Wednesday, October 30, 2019

#19 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (warrior, knight errant #a)

Warrior archetype is the archetype of destruction, yet in full expression “only destroys to make room for something new and fresh and more alive.”
His is an act of creative destruction—he doesn’t tear things down simply for the pleasure of doing so. (from

Knight-errant has broken away from the world of his origin, in order to go off on his own to right wrongs or to test and assert his own chivalric ideals. He is motivated by idealism and goals that are often illusory. (Wikipedia)

Now a little look back at some of the things that might/could/do/ happen, and already have, when these two archetypes are in full flight, even if one is not conscious of their imaginative or psychological or emotional or mythical existence.

I “knew” that bigotry in a so-called Christian homily did not belong and verbally and physically expressed my disgust: first vocally to my parents, and second physically by withdrawing from the religious organization in which I had been baptized. “If you are Roman Catholic, you are going to hell” was the first sign of self-righteous, racist, and religious bigotry, and my body simply recoiled in horror. At sixteen, I was in daily conversation with Roman Catholic classmates, friends, neighbours and even relatives. The codicil to this nefarious homily, from an evangelical fire-and-brimstone Balleymena bigot, included a banning of alcohol, face make-up, dance, movies and cooking meals on Sunday. I did not anticipate, how deep were the commitments of his religious cult until a couple of years later when the last town in Ontario to vote on permitting alcoholic beverages to be served with meals in local hotels and restaurants held a plebescite, and the town veered “left” by 61%. The head of the “yes” campaign happened to be a local lawyer who had already permitted me student access to his practice in summers between undergrad years at university.

And then, following university, apparently premised on observations made in my absence and without my concurrence, a United Church clergy orchestrated an invite for me to take part in a Lenten Study session, the topic of which read:

                                 Is the Christian faith still relevant?

Also, without my foreknowledge or concurrence that Balleymena bigot had vehemently sought and been granted permission to “do” the devotional at the end of the evening, apparently anticipating some conflict from my remarks. I had not returned to his church for the ensuing decade, although I had been married in that church three years prior to the Lenten Study session. On reflection, half a century later, I was quite moderate in my remarks, restraining myself to a question of process rather than content. I argued, based on the absoluteness, and the self-righteousness and the bigotry of the above remarks, that an approach based on the seminar model would and could and even should replace the homily. My belief supported by my attitudes valuing dialogue (now having been schooled in the Socratic method in preparation for a career in secondary school teaching in which I was then engaged) could well have been an affront to the little pip-squeek- evangelist. I did not then, and even today believe or even imagine that I was committing an act of destruction, nor even of professional attack, although I later learned that the “word” on the street had billed the session as a “X versus Y” prize fight. (Substitute your scribe’s name for one of those letters!)

This Lenten Study session, as universal “timing” would have it, was synchronous with a student variety show for which I shared responsibility for co-ordinating along with a student co-ed whom I had known my whole life, along with her family. My own marriage was suffering some of the dryness and bleakness of a kind of fish-bowl-engendered fear, linked perhaps naturally to my then spouse’s anxiety about having children. As I had grown up in the small town, again on reflection, it is not surprising that this co-ed sought my support in her then apparently fractious relationship with her born-again father, a member of the Balleymena band of evangelists. Her idealized infatuation, and my disgruntlement  in my marriage were a social, political “screwdriver” (I was the vodka, the town, the “orange juice”) of an alcoholic drink in that still largely “dry” town, and certainly in that “dry” church.

The born-again father sought the aid of the Balleymena bigot, and together they concocted a scheme that demanded my removal from the teaching staff of the local high school. To observe that there “might” have been a conflict of interest, on the part of the clergy, is, today, and was then, an understatement. The fact that the father was a building contractor with a substantial contract to build a new wing on the high school, of course, would not have given him undue influence in the decision to dismiss, now would it? Without a hearing, without warning, and without legal support or professional advocacy, I was summarily dismissed from the teaching post, hospitalized immediately in the make-shift “psych” ward  (a single cupboard of a room out of sight and reach of the public corridors), prescribed 300 milligrams of Librium to sedate my trauma, and abandoned to the nursing staff, one of whose members literally spent her day shift talking with me for the next week, until I was dispatched to Toronto for “psychiatric” treatment.

