Thursday, April 30, 2020

#78 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Suicide)

At the ‘bottom’ of the ‘cave’ of desperation, of course, as well all know, lies the desperation of taking one’s own life. Lists of signs, often conflated with causes, include: isolation, trauma, narrow (tunnel) thinking, and lack of support. Triggers can and do include some traumatic incident: job loss, death, divorce, bankruptcy, serious illness, alcoholism…all of them projected triggers that easily and readily cross the minds of most people.

And, given that males in our culture are ‘conditioned’ if not expected/required to operate within a very stringent and commonly held parameters of healthy masculinity, and that our cultural norms diagnose symptoms more regularly and more intensely than processes or developments that may lurk behind the presenting symptoms, men are caught in a double bind: the straitjacket of perceived and learning expectations/roles/deportment/attitudes/beliefs/trustworthiness and
the cultural rejection/avoidance/disdain/surfacing that tends to seek immediate “causes” or triggers, without taking the time, money, human resources and care that would delve into the background of each and every man (and woman) who contemplates terminating his life.

We are a crisis-management oriented culture, highly schooled in considering anything that smacks of aberrant behaviour as either “sick” or “evil”. And given how literal, empirical, and task-oriented to “fix” whatever “we” collectively consider to be “wrong” or “unmanageable” or “too complicated” or “too invasive into one’s privacy” or “too dangerous” we fail both to “see” the totality of an individual’s plight (helped, doubtless, by his rigid protection of his privacy (also considered a kind of self-walling-off from others). Medicine, law and certainly theology have individually and collectively fallen into the trap of this “crisis-management,” and “literal” and “reductionistic” and nominal (putting names on syndromes as if to do so is to “explain” what is going on) the way “problems” are assessed, diagnosed, addressed and for which a “plan” of attack is usually prepared. In medicine, a treatment plan, whereas in law, action falls under one or more files entitled: strategy/tactic/proceeding/filing/intervention. In theology, too often, turbulence is dumped into the ‘trashcan” with the word “conflict” emblazoned on its wall. And then, as conflict, it is too often reduced to a conflict between parties, unless it slides into the inner conflict where it magnetizes a name like “doubt” or “fear” or anxiety” or even “loss of faith”…and depending on the expertise, skill, sensibilities, and even disposition of the presiding clergy, referred to counselling, referred to a prayer group, referred to some form of bibliotherapy like bible reading or some other recommendation.

Whichever professional approach might be considered, and then approached (however tentatively and hesitantly and untrustingly) the fullness of the “story” of the troubled man is rarely, if even, fully disclosed and fully comprehended, likely through a combination of reservation on the part of the troubled man, and the pressure of intervening in a purposeful and effectual manner, first, to attempt to prevent serious harm being done, and then to moderate the emotional and psychic pressures on the individual. Naturally, too, all those within whatever circle of influence of the individual will have ‘stopped breathing” (metaphorically) in anticipation of the “shoe” to fall, in some dramatic event. Consequently, their/our shared anxiety will inevitably generate a degree of both impatience and hopeful expectation both of which compress time into a kind of pressure-cooker-circle, desperate now for ‘answers’ and relief.

Whether a man is afraid to speak about depression, anxiety, meaninglessness, loss of identity, loss of a sense of self and worth to anyone (a spouse, an employer, a colleague, even a counsellor) the rest of us are never ready and open to acknowledge some “aberrant” behaviour that starts us questioning. And, again, the evidence seems to suggest that shortly before committing the act of suicide, the individual seems even more calm and relaxed than previously; one interpretation being that the decision has been made and the time merely has to be right.

So much talk, study, research and energy is dedicated to the means, the immediate  “cause” and the most recent “event” that seemed to foretell the inevitable (if only we could have seen and understood the signs) that long-standing, yet barely visible flags remain covered, and too often ignored. This ignorance, however, cannot be relegated to “irresponsibility” on the part of family, colleagues, or even professionals. After all, none of us spend our days looking for others to indicate a pattern that could signal their self-inflicted harm. On the contrary, most care-givers are tuned into a sunny and hopeful mind-set, and would themselves like to end their workday reflecting on how a client/patient/counsellee is showing signs of improvement, whatever and however that might be defined.

Tapping these keys, and these words this morning is not an act which I would have been unable to anticipate, or even imagine, only weeks and months ago. And yet, on reflection, from early childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood and then culminating in grad school, the notion of death, especially by suicide, has seemed more important than most other notions. Violent and loud verbal and highly personal accusatory battles between two parents, played out and often turned my own hope into despair, when as a ten-year-old, I found myself burying my head in a pillow, holding my breath for as long as I could in what now seems like a futile and highly melodramatic moment of self-abnegation or self-erasure. Wishing to evaporate into something ghost-like, however, is not an exaggeration. The conflicts, as well as the chant about being “no good” levelled at both my father and me, the physical and emotional abuses at both, and later on my sister, tended to coalesce into a mental focus on any local story about someone (too often a man) who took his own life, including the location, the method, the age and the general situation in which the life was ended.

Was it a pistol, on a dark December night on a hill overlooking the ‘bay’? Was it a rubber tube linked to the exhaust pipe of the black Dodge locked in the garage on William Street? Was it a rifle in the basement of a drug store? Was it another pistol in a home, of someone suffering both extreme mental and physical distress? Later on, I read about prominent men who, having suffered a debilitating stroke, after living an active and robust life, could no longer withstand the physical, emotional and mental prison of patient-hood. Then I also learned of a former family physician, brilliant, impulsive, impetuous and practically adored by patients, whose life ended by his own hands. A former high school math teacher, one of the most brilliant and organized and articulate in detailing the minutest steps of any equation or proposition, ended his own life, years after I left high school. In obituaries, the word “suddenly” notified readers of the fact of suicide, too often in young men, and the conversations that followed were replete with shock, wonder, mystery and even unnamed fear.

On any of these stories, and we all have our own memory bank, the ‘event’ had to have tendrils of biology, family history, enculturation and triggers, none of these contributing factors were public and one has to wonder if some or any were even conscious to the person himself. And a list of signs, while important and relevant, in order to trigger some kind of supportive response, is barely enough to change the culture in which mental illness continues to be a collective demonic not really comparable to a broken leg, or a tumor in the lung. And here is where each of us has a far more important part to play than merely as reporters, sociologists, criminologists, lawyers, doctors even psychiatrists. It says here that we would all move to a more health public/social/cultural/psychic/emotional/ethical space if we acknowledged our own psychic disturbances as honestly, openly and courageously as possible. And that kind of disclosure needs a far more resilient, receptive, courageous and non-expert kind of empathy, compassion, and even identity which at least in North America, so far, we have been unable (or unwilling or both) to adopt. Learning about the psychic truths of our friends, our classmates, our summer job co-workers, our team-mates, in ways that do not judge, demean, disparage, dissociate, or worse, abandon the ‘other’ who is struggling will take all 400 million-odd persons on the North American continent to re-shape our attitudes, beliefs, expectations and human exchanges.

