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Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 again in 2021

9/11 again in 2021 in

I saw the first plane hit the first tower on a tv set in an office where I was working with a client.
"Everything has changed; nothing will ever be the same as it was before this moment!" was the sentiment then among all present. And that sentiment  has been forged into historic reality in the ensuring twenty years.

Later that day, I was confronted by a faux educator intent on sucking the public dollars from the public trough in a private career academy (ironic misuse of the long and treasured tradition of the academe)..for two narcissistic and greedy motives: profit and social and political ambition to achieve social status parity with the then president of a real local university.

Enrolment numbers of still-maturing and often vulnerable and insecure young men and women, who themselves were trying to find a "career" without having to endure the trials and stumbles of time and experience, meant dollars and validation of his motives to this glib and superficial "educator".
Teaching ethics to wannabe police officers, I found the most intractable and virtually unreachable concept to convey and to convince these neophytes who were so in awe of the vision of personal power (analogous to and complicit with the owner's life goals)...was the concept of a "clear and unbiased and judgement-free mind-set" in that moment when they were to be entering whatever situation needing their presence after graduation.

The over-riding ethos of the players in that context was to find the shortest path to immediate extrinsic goals.

Any mention of anything that pushed back against the exclusively personal transactional, any idea that superceded technique, or that challenged the view that all circumstances could be managed and manipulated through a menu of method, devoid of perspective, judgement, full of ambiguity, and outside the literal reading if the rules was beyond the walls, the minds and the spirit of that enterprise from top to bottom.

This is not to say that the career academy dies not have a place in a culture where work provides income and sustenance. It is, however, to warn against the spectre of the pursuit of transactional personal selfish goals that  ultimately and inevitably sabotage those pursuing them and all who are complicit in that process.

Those terrorists who pursued their own ultimately selfish and transactional goals of bringing the American capitalist altar to ruin, in order to assert their own unbridled religious hubris, were, and continue to be, engaged in a vain, narcissistic, selfish, and ultimately vacuous goal that can never be considered a worthy definition of meaning, purpose or especially identity for a single person.
We cry out for the preservation of democracy and freedom as opposed to the venal and evil forces of autocracy, dictatorship, terrorism and religious fanaticism.

And then we merge a specific faith like Christianity and Islam as examples of the differences...when it is the human nature's deep-seated need for power, control, dominance and status that has been grafted onto those values that we espouse, teach and incarnate.

Of course, I have contempt for the faux-educator profiting from the glib manipulation of people and dollars for primarily personal greed and status. And yet, the question still remains: have we not succumbed to the reduction of too many if our human agendas to the merely transactional, the merely literal, the merely self-serving and the obviously self-sabotaging?

For all of the vain and assiduously developed defences against the threats of terror in the airports, the planes, the cyber-security edifices we have built, and the laws and bureaucracies to protect us, how many self-reflective moments have we each engaged to assess the degree to which our own lives have fallen for the need for instant and immediate satisfaction of our most superficial and obvious need?
The divide between personal and cultural perspectives of need opens on the clock, the calendar and the universe's notion of eternity.

Immediate personal satisfactions can and will thwart the legitimate long-term and far more resonant and inspiring work and rewards that attends the larger honourable collective need for safety, security and hope.

And the detachment from our shared needs and purposes in favour of exclusively private and personal needs me goals (excessive consumerism, nationalism, religious exclusivity, excessive and isolated self-righteous ness, and pomposity of absolute certainty,) will inevitably bite each if us and the whole world in the butt.

That's not rocket science; it is obvious to any who choose to look.

And that won't be pretty or unpredictable! 


Monday, September 6, 2021

anti-vaxxers' ironic discrimination

Some of those protesting Trudeau's campaign events are accusing the prime minister of discriminating and even of fascism because he advocates for COVID-19 vaccinations and a vaccine passport.
Some of us "elderlies" find this framing of the public health issue as a
faux human rights issue not only logically fallacious but morally and ethically flawed.

