Humanism has been deemed a point of view that celebrates the goodness and worth of the human being, without a belief in a god or gods or the supernatural. In the renaissance, humanism was considered a shift away from the medieval scholasticism that was based on Aristotelian log and the writings of the church fathers, including dogma and tradition.
Sociology posits a science of society including social institutions and social relationships.
History purports to be the study of past events connected with persons.
Psychology purports to be the study of the human mind and its functions and impacts on human behaviour.
Whenever and whatever we read, we cross paths with other minds, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, philosophies and perceptions. Whether we are coming from (or reading) a perspective that emphasizes a view that “history makes the person,” or the reverse, “humans drive events”, or the Shakespearean view that “character is destiny,” we are enjoined in an enterprise that attempts, however imperfectly, to integrate a human being (or beings) into a set of circumstances, a context. And the relationship between individual and context prompts the cliché, “nature or nurture” as foundational of the pursuit of at least one explication of the meaning of the “story”.
As the behaviour of human beings evolves, including the multiple attempts to “capture” both the facts and their import, we each invite the various “pictures,” “accounts,” “stories” and “significance” into our range of view, reflection and potential evaluation. Sometimes, a single event/picture becomes a defining moment of a series of facts/events seemingly in real time. Public consciousness, public opinion, is predictably a subsequent to a developing story of similar events, and reflection upon immediate events (e.g. journalism, the first draft of history) often foreshadows historic evaluations. Other times, the immediate account is proven to be so far “off” from the final assessment of the person/event, given a half century or more of critical thought, disciplined research and the development of things like a treatise and/or a doctoral dissertation.
In our individual bio’s, we encounter various persons in different roles, each of them imprinting their “image” (personality, style, attitude, trustworthiness, intellect, sociability, success, likeability, and memorability). These implied signposts and mentoring images, both positive and negative, seem to leave a mark in our memories, and also, even if less consciously, into our own resistance and/or easy imitation. People whose “person” garnered our respect, our trust and our reverence inevitably shape our attitudes, values and philosophic bent. Conversely, those whose attitudes, actions, words and “persons” turned us off also contributed inevitably and incontrovertibly to our own attitudes. Far beyond the simple factor of performing a skill at a very high level of proficiency, the manner in which their skills are performed also speaks to our assessment of their value, worth, and worthiness as models to emulate.
A reputed ‘star’ in any field is examined by a biographer, for example, exposing a dark side of attitudes, behaviours, beliefs that taken together warrant a kind of rejection of at least the seemingly perfect “image” the uninquiring public is offered. Similarly, and conversely, a biographer of a social outcast uncovers layers of evidence of previously unknown motives, hidden fears, and circumstances that leaned and wounded the best intentions of the person being documented. Similarly, with events painted with the brushes of immediacy find their place in a revised history that illustrates a more contextual and more reliable and more nuanced reputation, along with the actors in those events.
Each of us, as both actor and reviewer, of both our own lives and the lives and events of our times, places and times, enter into the exploration of each situation, and hopefully, each “character assessment” with a view that accepts its limitations, its biases, and its dangers. Nevertheless, given our direct experiences, we gravitate easily to those people, words, ideas, attitudes and actions that conform with our own view of how the world could be, and we shy away from the words, actions, attitudes and persons of those whom we find less easily acceptable and tolerable. It is not an accident that people can be judged by the company they keep, or by the company they do not keep.
We are, each of us, a compendium and a vortex of “attitudinal breezes, gusts, hurricanes and stillnesses” that find a place in our memories, in our beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of the world around us. Today’s stories, at the water coolers, on the television screens, on our cell phones, and in all of the physical, emotional, intellectual and philosophic encounters merge like the injection of salt, yeast, baking powder or mere water into the bowls of ingredients already waiting for the needle of immediacy.
Over time, the repeated drum beat of the rhythm of each of our daily “events” with our previously recorded track(s) of experiences, discloses patterns themselves now more influential for their repetitions, than one-off’s.
In the life of this scribe, for example, teachers, almost exclusively, occupy a place of respect, honour and often even reverence in the lexicon of my own biography. (See multiple references in this space to their names and impact.) Similarly, most of the individuals for whom I worked, beginning with a first ‘boss’ at the Dominion store are measured against the honour and respect in which I hold “Milo.” Doctors and nurses, lawyers, accountants, and even surprisingly most real estate agents too, hold a place of esteem, trust and honour in my experiential savings deposit box. Classmates, at elementary, high and undergraduate schools, too, are remembered with fondness, admiration, and often even humour, with only rare, if pronounced, exceptions. Co-workers, on the other hand, rarely find a place of deep respect, honour and trustworthiness in my view.
And that leads to the exceptions to the favourable view of many of the groups listed above. They are, almost without exception, darker, more visible, more remembered and disparaged, and certainly far less trusted than are the large majority in each of the categories.
