Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Shackling hope and opportunity with the chains of entrenched power

There are some disturbing cliches that limit, if not actually preclude, the seeding, nurture and development of a global, tolerant, supportive and ultimately survival attitude and mentality needed for the next century.

Some of the cliches are relatively new, while others are traditional. Among those relatively new rhetorical epithets, are:

·        Globalism, and a global economy will lift all boats

·        Technology will solve our most pressing problems

·        Economics are the core of all public issues and debate

·        Jobs must prevail over the protection of the environment

·        Labour rights and protections are a drag on the balance sheet of major corporations

·        Racism, sexism, ageism and religious bigotry reside only in the eyes and minds of those who consider themselves victims

·        Colonialism is the generator of the world’s history of development

·        Individual morality trumps a shared ethic

And among the more deeply rooted epithets that impede a ‘world view’ consciousness are:

§  All politics is local

§  All leaders must submit to a microscopic disclosure of their history, if we are to trust them enough to vote for them

§  My father always bought a Ford, GM, Chrysler and those Asian cars only take jobs away from ‘our people’

§  The unique characteristics of our town, village, township demand that we reinforce them in our kids: how we ‘see’ strangers, how we value (or disparage) change, how Catholics and Protestants do 9or do not) get along

§  How our neighbours acted when there were disputes

§  How the “outside” authorities (province, state, nation) ‘saw’ our little town, in respect to the pork-barrel we received, compared with other towns in the riding

§  How we elevate our local heroes to the stature of rock-stars, as a sign of the pride in what an ordinary kid can accomplish

§  How we denigrate our “failures” as a way of denying, avoiding and condescending the back-stories, in which we might have a part, in order to avoid any shared, collective, and community responsibility

§  How we revere the locals with excess wealth, as if they are the primary custodians of our best values

§  How those living in the biggest houses are both revered for their political and social influence, as well as despised for their arrogance in ‘reverse snobbery’

§  How our local media, in addition to the ads, and the obituaries, concentrate on the police report, the court report and the church/fund-raising socials, as if the core themes of issues mattered only to the official and elected representatives

§  How fires, ambulances, burglaries, murders and tornadoes, while significant, like magnets attract both supportive help and festering nests of gossip

§  How family breakdown, alcoholism, drug addiction is seen and spoken of in a “tutt-tutt” righteously superior manner, by those looking in from the outside

§  How homeless is regarded as a “scourge” on the community, committed by the “no-goods” (not even the have-not’s) because if they were any good, they would not be this ‘drag’ on our community…they are certainly not role models, nor contributors, nor even respectable members of our community

§  How churches, in too many cases, turn up their noses and cast aspersions downward on those less well dressed, less fluent, less educated and certainly those of the LGBTQ community and those of a minority ethnicity

§  The sinister and lethal level of communal gossip that, like a viral pandemic, scurries over the facebook and the chat lines, Instagram and twitter, as a superficial glue and a toxic bullying tactic in both feigned superiority and inclusion, (in a small cell) as well as a lethal weapon of exclusion. The veneer of congeniality that, like mascara, attends public interactions, teaches everyone the acceptable topics of public discourse and the rejected topics of public discourse, both in families and in the community generally.

In a previous life, I encountered a slogan on a consulting firm that read:

           “Sustainable support for your most valued resource---your people”

Implicit in that sell line, were numerous, often obvious, implications that if that firm were hired to be an effective instrument in growing and developing the people in a workplace, there would be considerable attention paid to assessing:

ü the degree of open, frank and free communication,

ü the relationships between and among individual workers

ü the relationships between and among the levels of authority and supervision,

ü the cultural norms, expectations,

ü the relative comfort with change, and resistance to change

ü the conceptual framework of the organization (pyramidal, circular, ad-hoc teams) including how power/decision-making is both perceived and actually conducted

ü the individual traits of workers, leaders, and influencers..their strengths and weaknesses, from a professional perspective (without clinical assessment, and certainly not through deployment of some WACO personality test)

ü relationship of this firm to its relative competitors, and allies, suppliers, financial resources (again not from an accounting perspective, but from the impact of its over-all health on the performance of the objectives, goals, targets of the firm

Left outside the conventional parameters of the assessment, report and recommendations would be the various cultural, belief, and normative ‘bounds’ on the organization and its people, that either enhance or impede the effective functioning of the organization. These considerations would be considered extra-territorial, mere narrative backdrop, and like the finer details of each biography of each worker at all levels, would be considered the stuff of something akin to an anthropological or even archeological piece of research.

After all, the personal beliefs, attitudes, perceptions and the words and the manner of their expression through adaptation to new work routines, to new machines, to new thought processes and research, and even to the ‘outsider’ (consultant) would be at best a series of footnotes, not actually material to the obvious presenting issues facing the organization that prompted the consult in the first place.

Change, new ideas, new research, new notions of technology, and of experimentation, depending on the entrenchment of the culture in preserving everything “old” as “treasured” and “valued” because it is old, and represents the identity of the organization, all threaten the very identity of many cultures, and the people currently in charge with retaining that culture.