We are not doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, clergy, lawyers, probation officers, or even human resource specialists; we are just human beings with all of our warts, gaps, wounds, traumas, shamefulness, guilts and hopes and aspirations. And to identify with another who is struggling is not an idea for which we need a graduate degree. Nor do we need a summons, or a prescription, or a treatment plan, or a specific and named responsibility. We are, nevertheless, not blind to our own vulnerabilities, blind-spots, traumas or potential needs. This is not an argument that portends or pretends to extol humanism specifically or metaphorically. Humanism that stresses the potential value and goodness of human beings, as envisioned in the Renaissance, tends to turn a blind eye to the human reality of many voices/gods/demons/daimons and themes that play out in the lives of humans everywhere.

We are not perfect nor shall we even attempt that perfection that sees no snakes in our grass. We are also not given the playing field from which all traumas have been etherized, eradicated, disemboweled or levelled. And we bring them with us, wherever we go.

It is our relationship to the demons/daimons that can shift from one of avoidance, denial and distractions of so many varieties to one of recognition, acceptance, and then of reflection. The content and method of those reflections, too, can shift from our dependence on the literal, the empirical and the diagnostic/criminal charge to a more literate, metaphoric, archetypal and depth perception. Rather than chasing our tails, and our obsessions with illness, and crime, could we not shift our individual and our collective gaze to a very different plane: from the operating or the court room to the theatre where the gods are having their/our say and way with us.

And these gods will not remain as solo voices, without new casts of
gods/goddesses entering on the stages of our psyche, given the appropriate circumstance, with others who, too, are giving voice/action/meaning/purpose to the voices of their own gods.  None of us is only a “king” or “queen” nor is anyone of us only a warrior or a trickster. None of us is only a seducer or a seductress, or an innocent, an orphan or victim. Thinking metaphorically, archetypally and non-literally can be a release from the small, concrete and steel cages of the literal, the empirical, the nominal and the avoidance in which we try to “live.”

These are not original thoughts of your scribe, but rather interpretative borrowings from James Hillman and others, whose scribblings have been, and continue to shine a light into the darkness of so many tragedies for which we are neither prepared nor are we even tolerant.

We need not become tolerant to self-destruction in order to stretch the limits of our shared, shrivelled and shrivelling imaginations to places not where self-destruction becomes normalized but to where we are much more tolerant of our own vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and even of our strengths without having to adopt their “crowns” as integral components of our identities as men especially.

Slaves to an unattainable, unreachable, and even distorted and fallacious notion(s) of masculinity, in order to belong, and to fit in, and to achieve success, especially when that success is both ephemeral and addictive, seems like a potential recipe for self-sabotage. And for some men, it is literally and metaphorically lethal.
It is not from merely a firm conviction opposed to capital punishment that these notions emerge but rather from the conviction that from the observations and experiences of a single life, it seems clear that too many men are struggling, like King Sisyphus, condemned to rolling a stone uphill only to have it continually roll back down, for eternity.

Sisyphus cannot be the only Greek king worthy of our unconscious emulation!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

#77 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Refections on desperation 3)

It will sound somewhat perjorative and even condescending of men to note that when the desperation of another has physical implications, from a flood, a hurricane, a drought, a fire a robbery or even a death in the family, men are not only quick but intense and eager to respond with help. On the other hand, if the desperation, especially of a single other male seems “emotional, psychological, or even something like an identity crisis,” men tend to turn our eyes away and too often walk away.

As a counter to this observation, there are many, valid and validated stories of groups of men, after they were relieved of their jobs in silicon valley, back in the tech crash, continued to shower and dress in professional garb, and then proceed to rented trailers parked in their former employers’ parking lots, without having the gumption to disclose their plight to their spouses. And, tragically, many of these spouses left their marriages, whether from the loss in income and predictability, or more from the failure to disclose the tragedy, seems still a little ambiguous.

Of course, there is the proverbial ‘mid-life crisis’ which has now become so prevalent, and too often the butt of male-authored and delivered jokes, (not dissimilar to the dissing that dominates in adolescence) that runs a little counter to the authentic empathy men find to easy to deploy when an “act of God” strikes a neighbour or a colleague.

Somehow, however, the notion of an emotional disintegration of another man, still to too many men, is considered only as a sign of “desperate” weakness, vulnerability, almost like an illness, disease, (that might be contagious?). If a man shows signs that he is drinking more than usual, there will inevitably be comments (sotto voce) inside the office, and perhaps even someone will broach the question, “Are you Ok?” to which the usual and almost predictable reply will be “Sure, why?” The reputation of alcoholic men (and perhaps women too) is that they are extremely protective of their privacy, and even more highly adept a concealing anything untoward. If a co-worker is already engaged in some preventive program like AA or Alanon, there is a little higher likelihood that any inquiry will be both discreet, and potentially penetrating.

However, there are so many other signs through which a man can and does almost unconsciously disclose deep, turbulent cataracts of psychic and/or emotional pain. I regret having to recall a conversation in the Park Plaza hotel dining room in the early nineties. I was to be interviewed by a CEO of a successful ($2M/annual gross) training company, after one of his most competent and successful representatives had recommended my name. The appointment began between four and five p.m., with the host asking for a drink. Preferring only water, I requested one with lime. The conversation began with the usual anatomical description of the kind of clients his firm was attracting, and the usual polished sheen/script he and his colleagues presented as an corporation introduction. Another drink, accompanied this time with orders for dinner.

And then the script began to unravel, not so much through the slur of the words of this highly intelligent, extremely articulate and obviously travelled corporate salesman. Without notice, he acknowledged that, while his company prepared individual programs for prospective clients, with glossy front pages, binders and copious notes about timing and delivery options, fundamentally every program was identical; they were all “classical conditioning.” Pavlov’s basic discoveries had been moved from the psychology lab to the corporate board room, with the significant change in both stimulus and response. This philosophy graduate, steeped in the intricate, nuanced and rather profound writing of the primary thought leaders of western civilization tragically and desperately found himself facing a potential hire, while openly divulging his own desperate confession for which he could only feel shame, guilt, probably a little patronizing of his clients (some highly placed executives in both government and the private sector) and then he ordered another drink.

Not surprisingly, he did not make any other overtures to employ the innocent with whom he had dined, in an appointment that stretched well into the evening, when at last count, he had consumed a minimum of 8 drinks of hard liquor. Adding to the tragedy, the man who had referred my name to this CEO took his own life, as another undisclosed and undiagnosed alcoholic. Curious about anything his grieving partner might have known about the silence that followed my interview, I asked, “Did your partner ever say anything about why I was not hired?” Her reply  echoes in my head weekly, if not daily, “The only thing I recall is that he told the CEO never to hire you because you would strip the veneer from the mask of the company’s business plan. You would see through the thin veil of deception that enshrouded the company.”

