Tuesday, March 31, 2020

#64, Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Is God perhaps speaking to humanity, not just individuals?)

There has been considerable work dedicated to theme of “redeeming masculinities” over the last few decades, including a ground-breaking work edited by Stephen B. Boyd and W. Merle Longwood and Mark Muesse, Redeeming Men, Religion and Masculinities, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 1996).
It is from this text that I wish to borrow, all these twenty-four years later:

Patriarchy is set up and run not for men as a gender or for masculinity in its fullness or in its mature expressions but rather by men who are fundamentally immature. It is really the rule of boys, often cruel and abusive boys. For the most part, we believe that human societies have always consisted of boys and girls more or less unconsciously acting out their immature and grandiose fantasies. Our  planetary home more of than not has resembled the island world in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Thus our societies have, on the whole opposed the realization and expression of both mature feminine and masculine psyches. We feel it is wrong to view patriarchy as the expression of mature masculinity or of masculinity in its essence. Patriarchal societies are out of balance partly because at their helm are unbalanced men. And while we abhor the often horrific abuses of patriarchal systems, we also remember that males helped generate, from earlier urban neolithic cultures, all the higher civilizations we know from recorded history. (Robert Moore and Douglass Gillette, Initiation and the Male Spiritual Quest, in Redeeming Men, Religion and Masculinities, op cit. p. 188)

Let’s begin to unpack this passage:

“Immature masculinity”…”cruel and abusive boys,”…“immature and grandiose fantasies”… “unbalanced men”……
For several pages, in this space, we have been exploring how men sabotage ourselves, demonstrate a level of emotional illiteracy, often find ourselves reduced (primarily by women) to only two principle emotions, anger and sadness, resort to violence and/or passive aggression when confronted, fail to negotiate health relationships, fall into “teams/gangs/groups” in which loyalty to the “team” often tilts into blind ambition, obsequiousness, gratuitous ‘brown-nosing’ and compromise of both truth and courage.

We have noted how history, religion, philosophy, science, medicine, law and commerce are all based on ideas, principles, concepts, beliefs and codes that emerged from the mouth/axe/knife/quill/pen/mind/worship of men. So dominant has the masculine heavy hand been that for centuries, women were literally forbidden from publishing, voting, learning, and all levels of community leadership. Whether or not these men were “immature,” we can likely agree that for centuries, they seem to have been operating with limited empirical information while still expressing the highest of their imaginative visions, aspirations, and beliefs. Perhaps we might speculate that “protecting” the mothers of their children from the potential ravages of enemy attacks could have helped to shape some of their thoughts, habits and conventions. We might also speculate that hunting, warring, exploring and building (literally) were more congruent with male attributes. The compliance of women in such systems naturally varied depending on the nuances of any culture, but we have all heard and read stories about how women “took it for granted,” that they were “supportive” to their men.

There is, however, likely very little disputing the competitive, even aggressive tendencies that are hard-wired into the male psyche.  Some of this unbridled energy found expression in battles of empires, for pride, honour, and legacy of the most ambitious among the men. Some of this male energy wreaked havoc in vengeance and jealousy over a prospective or current female partner. Other expressions of male energy found their way into the assumption of power over others including children, labourers, competitors, neighbouring tribes, especially in instances when fear drove the male ego.

Were all abusive deployments of masculine power “immature”?
Were all wars the result of immature men pursuing “immature and grandiose fantasies”?
Were all attacks on other men to protect/ward off enemy captors undertaken by immature men?
Were the expressions of profound awe/fear/wonderment/insecurity in the face of “gods, God, Allah, Jehovah,” merely expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the myths of creation, the lists of kings and kingdoms, the loving relationships and the hymns and songs of love expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the soaring pieces of rhetoric delivered in the Roman Senate merely expressions of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were the Greek tragedies, the Shakespearean tragedies, histories and comedies the work of immature men pursuing grandiose fantasies?
Were there large blind spots in the peripheral/immediate screen of vision among those planting the seeds of our foundational philosophies, religions, mythologies, agricultural discoveries, transportation engineering accomplishments like aqua ducts? Of course, but that hardly renders their conceptions and their delivery and executions those of immature men.

Let’s look more closely at the island from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies where a choir of young boys has survived a plane crash, attempted to build a community using the shell, the vegetation and the various ‘skills and talents’ of each boy, only to be rescued eventually and ironically by a warship looming offshore. Certainly, throughout human history, military conflict, natural disaster, plagues, draughts, floods, fires and starvation have been among the more endurable and predictable menus/diets/narratives of human evolution. In the most direct causative manner, men have perpetrated war, while we have also been the target/victim of many of the other human ravages. Not all, however, are without human influence. Golding’s view that “man” is destined to and forever embedded in violence, is fundamentally at issue, both in his work, and in the assumptions of both Moore and Gillette.

Why are men, historically far more than women, dependent on violence? Rather than immaturity, an attribution that insults, that demeans and that raises the ire and the hair on the neck and back of men, perhaps we might see our dependence on violence as a weakness, an insecurity, a fear and a blindness to our own better angels. We think we must be strong; we are told, instructed, and modelled strong behaviour. We imitate heroes who have exemplified strength, including violent expressions of strength. We also hear, see and resist masculinities that seem “weak, feminine, collaborative, collegial and negotiable. Masculinity, in many instances, has been too narrowly defined, not incidentally by men, as the expression of the warrior, the heroic warrior who engages in battle to win his trophy, whether that trophy be the surrender of an enemy, or the marriage of a bride. And while strength, physical at least, is one of the biological traits of men, it is certainly not our only feature, and not necessarily our most appropriate feature, depending on the situation.
Here, perhaps, in the tolerance, complicity and transmission of rugged, warrior-masculinity by both men and women, lies one of the most obvious intersections of the observations of Moore and Gillette with those here. However, is that convergence, complicity and transmission based on a level of immaturity of men and women?
Women, traditionally, have served as the ‘grease’ in the gears of the family; they keep it running when nothing else either can or will. Amid the tempests, the diphtherias, the small poxes, the draughts and the bankruptcies, our women have held our male hands, shed their tears, even screamed their venom. Nevertheless, they have stabilized many domestic ‘ships’ from floundering on rocky cliffs, shoals and torrential winds. Was that too immaturity? Was their intimate compliance with their masculine partners, including their strength and endurance, evidence of immaturity? Hardly.