For starters the virus does not and will not discriminate between targets including both those who are vaccinated and those who are not. The very concept of discrimination is a label fired from the several personal and political canons of those who have and are and  will continue to presume to advocate for personal choice over the public interest and the public good

Feelings of victimhood...being discriminated against...have found a sizeable niche in the public discourse by many who are literally and historically targetted for specific reasons including racism, sexism, ageism, religion, ethnicity, and even social status (the poor, the under-educated, the homeless).
The notion that a responsible political leader would use the "victim" argument to seduce potential supporters by manipulating their feelings of victimhood fails everyone, including especially those who "fall" for their argument.

Of course, we are all on a learning curve in our valiant attempt to rein in the spread and danger  of the virus.
That  includes the epidemiologists themselves and the scientists racing to develop and test vaccines and therapeutics to combat the pandemic.
"Emergency use authorization" is not final and formal approval; however such endorsements are and were and will continue to be necessary in ordern to mediate the impact in terms of cases. hospitalizations and deaths.
Those emergency use authorizations have already demonstrated both safety and efficacy at levels equal to or exceeding those previously tolerated and accepted and even revered vaccines for other serious illnesses.

The culture of trust has however changed radically from those days when medical and scientific professionals were relied upon for guidance in protecting our own and our childrens' health and well being.
Not only has distrust grown into its in own variety of pandemic; it has been fuelled by those steeped in both narcissistic self-aggrandizement in political terms and the pursuit of profit  in both methods and obsession in the be private sector.

Greed is now not only "good"; it has been elevated to a personal life goal stripped of nuance and shame.
Link the cultural obsession with narcissism to the legal cry for individual rights (both lethal forces against the broad and complex and essential public interest) and what results is the latest version of the toxic tail wagging the healthy dog.

In towns and cities small vocal minorities are punching far above their be weight...whether they advocate for pickel-ball courts or radical hate larynxes claiming they are  "protecting our children" from people like Trudeau whom they label as fascist.
Projections of fear, anxiety and insecurity are thrown, sometimes even unconsciously, and certainly personally, at those considered (without reflection and/or identification of personal motivation) to be a danger to their fragile worldview.

Hate, contempt, vile and viscous words hurled at specific targets easily morph into real bullets, as the number of personal threats to politicians has risen dramatically in the last several months.
The society's instruments to detect bullets may exceed our current capacity to detect the morphing of COVID variants. And yet those variants will continue to plague all of us (in all countries and economic classes) so long as the viral words and attitudes and beliefs in personal "privilege" (not right) triumph over the protection of the public health.

Not having a national policy for vaccination mandates and passport introduction is in a word simply inexcusable and irresponsible.
Even fully vaccinated, I am so still a in potential carrier and spreader of COVID-19...and those who refuse to be vaccinated are even a greater threat to my life and health...and to their own.
Opting out is not a human right...iris a deliberate act of defiance of the notion that we are enjoined in a common cause...

And that enjoinment extends to other equally dangerous existential threats...such as climate change and global warming and also the tidal wave of poverty, starvation and criminal terrorist cells.
The UN, while uttering warnings. reports and projections, nevertheless remains merely an agency of moral suasion. In a world where moral suasion is as potent as a quarter in search of a cup of coffee, that does not buy the coffee.

Individuals, each one of us, has nothing short of a moral imperative to consider the public interest as at least equal to, if not occasionally more relevant and important than our personal privileged choice.
When will we waken to prevent our own and our families' demise?

Or is that an IF? 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

"Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition" (Alain de Botton)

 There is so much turbulence everywhere….and Afghanistan seems to be only the tip of the flaming iceberg….with China, Iran, and Pakistan all crawling to accept and potentially do business with the new Taliban government in Kabul

California is on fire….the prairies are so dry that farmers have lost somewhere near 75% of their expected crop….young children are dying from COVID-19 Delta Variant…booster shots are now on the horizon….Gov. Abbott of Texas, double vaccinated plus booster has contracted COVID-19….desperate people in Kabul have been running underneath and climbing onto monster military jets just to get out of their own native country…reminiscent of the people jumping to their deaths on 9/11 in New York….school mandates for masks, vaccinations, social distancing are literally all of the proverbial ‘map’ with political leaders way out of their depth on public health leadership….