As a septuagenarian male, I have witnessed not merely an evolution of the relationships between men and women, but a veritable and demonstrable revolution in those relationships. While I looked up to many men in my younger years, I also related to women as teachers, (my piano teacher, choir leader, neighbours and family friends) in what I thought then, and still consider an easy friendliness. Coldness, nevertheless, began to emerge early from a few females whose paths crossed mine: the grade four teacher, (H. Swain) who gave me the strap for a friendly “hi” poke on the shoulder to a neighbourhood friend, a history teacher (I. Marshall) who expected memorized recitations of history texts copy, in a classroom dominated by her excessive need to control everything and everyone.* Unable to explain the austere manner/attitude as an expression of insecurity, I did what most kids did, I withdrew from any potential affinity, or authentic appreciation of the other traits of such women, as a method of self-protection.
Similarly, my sister and I experienced a boat-load of physical and emotional abuse from our mother, along with a quiet, deep, authentic, warm acceptance and respect from our dad. Undoubtedly, this imbalanced parenting duet cast a wide and deep shadow over both of our perceptions of how the world works. His silent complicity in the dynamics of our family home, however, carried a different theme of perceived impotence that I have attributed to many other males of my acquaintance. Again, both parents likely behaved out of their own unconscious fears, anxieties and highest aspirations, without being able (or perhaps willing) to articulate them even to themselves or definitely to each other.
Silence, especially as it applied to the prospect of getting along in a community in which every person knew far too much about every other person in the town, was a recipe for success. Attach to that silence (secrecy, would be the preferred word for me today), an occasional skill, proficiency, and public performance of that proficiency, whether it was athletic, artistic, professional or even at that time political, provided the meagre few tepid colours in a paint-by-number rendition of a personal reputation, for most people. In fact, learning to keep secrets, as a defining behaviour within the family, and certainly throughout the town, has informed too much of the time and energy of too many lives, in too many small towns in Ontario. Family honour, especially, depended on the dutiful observance of the keeping of secrets, regardless of the specific nature of the secrets being kept. They could have been about alcohol dependence, an unwanted pregnancy, a business failure, a suicide, or even a divorce and elopement.
Surely, as one ages, and hopefully matures, one wants to shed the habit of “enforced secrecy” as a pattern of behaviour that did not work in the past, and likely will not work in all cases now, or in the future. Learning new surveyed bearings for human relationships, clearly, is one of the more significant growth spurts for many undergraduates, and grads.
Unfortunately, taking responsibility for new learning curves in “personal disclosure” is different in degree and in kind from the continuing flow of experiences with others, both men and women over which river one has very limited option to influence.
As history has continued to flow, documenting the sociology, and the politics of gender relationships, like most, I have followed these chapters of twentieth-century and now twenty-first century history with interest. David Gurian’s books, The Wonder of Boys, A Fine Young Man, and Dr. Ferrell’s Liberated Male, along with other works like Raising Cain, and more recently the rise of the Canadian Association for Equality (for men and families) and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules have taken individually and collectively, imprinted their important and somewhat late perceptions about the potential worth, value, honour and decency of men in an era in which loud noises are being uttered and heard about the victimization of too many women, almost exclusively at the hands of men.
As I watch this evolving series of films play out, with prominent men being black-balled by their employers, (and not incidentally by many of their friends), with hordes of young women being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, spurred on by one of the most misogynistic male agents history will ever record, I am conflicted about how to move forward in any attempt to bring about a different cultural moment of acceptance, openness, vulnerability, and equality and respect between men and women.
Not all women are frightened, insecure, anal and driven to destroy all men. And certainly not all men merit the moniker of abuser, jerk, worthless and ineffectual. In fact, the stereotypes that capture the worst projections of both men and women, (and we have all participated in using them) dig trenches so deep in our culture, they remind one of the first world war. The search for a “Christmas Eve” moment, when both men and women can and will easily, voluntarily and creatively join a mixed chorus of carols, seems so idealistic as to be ephemeral.
On the other hand, each man and woman who can see both the pain that has been inflicted by both genders (as groups), on the other, and by each of us individually, as well as the potential for a new and different kind of honesty, openness, courage, confidence and respect, for ourselves and for the other gender can give whatever energy, poetry, observations and even recommendations for a new way of being male and female.
Men and women, obviously, need and care for each other, in millions of open, voluntary, shared and equal relationships, inside marriage, friendships, professional relationships and even families. However, the rifts that continue to be exploited, beyond the pursuit of legitimate justice, contaminate the potential for the kind of entente history purportedly aspires to.
There is no need to silence legitimate complaints of injustice, insult, abuse or even defamation coming from either men or women, to the opposite gender. There is also no justification in perpetuating vicious and demeaning stereotypes of femininity or of masculinity uttered, written, and inferred by either gender.
Both the nuanced, highly sophisticated and measured preference of most women, compared to the more bullish, spontaneous and seemingly immature expression of many men have to be acknowledged, loved and respected, without losing sight of one’s own self-respect, value and honour. Similarly, the attention to detail and the dust-balls in the corners of all the dining rooms is just as important as the relative importance of the oil job on the family car. The books and movies of each respective gender, the athletics and observations of each gender, as well as the beliefs and the travel preferences of each have equal merit.
Can we find it in our male and female natures to own our own respective strengths, and more significantly our fears, in an open, frank and respectful dialogue.
History has set the table, and awaits our sharing the delights of this complex, and challenging candle-light, ocean-side, moon-light dinner conversation!