Apparently, although I was absolutely unconscious of these truths at the time, my knight errant, and my warrior were a force that, had I been tutored in their combined energy, were to hold sway over much of the next half-century. My “sin” (and sin is a highly charged, even radioactive, concept in evangelical, fundamentalist, religious right theology, both in theory and in praxis) was to have written two notes based on the poetic writings of Coleridge and Shelley to the co-ed. They were and remain the smoking gun that triggered my expulsion! So inflamed was one local physician, another member of the evangelical cult, that, according to my own physician, another Irishman a more moderate, tolerant, compassionate and empathic Anglican, he threatened to have me committed to the hospital for the criminally insane in Penetanguishene. Fortunately, at least from my perspective, my own physician helped in his restraint.

“Situational maladjustment syndrome” was the diagnosis in Toronto, along with another psychotropic prescription, trilafon* (8mgs. repetabs, and Artane, 2 mgs. for muscle relaxation, needed to offset the trilafon). So, now that I have been dismissed, shamed, and nearly committed, (although I was unaware of that prospect until a dozen years later), and my then spouse has been abandoned, likely without a full explanation of the whole situation, I am on a regular regime of pharmaceuticals to which I have no allegiance, and no intention of continuing tocy consume. Transferred to a family physician, I repeatedly requested reductions in the dosage of the trilafon, over the next eighteen years, and each time I reduced the dosage, my then spouse would cry, “You are unbearable; get back on your pills!” I can only guess that anger, frustration and/or irritability on her part, coming on the heels of my own, pushed her to utter those remarks. Nevertheless, “her” dependence, or so it seemed then, and still does today, on “my” prescription, significantly contributed to the demise of our marriage, in my view.

Only when I decided to enter therapy, in order to discuss my intention to leave the marriage, after twenty-three years, and three daughters, did I hear a new psychiatrist declare in my first visit, “Are you on any meds?” When I informed him of the details of the prescription, he almost ordered, “Get off them; you are not sick!” And when I reported his response to my family physician, the one who had been perpetuating those variable dosages for some eighteen years, his only comment was, “Oh yeah, I have been meaning to get you off those for a long time!” How is the Ontario medical system working for you these days? Not only have I never again been prescribed a psychotropic, anti-psychotic nor even an anti-depressant for the last thirty-two years since leaving the marriage and the venue where that family physician practiced. Did I really need it back in 1968? Who really knows? All I know and can say unequivocally, is that that clergy, and his born-again henchmen, both father and physician, were clearly over-stepping both their authority and their legitimacy. And while today, there are some due-process paths in place, I am certainly not convinced that that local “establishment” warrants the kind of power and control, in the name of professional ethics, and were I ever to return to the classroom, I would immediately hire an attorney, on a continuing contractual basis, to protect me and my professional integrity, regardless of the situation in which I might find myself. The teachers’ “federation” (really a professional union) has not convinced me that its spine, together with its legal and ethical teeth would be adequate in a similar situation.

Additionally, the “story” of the clergy’s enmeshment, self-protective as it clearly was, and the contractor’s conflict of interest, should, upon reflection, have been challenged and exposed. And while my warrior and knight-errant were active, my sense of self, including my own faith in my innocence, amid the tumult of the trauma, was under siege. After several weeks away, I was invited to “walk down main street” in that town, by a friend, a Good Samaritan named “Bert”, who insisted on accompanying me, to show the town that I was not the “rapist” who had been charged in a nearby town. Fortunately, I was also taken on, likely as another act of compassion and charity, by the local private school where I taught for the balance of that semester, and the summer session, before moving on to another city and teaching position. (I still retained my licence!)