Viktor Oban in Hungary hosts Tucker Carlson’s Fox TV show, in a defiant, thumb-his-nose at the United States, and an unsubtle and scary ‘endorsement of both carlson and his cult leader trump…

CDC guidelines, like the weather forecasts we used to be able to depend upon attempt valiantly to keep pace with the galloping new “science” of the pandemic….while only 16% of the world’s population has been vaccinated….if that is not a piece of information that sparks shivers down the spines of everyone reading it, I do not know what would!

The Biden administration has so miscalculated the speed at which the Taliban could and would come to control the capital of Afghanistan including the airport(s), that they have had to rush some 7000 troops back into the country, while working feverishly to wipe the “egg” off the face of the new U.S. government…Perhaps withdrawal from the twenty-year war, another American foreign policy debacle, makes eminent sense, nevertheless the execution of the extrication of American personnel and the 300,000 Afghanis who have supported the American adventure over the last two decades is proving to be lethal to some, and potentially to many…depending on both the outcomes and the availability of accurate reporting as these days and weeks and months pass.

Interest rates are starting to rise, real estate prices are starting to fall…food prices are projected to rise considerably, and public institutions are metaphorically, and thereby effectively eroding/atrophying right before our eyes.

Messages via whatever platform have so mushroomed that mail boxes are overflowing, notes are being passed over, connections that previously came with group projects are dissipating if not disappearing and being replaced (ineffectually) by technology …..employers are witnessing a tidal wave of resignations from long-established employees, many of them highly professional and highly educated, leaving both a vacuum in those workplaces, and a seismic shift in managerial job descriptions and strategies of leadership.

Conversations that previously relied on the two verbs, “ask” and “tell” are being coached into transforming in the direction of “shared learning” in the hope that relationship building can and will pick itself up off the floor of the basal transactional….(we are, after all, much more complicated and interesting that mere function, especially as the agents of another’s end results).

“Getting to know” one’s workers, volunteers, business and club associates, colleagues, has become another cliché in a long line of managerial cliches that have been trotted out by managerial guru’s in their vain attempt to shape the culture of the capitalist system.

Unfortunately, however, given that “cash is king” and that “cash talks” (in the words of a U.S.  Congresswoman) the American culture’s reliance on symbols of hard power, (the military, and the market, including the buying of political support) has hopefully passed its expiry date.

Exporting democracy, at the end of a bayonet, and at the end of a surveillance drone, while believing that such power symbols warranted geo-political respect, admiration, and even sycophancy, is a national strategy that one can only hope has finally reached its inevitable and justifiable death. The relationships between how a nation conducts its business and how it conducts its foreign policy are really not that far apart. Power, domination, testosterone, even mediated by the occasional “sensitivity and empathy” for example, for the threated women and children in Afghanistan, continues to plague the strategies and the tactics of too much of the developed world, traditionally ‘led’ or perhaps even cowered by the United States.

Business models that consider workers, at all levels, but especially at the bottom end of the “food chain” to be both expendable as if they were just another “resource” in the manufacturing process, or “revenue-generators” as opposed to “cost-generators” in the sales, distribution process that extend the product generation business, and political “business models” that rank cash as the criterion by which to judge the success of a political machine, and its “face,” have simply lost their way.

The moral way was lost decades ago; now we are proving that the efficacy of those models has also been found desperately and despicably wanting. We have become familiar with the words “safety” and “efficacy” in reference to the newly approved, (however temporarily) vaccines for COVID. Those words have an equal, if not even more relevance to the policies, practices and the culture in which we are currently expected to operate.

PAUSE to breathe:

Dalai Lama: There is a saying in Tebetan, 'Tragedy should be itilized as a source of strength.' Nomatter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's oru real disaster.

Just a narrative example, from personal experience. Working with a practicing psychologist, an organizational consultant, and a practitioner in board strategies and organizational models, together we submitted a proposal to a struggling board of education for diagnosis, consulting, coaching and long-term support, in order to transform what was ailing the system into an effective and self-sustaining model. Our projected fee was $10K. The board chair, who actually go back to us, had a one-line reason/excuse for not engaging us. “You were far too expensive!”