How tragic to discover the depth of desperation hidden under another veil of both secrecy and success! Both men were making stashes of cash, enjoying the ‘good life’ with interesting and highly intelligent and complex clients, who themselves worked in situations requiring both skill and intellect, as well as highly sensitive judgements who were open to learning new skills, and new things about themselves in order to better adapt to the multiple and varied exigencies their job descriptions required.

Not only did I no know about the depth of the pain in the lives of both of these men; I also did nothing to address their plight. Just as I had not recognized my father’s psychic pain, as an adolescent, until he reached his late eighties, and options for change were limited, I did not recognize or inquire about their personal plights.

Sometime later, when I served another corporate, this time in the industrial sector, I learned of the pain (again resulting from a long-standing dependence on alcohol) of a wife and husband, both members of the leadership team of this enterprise (another $2million in annual sales). It was the husband who disclosed his pain on a private Saturday afternoon visit, as I was gathering background to fulfil my contract to “build a leadership team” that was then not operating effectively. Recognizing the with two of five deeply and secretly dependent on alcohol, for at least the past four decades, and that both husband and wife played significant roles in the process and delivery of highly specialized metal products, to the airline industry, there would be little likelihood that an effective “team” could be “built” unless and until both of these managers sought and accepted “treatment” in some form, after a period of rehabilitation.

I made such a recommendation, privately and confidentially over dinner with him and his wife, to the CEO, a man who had purchased the former ‘mom-and-pop” company from the couple, hired them, infused capital into the company and put it on a solid financial footing. Upon reflection, the CEO became inflamed at the potential turbulence of acknowledging the fullness of this discovery, refused to admit the depth of the problem and put a signed cheque in my hand, with the words, “Now get off this property, immediately!”

The depth of the CEO’s desperation could have been intuited, given his own biographical history as an SS officer in the Third Reich, from which both mom-and-pop had also surfaced following WWII, only to land in west Toronto, where they were despised as “DP’s” who could speak no English. It is not only secrecy, but the deep and lasting imprints of trauma that continue to plague the psyches of millions, without the benefit even of social, domestic or familial consciousness and support.

And there is an inextricable bond between any person’s trauma and their penchant for secrecy. Shame, embarrassment, guilt, rejection and abandonment accompany all experiences of trauma, and thousands of females are coming out of the closet of their own traumas, with the support of their sisters who themselves, have also been victims of male abuse. Men may more recently have more options of supportive weekends, in which fractured or non-existent relationships with their fathers, or abusive relationships with their mothers, (especially from those who smothered them with “love”), or even from divorces for which they were accused to being the “single person” responsible for the breakdown of the marriage. Nevertheless, their/our openness to individual men with whom we work, or in whose neighbourhood we live, remains suspect, even clouded, if existent at all. Men at weekends after which we will never see them again, offer a degree of solace and privacy, confidentiality and support, that we might not be willing to access in our own circles.

So, programs could be supplanting authentic relationships, with men whose paths cross our own frequently.

We are still clinging to the model that we are and will be unacceptable, unhireable, unreliable and even toxic if we are “in pain” or seeming ‘strange’ given our shared and narrow view of conventional normalcy. For centuries, gay men were demonic to many men; even today, some still consider gay men to be an anathema to healthy masculinity, a scourge on our gender. And the church, (at least the Christian church) has played a highly instrumental role in seeding, nurturing, and biblically sanctioning this view. Far from a place of comfort and care, empathy and understanding, the Christian church has turned both backs and hearts on the plight of the gender choices/inherencies of millions. And men have been at the core of this “hate”….and let’s not sugar-coat the contempt. It is masculine-based and masculine-engendered.

Whether or not ‘straight’ men who also suffer lapses, breakdowns, eruptions in life-paths and the predictability that accompanies such breaks, evoke images of gayness in other straight men is a subject worthy of further investigation. Nevertheless, regardless of the specific “incident” of behaviour, even a divorce is something for which no man is ultimately prepared, nor is he likely to seek support from another man who has occupied a significant place in his life, prior to the divorce. However, are we subject to the singular option of seeking only professional help, simply because our western masculine culture precludes the kind of empathy, compassion, even forthright honesty we deep need and hopefully also desire and seek, that fits such a potentially traumatic development?

Is this another  of the many examples by which men sabotage ourselves, including our planet, our companies, our families, and our kids and grandkids, by refusing, first to open to our loved ones how depressed we are, including both legitimate and somewhat questionable reasons for our depression (would our partners and kids not be able and willing to put some truth-serum into our morning coffee?). Are we, in the millions, wandering around, alone, isolated in the vacuum of our own highly focused, task-driven, performance of what we absolutely know is our personal, private and moral responsibility to be “invulnerable,”  “successful,” “powerful” and “providing” for our families? Are we sufficiently lacking the metaphor/psychic/cultural spine of bringing our own truth to those who matter in our lives, even if we are not able or willing to share our pain with our bosses? And, as for those EAP programs, mostly purchased by the hiring corporation, as one of two potential solutions to what they consider off-loading complexity and cost…they are almost without exception a bust.

First, there is an implicit conflict of interest, given that they work for the company, and who is really going to trust such an off0-loaded contract any more than we would an Human Resources Department sworn to confidentiality also an instrument of the corporation. Next, they never get to know the person on the other end of the phone/skype/facetime/zoom line or screen. We can agree that psychic band-aids are better for a gaping psychic wound than isolation. However, we can also be aware that some situations in which millions of men find ourselves are neither needing a mental health diagnosis (in a culture addicted to medical diagnoses, doctors, prescriptions and divesting our own power onto another, in an obvious, if undetected and unconscious avoidance of reality and responsibility).

War, and all of the other many examples of how too many men transform whatever it is they/we seek to achieve into another “war” when the two difficulties we are attempt to address are so different and complex, have a capacity to entrap us, individually and collectively into patterns, and even policies, and certainly conventional stereotypical options that repeat our own self-enmeshment in our own conflict metaphors….win/lose, avoid/destroy, dominate/loser, achieve/fail, …
And our masculine-dominated culture, including our political and economic and social and ethical discourse is also saturated with the vocabulary, the attitudes and the proferred and recommended solutions even if and when the situation demands fare more complexity than our military training and background has addressed.

It is not merely our clinging adherence to military memes, like fighting the last war, as well as the prevailing “war/conflict? dichotomy, that too often lends itself to a win-lose zero sum game. It is also our refusal to confront those impaling and life-less scripts and the stereotypes that seek and fail to define our fullness as men that these pieces seek to bring into the daylight of our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our minds.

