world’s political, economic and environmental health.

And a first step in the process is to disable the tyrants!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Reflections on perfectionism...

Perfectionism is the unparalleled defense for emotionally abandoned children. The existential unattainability of perfection saves the child from giving up, unless or until, scant success forces him to retreat into the depression of a dissociative disorder, or launches him hyperactively into an incipient conduct disorder. Perfectionism also provides a sense of meaning and direction for the powerless and unsupported child. In the guise of self- control, striving to be perfect offers a simulacrum of a sense of control. Self-control is also safer to pursue because abandoning parents typically reserve their severest punishment for children who are vocal about their negligence. (Pete Walker)

I have fought perfectionism for a long time. Occasionally, however,  I find that it provides an easy escape from excessive supervision and control. People who are compulsive about their need for absolute control cannot attack unless or until I screw up in some manner that provides them with the window of opportunity they so desperately need. And every time I screw up, they strike laser-like, in a manner that betrays their obsession and their impatience at having to wait so long to strike.

Once, following a piano recital, at twelve, during which the coat sleeve I wore struck and sounded a note not on the manuscript, I was beaten for making such a “mistake”.

 Once, following a dramatic mis-step, in which, at eleven, I stubbed my toe in an over-anxious trip up the stairs on my way to compete for a trophy in a music festival and fell flat on my face, (evoking the tension-releasing comment from the emcee, “This candidate is certainly eager!”) an embarrassed, perfectionistic parent refused to speak for the whole of a four-hour train trip home.

Once, following disclosure that I had withheld, until after the Christmas holiday, a mediocre grade on a grade nine history exam, the shiny Spalding Christmas 9-iron I had just received was violently broken over the knee of the “deceived” parent and pitched into the basement.

Once, following an undeserved ‘strapping’ in grade four, and after discovering news had been withheld, I was marched into the kitchen and told to bend over the kitchen sink in order for the “mouth-washing’ with Lifebuoy soap to begin.

Notice the parade of “once’s”….yet they are all of a piece out of which a gestalt of  anxiety and fear, abandonment and exasperation, and a retreat into something that can only be described as “perfectionism” emerged. Whenever I enter a room filled with people. my radar switches to overdrive, my sensibilities are heightened and my anxiety rises. Oh, most times, given the decades of practice, I am able to mask the anxiety (or so I tell myself, deceptively) unfortunately for others, by that dreaded and noxious “bravado” of inquiry, excessive energy, enthusiasm and a gestalt of compensation for my own anxiety. Not knowing if and when I am “safe” depending on the situation, the potential for attack, the opportunity for insult and my instant and exaggerated response (hardly in keeping or commensurate with the often pin-prick of insensitivity), I will contort my person into a shape barely reminiscent of a “normal” male body and psyche, whatever they are.

My perfectionism holds a powerful magnifying lens, akin to a high-powered microscope or telescope, from the top of a very high mast, on the look-out for abuses of authority, whether or not they might be directed toward me, or another. While there is a perspective on public affairs that seeks to expose abuses in this “vision,” there is also a rather dangerous and self-sabotaging implication. I come off like a ‘dangerous’ and “hard-assed” volcano, ready and willing to erupt if and when I detect the abuse of a position, or the authority of those in power. 

This attitude has jumped to the fore when I heard another pedagogue wrongly accuse a co-ed of cheating on a math test, relinquishing the potential for a further relationship with the teacher, and risking the charge of being “too liberal” both of which followed. It has jumped out almost unconsciously, when I heard a principal exaggerate the potential political damage that might result from the opposition and criticism of another colleague, in defense of the colleague.

It has surfaced when faced with any reductionistic engagement, more like tokenism, when I see someone in a “leadership” position, patronizing a newcomer, simply because he can.

 It has also jumped to the “breach” (obviously an authentic creation of my imagination) when I heard my mother tell me, only days following the death of my father, “He was no good!” after she had spent sixty-two years in their marriage denigrating him and his profound integrity, compassion and authenticity.

My perfectionism also lept out when I heard statements of obvious abuse directed at my person, by those who had spent decades knowing me, yet found themselves compelled to impose intellectual, research conclusions from seminars about abstractions on the relationship. In fact, so appalled by such attacks was I, and continue to be, that I literally “quit and stayed” because I did not know what else to do. So active and persistent is my perfectionism that it has literally defined not only the way I approach my work, but also the expectations I have of others.