And then, the shark-head of a marriage replete with unresolved issues, not merely of communication, but of much more substantive issues, kept raising its head. Refusing to participate in a social life, refusing to engage in conversation about anything substantive, while characterizing me as “an embarrassment who does not know how to talk to people and who does not know how to engage in small talk,” (both of which were, I later learned, projections of her own fears and social inadequacy) only echoed decades of similar judgements, “You are just like your father; he is no good and you are no good either, and you never will be any good!” from my mother.

Consistently re-doing the vacuuming on the living room carpet, while I had already completely, so I thought, because it was not done properly, and persistently cracking my knuckles whenever I missed a note while practising the piano, and intermittently, over nearly two decades, exploding in anger and withdrawing from the family, my mother, in today’s parlance, “was a piece of work.” Never being diagnosed with a “problem” she nevertheless left an indelible imprint on at least one classmate with whom I played piano duets. Just last month, after sixty years of no contact, she reminded me of how my mother could be heard “on one of her explosions across the neighbourhood. She certainly intimidated me; one day she even hugged me, surprisingly, because she never did that!”

Exploring the relationship between one’s family of origin and one’s marriage is analogous to trying to discern the complexities of an individual psyche. Both exercises, adventures, journeys and trials are fraught with the peril of uncertainty. The roots of multiple parents, grandparents, siblings, family histories, cultures, religions and faiths, occupations and the appropriate training for them, not even to mention genetic heredity, global influences, economic and social conditioning, political affiliations, all have their legitimate part to play. Our many tactics and strategies to comprehend, compare, integrate, theorize, diagnose and extrapolate, both technological and theoretical, offer merely a glimpse, although each breakthrough promises an heroic revelation, so we think and believe. While we walk on the shoulders of Freud, Jung, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Frankl, Hillman, Horney, More, Piaget, Pavlov, Adler, Rorschach, Laing among others, we are nevertheless, still on the frontier of discovery, similar to that of space.

And, twenty-first century men, especially, are hearing words echo in their conversations, bandied about as if they were agreed “clinical diagnoses” of various mental illnesses, like bi-polar, and using them in professional references, completely outside of their professional sphere of competence and training, while millions of “pills” for which clinical trials have not been adequately undertaken or completed, proliferate, many of them leaving tragic traces of their malignant power. We have more people in therapy, and, as James Hillman reminds us, we are more “ill” and unhappy than ever before. And he wrote those cautions long before trump and the culture of hate, violence and social media, all agents of even more social and cultural dislocation, dismemberment and discomfort as well as actual danger.

We are collectively and individual “mixing our diagnoses” as if we were mixing our drinks at a party. We are sticking labels onto each other, based on what?...a vacuous and hollow appreciation and apprehension of the dangerous, insidious and defaming culture in which we breath, eat, sleep and work. The church has lost any spine and tongue to articulate the important relationship between and differences between psychology and faith. Like the political class, the church and its leaders have become beholden to the mostly men who write the cheques, pass the motions, serve the wine and the wafers, and preach the political dogma of whatever ideology that holds sway in a particular location. Based heavily on a corporate mentality, itself based on a military and masculine infused ethos and benchmarks, reinforced by a variety of classical conditioning initiatives, men participate, if they/we are not solely responsible for, in a culture that dehumanizes each of us. And whether our participation is conscious, or more dangerously unconscious, we need to pay close attention to the details of our origins, the holes in our learning and the blind spots in our perception. Those efforts will not a Valhalla make; however, they might just offer a balance of energy to the highly motivated, and politically calculated social streams that support women and their legitimate pursuit of equity, equality and respect and dignity. If we are lacking in our own self-respect, individually and/or collectively, we are failing ourselves, our families and especially our partners.

*trilafon is the marketing name of perphenazine, roughly ten times as potent as chlorpromazine, and considered a medium-potency antipsychotic. Aphasia, uncontrolled muscle movements in the face is one of the side effects. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write.

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