Friday, February 2, 2018

Reflecting on turbulence within and without

Umbrella parents….infantilizing churches and religion… hierarchical corporate structures… “governance” boards… “star” culture…LGBT v
“straight….Fascists/Alt-Right v. Alt-left…have’s v. have not’s…women v. men…
Not only is it a binary, bi-polar world, and an over-protective culture…it is also a culture at war with itself.

We acknowledge there is and always has been, and likely will be for as far as the “eye” can see, a structural tension between order and chaos. Stereotypically, and historically, traditionalists prefer, seek, stand for and uphold “order” while rebels, iconoclasts, radicals, ‘shit disturbers’ anarchists and the dispossessed cluster around the chaos, given the inconsolable nature of many of their situations.

And when the “definitions” and the “identities” of each side are clearly identifiable, recognizable and agreed to by most people, the tensions have a way of playing “off” against each other, in a somewhat clear and somewhat predictable and therefore tolerable manner. And this socio-political-cultural tension also works in a less threatening way if and when there are no global and potentially lethal threats.
Like the movies of half a century ago, and the popular music of that time, the pace of the drama is more easily and more profoundly digested, contemplated, reflected upon and even modestly understood if it comes at us in a velocity that we feel capable of absorbing, letting in without being overwhelmed.

Whether or not there is a biological ‘optimum’ for humans to process change, our individual and shared receptivity, openness and comfort with transitions, while varying with each individual and each demographic, and possibly even each culture, is one of the ‘metrics’ that underlies our shared perception of how “stable” and “secure” we feel at any given moment….and then in a longer and longer period of time.

Also playing into the “equation of equanimity” are the models from history, literature, movies, music, art and philosophy that have made their way into our consciousness. Adding to the “receptor” acuity within each of us are the personal experiences that have shaped how we see/feel/intuit/envision  and even “dream” the world to be. Linked together, the extrinsic “models” and the intrinsic experiences comprise a dynamic framework we might loosely term our “world view”.

Of course, there are merely abstract concepts, until they are called into “play” and consciously or unconsciously they demonstrate their unique power and influence. We have to be on guard for the sudden eruption of the residue of those experiences we found too painful to address at the time of their occurrence, and ‘buried’ in our own sack of unresolved memories/traumas/shocks/losses/profound hurts. And as they jump back into the light of our current day, they will likely also trigger a ‘hot button’ in another person who happens to be very close. At that moment, it is highly unlikely that either party will comprehend “what just happened”. Both will be shocked, and often offended buy the inappropriateness of whatever blurted out, and by the unexpected timing of the ‘sting’.

As a culture deeply steeped in denial of failure, of betrayal, of emotional loss including death or serious illness, the culture itself has a multitude of “sacks” in its collective memory (Shadow) just lying dormant until the least appropriate and the least expected moment when it suddenly awakens, and shoots out the arrows of its long-forgotten truth.

Just as domestic conflict most often erupts if and when something trivial finally irks one into a volcanic eruption, so too can and does a similar pattern dot the timelines of national, ethnic, religious, and even geographic entities. It is perhaps like the ‘star’ aligning in a formation that sees no option but conflict, rationalized on whatever basis seems to fit the world view of the protagonists and the antagonists. And although there are historic patterns, archetypes, and stereotypes for study by those seeking or even finally engaged in a significant conflict, it is most lightly that there will be a unique display of bravado, essentially the summation of a vortex of forces that may escape fully identification.

In Israel, people do not stand in line until those in front select their fruits and vegetables at the market: they push and shove each other aside, trained in the attitude and play book of a country under siege, not knowing precisely when or where the next rocket or bomb will drop. It is this kind of urgency that tends to focus the mind, the heart and the body and spirit to be uber-conscious of one’s safety and security every moment of every day.

And that kind of combative approach to life in North America is taking hold. It is found in our political rhetoric, our succumbing to the “character assassination” by verbal abuse, both frontally and in secret, and as Professor Pederson (U. of Toronto) suggests when speaking about the #MeToo and #Time’sUp crowds, we have become focused exclusively on “consequences and not intent”.

In The United States a misogynist, racist, homophobic and white supremacist president continues his abuse, while, in Great Britain, a member of the House of Lords for five years, who has been habitually late for his seating assignments in the Upper Chamber, yesterday resigned in “shame” because he did not live up to the higher standards Lords need to uphold. Not only does the trump model of ethical and moral depravity not square with Senator Al Franken’s dismissal for much less offensive bejhaviour, but the “Lord’s” overkill (as CBC’s The National put it) does not square with a culture in which proportion has been so mercurial as to have lost its grip on the culture.
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A personal anecdote might illustrate:

For decades, I have listened to harsh and not so harsh criticism of my person and my professional performance, without so much as a grain of the leaven of “ah shucks” joking. The dissing for which men are supposedly infamous has passed me by, especially after my best friend pulled an unfortunate “joke” on this too innocent twelve-year-old. He thought it would be fun to “show” me how to hold a 12-guage shotgun, shoot it and absorb the recoil. So, without a hint of irony, or comedy, he ‘taught’ me to hold the gun at least ten inches from my right shoulder, before pulling the trigger. You guessed what came next! The recoil pummelled this overweight body back about ten feet, where I landed on my backside, to the uproarious laughter of my “friend”. Perhaps it should have had a different impact, but if that was fun, what would top it, at least in a friend’s mind?