And clearly, those expectations are hardly “appropriate” to beneficial to a larger purpose of growing and developing relationships. Learning that the relationship is necessary, and can only be grown in a garden of support, nurture, fertilizer and sunlight (love, music, beauty, poetry, and joy) has begun to make it possible for me to even begin to trust enough to risk fully entering relationship. Thanks to a loving spouse, and a loving daughter for their unconditional love and support!

Let’s take a look at emotionally abandoned children, those especially vulnerable to perfectionism apparently.

It is not only a physically absent parent who abandons a child. In fact, a parent absorbed in his or her own stuff, without either time or interest in the finer details of a child’s life can be, and too often is, culpable of abandoning the child emotionally.
 When “performance” trumps family relationships, through award-winning flower gardens, through the accomplishments of the children, as jewels in the crown of the parent, through a kind of theology that dictates and obsesses over a dogmatic absolutism, a literal reading of scripture, and a conviction that the  starting point of all human lives is as “sinner” having to “work” one’s way to heaven, God easily becomes the scapegoat/cover/justification for such attitudes. And no God worthy of the name would support or even countenance such an approach either to faith or parenting. And no child, no matter how old, how mature, how well dressed, or how well presented to the world, grasps the full impact of such an emotional tyranny.

Any child in such a culture would feel powerless, especially given the emasculation of one parent by the other. Self control can take the form of tidy dressing, shiny shoes, meticulous adherence to instructions at dance and piano lessons, strict imitation of all expected and required processes in stoking the furnace and the jacket heater, (used to heat water for baths and laundry), meticulous patterns while cutting the lawn, detailed patterns of “picking” raspberries, spading the garden, shovelling the walk, and even building a wooden enclosed mobile on top of a wagon.

The adult-designed and implemented culture, including the unwritten rules and expectations, most of which would have been denied if parents had been challenged, as would the physical and emotional abuse, and the self-imposed paint-by-number existence, in order to achieve some measure of “order” and control, where such things were within one’s orbit, as it were, combined to shake a toxic equation.

And the imprint of the equation on all of the lives whose paths have crossed mine, without their even having the intimate consciousness of the background, has generated both self-doubt and considerable personal angst. It is as if the pattern of emotional abandonment in the early years became a repeating pattern for decades after. There is no disguising or denying the dramatic imprinting of early years on one’s psyche.
And the harder one tries to evacuate the original family “cell” the more determined are the muscles of its grip, because such a willful and deliberate escape takes so much conscious work, changing habits, changing beliefs and changing expectations, that one loses sight of the Shadow, the unconscious into which these patterns have also been embedded.

Hence, after such a pre-adult life, one does not conceive of a difference between one’s performance and one’s ego or person or identity.* And to separate one’s ego from one’s persona, (mask) is one’s life work, and it cannot be accomplished through memory work, through therapy, through journalling, through faith explorations by themselves, nor in some deterministic combination. The separation or individuation, has to come at its own pace and time, needing a soil and climate conducive to such evolution.
From all of those whose lives have been negatively impacted by this scribe’s stunted psychic development, I seek their forgiveness, and offer my deep apologies. Some were students, others colleagues; some were my own children and sibling; others include a former spouse, and a gallery of supervisors who, while they tried to tolerate my turbulence, also took wide berths around my tempestuousness.

My father used to utter an aphorism that has lodged in my memory in a permanent place: “Too soon old, too late schmart!”

Still practicing a lighter and less insidious form of perfectionism ( I hope), I am seeking a path covered with pine needles, under the orchestration of winds blowing through their bows, pausing at all of the snowy owls, the cardinals, the white-tailed deer and the white swans along the way. The inspiration to be who and what each creature is fills me with hope and energy to continue the pilgrimage so long as these joints continue to move without pain or interruption.

*Of course, if my identity is encapsulated in my performance, it follows as the night the day that the identity of the “other” is also accessible from their own performance. And the ripples of such a restricted view of both self and the other have too often reduced and restricted the perception of another’s identity, as well as my own.