We all know that we are not living nearly as fully as we know how to live. And we also know that millions of young men need the support and clarity of a vision of experience that shed a little warmth, light and insight into our blind hubristic and our shared and potentially fateful futures.

It is not incidental to note that, ordinary men, without or without formal psychological training, have considerable capacity and depth of understanding to lend a hand to other men in their circles, only to benefit far more, paradoxically, than the very men they seek to support. Just another irony, that beast we detest, given its capacity to complicate things we desperately want to keep simple! (K.I.S.S.--remember that old adage, keep it simply, stupid...we are neither simple nor stupid!)

Monday, April 27, 2020

#76 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine desperation 2)

Since the notion of male desperation has so many root causes, both personal/psychic/internal and social/cultural/developmental,  it might be helpful, in a time when precision of definition and the implications of intervention are considered so significant, to dig deeper into this mine/mind-field.

Males, of a wide range of sensibilities, undergo trauma in a variety of ways, some of them originating in our own mis-steps. We might think we can (and must) accomplish more than is feasible, with or without help. We certainly do undertake tasks, visions, ambitions that seek to emulate those we consider to be role models, with or without a full comprehension of how those role models achieved their success. And, as “herd” animals, we also join groups of males when together adopt often rather lofty ideals, expectations and even requirements and standards for all “members” that ‘test’ our suitability for membership. The existence of power, among those already involved in any organization, even as small as a teen gang, is highly valued by those holding its reins, and they serve as gate-keepers for the preservation of the ideals, and the purity of those ideals, when the prospect of new recruits becomes relevant.

Socialization of young boys and men, like that of canine pets, is considered a highly valued attribute of any academic, athletic and special interest/hobby group. Especially among adolescents, “fitting in” is a prime attribute for anyone seeking acceptance, and consequently, learning  if, when, how, and even whether to ‘speak up’ with either criticism or recommendation of the group’s process or plans, is a ‘skill’ akin to and much more complicated than learning how to participate in a complicated zone and/or one-on-one defense in basketball. How one’s home life contributes to the adaptability of any young man is critical: authority-driven, cold, distant and aloof fathers will inevitably shape young men either a strictly obedient and disciplined imitators, or equally likely, others whose inherent ambition is to throw off those shackles of perfectionistic mentorship. Similarly, more laissez-faire parenting from either or both parents, often linked to highly supportive and encouraging and nurturing and flexible, adaptive and discerning pattern of parenting will generate a very different kind of adolescent male. Naturally these two extremes mark only the outer limits of a continuum that offers opportunities along the range, depending also on the specific situation.

Any traumatic experience of loss, divorce, death, loss of job/income, serious illness, when tossed seemingly randomly into the petrie dish of adolescent development will, naturally and necessarily send shock waves into the family and also through the psyche of all adolescents. Depending on the nature of the child and the family, a similar divide might develop of adolescent males who resolve to refrain from any kind of dependence on others ‘rationalizing that it is not safe to do so’ as well as those who seek additional comfort, and are prepared to sacrifice some independence in order to belong, having perceived their loss as a form of abandonment.

Bolby, the British psychiatrist who studied wartime children in England, has written extensively on the basic notion that all children suffer, to some degree or other, a kind of abandonment, alienation, isolation early in life, and he posits that the following decades of life are dedicated to a return ‘home’ for those who experienced separation early. Wartime Britain, however, while highly charged and a relevant base of subjects for study, is not analogous to the development of many children in the post-war, developed world of North America. Nevertheless, there is a range of societal pressures on contemporary North American families, including poverty, segregation, poor education, lack of access to health care, racism and both domestic and community violence all of which leave a deep and often indelible imprint on the psyches of millions of young boys and men.

Early childhood development, then, is clearly one of the impacting factors in whether or not a young boy is negatively impacted, and this period sows seeds of mental, emotional and intellectual impairment that foreshadow future desperation. And those seeds can and will often remain dormant, unconscious for decades, before they surface under another set of circumstances of stress, when the biographical history will seem to gush forth like a previously undiscovered mountain volcano, to the shock and surprise of those now on the scene.

As young people growing up in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s we all knew the names of those men who had fought in and returned from World War I. We also knew that, to a man, not a single one would utter a single word about his experiences ‘on the front’ of battle. We were told, and deeply believed, that their experiences were so painful to recall, and even more painful to display publicly, that they chose silence and their legitimate path to cope. Today, we know that syndrome as PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a body/mind/spirit assault of whatever form of violence in battle, issuing literally thousands of victims from  Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan still in need of treatment, some of them still falling through the cracks of both treatment and support.

On a personal note, I studied with and partnered a paper in graduate school with a veteran of the Viet Nam conflict, a Canadian who had served with the American military, who had declared to his family, that they were never to utter the words Viet Nam in their home. He subsequently suffered a heart attack, as a man of only his late forties. Single anecdotes do not a sociological study make! They are, however, indicative of a kind of pattern that can be and has been documented through academic research about men not regarding physical health as important, failing or refusing to seek medical attention, and certainly not psychiatric or psychological support, especially when under serious stress.

Another conversation with a firefighter/rescuer whose volunteer activities included massive auto accidents, significant house fires including loss of life, demonstrates this perspective vividly. When asked if his team had access to counselling support, he indicated an Employee Assistance Program is available; however, he vehemently reminded me that he and no other member of his team would ever let another member know if they even considered seeking such help.

The inference was that such behaviour would be considered shameful in that group.Personal biography, including the ethos of our family of origin, linked to a propensity for ‘belonging’ and fitting in, both colour our male developmental trend lines, often linked strongly to a kind of defiant, go-it-alone, reticent stereotype of a rigid form of masculinity that defies emotional consciousness or at least its open expression. 

Let’s not be duped by this frozen mask, however; it, like that very still river that runs very deep, covers in many instances a radar of emotional intelligence, insightfulness, intuition and grounded awareness of others. The perception in others, their teachers, coaches, classmates and members of the opposite gender, of such attributes as natural trustworthiness/or not, their authenticity/integrity or not, their need for control and dominance or not is largely inverse to their volubility. At least in the quarter-century of English classes in which I engaged with adolescent males (and females) I noted a significant disparity between the willingness to communicate about the emotional development of characters in literature and the occasional dropping of the mask, and the uttering of deep and profound insight, in what could only have been a moment of ‘weakness.’ (I’m kidding!)

Adolescent young men showed (and most likely continue to demonstrate) their emotional identification with another (teacher, coach, mentor) through action and not so much through words. There seems to be a deep and historic cultural legacy of the notion, among men, that actions speak louder than words. And actions are the pathway many young men chose to be pursued as monikers of their athletic, manual, problem-solving dexterity, rather than those more ‘feminine’ methods of supportive words, and sophisticated wardrobes. (This wardrobe observation may well be significantly out-dated, given the high degree of conformity among young men, for a collection of pieces of attire that virtually announce a ‘brand’ of compatriots.)