Words like unbalanced, immature, neurotic, even psychotic (although the last two do not appear in the quote) tend to emerge from a framework of evangelical conversion, one of the principal frames of a sector of Christian thought and praxis. One of the principles behind the conversion is that man is inherently evil, and in desperate need of forgiveness. The events of Holy Week, the Crucifixion and Resurrection are theologically framed as the ‘answer’ to human evil, disobedience and human willfulness. “Christ died for my sins!” and my redemption issues from a complete and total, unsullied acceptance of that truth….these are the cornerstones of the Easter message as propagated for centuries. Even the title of the work quoted embeds the words “redeeming men.” However, there are other ways to examine the convergence of male immaturity, unbalance and in need of redemption.

The essence of how evil is portrayed lies at the centre of this dilemma. Are men evil when we behave in an immature manner? Are we unbalanced when we act out our frustrations? Would these behaviours evaporate through a complete acceptance of and belief in the redeeming quality of the Cross and Resurrection? Doubtful.
What seems like a more effective, reasonable and transformative framing seems to emerge from a shared, cultural shift in priorities, in order to transform western culture. Given that the foundations, and the instruments of both archiving and propagating cultural norms have been primarily in the hands. minds, hearts of men for centuries, it would seem only reasonable to envision a significant yet gradual, enlightening consciousness that we men have fallen into “fitting” into a role, and a set of expectations that neither conform with our natural character, nor do they serve the best interests of our families, our schools, our communities and our planet.
Some obvious examples:

Collapsing time into a mere game measured by the tickers on stock exchanges, or the white flag of military victory, or the promotion to the executive suite, or the Super Bowl victory, or even the Oval Office, is one guaranteed way to ensure that millions of others will have to be left in the ditches of our ambition. And our radically focused pursuit of personal goals, at the expense of family, community and global needs elevates the individual far above the common good. Paradoxically, much of Christian thought says that God speaks directly only to individuals, and not groups, while elevating the prophetic and even the mystical words, meditations, visions and prophecies of the mystics and the saints, there is no reason that such reverence for mysticism needs to exclude God’s ‘speaking’ to groups.

If for example, we could agree that at the centre of our own identity lies a kernel of conviction in the value of all life, as a gift from a deity, beyond our cognition and beyond our scientific consciousness, then our deviation from that ‘north star’ in the sky of the universe, is easily seen to be self-sabotage. (Please do not reduce this to advocacy for the Right to Life movement!) If is, by its very existence, worthy of preservation, then our own life cannot be reduced to the pursuit of personal or corporate profit at the expense of the abundant life of the universe. Surely, we are not so cognitively nor psychologically nor spiritually constricted as to fall into Darwin’s survival of the fittest, the norm in the wild, as the model for human’s to follow. Just because the fox slithers the rodent from his hole to survive, that does not mean, or imply, that such a model, human versus human, is in our interest. And it is not merely a matter of logic. It is a matter of commitment to the imaginative, creative capacity of humans to share, to care to our brothers and sisters, to (oh no, here comes that defamed word!) “love” one another.

And once again, shared, mutual and reciprocal love, while clearly not restricted to humans, (animals and birds do exhibit monogamy and life-long commitment) demonstrates our ‘best angels’ and such an ideal will not be achieved through any religious “rules” or the punishments that some impose. In fact, here is another abuse of the ethic of shared power. It is not for a church, or especially a hierarchy of churchmen to use what can only be a limited human conception of the abundance and universality of the love of God, (or the mind, or the heart, or the parenting). Anthropocentric depictions of God, however, easily grasped, can only be reductions of any deity worthy of the name. So, attempting to “please” a God who is to be feared, (another mistranslation of the original “awe”) have theologians imposed a kind of neurosis even psychosis, should humans not comply with their version of the will of God.

The pursuit of personal, and by extension, organizational power, in the name of God, is another of the reasons why the human spirit has been and continues to be so constricted by religious teachings and practice. Gate-keepers, pompous figure-heads, little Lord Fauntelroy’s, both men and women now, abound in ecclesial culture. And their “parishioners” in far too many cases, fawn over them. Some even worship as a way to arrange their heavenly reward, so deeply and intimately embedded are the many parent-child directives of the church.

Is it merely masculine immaturity, and unbalance that allocates such power into the hands of a few? Is it a deeply embedded need to create a metaphysic and a structure of “security” about a relationship between man and God, that could potentially explode the ‘roof’ of human cognition, human caring, human creativity, and human hope.
Tithing, that loathsome one-tenth, is another of the human impositions of “value” on spirituality, framed as a legitimate need to pay the heat, repair the windows, pay the salaries, and grow the investment portfolio. And while kindness, generosity, compassion and sharing are deeply and intimately included in all expressions of human spirituality that gives and sustains life, in all of its complexities, monuments of human architecture, while beautiful and inspiring, are neither the purpose nor the means of discipleship. In fact, it is our human dependence on the immediacy of our senses, and our need for such a degree of control in our lives that shapes much of our traditional theology.

Could we but take off the false humility, and the crass commercialism, and the opportunistic sycophancy, as well as the hollow religious piety, and the unnatural totem of the images of power and success that impale much of western culture, as men (and women) we might begin to see further than the ends of our noses, further than the stock ticker, and further into the life of things that so inspired poets like Wordsworth.
Se have reduced ourselves to slaves to our own scarcity, when our abundance cries out for reverence, respect, compassion and an ethic of sustainability. Currently, the planet, and all humans living on it are endangered by a pandemic virus, unleashed by a combination of factors of greed, narcissism and hubris. And those “drivers” are neither being confronted by our panic to save lives, nor are they being serious considered by men and women whose power to bring them to the light of day is also constricted by the immediate and tragic panic.

