Monday, March 27, 2017

Are we engaged in a compulsive self-sabotage, individually and culturally?

What if Trump is not the disease, but rather the symptom of a larger, deeper and more dangerous illness than his person and his tweets, executive orders and faux pas can begin to capture?

What if Trump is the result of decades of converging forces that humans, by default, carelessness and even fear, have both encouraged and permitted?

What if the objectification of individual people, including both women and men, boys and girls, including the world’s ethnicities, faith communities and all economic demographics were underlying the current political, economic and identity malaise? To be sure, there are nuanced differences in the respective “objectifications”  of men and women, (the former as cheque-books and the latter sex objects), but from a broad brush perspective we have permitted ourselves to become mere functions, measured and identified by our performances, our achievements, our house and car size and status, and most importantly our failures.

James Hillman, in his many writings, and especially in The Acorn Theory, proposes the notion that psychology has turned off-road from the primary evidence of its source material, biography, into a myriad of rabbit holes of symptomology and diagnostics and the pharmaceuticals that provide a faux cover of legitimacy in a profession fixated on establishing its relevance. Balkanizing the human psyche and personality and character of individual humans, without the full richness of a complete and comprehensive biography, is like diagnosing and treating a tumor without undertaking a full medical history, and not the kind that can be reduced to what pills you take and what surgeries line your calendar.

Resumes list achievements, both career and educational, associations and something called references, all of them relevant only to the degree that objectification is paramount. In an irony completely missed by the principal of a human resources consulting company, following a series of interviews, the former mathematics teacher uttered these words, “Whenever we ask you a question, you reply with a story, and not a list that would demonstrate the kind of thinking we need.” Without uttering a word, I recall saying to myself, “Well, I do not think in lists; I think in pictures and those pictures are the basis of more stories, stories by the way that illustrate my full answer to your question.”  This encounter followed a personality test from Waco Texas, for which his introduction went like this, “We would like you to take this test, which in no way will influence our decision about hiring you.”

In the exit conversation with that principal, he also uttered these words, completely forgetting and denying his earlier commitment: “You indicate by your answers that you would be too difficult to manage.” A professional student of psychological profile testing later explained, “You dare not tell the truth on those tests because that will doom you! You have to play games with those instruments.” So even from the perspective of this human resource consulting agency (one that brags it does many of the hires for the federal government!), you must repress, condense, minimize and curtail your identity, your truth and your way of seeing the world. If that Pandora’s Box were opened to the ‘consultants, their mathematical models would have to be thrown out the window.

 The sum of the tragic elimination of one’s biography, followed or accompanied by a revulsion to truth-telling, supplemented by a monumental masking exercise covering up our real emotions, including our opinions and our insights and our disagreements all mingled with our emotions, those messy things the Brits have been submerging for centuries under the politically correct rubric, “stiff upper lip,” (or as one writer put it, in a book about the Anglican religion, “God’s Chosen Frozen”)….conjures the mountainous weight of sabotage that encumbers the national health care budget.

 Committing, whether consciously and rebelliously, or compliantly and semi-consciously, to this parade of the hollow ghosts, by definition robs us of our full awareness of who we are, how we are becoming the individuals we need to be and those steps we need to take now, irrespective of the pressures imposed on us by any one or more of several external influences. Among these influences are teachers, parents, employers, and peers although the last are least likely to impose a template.

Add to these forces, the ‘connecting’ devices that ironically permit and encourage more detachment from one another, while simulating a level of contact that might be appropriate in a military march, focused on whether I am “keeping in step” with the rest, irrespective of who is marching beside me and the objectification of the individual human continues. And then, elevate the role of objectification of each of us to the role of consumer, marketer, doctor-patient, lawyer-client, coach-mentee, manager-supervisee, executive-worker…..these dashes do not substitute for the word relationship. In fact, those dashes reduce the encounter to one of function…so that we are modelling role playing, and not full human engagement.

Reducing the political campaigner to the relevance and the breadth of his or her promises eliminates or ignores or diminishes an even more important component to his “fitness for office” just as reducing the job applicant to his resume shoves aside the more important “fitness” of each applicant….those subjective qualities that make a human being a fully developed human being….character, presence, emotional compatibility, and what it is like to be in a room with another.  “Oh but who is really capable of judging those aspects of another’s person?” I can hear from the cheap seats.
And I answer, quickly and unapologetically, each of us is, if and when we are permitted to let such observations rise to the level of being at least as important as those “benchmarks” that may or may not disclose character.