Disdaining, if not full-out dismissal, of the inherent value of words, including their multiple nuanced meanings, both connotative and denotative, as vehicles to be identified with, as well as means by which to become acquainted with another special person, young men frequently fall into a pattern not merely of actions but then of following paths based on and leading to proficiency in technology, industry, engineering, science, accounting law, and occasionally social policy. I once suggested to a finance graduate, corporate owner/operator, the idea of trying to open and read a short novel like The Old Man and the Sea, by Hemingway. Believing that the master craftsman’s intimate, insightful and even unique observations and reflections within what is essentially a modern parable, could and would stir a new perspective on masculinity, for one locked in the vault of his own psyche, I could not have been more delusional; he demurred and then never picked it up.

Desperation can and does take many forms and faces, most of them easily identified, not only as restrictive and repressive of the individuals incarnating it, but also of the people within his circle, whether he is willing to acknowledge it or not…Here is an incomplete list of some of the indicators of desperation:

ü withholding of all minimal attempts at personal disclosure, disdaining of those “artsy-fartsy” people who write, compose music, paint and draw, unless and until their work becomes renowned and potentially valuable in the marketplace,
ü burying ourselves in a mountain of tasks, both of the honey-do kind, and of the self-designed and imposed kind, to demonstrate our capacity to “focus” and to “accomplish” and to “achieve” as measured by any of a myriad of benchmarks, both personal and extrinsic,
ü competing in most if not all of our social, professional activities, as matter of normalcy, as another path to justification of self (to self and/or to others)
ü managing both for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises by their numerical, fiscal, growth numbers, as determinative of success, while
ü excluding the assessment of and pursuit of healthy relationships within and without the organization
ü pitting costs as negatives and revenues as profits when making personal and organizational (as well as familial) decisions
ü dismissing those “outliers” and iconoclasts who challenge ideas and proposals with legitimate questions as troublesome
ü defying whistleblowers whose fresh air threatens the security of masculine power holders
ü lying, denying, covering up and dissembling especially when exposed as fallible
ü scape-goating others to avoid the heat of both responsibility and accountability
Then costs of masculine desperation is obviously not measured in billions of dollars of debt or deficit, because the syndrome itself is never acknowledged by men in power. The cost of masculine desperation is also not measured in numbers of assaults, divorces, murders, suicides, street-dwellers, alcoholics, illicit drug addicts, robberies, arsonists, cyber criminals and political tyrants.
Masculine desperation, nevertheless, is also seen in less “criminal” or less “deviant” expressions, that might include some of these examples:
o   trying to compete with a twin, sibling, in order to reduce or eliminate perceived favouritism from parents
o   competing for a beautiful young woman with a “status” male athlete, in a culture where beauty and power are insidiously and incestuously linked
o   taking others for granted as a path to cover one’s insecurities when in leadership
o   fawning over board members, as an executive, in order to accomplish goals that pad a resume, for future advancement
o   manipulating staff into undertaking despicable tasks, in order to demonstrate power when under threat of exposure
o   changing the subject in a conversation/presentation/briefing that has been exposed a fallacious, ephemeral, solipsistic or deceptive

Desperation, however, rather than a social and a political issue to be surgically removed, or even editorially exposed and then electorally expunged, is a profoundly personal matter that needs, even demands the engagement of those who love and care for and command the respect of the ‘desperate’…Parents can see and feel its evidence deep in the pit of their stomachs and begin the highly valued and respectful process of identifying its symptoms, discussing privately the potential roots and results and then the even more intimate process of true love. Ambition, conforming, achieving and finding acceptance all lie deep inside the psyches of most male adolescents, if they have not been salted or watered down with insults, desperate parenting, and abuse. Like those canines whose existence depends on their full acceptance, and the rewards to show their acceptance and love, most adolescent young men are more than eager, willing and able to both comprehend the difference between ambition and desperation. And when shown its underside, are able and willing to adjust.

A young oriental boy came to me once, a recent immigrant to Canada, in tears with a mark of 58 in an English examination, demanding an upgrade. He was so upset with the mark that he was unable to take his report card home. Although highly intelligent, his language skills were not yet developed to the stage where his writing warranted a higher grade, at least in this one evaluator’s view. When I refused, I later learned that he literally cut the grade out from the report card, prior to showing it to his parents, allegedly noting the paper had been torn accidentally.

A similar desperate piece of behaviour was reported on an incident involving two co-op university students each competing for a internship with a corporate. The desperate one allegedly dumped a pail of water on the other, ruining his “interview suit” in order to top him in the competition. Stories of desperate parents who actually carry out the rigours of their sons’ science experiments, when they are competing in a Science Fair, while not proliferating, nevertheless debase the competition, and the evidence is clear to all insightful observers.

Let’s accept that desperation is not something to which any of us is immune; and then let’s begin to recognize it, acknowledge its implications, and commit to developing our own personal, and appropriate, sensitive and sensible approach to address it…for our own personal and our collective sakes! 

And men, especially, can we at least begin to shift our competitive instinct to something more akin to mutual collaboration?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

#75 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Male desperation!)

Isolated incidents, however demonic, ugly tragic, lethal and inexplicable never come out of a vacuum. And what if, just for a moment at least, psychology and morality do not align?

We have constructed a morality, and indeed a social and a cultural ethic that criminalizes violence and there is no question that the horror at Portapique Nova Scotia qualifies as the most heinous acts in Canadian history, eclipsing the also heinous murder of female engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique back in 1991. In our social, political, legal and even ethical and moral discourse, both of these acts are legitimately categorized as acts of misogyny, by men hating women.
And they both are acts of misogyny!

And while criminologists, forensic pathologists, law enforcement officers and supervisors will comb the physical, empirical and even briefly the biographic evidence looking for “reasons” or “motivations” for such a horrific series of cold-blooded murders, this most recent catastrophe will not be the last of its kind.

Men, all men, need to be and are profoundly horrified by the very notion that one of our gender has committed this seemingly unforgiveable unfolding of outrage. And at its core, this is male outrage unleashed. And every time male outrage of these proportions is unleashed, we men must and do all cringe with empathy, compassion, and even deep and unmitigated contempt for the perpetrator. We all felt, and experienced a similar wave of contempt for the perpetrator of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre.

And, between these two historic and dark incidents there have been hundreds of similar, if not identical incidents inflicted by men and from a statistical perspective, mostly against women although random shootings are more difficult to classify as misogyny.

In the Portapique reports, the assault on the perpetrator’s female ‘friend/lover/long-term relationship’ has been deemed a catalyst for the rampage that ensued. Stories of abuse, financial, moral, business and even clandestine mimickry of law enforcement itself abound, swirling around the deceased killer. However, there will be forever a stain of misogyny that will never be as easily or completely eradicated as those many blood stains and heaps of ashes and carboned home walls and trusses, astride burned-out carcases of iron automobiles.