It is not merely that we are not prepared to fight this latest threat to human lives. It is much more that we will return to our myopic, even blind hubris, greed, narcissism and zero-sum framing of our circumstances, just as the right-wing tyrants like Hungary’s Viktor Orban is already doing today. The European Union is under threat for similar isolated nationalistic interests. Americans are competing with each other for absolutely critical medical equipment, as if the infection wears the colours of competing political parties. Our public officials, (with exceptional comparisons, like Cuomo) are too much interested in their own political success, while human lives are bagged and loaded into refrigerated tractor trailers, because of their negligence, narcissism and potentially fear.

Seeing ourselves differently, as equal sharing participants in the bounty that is planet earth, rather than as warriors seeking to eliminate our human enemy, especially at a time when all humans face a common, invisible and unpredictable, invisible and nefarious enemy, seems ludicrous, even insane. And if now is not a time to come to our senses, then when will that time be, if ever?

And, looking for the voice of God in this deepening crisis, we might consider opening our shared, equal, and receptive ear of all humanity to hearing that voice, should we wish to shift our thinking, our attitudes, and our beliefs.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

#63 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (ferreting hidden backstories)

Some things that perplex, annoy and frighten us are visible, audible and provable, especially if we can find witnesses. Others are kept out of sight, and thereby out of mind. Much of our world is flooded with empirical evidence, available to the senses of both the originator and the recipient. It can be interpreted as “fact” (if we are so disposed) and shared in different communities.

Other “things” remain out of reach of our “senses” and thereby render themselves, especially by those who chose to live in a world of miasmic, ephemeral and unprovable occurences, at least from the perspective of the available organs of collection, collation and dissemination, news, academic journals, legal transcripts, and accounting/banking documents.

Back, way back in college, I found an insightful piece about Ernest Hemingway in Playboy and quoted it in an essay on the writer, as an assignment in English 20. Today, I borrow from another piece in Playboy, excerpted by Globe and Mail columnist Sarah Kendzior, cohost of the podcast Gaslit Nation and author of the coming book, hiding in Plain Sight, in today’s edition.

‘Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die,’ Donald Trump, then a real estate tycoon bound for bankruptcy, told Playboy magazine in 1990. ‘You know, it is all a rather sad situation.’
“Life?’ the interviewer asked. ‘Or death?’
‘Both. We’re her and we live our 60, 70, por 80 years and we’re gone. You win, you win and in the end, its doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. But iti is something to do—to keep you interested.’
Ms Kendzior then intervenes:

For his entire life Mr. Trump has been a self-described fatalist. He has called himself a fatalist in interviews spanning nearly 30 years. This admission sis a rare
expression of consistent honesty for a man infamous for lying about everything –his fortune, his criminal ties, objective reality. It’s the outlook he hints at when jhe does things such as retweeting a meme of himself fiddling like Nero, while the novel coronavirus spreads across the United States.
Nothing seems to matter to Mr. Trump—not only in the sense that things that matter to other people, like love and loss, do not matter to him. Nothingness itself matters: Destruction and annihilation are what he craves. ‘When bad times come, then I’ll get whatever I want,’ he told Barbara Walters in a 1980’s interview. His initial reaction to 9/11 was that the collapse of the World Trade Center made his own buildings look taller., His initial reaction to the 2008 economic collapse was joy at his potential to profit. Everything to Mr. Trump is transactional, and you, all of you—are the transaction.
In February 2014, when asked about the direction of the United States, Mr. Trump rooted for its demise.
‘You know what solves it?’ Mr. Trump told Fox News. ‘When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a (laughs), you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.’
Kendzior again: 

Everything Mr. Trump has done since taking office has served to fulfill this goal, from appointing Steve Bannon, who also called for the collapse of the government, as an adviser; to gutting departments that protect national security and public health; to his disdain for slain soldiers and their widows, to his horrific handling of natural disasters such as Hurricane Maria.
For months, Mr. Trump has done little to stop the coronavirus from spreading throughout the U.S, creating a death toll that grows rapidly every day. As citizens self-isolate, he refuses to supply federal funds to states for the much needed medical equipment, such as masks or ventilators…..
What makes Mr. Trump particularly dangerous is that he is not acting alone. He is backed by the Republican Party, which translates his natural apathy to suffering in to malicious policies. Mr. Trump is surrounded by brutal  plutocrats such as Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross, who, like Mr. Trump, are proteges of the infamous corporate raider and former White House adviser Carl Icahn, who set the standard of destroying companies for profit.
Mr. Trump is also flanked by a number of religious extremists, such as William Barr, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, who use biblical imagery to cloak their brutal goals. The overall effect is a group that will sacrifice human lives to lift the stock market. Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas stated that grandparents should die for the U.S. economy. In that mentality, the U.S. exists to be raided and razed, its citizens disposable and inconvenient….
Maybe it is because the world finally exists as it has in his fantasies: Everything is collapsing, yet he remains untouchable. No GOP member has denounced Mr. Trump, just as they refused to impeach him; because Mr. Trump is still in office, public officials are struggling to contain the virus.
Mr. Trump is untouchable in a world where human touch literally kills. If the U.S> is to survive the pandemic, we need more than medical intervention. WE need to get rid of the host.

Bravo Ms Kendzior…

And then there is this, as if to demonstrate the prophetic nature of Ms Kenbdzior’s piece:

From Reuters, By Marisa Taylor, in the Globe and Mail, March 25, 2020:
The Trump administration cut staff by more than two-thirds at a key U.S. public health agency operating inside China, as part of a larger rollback of U.S.-funded health and science experts on the ground there leading up to the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters has learned….

