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.

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