Saturday, May 5, 2018

Reflections on "Strong men" (Part 2)

These “strong men” can only hold power because they have manipulated others, the facts, the agents who distribute the information and generally painted a picture in which the masses either believe or believe they are powerless to change.

The emasculation of the masses did not start with trump. Nor will it be over on his demise. The emasculation of the masses began with the notion that “father knows best”….back in the dark ages when some chief and tribe both believed that they had discovered the shortest path to “reconciled power” within the tribe. And even then, specific traditions limited the purview of those “chiefs”….And  there was also the notion of a God, the Pope, and the ignorance of the masses, enshrined in the notion that ordinary people could not be trusted to “read” the Bible correctly. Only the “educated elite” in the Vatican were so enlightened as to be able to with promulgate the real “truth” of God’s word. And since we absolutely abhor uncertainty, chaos, and the complexities of ambiguities, we prefer the “order” imposed by a single voice.

Noel Coward notes: It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.
T.S. Eliot reminds us: people cannot tolerate too much truth.*

Of course, truth-telling is a reliable approach to being marginalized in any organization, family, or government, especially truth telling that exposes the abuse of power by others. Having held secrets deeply hidden in my heart and mind, forhalf a century, believing that to expose the truth would embarrass those who “parented” my sister and me. I now recognize the futility and the failed responsibility of my silence because the pattern spilled over into my own marriage. Meagre attempts to open the Pandora’s Box of the real truth of what was going on inside what was then 104 Gibson not only were fruitless, but actually back-fired with even more violence, now triggered by whispered disclosure by letter to distant family members.

Whistle-blowers, we all know, are despised by those in power. They represent if not the greatest, then certainly one of the most virulent threats to anyone in power who is abusing that power. Legislation to “protect” whistle-blowers, too, is so ineffective that it is virtually useless. Any negative public disclosure of the failings of an organization, or specifically a leader (one of those strong men) is so abhorrent, especially when one considers the fragility of the character and the ego’s of such men. Rage, unfettered rage and revenge are the immediate reactions of “strong men” to the disclosure of their longest, best-kept and most heinous secrets. Even secrets that would not impact negatively the personal reputation of a discloser, but perhaps the honour and public reputation of a family, have to be sealed from public light, in a repression of the truth that can and does compromise the secret-bearer as well as the family or organization.

Mental and emotional health, deeply and inextricably linked even enmeshed with the freedom and openness to receive and to honour the full truth, especially when it is hard to digest, is compromised through the rigorous silence that some of us impose on our family history. “Black” Uncle Tom, the drunk, who is never spoken of by family rule and tradition, is an example. The unwed teen who had to leave home to have her baby is just another of the many “secrets” that haunt the streets and the coffee shops of many towns and cities. The family, or organization, too, is compromised by the repression of its “darkest” secrets, given the notion that only the truth can and will ‘set everyone free’. To live under a cloud, without either acknowledging or opening up and confronting the secrets, is to render much of what goes on there as a form of play acting.

The church, too, has its own “secrets”…like the many kangaroo courts that have been summoned, to discipline someone who is challenging the status quo. While it is no secret that the ecclesial body has adopted both the administrative hierarchical top-down structure of organization and the deployment of power, such a structure puts the few at the top, including the top honcho on a kind of pedestal, a target really, for the critics to focus their attacks. And having declared itself the “keeper of the morality” of the culture, (either officially or unconsciously) the church has embraced the notion of defining sin, and then taken to manufacturing both inadequate processes and even more suspect decisions as ‘punishment’ or exclusion as its way of living out a theology of “forgiveness”.

So, within the structure of that culture, it has felt obliged to place a veil, or perhaps a reredos, on the vaults of its many secrets. Pursuing a culture in which it expects people to place ultimate confidence and trust, as does the military, the medical profession, the legal profession, as well as most governments and bureaucracies, only enhances the potential for accumulating secrets, which in themselves, might not be all that serious, nevertheless places those in charge in a position of having to choose between looking the other way, or taking action that is “decisive” and “strong”. Overlooking, or preferring to ignore the basic truth of nature that both change and imperfection are “baked into the cake” of everything human, we have entrapped leadership, as well as our perception of what passes for acceptable and trustworthy and integrous, in a vice so narrow and so inflexible, as to seriously impair the effective, open and honest dynamic of civility, mutual respect and the potential of readily accessible reformation.

Capital punishment, for example, is demonstrated not to provide a deterrent for others, and yet, in our unbridled and voracious appetite for revenge, some 38 American states have re-instituted it in the last decade. Similarly, “war” on opiods, or illicit street drugs, manifests a wanton disregard for the conditions in which people are living, that lead them to medicate their inordinate psychic, emotional and even physical pain. It does, however, underly, enhance and reproduce a culture so bound up by its own fear of failure that it falls victim to that very fear, (just another of the many secrets that we refuse to deal with honestly, openly and moderately).

Another secret that we refuse to discuss is our dependence on hard power, as the panacea for protecting us from potential “invasion” by a foreign power. It is a mere shibboleth that no one wins in any military conflict, and yet, the American budget for the Pentagon consumes by far the largest percentage of the national budget, while people starve, live on the streets, or have to choose between needed medications and food or rent. Keeping others in power, under such specious foundations, only exaggerates a culture of both denial and self-sabotage.