The CDC’s China head count has shrunk to around 14 staffers, down from approximately 47 people since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the documents show. The four people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the losses included epidemiologists and other health professionals….
Reductions at the U.S. agencies sidelines health experts, scientists and other professionals who might have been able to help China mount an earlier response to the novel coronavirus, as well as provide the U.S. government with more information about what was coming, according to the people who spoke with Reuters. The Trump administration in February chastised China forf censoring information about the outbreak and for keeping U.S. experts from entering the country to assist.

Not only is the “host” (using Ms Kendzior’s word for trump) despicably detached and autonomic about the current pandemic, he is apparently so lobotomized as to be able to shrug as if it were occurring in a manner of his prediction, and also of his indirect engineering and potential profit/winning.

Covering up malignant behaviour is only the surface aspect of the issue. Deeply embedded and endemic to the trump administration’s guiding approach is the destruction of everything the U.S. holds in honour, and now also the people whose lives are threatened.

And, just as from the impeachment trial, narrow and rifle-focussed and ineffective as it was, trump will walk away unscathed and even emboldened, as the American people suffer what is turning out to be the worse health/economic crisis of at least a century. And, right in the middle of its nefarious grip on millions, around the world, stands and trumpets “no responsibility” even for his direct impact in the insurgency.
Troubling masculine behaviour is only a tepid way to characterize this tragedy. Troubling and then covering up, scape-goating, and even gloating as thousands die is comparable to Joseph Goebbels.

 In 2016  the film, A German Life, portrays the life of Goebbels secretary, Brunhilde Pomsel. In an interview at the time of the film’s release, Pomsel is quoted in The Guardian, ( Joseph Geobbels; 105-year-old secretary: ‘No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’ by Kate Connolly, August 15, 2016)…These are Pomel’s words from the Guardian:

Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis - I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have. (After the rise of the Nazi party, ‘the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell’ she insists. ‘I: could open myself up to the accusations that I wasn’t interested in politics but the truth is, the idealism of youth might easily have led to you having your neck broken.’

This is not to insinuate or imply that trump is doing what Geobbels did. What is at issue is the degree of scepticism, even cynicism and outright defiance (or lack) of a president whose attitudes, beliefs, actions and deceptions defy both integrity and credibility.

Referring all policy and public announcements to his forthcoming election, which trump declares the Democrats are determined to undermine by using COVID-19, is nothing more nor less than radioactive narcissism. And its radioactivity, like the lethal virus, cannot be contained, neutralized, or repressed, as it spreads its ugly ego across the globe and into our homes and lives.

Are we all not as frightened of those things we cannot and do not see, as we clearly are of those things we can see?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

#62 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (speaking our truth)

There are times when an incisive nugget of wisdom goes a long way to helping sort out rejection, alienation and disappointment.

Dr. Seuss: Be who you are and say how you feel because those who mind don’t matter. And those who matter don’t mind. You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. A person’s a person, no matter how small.

When both political correctness and social and cultural cohesion are both constricting imagination, and elevating “process” to the top of the totem pole in too many conversations, there is a real danger that we will fall on our own swords, victims of our own clinging to something we like to call perfection, really just a kind of snobbery and elitism that one can witness and certainly smell in polite company.

I have read dozens of pages of “do’s and don’t’s” in an offer for a position that simply provoked an immediate rejection of the offer. Those preparing  and offering immediately responded by declaring that they had sent the ‘wrong’ draft of the proposal. It didn’t matter; to associate with, and to comply with and to agree to serve under conditions that first insulted the candidate, second, covered the ass of every person on the ‘board’ of that agency, and third tied anyone compliant enough to sign on into knots simply trying to figure out what one “could” or “could not” do.

Tying up too many of our thoughts, policies, dreams and ambitions into both the language and the attitudes that befit only the lawyers and the accountants is like a grade one teacher telling a fit six-year-old boy to stop running around the playground. We need lawyers and accountants. And we also need to keep them in their place….not at the front of the line in determining cultural norms, not at the front of the line in setting the parameters for our thinking, our discussions, and our planning and leading. Aiding and abetting the “legal/accounting mindset, is the cultural norm of seniority, rendering all ‘new’ ideas, and especially those new people who might dare to utter them, or merely to ask why something is being done this way both irrelevant and worse, dismissive. Gate-keepers, “old boys,” or any of the many other self-appointed custodians of propriety, including the hierarchies in the most insignificant social club to the behemoths are not idols to be worshipped. They are not privy to the best and the brightest ideas, neither of what is to be done, nor of how best it might be done.

And so often, if not in a vast majority of instances, it is the “off-the-wall” comment or question, from the least expected voice that puts things into a perspective previously unconsidered. Colouring inside the lines, is another of the phrases that teachers use to decide whether or not a young boy (and mostly it is the boys who find themselves restrained by those lines) is comporting with the instructions and the desired behaviour. I know that this story has been told before; nevertheless, it bears repeating. A professional psychologist father of a six-year-old asked his son how school went one day, a habit he repeated each and every day. He was especially curious this day because the boy had a star on his art work, very different from any other day. His son’s reply is both memorable and merits billboard signage:

It was fine. The teacher always wants us to colour inside the lines so today, I drew my picture first and then drew the lines.

There is no doubt that such a young boy has already become a worthy, likely somewhat creative, and still curious adult who finds  a way to circumvent the walls that he and all of us find whenever we try to do something, anything, with others.

Just today, in another example of how the world has lost sight of the wisdom in Dr. Seuss’s line above, we learned that South Africa has allotted $3 BILLION to a wall on its border with Zimbabwe, in order to protect itself from COVID-19. There are no recorded cases of COVID-19 in Zimbabwe. And even if there were, those microbes cannot and will not be impeded in their march to infect anyone and everyone within range, by a $300 Billion wall.