And misogyny itself indelibly stains North American streets, coffee-houses, theatres, and legislatures, where we see feeble if any overt, honest, lasting and effectual changes in law to acknowledge and to confess, and to atone for the blatant and indefensible complicity of a patriarchy drunk on denial, avoidance, obfuscation, prevarication and outright failure of both legal and constitutional responsibilities, but more importantly of moral complicity.

Men in power, are nevertheless, merely men born of the same mothers and fathers, raised on the same formulas and breast milk as all others, taught by the same teachers, coached by the same coaches and mentored by the same mentors, as those who commit these evil deeds.

And to castigate these events as misogyny, while accurate, does nothing to confront the more fundamental of our problems: a culture in which hard power, domination, insincerity, inauthenticity, opportunism, taking advantage of our moss vulnerable, including our racial minorities, is now so deeply embedded in our cultural mindset, as to have a life of its own, as “normal, conventional, and even moral and ethical.
And it is not to assume or presume that by digging more deeply into the collective conscious and unconscious of North American culture that we will eradicate these monstrous, evil, and inexcusable massacres. We will not.

However, given that there are no, or at least very few, women who engage in acts of such horrific consequences, men, and that means all men, have to come to grips with our shared burden of responsibility for these demonstrations of unleashed, unbridled and unmitigated hatred, contempt, loathing and self-destruction.

And apparently with 75% of all suicides in Canada committed by men, we are not making much headway in our shared obligation to prevent both kinds of needless killing, both of self and of others. Isolation, the silo-effect, proudly believing and the enacting a conviction that we can “do it alone,” including facing our demons, and our mental and emotional and psychic horrors is both duplicitous and ensnaring. It convinces the believer of a profound and indisputably lie, and then proceeds to ensnare him in a drama born of that conviction.

And less we too become entangled in another intellectual and abstract perception and the rendering that ensues from such academic papers and texts, there are a couple of moments in my own life that point directly to the collision of masculinity and violence, neither of them worthy of headlines, yet perhaps instructive, given that the male at the centre of each micro-drama was my father. The first occurred when I found him behind the jacket heater with a loaded .22 pointed at his head at 3:00 a.m. back in 1954 immediately following a cacophonous conflict with his wife, my mother. And the second, only a couple of years later, when, while sitting cross-legged in the doorway of our back porch, while mother was behind an iron board just before dad was about to return to work on a summer afternoon, and again there were embattled only verbally, so it seemed, he impulsively reached over the ironing board to strike her with his massive hand on the end of his also massive and muscular arm, to strike her. I intercepted his lunge by also impulsively pounding my own fist into his right side ribs, breaking two of those bones.

Violence between parents, witnessed firsthand, is not something for which I am proud nor is something only I have experienced. Thousands if not millions of children have witnesses, and been scarred by incidents far more traumatic than those scribbled in my diary. Only later did I learn that my own father had found and extricated his father from a self-inflicted suicide attempt in the back shed of their residence on Church Street, where one can only assume, without empirical and documented evidence, another conflicted drama was playing out both in the mind of my grandfather, and likely between him and his spouse. Around the time of my learning of this near-fatal tragedy, I also was assigned to a parish in suburban Toronto where a male clergy had taken his life at the altar, in what is allegedly the single known liturgical suicide in Canadian ecclesial history.

The process of a grieving congregation, even two years after the horrific death, was painfully neither simply nor superficial. It was gut-wrenching as, no doubt, will be the individual and community grief processes in Nova Scotia’s several communities. And the grief work has to precede and supplant the ‘investigative’ and remediative reflections that necessarily follow.

So these reflections are not either to supplant or to minimize the personal and collective wounds that will accompany all of those involved to their own graves. However, as our personal and collective conscious is currently laser-focused on the events of last weekend in Nova Scotia, and the memories of December 6, 1991 in Montreal, these reflections are however meager and ineffectual offerings of empathy and even identity with the whole cast of these dramas.

Men are apparently incapable of or unwilling to acknowledge how deeply and inexplicably we experience events that really matter. We throw off our well-worn clichés of indifference, insouciance, and even arrogance if and when confronted with profound danger, pain, insults, and abuses. We are, in a word, supposed to be invincible, unmoveable, heroic and stoic as if those two words overlapped each other, and devoid of anything as complicated and complicating as unnamed and out of reach feelings and the ideas that leap from the womb of these emotions. And especially, in our relations with women, we are attempting too often to engage with only a small portion of our full personhood. We are often so fully fixated and unable to be diverted from our own obsession, even to acknowledge our own needs, given our socialization that denies or significantly reduces our consciousness about any need. We are, it seems, in a constant and heroic competition, both with ourselves to be “better” than someone or something that has been cast as our benchmark of success, or with another who symbolizes a similar benchmark of wholeness and worthiness.

And this competition, this drive, this ambition and this identification can and often does take over our consciousness, and the sad part is that we are loath to ‘check out’ our desperation with an authentic other, especially another male, whether professionally qualified or not. The forms and the actions defining our desperation, as well as the roots of it, vary considerably, and our culture likes to focus on those differences. However, without applying any clinical training or skills to these male-inflicted tragedies, at their core, we have to assume, presume, guess and believe that there is a desperate male psyche.

And any and all attempts to eradicate desperation from the male psyche will go unsuccessful, given that they are as deeply embedded in our psychic culture as is our capacity to love in all of the life-giving, creative and empathic ways in which we participate in its gifts, with our partners. It is likely to be more effective to dig into those seedlings (it is after all Spring and planting season!), and to parse and to deconstruct their origins both in genetics and in culture for their inherent warning flags and the most likely triggers of their explosions.

And then, in becoming conscious of the basic notion that all men, and perhaps all women too, (but that is for another place and time and scribe) have voices that can and will be activated, whether consciously or not, that signal some kind of desperation. And that being on the “edge” can happen with little or no warning, with little or no foreshadowing, and certainly without previous experiences in one’s diary.

I have felt “on edge” and desperate, in a specific professional deployment that was, in a word, simply incompatible with a healthy deployment/employment ethos. The fullness of the background was either unknown or certainly unacknowledged and uncommunicated to this innocent prior to the engagement. Being thrown into the “deep end” of the pool, without warning, preparation or basic and required support is a drama certainly not exclusive to my history. It is a far too common and repeated story for those in power to throw a rookie into a highly complex and volatile set of circumstances, to see if he can withstand the pressure, thereby proving his worth, without having to accept responsibility for their blatant and evil discarding of their responsibilities. And what rookie is on such a “footing” either fiscal or professional to challenge the power structure? (And please do not think this kind of drama does not occur in church hierarchy. In fact, it is replete in church establishments where accountability, transparency and integrity are a gaping chasm!)

