A few blogs back, this space argued for the break-down of walls of fear that segregate us from others, especially others who are different from us. There are other almost unconscious ‘walls’ or barriers that also entrap us in “roles” and performances, which risk a fusion of “who” we are with “what” we do. Just think for a moment about the “roles” we have all played: wife, mother, father, coach, mentor, student, teacher, lawyer, doctor, accountant, programmer, patient, client, parishioner, customer, sales person, bus driver….and the list of job occupations seems endless…as it grows.
There are job descriptions for workplace assignments; there are oaths and codes of conduct for many professional roles; there are norms and traditions for roles like mother, father, parent; and there are real conflicts that emerge if and when anyone of us steps across some “line” in our approach to our “role” that does not comport with social, politically correct and ethical expectations. Instantly, we become a “problem,” once again relegated to a “role” with protocols for those in charge to implement, mostly to eliminate the problem by sending it off to some form of purgatory, exile, or worse, prison.
In many instances in which ‘deviation’ occurs, for example, in corporations, or public bureaucracies, the ‘legal’ department leaps into “crisis” mode, in an public relations-steroid-driven initiative to reduce the damage resulting from the “extremely bad judgement” that could/would/will likely damage the public “face” of the organization. We are all “wonderful” contributing workers, unless and until we are not. And like the frog in the boiling pot, we very often are unaware of our impending demise, until it is over, and we are “out”.
Investigations, due process, a fair hearing, a full account of the circumstances in which some “act” occurred fall off the official table, in favour of an expeditious, clean, surgical and almost imperceptible political, professional, and even domestic death. Those in power abhor deviance; those in power are so afraid of anything that would bruise their public reputations, and their perfectly clean curriculum vitae, and their driving ambition to rise to an even higher level of power, income and status.
Affairs in marriages, for centuries, have fallen into this trash-can. So too have individuals who have spoken out against their bosses, either privately or publicly, given our contempt for whistle-blowers and the courage such acts demand. Insolence, too, especially in schools, is an offence ‘too far’ given the highly charged and neurotic political stance of school boards and most administrators. Teaching novels that risk public outcries, because of their albeit artistic and sensitive references to anything to with human sexuality, is another of the verboten acts committed by teachers, in towns so myopic and moralistically pure that their hypocrisy betrays them.
And with a culturally eager compliance with anything that smacks of “judgement” (given that social media have permitted everyone to be investigator, prosecutor, juror and judge, without so much as a hint of “finding the facts”) we have in effect turned everyone into a potential “deviant” or “social leper” without the least sense of the long-term impact of our lethal judgements, offered with impunity.
Now that we have fallen into the pit of our own “self-loathing” whereby we ascribe our own worst attributes to others with abandon, we have also reduced our humanity to one of victim or judge, in our simplistic, and contemptuous obsession with “power” and “success”.
We are digitized in eternity, in multiple storage “clouds” around the planet, andi now that we have accommodated the mandated expectations of the efficiencies, and the benefits of technology. And with the technology now linked to a perverted and neurotic sense that “if I am not doing it to him/her he will be doing it to me”….mentality, we are regressing to a state in which poverty, the poverty of expectations, opportunity and altruistic engagements has been swept aside by overt and unrestrained raw ambition.
Whether we are “case” number, in a court room, an operating room, a classroom, a church, or a business account, we are a number, and that number fails utterly to grasp all of the relevant details of who we are, how we live, how we think and whether or not we are worthy of the Judgement Day that a moralistic and blind sense of hubris has come to hand down.
And, not only are we highly exposed and vulnerable to unjust charges, we are also at risk of pouring gorilla glue into the emptying space between our ego and our mask (persona). Our roles have come to define us, and our performance in those roles matters more than what we think, how we feel, what kinds of perceptions of compassion, and criticism seem appropriate.
And we have, it seems, willingly and perhaps even blindly fallen into this trap, eliminating our essence from our personal and professional encounters.