Expressions of fear, no matter how legitimate, have to be both uttered and heard. And they also have to be metered by minds, hearts and imaginations that share the fear and seek to address it in compassion, empathy and effective measures based on empirical evidence and the best options available.

Just as the U.S. administration is not merely ruminating, but actually planning to lift the self-isolating measures to mitigate against COVID-19 far too soon, so too is that same administration failing in all of the really significant and legitimate responsibilities it alone holds, in what should be a national effort to minimize the impact of the virus.

And the public performances of people like Drs. Fauci and Berks, while never directly taking aim at the absurdity of the president’s “unhealthy” comments, nevertheless, offer clear and unequivocal guidance and moderation of his comments. Unfortunately, already his misguided “invocation” of a malaria drug, taken in a fatal mistake by a couple in Arizona, has resulted in the death of the husband of that couple and the wife becoming critically ill. Already, the president of the United States, by his irresponsibility, has indirectly generated one documented death, and threatened the life of another. Through his inaction, and his folding his hands of any responsibility, as well as the molasses-like movement of needed ventilators to New York, potentially endangered the lives of hundreds or perhaps even thousands of others.

It is not only by what one says or does, but by what was doesn’t do or doesn’t say that one must be judged. There is literally no bruise or black eye on a man or woman whose spouse has never laid a hand on them, while at the same time, scrupulously remaining withdrawn, hidden, shielded, and cocooned in the relationship. Such “absence” while not legally condemnable, nevertheless  has the impact of eroding the relationship over time. Living with a ghost, as Gordon Lightfoot’s song reminds us, is in a word untenable. And being unable to “see” a ghost in a relationship makes that situation equally unsustainable.

Seeking to emerge from the ghost’s covering sheet, or to try to remove that sheet from another, is a process that only the ghost can achieve. Of course, saying what one truly feels, thinks, believes is risky. It could mean that a dialogue might ensue, in and through which both partners actually get to know each other. It could also risk the foundations of the relationship, built as it might very well be, on phantom images of illusory and ephemeral attractiveness, ambition, responsibility and play-acting. And, in that case, discovering the illusion could well endanger the relationship. Built as it might be on the mirage of duty, for example, and being mired in the details of excessive activity, the underlying “truth” might go undetected for decades, if not a whole lifetime.

That game of appearances, keeping up with the Joneses, or climbing the corporate, academic, medical, legal, accounting, political career ladder, can consume most if not all of one’s energies, in what looks like a highly responsible, and certainly socially respectable manner. Underneath that frenetic pace, however, could lie a frenzy of a very different kind, that kind that, like the white noise or ringing of a tinnitus, refuses to be silent, repeating in its own inimitable pitch, “I am living alone among others. No one knows who I am, or even cares to get to know who I am. And I am going nuts in my own isolation. This is a dessert, parched, dry, and highly demanding, without an ounce of the oasis of being really known.”

Saying such words to oneself, however, is very different from uttering them to another, any other, but especially to THE other with whom one is in relationship. And, thereby, it is almost inescapable that one can become caught between a rock and a hard place: disclosing one’s inner truth and risking total rejection, or repressing one’s truth and risking something a nuanced as “quitting and staying”…going on indefinitely without actually showing up emotionally, or even cognitively.

So, it is not only for young children that Dr. Seuss wrote. His words have an even deeper potential impact on many adults caught in a vortex of duties, responsibilities, expectations, and self-imposed (“perhaps other-implied-and enforced) silences. Most of us are not “stupid” enough to be unaware of the complexities of our situations. We know, for example, if and when a significant other is “showing up” or when s/he is going through the motions of doing all the appropriate things, without fully engaging either in the activities or in the relationships inside the home. And there is also the case when the individual making the loudest noises, doing the most “work” is masking a deep and malevolent contempt for the other partner, without disclosing such contempt, until, for example, after the burial of that other. Silence cannot be assumed to be a sign of absence; absence might just as well be conveyed through whirlwinds of busyness, especially if that busyness is covered in self-declared martyrdom. “No one ever helps around here!” is one of the favourite lines of a ghost lost in his or her own sheet of blindness, especially when all hands are already on deck for whatever chores need to be done.

Most of us have, at one time or another, been in situations when it seemed that a ghost was the other person in the relationship. Also, in some situations, we have become Lightfoot’s ghost, as our only perceived way to endure the ice.

Speaking up, saying what we truly feel, these are not the things that men, especially are either trained or proficient in doing. We are trained, indoctrinated, in the matters of how to fix things, how to accomplish things, how to make things happen, how to score a goal, shoot a basket, catch a ball, chop a tree, carve a piece of wood, change the oil, fix a tire, even wash the dishes. And all of that stuff about how we “feel” has for centuries been allocated, at least in our masculine world, to the mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, grandmothers, wives and girl-friends in our lives. We almost unconsciously exhibit our emotions in how we carry our bodies, how we lift our eyebrows, how we wrinkle our lips, or tilt our heads. Slow movement, while often illustrative of fatigue, can be a sure sign of depression, without our sometimes even being aware of that.
There are men reading this who might take offence at having Dr. Seuss as a healthy reference for an evolved masculinity. There may even be women who are similarly offended. No offence is either contemplated nor projected.

In a sophisticated world of millions of new scientific discoveries, environmental projections, political and cultural winds vectoring around and through each of us, it seems timely to reflect on some of the ways by which we, especially as men, sabotage ourselves, our families, our neighbourhoods, and our world.

This is no time for us to be engaging in either conscious or unconscious sabotage. It is a time, as Governor Andrew Cuomo is demonstrating, for us to tell our full truths, and for us to grow even more fulsome in the telling, in order that our immediate, as well as our medium and long-term exigencies profit from our best minds, our deepest hearts and our most courageous examples.

It is not only through our words, but through our unique observations, perceptions and recommendations that we generate the “gross national products” of our lives….and they can certainly not be reduced to a single number that indicates the health of our economy. Underlying every piece of machinery, every laptop, every Vocera device, every television camera, and every piece of “recovery” legislation, there are voices seeking to be found, heard and respected.