When “the deal” is the primary measurement of any person, such a reduction not only leaves so many other important and complex and perhaps both infuriating and ennobling qualities outside the public consciousness as to generate a collective self-sabotage, potentially generating election results like those of November 2016 in Washington.

In another life, while serving as an instructor in communications for apprentice police officers, rough and raw and rebellious and cantankerous, and itching for power and a uniform, I observed their behaviour within the small vocational college. When confronted with their own attitudes and behaviour, framed in the perspective that, following their stint in this institution, they all had visions of enrolling in police college, the valve through which all provincial police officers had to pass prior to wearing the uniform and the badge, they immediately recognized that everything they were then doing, failing to complete assignments, failing to co-operate with instructors, failing to take seriously their own reputations comprised a blatant act of self-sabotage.
As soon as they were able to integrate the new perspective, their approach turned around. Nothing like rocket science had been inflicted on them; simply an external observation of the full reality of their situation and their approach…really just common sense.

So often we listen to and read analyses of various public situations which seem devoid of common sense. And the principal actors and their media communicators have so bought into the faux-sophistication of their pronouncements that their humanity has been relegated to the dust-balls in the corners of the press rooms, not to mention the corners of the cabinet rooms. It is as if we need some pumping up of our lives in order to make them seem valuable, relevant, engaged, and important. It is as if we need the steroids of a BMW  language, or  Gucci shoes as manifestation of our worth, or legal obfuscation or our participation in some common cause to render both our participation and the cause itself important.

Ironically, all of this masking, only covers over our self-sabotage and renders the experience less meaningful and less relevant and less engaging than, by its own nature it promises to be. It may be true that the consumer market and the academic ivory tower, the law and the church, not to mention the operating and emergency rooms, all embrace the language of professionalism, superiority, specialization and uber sophistication, as a way of segregating the professionals from the masses. Yet, this too is another of the societal and cultural masks that leave us all in the dark, not only of the fullness of whatever situation we currently find ourselves in, but of who we are in those circumstances. Yet, we are unable or unwilling to ask the “professionals” to speak in our language, because we would be demonstrating our truth, that we really don’t know, in many cases, what they are talking about. And we are all, everyone of us, complicit in enabling our sabotaged identity. Surely, we are no less sentient and no less sensible than those aspiring law enforcement officers, (most of whom will never wear a uniform) that if and when we are willing to see our own complicity in our own sabotage, we are unwilling and unable to reverse course.

Nevertheless, to reverse course is no guarantee that another Trump will not rise to the surface of the swamp, just as slime always does, but it does offer the hope that we might be a little more patient, insightful and prescient in our own lives and then apply those qualities to our public tolerance, acceptance and endorsements.

We could start with an endorsement of our whole selves, as a way of putting a foundation under a reversal away from self-sabotage. So many of us “show up” as a mere phantom of our full character and personality, as if to demonstrate our conviction that were we to show up, we would automatically be rejected. So rather than risk rejection for who we really are, we are prepared to risk rejection for offering only a glimpse of who we are, of what we believe, of how strongly we hold specific opinions, and how strongly we reject others.

What an act of cultural self-sabotage, and there is no need for ethnic or any other kind of cleansing; we have already subverted our own truth, in our compulsive search for approval, acceptance, affirmation and endorsement.

And yet, most of those are only half-hearted also….because that is the other half of this dramatic equation. Based on a superficial presentation and a cursory evaluation of the presentation of another’s personhood, how could those assessments be anything but partial, ever-unfolding and unpacking and, in too many instances, based only on a functional premise of ‘what can you do, (or what have you done) for me lately?’….
Let’s reflect on our contemporary madness, shared by all of us, enjoyed by very few if any, and perpetuated by a kind of unconscious and equally detached convention that the world does not want to “do deeper” so we must not either.


And how do we begin to calculate the exponential costs of this reductionistic “interface” of human beings, a far cry from the previous communal sharing of the good and the bad levelling, where the only status that matters is the status conferred by the self on the self?

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