How we arrived at this destination is both complex and historic. We have, for centuries, bent over backwards to bow to the “idol” of objectivity, detachment, and disengagement as our way of “protecting ourselves” and our institutions from falling into what is considered a “trap” of personal subjectivity, including our emotions, our personal observations, our intuition, and our individuality, In sanitizing our environments (both and private) from our personalities, and emphasizing our objective accomplishments, (like meeting sales quotas, like graduating X% of our students, like reducing the number of “deaths” or accidents in any of several spheres, like acquiring X number of clients, or X $ in our investment portfolios, or X degrees) all of these “benchmarks” for accomplishments), and thereby justifying our worthiness, and our social acceptability.
Measuring each person, both overtly and covertly, publicly and even in our self-talk, as “honourable,” “decent,” “upstanding,” “sober,” or “brilliant” or “co-operative” and “compliant” clearly says much more about the person doing the evaluation than about the subject of the evaluation. After all, except for the superficial “tag” we have applied, we barely know anything else about the person, unless and until some “aberrant” behaviour erupts.
Contributing to this demise of character, wholeness and personality, of course, is the depiction of the worker in any workplace as a “cost” a disposable resource like any other “natural resource (like coal, iron, nickel, copper etc.) that is useful in whatever process, whether manufacturing, data processing, selling or distribution, or even educating and any of the many services performed for paying customers. We are numbered by our seniority, by our benefit package, by our identification number, by our retirement package (if we have one), by our patient number, by our case number…..etc.
Simplistic line drawings, reminiscent of a Picasso, represent more than the average person knows about another, even members of a family. The occasional adjective, (messy, vocal, stubborn, feisty, shy, or possibly insecure, or hard to handle) is applied in our early years. In the public arena, such epithets as “you have a lot of potential, _____” quietly literally drive my consciousness “up a wall”. This depiction is damning with faint praise….and merits a rejoinder like, “If you have something to suggest I need to work on, please let me know!”
Arguments like “confidentiality,” or privacy, or it’s none of my business….are frequently deployed as rationalizations for failing to get to know even those who are “close” to us.
So, the walls that separate us from others imitate the walls that separate us from ourselves, our whole persons, known, appreciated, grasped and honoured by those people and situations from which we could reasonably expect such “encirclement”.
And, so long as most of our encounters are expenditures, purchases, or numbers in the data banks of institutions, banks, corporations, universities, hospitals, we all risk a kind of crushing as if we were all undergoing what happens to a pie crust as it is rolled out…a flattening, into an unrecognizable shape, size, form and identity.
Such deformation demeans both sides of this equation, while complying with the efficiency, and objectification and detachment so obviously demanded by hierarchies. And the more we all comply, the more minimalizing will come our way.
This reductionism does not enhance race relations either; if all people are merely numbers, then any minority has two strikes against it: the first as a number, the second as a minority with even less or lower status. Gender equality is not enhanced either, given that numbering fits a masculine stereotype of efficiency, and power over and the march to complete control, something that many women find objectionable.
Whether the banks, insurance companies, or government bureaucracies appreciate this “reduction ad absurdum” (that is the way they would depict this argument) or not, there is a strong argument for ordinary people to rise up and take back our natural value, beyond our “production” or “performance” numbers would indicate.
We often hear statements like, “I have made mistakes, but they do not define me!” Trouble is, everyone who knows about those mistakes has already filed an identity card with that misdemeanour as the filing “code” in their memory. So while the individual works to dig his/her way out from under the “scourge” society too often fixates on the “trouble” from the past.
And the only real difference between the person who acknowledges his/her mis-steps and others is that s/he was caught, or reported or discovered or charged, while millions who committed the same act(s) were not.
Is it not time for such an advanced and developing culture as our’s to re-think how destabilizing we are as we participate in the simplifying reductionistic digitizing of the human being.
As the old proverb holds, “I am a human “being” not a human “doing”….yet there are few situations in which we are regarded as a “being” rather than a function in another’s equation.