And because we all have a voice, none of us can be silenced, except by our own surrender.

And we must never surrender to a microbe, to a tyrant, or to a ghost, inside us or sitting at the kitchen table.

Monday, March 23, 2020

#61 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (male-female stereotypes)

In a recent documentary entitled, If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot, utters a profound insight: “The really important thing is the relationship between men and women.”

In Surfacing, among other notable quotes, Margaret Atwood writes:

She must have heard the door opening and closing in the middle of the night; she produces a smile, warm, conspiratorial, and I know what circuits are closing in her head: by screwing Joe she’s brought is back together. Saving the world, everyone wants to; men think they can do it with guns, women with their bodies, love conquers all, conquerors love all mirages raised by words.

And in The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood writes, through her character June, in a voiceover:

Someone once said, ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’ We should have known better. I thought there were still secret places, hidden in the cracks and crevices of this world. Places we could make beautiful, Peaceful. Quiet. Safe, Or at least bearable.”

It is not only the violence that men perpetrate on women that haunts Atwood’s work but the fact that the image of that violence “exist is the back of our heads in our world as well.”

Reverberating in the backs of all of our heads, incorrigibly inevitably and relentlessly, are images of both men and women who haunt us if and whenever we return to moments of trauma, terror, ill-ease and profound vulnerability. And the images of those faces, those hands, those voices, those weapons used against us even those guns will never completely subside. Such reverberation is not exclusive to “the back of women’s heads, nor is the “fear” so echoed exclusive to women, nor is the direction of traumatic fear exclusively from men to women. Both genders, equally if differently, have those drums beating in the backs of our heads, and even in the pits of our stomachs, depending on both the severity of those initial “strokes” and the work we have each done or not to confront them. Watching an air-head male, a former American marine, shoot a sparrow on a clothesline, in front of his twelve-year-old daughter just for some ‘fun’ while she screams in protest, is indelibly seared in my memory back, at the back of my head. So is the memory of my father pointing the .22 at his head, behind the jacket-heater, at 3.00 a.m, when, at twelve, I asked him to give me the gun.

Men with guns, regardless of their national origin, their motivation or their share of responsibility for the situation that provokes the use of those guns, are frightening. And there are a lot more men with guns than there are women with guns. There are a lot more men dependent on those guns then there are women. And there are a lot more men who are unable or unwilling to confront their insecurities, whatever form and face they take, than there are women who confront their insecurities.

 Males who continue to brandish their hollow ego’s, and their loaded guns, and their histrionic bravado and their impetuous, irrational and authoritarian, unassailable and un-questioned and un-appealable decisions all contribute to the arsenal of emotional weaponry deployed by both men and women in a desperate pursuit of unattainable okay-ness. In that frenzied chase, both men and women have recruited blunt gestures, single name-callings, bullying, rumour-mongering charges, character assassinations, gossip, and outright defiance, as weapons in the all-out war on gentility, empathy, identification, ennobility and social security. And included in that arsenal, rightly or wrongly, is laughter…AT the other.

Comparing women’s laughter as the ultimate fear men have of women, to women’s fear of the guns of men, however, hardly captures the relative fears, or arsenals of either gender. On the one hand, men fearing being laughed at by significant women in their lives, is in fact a deep and profoundly threatening experience. We laugh at banana-peel farcical falls, and at comics whose exaggerations, atypical associations, imitations, and entertaining tricks amuse, often to the point of tears. Gags continue to represent moments of laughter that for the most part are never administered in contempt, or hatred. In fact, they connect, unless and until the gag is motivated by a desire to pillory, undress and even destroy another. However, when a woman whom we, perhaps mistakenly, consider significant from a mutually shared perspective, laughs not with but AT us, that moment is indelibly imprinted on our minds, never ever to be erased.

So disarmed, and so literally disabled to “know what or how to respond” not having the reservoir of vocabulary, including the connection with the specifics of precisely how we feel at the specific moment, we are devastated, disarmed and not mere embarrassed at the laughter, but enraged at our own impotence. It is not the laughter exactly that we fear, but our own impotence. Impotence, that deadly, self-imposed, self-defined, and radioactive humiliation, is something from which we ultimately never really recover.

Impotence, too, has so many faces, forms, and expressions. More than all of the genres of music (symphony, fugue, oratorio, prelude, sonata, study, waltz, march, opera, jazz, rock, and many others) impotence, even if the word never crosses the consciousness of our mind, lurks at the root of our identity. Hard-wired as agents of procreation, and as foolish, even incompetent carriers, protectors and employers of our cultural, and biological role, we are never far from feeling a threat to that truth. Never mind crying “pitty-party” after reading that last sentence! We are almost unconscious of that part of our identity, except if and when its “power” is threatened, when, like the cat whose eyes have just been drenched with turpentine, we explode. So, dear women who believe that we fear your laughter, while you fear our guns, rest easy. We fear the spectre of our own impotence and your capacity to remind us of our impotence.

Now, dear women readers, let’s get back to the “guns” of your fear. It is not unreasonable for women to be perhaps even excessively anxious about the size, the muscle, the sheer loudness and the impetuosity of the men in your lives. At the zenith of the expression of masculine “anger” (frustration, embarrassment, insecurity, anxiety, worthlessness, disappointment especially in one’s self, shame, guilt, rejection, alienation, abandonment…..and lots of others) for women, there is the spectre of something exploding and quite naturally, of threatening to life and limb. The evidence of domestic violence points directly to the perpetration of that violence, primarily by men against women. Men exhibit violence, not only to other men, and to women, but also to various forms of life including animals, birds, fish, and the eco-systems on which all life forms depend. And their primary weapon, in their hands, most effective in the “kill” is their gun. Also, unfortunately, deployed as their weapon is their “take-over,” their “buy-out,” their zero-sum definition and exhibition of competition “to the death” by whatever means. Baskets, field goals, free shots, penalty shots, winning goals, sales targets, bonuses, stock options, trophies, Mazarotti’s, investment portfolios, Bali vacations, while considered legitimate goals, are also embedded into the framework of masculine competitive, testosterone-fueled-and-driven determination…and much of this “work” is our considered and taught and exemplified and honoured role-modelling in order to attract a beautiful, brainy, witty, self-reliant and courageous woman.