Careers have been built, families raised, communities told and re-told the same stories, through, for example, the media’s persistent repetition of the same old myths (new people are a threat, and the rich deserve the power, and the seemingly righteous are not what they seem, the poor have always lived over there, and caused problems as long as we can remember, the professionals think their ‘s- - t’ don’t stink, our only hope is to put a ‘native’ in office), simply because those myths, they knew, would sell their papers, and reap those advertisements on which they depended. Nothing “too radical” was ever permitted to make it past the publisher’s eyes and desk, for fear that the town would ‘turn on’ the paper. Stability, consistency, dependability and the revering of the town’s “foundational premises and assumptions” are at the heart of the local unspoken “secular religion”.

And we wonder why books like Thomas Homer-Dixon’s “The Ingenuity Gap…How Can we Solve the Problems of the Future” are written, printed, and then distributed. Naturally, from this perspective they are desperately needed. While it is true that some of the proverbial constricting, local myths are giving way to a new generation of youth, as well as a series of generations of immigrants, refugees and migrant scholars from around the world, and there is a flattening of the ‘apex’ of white, male, affluent, older and highly educated individuals’ power and influence, there is still a very long way to go even to ‘rounding’ the peak of that mountain.

It is a granite mountain of resistance,  that, while we cling to its reverence, its sustainability simply because it has been around for so long, and, in our mind thereby having justified its value not only for surviving but for the methods by which it was able to endure. We see signs on the entrances to towns and cities, “innovation and history thrive here” “touch the past, embrace the future” which, sadly, display a truth and a political and cultural dream that is very often, if not always, unappreciated especially by the old-timers, the urn in which the ashes of history are carried, and from which the dust of those ashes will continue to spread over the streets and the living rooms and the coffee shops and the pubs for decades if not centuries.

Town Councils, Regional governments, provincial governments and even national governments, as well as the organizations and corporations in their charge, are possessed by the need to ‘focus on the immediate crisis’ while, at the same time, doing so in a manner that will bring the requisite forces to bear on the potential resolution of that crisis. And while, for example, science and technology, through the plethora of labs, individually and collectively, pursue their own unique speciality of a treatment or cure, or a new algorithm, those new designs and discoveries have to find a receptive host outside the labs and the cyber/silicone caves. And it is far easier and more likely that the pill, medicine or software will find an immediate harbour of incubation and nurture, into acceptance, a similar process does not exist for the seeding, the nurture and the growth and acceptance of new attitudes, beliefs, and values especially into the rural and small urban centres across North America.

We hear and read about the ‘culture wars’ between the urban and rural voters in all elections. We also know that corporations tailor their advertising campaigns to ‘fit’ the culture of their specific demographic market. And we know that, for example, yoga and pilates, have found their way into the most remote corners of many communities across the continent. Tragically, so too have the amphetamines and their requisite labs for production and distribution, (AND PROFIT) have also found their way into the streets and the schools across the continent. It is neither surprising nor accidental that cannabis outlets have sprung up everywhere, having been unleashed by national and provincial governments. This is not an argument against those new commercial ventures, but only a manner by which to compare the relative penetration of the many diverse communities by a commercial newcomer, in reference to the likelihood of penetration of new ideas, processes, theories, and even beliefs that might free the local culture from some of the chains that bind it.

It has been argued, and written that the lectures, books and theories that are and have been unearthed in many of the graduate schools, especially of the liberal arts and theology schools, rarely if ever make their way into the minds, consciousness or even the public media in smaller and rural centres. The LGBTQ community, for example, has struggled to gain even tolerance, (certainly not acceptance) among the many churches across the continent. Liberation theology, as another now relatively ‘old’ school from South America, has barely shown its head in North America, although significant religious and spiritual initiatives to eliminate poverty have sprung up, without the added codicil of political activism on a multiple-issue basis.

I recently listened to a ‘local’ businessman articulate his prescription of how aproposed new (yet long established elsewhere) senior citizens centre needed to be brought to life: “whatever is done, it has be done very slowly…that is the way we do things here” were the precise words from his mouth. He was not being arrogant, presumptuous, or even ignorant of the culture of his community. He was merely asserting one of the cardinal rules of “process” for the community. It must be done slowly….

And when parsing the phrase, one has to wonder what are the underlying themes upon which his utterance is based. Is it the notion that by going slow, the town is more likely to get it right? Or is it that going slowly will be less intimidating to the original townsfolk because it kind of ‘slipped’ in by the back door, without causing a fuss? Or is it that going slowly will provide those ‘gatekeepers’ of the town (and every town, hamlet, organization, government, school, university, college and certainly every church has one or more) to assess both the project and the people leading, before putting the official “town stamp” of approval on the project? Or is it that the gatekeepers, because of their longevity, their deep acceptance among the insiders, must fulfil their self-assigned purpose of ‘keeping the sacred alive’ as if their perception of the identity of the town/region were the ‘right’ and the most ‘acceptable’ perceptions?

And, lying underneath many of the clichés like a silent, secret and yet ready to explode fire in the root of the tree of each hamlet is the fear that their unique and historic identity will be shattered by the invasion of new ideas, new people, new perceptions, new values and new opportunities. And whether that fear/resistance lies in insecure individuals inside families, or inside the town councils or the chambers of commerce, or inside the sanctuaries of the churches, or inside the local hospital, school, college or service club, it will inevitably prevail over the naivety, innocence, impetuosity and curiosity and energy of new infusions of talent.

And, that consulting company’s report and  account, while paid, will too often look like the proverbial ball of wet mud, thrown against the white office wall, only to leave a mere stain of brown when it dries. I know I have watched both side of this fault line. 

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