My desperation did not focus on a violent act against a person, but rather against the building owned by the diocese. (My fist drove holes in walls in nearly all rooms over a three-year period!) It was nevertheless, desperation, even after I sought support and redress from its impact, confirmed, by the way, by professionals who themselves had previously undergone similar if not identical circumstances in nearly identical rural, isolated, mountain wild west towns.

Desperation, in isolation, whether they are both self-imposed, or partially self, and partly other-imposed, is and will always be desperation. And it is a shared responsibility, just as we all have a shared responsibility for the projected increase from 165 million, to 265 million starving humans on the planet over the next year, to refuse the social and cultural imperative, to “not intrude” into the lives of those who suffer.

It is, in fact, worthy of note that individuals whose names and psyches author massacres have all given off signals that warned of their impending doom, and the potential that they will take others with them. And while those signals will differ in each situation, we men can all be more attuned to the plight we all share, to acknowledge without embarrassment, shame or guilt that we are both incomplete, inferior and incapable of solving each and every desperate situation. Death itself, tells us that in spades, although we continue to behave as if we are immortal. And then there is the question of full disclosure to those with whom we are intimate, without succumbing to the cliché fear that “she” will reject me for my weakness, insecurity, incompleteness, and inferiority. And in anticipation of that rejection, really a compounding of any already deeply-experienced desperation potentially unrelated to the relationship itself, we put ourselves in a double-bind.

First we think we are invincible, and have to  be to attract the partner of our fantasy and dream, and then, if and when we confront our most deep anxieties and demons, we think and indeed believe that our demons are both unique to us and the only demons the world has ever experienced.

And to disclose how frightened, traumatized, desperate we are to anyone, least of all to an intimate partner, is psychologically fatal, to our distorted and perverted image of who we are.

So, from this an ensuing massacres, can we all be much more attentive, attuned and willing to risk a form of rejection if we were to consider the option of taking even baby steps of support for those we know or even suspect are becoming desperate. We can start with a normal, and yet still too infrequently authentic socially acceptable question, “How are you really doing?” and meaning it when asking. There are signs, even almost imperceptible signs on a face, with an eyebrow, or even a quick glance away, at hearing the question, when one knows the questioner actually means it, that can and will trigger normal human signals of concern, perhaps worry and even anxiety. And while we are not in a position to take every other person in our circle as intimately as we would a life partner, we can dissolve the wall of indifference, insouciance and careless hubris between humans that does not provide the kind of privacy, security and psychic safety we too often claim its rationale.

The wall of masculine invincibility, invulnerability, and heroic stoicism is a wall whose destruction can and will only come about through the deliberate and often incidental and even accidental yet deliberate attention, notice and compassion and empathy of men for all men. Desperation, like COVID-19 knows no political, economic, religious, ideological or geographic boundaries. It has the capacity to inflict itself on each and every man on the planet and these massacres need to be prevented, before they occur.
We really are “all in this together”…in ways we may not heretofore have considered!

Neither clinical psychiatry, nor sexual politics can or will adequately address these massacres; human connections, caring, compassion, empathy in timely and appropriate measures might help to reduce their frequency and their predictability. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

#74 Men, agents of and pathway ot cultural metanoia (reflections on love, #2)

It is easy to see that lists of recipes, like how do you know if ‘she’ is interested in you’ or ‘how do you know if ‘he’ is interested in you, are so tragically literal, reductionistic and flawed as to be meaningless. To say that every person is unique  and unable to be predicted, programmed, manipulated and compliant with some marketed formula based on the opinions of anyone, whether professional or not is so obvious I can hardly believe I have just tapped it on these keys.

And, also, to segregate the notion of “love” in all of its complexities, to the basal concept of a man-woman romantic relationship is also reductionistic, simplistic, literal and self-defeating. Frankly, it is the “file-foldering” of each and every subject  in human interaction, as if all relationships were merely transactional, into one or more of the many potential binary equations that is so appalling.

Buyer-seller, pursuer-pursued, teacher-student, doctor-patient, lawyer-client, mentor-mentee, supervisor-supervisee, even clergy-laity….these are all functional exchanges based on a specific and usually immediate or at least proximate need and the potential fulfilment of that need. These are socially and culturally ‘prescribed’ scripts, some of them even written and then ‘inculcated’ into the new trainees in each situation, and all of them exclude, or at least make every effort to exclude what is the most natural and inpredictable, green-back horse that resides within each human being, the desire/dream/vision of loving and being loved.

Seeing the other party from whichever side of the “binary’ pole, as a role-player, with specific skills, attributes, anxieties, ‘ability to pay/or not,’ capacity to learn/or not, possessor of reliable information/or not, authenticity/or not, integrity/or not, charming/or not, brilliant/or not, friendly/or not….these are merely the collective reduction of instant evaluations, fitting neatly into the maxim that “there are only the first thirty seconds to make a first impression” and that impression too often, like a 3-dimensional printer, punches out an “image” of the other, that often refuses amendment, modification, re-assessment, or even restraint. In fact, these ‘rules’ for business success, corporate success, interview success, and probable career and professional success are so restrictive that, no doubt, many highly qualified, and even highly complex and creative thinkers are passed over, given a dominant preference for “attraction” to what many consider physical and psychic and emotional clones, by those in power.

And this model of adherence, or more accurately deference to “cookie-cutter” predictables is so prevalent in the organizational world as to be the subject of studies in organizational hiring. Anyone who smacks of ‘original’ or that proverbial and heinous judgement “s/he will provide high rewards, along with high risk”…for the person who simply doesn’t fit into the narrow lens of the person responsible for hiring, selecting, promoting, accepting into a higher level program. The blatant desire for those who are “controllable” and “easily managed” and “dependable” and “supportive” and “non-critical”, whether in an organizational relationship or a personal/domestic relationship….too often not only foreshadows failure but actually precludes a healthy engagement. Not too long ago, research demonstrated that, of the executives hired in U.S. organizations, both private and not-for-profit, 75% failed in the first three months.
One can only guess that, based on such a failure/cost rate, steps have been taken to broaden the range of acceptable candidates, and also to reinforce the orientation/mentoring/coaching resources for new leaders, in order to set them (and the organization) up for success.

What is the applicable, measureable, ethical and effective meaning of love, in a wider contextual spectrum that one-on-one choices in personal relationships, and also in organizational selection processed?

If we can ever even envision a stage of development in the west in which LOVE is the highest level on the cultural, political, economic, ideological, and ethical totem poles, then men, especially because it is male energy that traditionally drives the process of imagining and then taking steps to engage in relationships (more and more women are demonstrating their willingness and highly sensitive capacity to initiate) have to first acknowledge that relationships are not reducible to a chemical equation, nor are they predictable based on any preconceived formula, no matter how rigorously anyone or organization clings to such a pattern.