Mating is another of those words riddled with cynicism, scepticism and even animalism, dependent on when a dog, horse, or cow might be in heat and when procreation is planned. Dating, romancing, entertaining, teasing, flirting, “getting to know,” and perhaps even “discerning level of maturity and responsibility” through such processes as graduating, achieving promotions, nominations for exclusive posts, are other words to depict the process, in a sophisticated culture.

Failure, however, like a never-receding cloud, hangs on the horizon of each of our window-sills in our bedrooms when we awaken, depending on our age, our history and our perceptions of our potential. And the question of males fearing failure or success more deeply remains for another place and time.

Let’s unpack another device in our exploration of some of these words, pictures and issues in the inter-connectivity of men and women. That device is a measuring device for “pro-activity” and “reactivity”….when and whether to initiate, or to respond. When to lead and when to follow, and how to discern the appropriate moment for each…these are not merely skills, they are intuitive and imaginative “tests” of our depth of both perception and adaptation to the moment. Is this person one who appreciates surprises or not? Is this person one who engages in repartee or not? Is this person one who appreciates flowers and chocolates when one has disappointed, or a more matter of fact apology? Is this a moment for “sweeping” her/him off his/her feet or not? Is it time, is s/he ready for the momentous meeting of one’s parents? Does this person enjoy rom-com movies, biographies, mysteries, histories, tragedies? Does this person like to “travel, dine out, try new recipes, entertain, engage in off-beat conversations?

These questions only become part of the consciousness of each of us at our unique and individual time, sometimes inappropriately, too early or too late, depending on the synchronicity with the other. And too often, it seems, (without supporting sociological research!) that male emotional maturity, and readiness to open to the significance of these mere “relationship” nuances far lags behind that of most females. A male accountant, a former associate, once demurred in silence, when I entreated an executive committee to focus on developing relationships with a critical, supportive and feeder demographic, as having nothing to do with his role as a member of that executive committee. Men, sadly, still refrain from even perceiving the importance of “developing relationships” (except dramatically designed as “transactional and profit-generating”) as a highly significant component of all business, professional, and clearly learning and supporting relationships.

Cynics, especially males, will be exploding with Oprah epithets, as if this piece exhorts all males to become “oprahfied” like women. That is definitely not the  purpose here.
What is the purpose is to expand the vocabularies, and the expectations, the perceptions and the confinements of both masculine and feminine stereotypes of their own gender and of the opposite gender. Our conversations will go no where if we continue to dig trenches in our minds filled with stereotypical definitions of men and women. Throw away those shovels that have been used to dig the trenches we already occupy. And both genders have been firmly clinging to those shovels.

Reducing male emotional keyboard to a one-note repeating, harping anger leaves all men reduced to less than those cardboard cut-outs that try to emulate “stars”. Similarly, reducing all men to “guns” is another route to the same carboard caricature. Reducing all women to a “fear of men” on the other hand, and implicitly, rendering all women “second” and subservient and unequal is a similar reduction.

And those reductions, like all of the other bumper-sticker aphorisms, aimed at one or another gender, just as pointed at one or another individual, can and will do little more than exacerbate what already is a tense situation. And in the midst of one of, if not the worse, global tragedies in human history, the COVIC-19 pandemic, all men and all women, in every village, town, city, state and nation need the best from each of us. Not only do we face our own mortality more emphatically than any of us could have anticipated, we also face a moment of many months if not years, when we can and must face those questions which heretofore have eluded our consciousness, and thereby our imaginations as reasonable and available relationship options.

Exaggeration for the purpose of waking us up has a literary purpose. Operationally, however, it bodes engendering more fear, more angst and more anger. None of these provide the impetus, motivation or nutrition for enhanced harmony, creativity and collaboration…and ultimate survival.

Friday, March 20, 2020

#60 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (men behaving badly, others leading)

Reports of gun and ammunition sales sky-rocketing on both sides of the 49th parallel are not merely shocking; they are straight-out frightening!

Whether the argument is the more pallid and seemingly tranquil, “we have to stock up for hunting and target shooting,” or the more virulent “we have to get ready to protect ourselves from the walking dead”…the rationale will not hold water. And, the perpetrators of this nefarious, if legal, bingeing, are, of course, men! And demonstrating both blatant opportunism and profound insecurity, knowing that anyone who throws their behaviour back into their face will be castigated, impugned and bullied into submission, such men shame the rest of us!

And these men are not the only ones behaving badly. The screens and the microphones are filled with their faces and voices, respectively.

Men behaving badly:

*    strutting Florida beaches on March Break, or
*    hoarding needed supplies from supermarket shelves and then selling them to unsuspecting and frightened people at two and three times the original price,  
*    blaming others while denying responsibility (think trump!) or
*    painting rose-coloured pictures of fantasies in masks, ventilators, vaccines and even numbers of people directly impacted by this extremely penetrating, painful and unpredictable virus
*    refusing to come to grips with legitimate and emergent requests for support
*    pontificating about how wonderful is the job “we” are doing
*    delaying decisions on compliance with reasonable, protective directives/orders from professional health care leaders
*    using the pandemic to underscore an extreme right-wing populist agenda, refusing the sharing of necessary supplies for health care workers
*    selling off sizeable portfolios of stocks about to be negatively impacted (hotels and airlines, for example) immediately prior to the public news of the pandemic and immediately after a private, confidential briefing on the extreme danger of the pandemic in the U.S. Congress
*    condescending to phrases like “we are not a shipping clerk” in reference to the U.S. government when asked about acquiring needed supplies for health care workers (think trump again!)
*    condescending to lower classes when asked if professional athletes can be tested while people suffering from the virus cannot, “that’s how things work sometimes” (think trump again!)
*    deflecting tough and embarrassing questions to known, reputable, trust-worthy public health professionals, and then muzzling them into a chant of trumpeting the “decisions of the president and vice-president”
*    denying they kept real numbers demonstrating the severity of the pandemic from the public, in order to protect their political hide