Not having what could be considered “safe spaces” in which to joke, to “diss” and to engage with other men, except in a literal,  specific, empirical and rational manner, I essentially became a northern “Sheldon” from The Big Bang, without either the scientific intellect or wizardry, bumbling my way through a world in which unkindness, judgement and mostly disapproval prevailed. Trying desperately to “prove” myself, with extra-ordinary energy, exhausting over-commitments, and a obsessive-compulsive pursuit of applause, I literally and metaphorically sacrificed relationships simply because I had the deeply embedded “imprint” on my psyche that relationships could and would only ‘hurt’ more than they would reciprocate.

‘At war’ with myself, unconsciously, I kept slogging through such silly criticisms as “you are kind to a fault” or “you are too intense” or “your expectations are too high” or epithets like “anti-Christ,” or “alien” (especially in the U.S.) linking them in a montage that started with early chants from my mother directed at both my sister and me, “you are no good”. And walled off, then, I naturally presumed and assumed that there were no options between acceptance and rejection, “knowing” fully that the latter was more likely than the former.

Such pretense, such myopia and such self-alienation! And there is no one responsible for this isolation except myself.

Occasionally, some other ‘desperate’ person would latch onto me like a life-raft, in order to prevent his or her drowning. Naturally, there were more females than males in this group. And, after finding their own voice and legs, they would be gone, in a pattern that repeated like a worn-out slogan or billboard in my mind. Occasionally, too, there were actual compliments for some piece of work that seemed very ordinary to me, while the utterances were also deemed “superficial” and “polite” and “insincere” when they might have been authentic. Deaf to the authenticity of ‘the other’ I pushed myself just like those people in the Jerusalem markets, always in a flurry of hurriedness and fear, only the rockets I was anticipating were “psychic” and “verbal” and judgemental and persistent and repeating and relentless and never changing.
So while attempting to find and express a “voice” and advocacy for peace, I was running away from the war that seemed inescapable within.

And then recently, after an especially enjoyable dinner party with friends, I was asked, (jokingly I later learned,) “Did Michelle kick you under table?” The reference was to my volubility, energy and being “revved” over dinner. And then, after emotionally turtling, critically examining my “bad behaviour” and painfully recoiling at the embarrassment, I was told, “Your response to my silly question was absurd! Did you not ever have any safe spaces in your life?”

And the answer was/is “No!”

So, my perception of things going awry is probably inexorably acute, and painstakingly detailed and could even be hyperbolic. The accession of the current U.S. president, in spite of his history, his attitude, his behaviour and his world view is particularly horrendous and frightening, simply because no one has any idea the lengths to which he will/can go to satisfy his personal desperate need for affirmation/applause/loyalty/fealty/slavery.

Social criticism, political criticism, linked to a rather fervent passion for change, for thinking outside the box, for leaving a mark of contribution on whatever “clay” I am privileged to walk has been a profound commitment for decades. And yet, this “super ego” parade of self-righteous correctives, targeting the “outside”  world has simultaneously served to mask the blindness to and inner vulnerability, a capacity to see things in a somewhat distorted perspective.

And maybe that is the light shining through the many ‘cracks’ that have appeared in the institutional ship of state: that finally, all of us will come to the place where, not equanimity but perhaps honesty with each other, including inside our institutions will rise above the public “mask” we have been wearing in our personal lives and have insisted on being an integral component of public discourse.

There will always be roiling sea of tumultuous winds and waves, even intense storms in the political theatre, just as there are different tensions within; yet,  we might at some future time be able and willing to set aside the magnetic distraction of hubris, and the lies that hubris/inferiority/neurosis all need in order to survive. If then we could begin to accept and to acknowledge our own, and our institutions’ blindnesses, cover-up’s, dissemblings and manipulations of the bare-bone facts, the kind of storms/conflicts  in which we could be engaged would focus, not only our personal narcissism, but on the predominance of our shared risk/threats and the need for a collective ingenuity in both content and in method to face those storms.

Consequences, demanded as a form of instant gratification for legitimate injustices, without a process for a critical examination of the ‘intent’ of those alleged perpetrators, not only in our personal struggles but also in our geopolitical tensions, will never move us to ‘higher’ ground. The concept that our inner turmoils and out public turbulences illustrate and prove a “parallel process” cannot be lost on those we put in positions of power and responsibility.

And when those two rivers of consciousness and unconsciousness can finally be embraced as mirrors and lamps of each other, then, perhaps, our obsession with the extrinsic will be more in balance with the intrinsic energies of our lives.

Kierkegaarde once reminded us that life is not a problem to be solved, but rather an experience to be lived….It is the degree to which we open to the full, comprehensive, and life-giving energies of the tensions of those experiences without denial, without blindness and without fear of vulnerability that is our challenge.

The rampant fears that jump out in every ‘water-cooler’ conversation about the  world’s nuclear clock’s having moved two more minutes to midnight, might just be a mirror our own anxieties within our own lives, seeking both our embrace and our gentle attention. Novelists, poets and political pundits are really telling us the same stories, from different perspectives. And the arts, in spite of the derision they suffer at the hands of policy-makers, still offer and invitation into our private secrets and blindness. Should we pause long enough to embrace their truth, we could be gifted with insights long overdue, in both our private lives and our public institutions.

We will not and ought not to expect the surgical removal of anxiety and tension; it is the gift of their hidden truths that awaits our discovery. 

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