How power is exercised, delegated, dispersed, monitored, in both macro and micro fields, plays an integral part in the overall design of a culture. If, for example money and power and status are the driving forces in any culture, then, automatically, those who are reticent, shy, withdrawn and perhaps even humble will be cast aside at the first layer of selection. (The same kind of assessment applies to personal relationships.) If physical beauty, or at least what is consider the contemporary fashionable example, is considered highly significant, as it currently is for television and acting roles, and potentially for any public role, then those with what are considered fewer attractive features will be rejected. If body size and shape are considered significant, (and this is one of those implicit biases because no one will agree to harbour a bias against obesity, while the culture demonstrates such a bias daily, and hourly) then those with an extended ‘girth’ was once used to describe this scribe, will be excluded from consideration.

And then there are attributes like eye contact, physical posture, wardrobe selection, all of them combining in the mind-camera of the ‘selector’ to constellate a “gestalt” picture of this other person. And, it is those hidden, unconscious and implicit biases that come into play, with or without public acknowledgement, to influence a choice.
Subsequent to any selection process, whether  personal or professional, comes the first stage of familiarity, when both parties are playing roles of deference, hoping against hope, on the one hand that the selector has chosen wisely, and on the other hand that the selectee has not been misplayed, misinterpreted, or mis-judged. Naturally, in any professional/business relationship, costs of both training/mentoring and hiring will factor into the successive assessments, on both sides. However, the nature of the culture into which one is invited, is rarely if ever fully disclosed to the new aspirant.

And it is the anatomy of the culture that decidedly offers one of the most telling thermometers of how power is operating, and whether or not words like “authentic support,” “confidence,” “compassion,” “empathy,” and “attentiveness,” beyond being slogans written into a union contract, or a personal/professional contract, are fully incarnated. A full orientation, for example, with full training, repetition, adjustment to individual learning styles and preferences, as well as a full recognition and commitment to the provision of more than adequate resources for successful achievement of required tasks, relationships and the generation of an even more healthy workplace culture are only the basics of love in a professional context.

Costs, however, while they play a role in such a detailed process, have to be assessed both from the front and the back end. Too often, in contemporary professional culture, up-front costs are not measured in relation to down-side failures. For example, the costs incurred by those 75% of executives who failed in the first ninety days were unlikely considered when calculating the up-front costs of orientation. Just as in our environmental costs, we never include the full price of our superficial and reductionistic in the calculations of the long-term costs. Smelting metal for the production of autobody parts, for example, rarely if ever include the costs to the environment as part of their initial cost to the manufacturer. And society, therefore, is left paying that hidden yet well know cost to us all.

Similarly, in our assessment, development, appreciation and commitment to growth of each of our human associates, and this applies in private as well as public relationships, we too infrequently take account of our blind spots in making decisions along with our desperate need to succeed right now, and damn the long-term consequences, because no one will remember and hold me accountable. Taking the short-term, ‘nano-second’ view on any situation, is a narcississtic and despicable approach, yet it prevails in so many of our “utilitarian-transactional” relationships.

From a universal perspective, too, love requires a mutual commitment to telling, listening to, and taking account of the truth. And that truth is not monopolistic for any single individual, or any organization. Every organization has a part of the whole truth, yet many consider the organization’s truth to be the dominant truth, especially if that truth is contradicted by the people engaged in that organization. While we blow trumpets and clang pots at seven p.m. in many cities around the world, in thanks for the frontline health care workers and first responders, in this pandemic, we nevertheless are also complicit in failing them in their legitimate need for protective equipment. And we are especially in need of their love for our loved ones, while we fail in our reciprocal care of them.

We do not need to be in a personal, private, romantic relationship with these professionals, nor they with the families of their patients, in order to accept our responsibility to “love” them for who they are, in addition to what function they carry out on our behalf.

If we continue to demand separation from the actual ingredients, components, and constituent elements that form our planet, as well as from the other inhabitants on this planet, at a time of such deep reflection on who we are in the most profound senses of that ‘who’….as much more than a functioning device, a set of skills, a diagnosis, a prescription, a filing of a tax return, or a court document…then we face the inevitable consequences of our fundamental blindness. Whether that blindness is based on fear that the full reality is too complicated for our busy and highly tuned and productive lives, or on our pretense that, given our superiority to the rest of nature, we do not need to pay attention, or on our aversion to the full truth, because it threatens to incapacitate us in our preferred march to heroism….of whatever kind imprinted on our psyches….

Perhaps, our need to be heroic, that old proverbial pathway to full development, so dominating in our literature, our romances, our history books, our political documents and their academic interpretations, or our discovery of the latest and most effective cure, or treatment…or the performance of the Beethoven Symphony…or the painting of the most treasured canvas in the Louvre…

As both a matter of self-care, and also as a matter of care of the universe, (TAO) let’s begin to rethink how tilted we have made the floor of our western culture, through our own ambitious determination to dominate, to climb the ladder of whatever social/political/religious/academic/financial/entertainment/athletic pyramid that promises both a gold ring of achievement and a platinum award of public acclaim.
Neither the gold ring, nor the platinum reputation can or will last, based as they are on a fleeting, somewhat specious and certainly speculative set of public/personal values/morals/ethics, as to be easily dismantled by the evidence of lives truly and honourable lived in garrets, ghettoes, under bridges, and in isolated rooming houses. There people of equal “value” (according to the U.S. Constitution) and based on any reasonable, judicious and defensible reading of any holy words, eke out their very capacity to breath, to smile, to hope and to dream, just as those riding those million-dollar yachts, and those million-dollar private jets.

Trouble is, and the evidence is now tightening like a too-small dog collar for our inflated, collective ego’s, we are on an unsustainable path to our own demise. There simply are not enough ventilators for everyone on the planet, when the smog covers our urban landscapes. There are not enough pills or potions to fend off the choked airways into our individual and our shared and collective lungs. There are not enough choir members singing loud enough to be heard by those deliberately deaf ears among the powerful mostly men, whose capacity and willingness to express both the vulnerability and the reciprocity inherent in love of self, of other, and of any deity seems to have withered, if it were ever fully permitted full disclosure and full exercise.

Nurses, respiratory technologists, pulmonary specialists, virologists, scientists, and their legitimate findings, including those findings with which we are especially uncomfortable, nevertheless, are expressions of the most profound love, compassion, empathy and identification with which any deity worthy of the name would be honoured to receive. Can and will we be open to the notion that it is not only in the midst of an existential threat do we need such empathy, compassion, and love? Yet, there is certainly a forecast of impending clouds on the cultural, economic, political, scientific, and spiritual horizon that our need is unlikely to dissipate any time soon.