And then there are the voices (not all of them men) of hope, courage, leadership and authenticity we all need and gravitate to, in spite of the dominating thunder of those malevolent men blowing their own horns:

Anthony Cuomo, Governor of New York, whose state bear the brunt of the highest rate of infection in the American landscape. His clear, resonant, reasonable and even prophetic voice comes out after seeking the most detailed, and the most dangerous probabilities from the best minds and the most insightful and even intuitive professionals he can find. Holding back from a full-out public health “order” to keep all people in the state in their homes, he nevertheless balances the various competing yet needed services in the state to address fundamental needs of emergency and ICU beds, ventilators, protective equipment while calming public fears. It is Cuomo who speaks most clearly and unequivocally about the risks of public fear being potentially more dangerous than the virus itself.

Bill DeBlasio: Mayor of New York: he too speaks clearly and unequivocally about the silence in the responses he seeks from the White House, in his desperate search for needed equipment for health care workers in his city. Seeking compliance with the directive to close all restaurants, the Mayor indicates, this morning on MSNBC, that a mere half dozen operators tried to squeeze out a little more profit after the directive was issued. The fact that he has/had a personal grasp of the details of the first death in his city, an elderly woman suffering from pre-existing emphysema, demonstrates his attention both to the finer details, in order to calm public anxieties, while exercising considerable energy in pursuit of the more broad public requirements.

Gavin Newsome, Governor of California: the first Governor to declare a public health order confining some 40 million people to their homes, while also providing a counter-weight to the incompetence, insouciance, and hubristic attitude, verbiage and decision-making of the White House.

Governor Inslee of Washington State, the first to actually being the process of erecting an emergency hospital on a soccer field in Seattle. Facing one of the early hot-spots of the pandemic, including the deaths of too many elderly in a nursing home, Inslee has taken the kind of perspective and courageous rhetoric he used confidently in his presidential bid to defend and protect the environment before withdrawing, and applied his considerable political skills to this latest threat.

Dr. Bonny Henry, provincial health officer in British Columbia, along with Dr. Tam, the Canadian public health officer, have authored many public statements based on the most tragic and depressing facts, while maintaining an air and attitude of composure, calm and yet deeply serious and concerned. Their respective strengths in both comprehending and in illuminating the darkest recesses of this pandemic births confidence, hope and courage as the figures of infections and deaths mount, and as the campaign to acquire and distribute needed medical supplies across the country mounts.

 Prime Minister Trudeau, himself self-isolated because of his wife, Sophie’s being infected with COVIC-19, has offered information and public calm each day from the front of his residence. Also, the provincial premiers, in their capacity as agents of public calm and comfort, as well as providers of the needed professional care in their jurisdictions, have appeared before television cameras, in a deliberate, non-partisan effort to achieve transparency and accountability, the two most necessary ingredients to maintain and sustain public trust and confidence. While portending economic disaster in his province and in the energy sector, for example, Premier Jason Kenny of Alberta, refrained from his usual virulent attacks on the federal government and especially Prime Minister Trudeau. He knows, as do the rest of us, that Trudeau is no more responsible for this pandemic than is his former political opponent, provincial premier Rachal Notley.

And then there are the thousands, if not millions of parents who previously went off to their offices and workplaces, after dropping their kids off at schools and day-cares, who now remain closeted in their homes, 24-7, finding and lifting their school lessons from their laptops before they replace those teachers who prepared and sent them. Home-schooling has now become democratized, as digital reality finds and adopts an even more prominent place in the lives of these professionals. Even the “in-home” piano teacher is now turning to Facetime to conduct “private” piano lessons with his students. The prominence of fire-fighters, law enforcement, ambulance and paramedic professionals has never been more appreciated, and more needed.

In the state of Indiana, people are being asked, as in wartime, to actually “make” hospital masks for health care professionals, while they remain in their homes. Neighbours are checking in on elderly shut-ins, while families deploy Skype to reconnect and to support and care for those who cannot and do not have a social life.
The military, in both Canada and the U.S. are undoubtedly going to play an increasingly impactful role as the need for “field hospitals” becomes more evident, and the potential for increased anxiety and fear rises.

We are currently, and we will in the near and medium-range future be privy to statements, personages, actions, decisions and forecasts that display a deep and profound connection to and respect for the empirical evidence we all face. And we will also become increasingly aware of those voices, persons, actions and attitudes that defy public confidence, public trust and public integrity.

And our hope lies primarily in the latter, although the former will continue to provide a clarion foil for our discernment of their inadequacy. When Mayor De Blasio declares on national television that the federal administration in AWOL on this pandemic, should not be listened to, and should not be trusted, we all know that North America to some extent, like New York, is fighting this war impeded by one arm tied behind our back.

The White House came late to this exigency; denied its existence first and then its dimensions; and while seeming to come to take it seriously, still cannot be fully trusted or relied upon for those tasks with which it has been charged. Fortunately, in Canada, so far, we have a 180-degree contrast both federally and provincially. Only time will indicate the relative significance of the political divide in the long-term impact of this pandemic.

The phrase, “we are all in this together” has never, at least in our life-time, been more relevant, applicable and urgent. And out of this conundrum, we can only hope that the lessons of collaboration, co-operation, and a new-found equality among all inhabitants of the planet might shine a little light down the other existential threat of global warming and climate change.