We were not asked to explain, or to justify, or to demonstrate how we would engage with the board officials. We were dismissed exclusively on our “bottom line cost”.

And that kind of superficiality, based on dollars, is a demonic and pervasive form of sabotage of far too many ideas, projects, and even potential transformations that are demonstrably needed on both sides of the border.

Base pay, for those considered “essential” to the health needs of seniors, for example, has demonstrated how frugality, and profit-seeking greed, has lined the coffers of the privately operated long-term care facilities, while exposing both staff and residents to inordinate levels of the pandemic. Similarly, minimum-wage policies and practices in the service sector, have been exposed for what they are and have been, with re-opening restaurants and bars desperately searching for new hires, after the willing departure of thousands of previous workers who will no longer ‘slave’ for ‘slave’ wages.

The gas has been leaking from the shock-absorbers in our culture for a very long time, while corporate magnates turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plea’s and the cries for modest respect, and moderate “value” that have been coming from the non-unionized workers who, quite literally, have no voice in the marketplace. Similarly, there is no gas left in the shock-absorbers once considered minimal social graces like manners, respect for others, decency in debate, serious consideration of the views of another, even over a beer in a bar, without resorting to that familiar adage from Dubya on the pile of destruction following 9/11, “You are either for us or against us!”

There was and continues to be “no subtlety” in that epithet.
And Dubya himself said, “I do not do subtlety!”

Neither, it appears, does the rest of world any more, if we use social media as our research source.

I met a young man this week, in his mid-forties, who has generated a social media “community” of cheerleaders for his home town. Elegant photos, supportive insights and information hare generated considerable support. However, even he has found that there are too many who wish to “trash” his work, his site, and his valiant efforts to bring a little peace and harmony to the lives and the days of his small community. So virulent has been the “trash-talk” that he expressed concern for his own mental wellness, after struggling in vain to explain reasonable views in a reasonable manner.

Reason, respect, moderation and decency, as the gas in the shock absorbers in a faraway time and place, have evaporated like so many species of animals and plants. There is no ‘scientific’ linkage between climate and global warning to the death of those ‘species’ because, for one thing, they are not creatures on a zoologists or a botonists’s lab table, being anatomized, parsed and dissected for their terminal disease. Reason, respect, moderation, decency and mutual tolerance are creatures of a culture in which some of us were raised. Of course, they are not anatomical, or biological, nor are they able to be assigned empirical data points, like a rate of heart-beat, a rate of oxygen absorption into the blood stream, a lung capacity, nor an acid-test in the urine.

However, they are nevertheless, essential ingredients of a healthy family, a healthy community organization, a healthy town or village, an effectively functioning and visionary town council. And to be unable to use a microscope or an MRI, or a CAT-SCAN to determine how “healthy” they are in a particular social organism, renders them no less important, and no less in need of nutrition, sustenance, oxygen and vitamins in the form of repetition, gratitude, replication, endorsement and emulation.

These essential ingredients of a healthy social system, too, cannot be purchased, nor can they be manufactured in a factory. Schools can and do try to foster their inculcation; however, in a sweltering and pulsating ocean of counter-intuitive winds, hurricanes, tornadoes, fire-storms, all of them fueled by lies, hatred, bitterness, profound neuroses and even psychoses, the normally useful and necessary “tacking” is no longer enough.

Mounting a counter-storm, or even a counter-story, to the onslaught of mean-spirited and narcissistic fear, is, and will continue to be a quixotic and frustrating endeavour.

Just as shaming those refusing to get vaccinated is totally ineffective, so too is shaming and blaming and shouting and screaming against those who refuse to demonstrate something close to reasonableness. As one highly engaged and even more highly intelligent woman put it to me when I was expressing angst at the culmination of so much negativity, “At this time, I believer we have to be even more courageous; we have to be determined not to permit our own drowning in these toxic waters of social media, fed by toxic public figures.”