The denial of human agency in global warming and climate change, too, is a glaring reality that threatens the survival of the planet and all of us. And while there are voices crying in the wilderness, and voices taking some steps to confront our own dependence on fossil fuel, for example, as one of the more significant contributors to CO2 emissions, we are both slow and reluctant to be honest and open in our public policy to address the danger. Of course, there are arguments, in the short term for the preservation of jobs, incomes and family stability. However, creative approaches to this and many other public issues, tend to struggle under the weight of opposition from those seeking to preserve their personal, and their temporary and fleeting grasp of the brass ring.

Leaders like trump and putin are using the public’s attraction, even obsession, with stories of trite and tawdry human sex and private money “dirt”, as distractions from the truths that such leaders are carving out the very foundations of a healthy society and political culture. They are also depending on our being overwhelmed with the sheer volume and weight of stories that our memories will be drowning in “stuff” and we will either forget or ignore their nefarious obsession with their own power.

Deceit shows itself, and we can hear this story in every coffee shop and bus stop, and waiting room, in how we have participated in and permitted a culture of refusal (denial of) to accept responsibility, linked to the demolition of the notion of shame. To hear someone acknowledge “this is on me” today is so jarring to our ears that we actually wonder if there might be a loose “screw” inside the head of such a person. Employers too cover their obsession with greed and profit in the mascara of crumbs of classical conditioning rewards, while denying they are increasing the workload of every worker, without once bringing those workers into the planning and discussion of the very changes those workers will be expected to carry out.

The notion of corporate team, and the circle organizational model, once considered a healthy way to build a workplace culture of respect has been replaced by a regression return to scientific management enabled by the proliferation of digital technology that can and does measure every piece of work by the nano-second. Obvious such measurement feeds the insatiable appetite for “data” from managers, who then seek ways to wring out more work for less cost from all of the departments in his/her responsibility.

Having secured the virtual etherizing of all labour unions, and the voices of the workers, in a seemingly compulsive and obsessive march toward “entrepreneurship” and the engine the drives the economy, the establishment has gutted pensions, benefits and worker protections and replaced all of the safety net with contract positions that have no security, no benefits and no RESPECT! Even bringing in “interns” with the promise of a glowing “line” in your resume, is another deceit, playing to the exclusive advantage of the power structure. And yet, in order to even glimpse a potential hire in the future, young grads are compelled to play this game of corporate deceit.

Affairs, by the president, are now disregarded  as to whether they are acceptable in the public arena and replaced by the details over silence payments in the public media’s coverage of current events. And even then, those stories are buried in the  obfuscations of the administration’s talking heads, simply because even they have no idea where the truth lies. Such is the drama of deceit that is playing out before our eyes, under the cloud of a mere headline “fake news” attributed to formerly legitimate news outlets.

We are enmeshed in a culture of deceit, the foundations of which are rooted in fear of disclosure, fear of rejection and fear of abandonment shared by every single person. However, it is the people in positions of responsibility who have abrogated the design and delivery of the public messages to their own specific, unique and narcissistic purposes, deceiving even themselves, because there is no way they can or will remember what lies they have previously told, when, where, to whom or with what consequences.

As for me and my own family, I deeply and profoundly regret and am sorry for my own participation in a culture of silence, repression, and fear of rejection. I enabled such a culture to ensnare others in the perception, which easily becomes belief, that the truth would be too “hard” for others to handle. A veneer of “protection” can and does only mask authentic and viable connections between people, and while I was attempting to remove the masks from public figures, I was perpetuating my own mask, at the time, probably mostly unconsciously; now, not so much!

It would do all of us well to spend some time reflecting on the “secrets” we are currently hiding, in fear of disclosure from the very people we love and who love us. And such reflection might well ask questions like, “How am I sabotaging this relationship, and my own person, by burying these often deep and painful truths under a sand hill of silence, distortion or outright denial.

Such deceit, notwithstanding the warnings from some heavyweight thinkers, can and will continue to entrap us and so clip our wings from undergirding our full potential as to deprive us individually, our families and our workplaces and nations of one of the more powerful and under-accessed and under-utilized human resources. And we do not need huge rigs or monumental environmental disasters to mine this energy.

Perhaps, if we all were to find the words, the courage and the sensitivity to express our full truth, those shibboleths about not being able to withstand too much truth would fade into the mists of myth and history. And, perhaps ‘strong men’ could climb down from their vulnerable pedestals, acknowledge their fragility, and permit and enable the free-flow of human creativity, energy and real power to take responsibility for our shared lives.

Now there’s a reformation waiting to be “birthed”!

*I have been confronted directly and personally in private by a now deceased bishop anxious that the people in the church were unable and unwilling to tolerate too much honesty and truth, in conversation about prospective entrance into active ministry. I was so shocked and appalled that decades later, the scene of the conversation remains vivid, coloured, scented and clouded with the appalling self-protective bubble in which he had encased himself and his ecclesial leadership.

Another bishop, attempting to rationalize the approach taken following a church tragedy, applauded the model, spirit and leadership of Winston Churchill, as precisely what was needed, rather than the obvious choice of grief counselling. “Strong men” have embedded their image deeply even into the culture deployed in flawed and futile pastoral care.

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