Never have those words been more needed, regardless of the specific conditions one faces, nor in what country we face them. Whether we are trying to feed a family in a refugee camp in Jordan, or educated a young girl in Afghanistan, or evacuate thousands from the danger of the Taliban, or get vaccinations to the other 84% of the world’s population who have yet to be vaccinated, or whether we are engaged in the UN World’s Food Program, or whether we are engaged in a philanthropic in our own or a foreign land….we need people to commit, to engage, to risk and to take up the single most relevant and compelling issue we each see right before our eyes.

Half-hearted, dilettantish, semi-serious engagement is, both by definition and by operation, a failure to engage. We need to be more conscious and assertive about what we want to do, and those with whom we wish to share our commitment and we need to find those who can and will listen to our desire to serve. And those who are responsible for recruitment and engagement of volunteers need to be very specific in both the terms of the tasks needing to the carried out and the value placed on those who complete them.

There is neither time nor space for the “usual” or the “normal” detachments, the normal politenesses, or the politically correct upper-class reserve, once considered demure and sophisticated. We are, that is every single human being on the planet, is facing too many unresolved, complicated and complicating, and obviously inter-connected sizeable issues or files. We cannot depend on the political class for answers. We also cannot rely on the big money philanthropists to remediate our own angst.

We must face our angst in a way that is not hand-wringing, but rather cudgel-raising. The world needs everyone of us, and it needs us now.

Our individual, family, town, community wellbeing and even our shared survival are hanging in the balance.

Saturday, August 7, 2021


 David Wallace-Wells, of the New York Times, writes (global warming) this all-encompassing threat is now the theatre to which all our stories unfold.” (Humanity’s Greatest Existential Crisis, by William Walkley, in newamerica.org/weekly April 18, 2019)…Walkley again quotes Wallace-Wells from a public address, ‘We have an incredible ability to normalize a grotesque amount of suffering’ (Op. Cit.)

Naturally, such ability to normalize huge amounts of suffering lead to inaction on a number of fronts. Normalizing suffering is another way of saying, we have an ability to fail to see, or to recognize, or to fail to want to see, or to refuse to acknowledge. Ostriches, with their head in the sand, have nothing on us. Ephret Livni, writing in Quartz, in a piece entitled “Feeling anxious? It’s not just you, it’s our philosophical era of neuroexistentialism,’ January 25, 2019, says this:

It’s not easy being human. It never was, really, if William Shakespeare is to be believed. In the 16th century, the playwright noted that ‘life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Neuroscience is increasingly confirming this view. The more scientists learn about the human brain and how it operates, the more obvious it is that being human is no big deal. We’re just animals, complex biological systems operating according to the laws of nature-from physics to biology and chemistry Many scientists, like the late Stephen Hawking, and philosophers like Duke University professor of philosophy and neurobiology Owen Flanagan and SUNY University professor of philosophy Gregg Caruso in a recent issue of The Philosophers Magazine argue that we have no soul, no fixed self, and no inherent purpose. We exist simply because we exist, tiny specks on a small planet in qn infinite universe, and not because a god made the Earth for us…..Collectively, whether we’re aware of the effects of scientific findings specifically or not, much of society is suffering a crisis of ‘neuroexistentialism,’ according to Flanagan and Caruso. ‘Today there is a third-wave existentialism, neuroexistentialism, which expresses the anxiety that, even as science yields the truth about human nature, it also disenchants, they write.

Both Shakespeare and the contemporary neurobiologists/philosophers, independently ‘frame’ the human condition as ‘signifying nothing’ and yet, centuries of different perspectives have attempted to elevate the human being (and thereby the human condition) to a higher plane. Phrases like “more perfect union” and “equal justice for all” and the sacred right to vote, and the elevation of democracy to an ideal, in addition to a political theory and praxis. If we are caught between the seemingly polar opposites of “our better angels” and insignificance, and we tend to be sliding toward a heavily weighted scale in favour of the latter, there seem to be several spin-offs that just might be emerging.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s epithet, “You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts” seems to have eroded, if not evaporated from the public square. Millions are simply replacing a body of agreed facts with their own opinions that supplant the need for, and the dependence on any body of agreed facts. Consequently, for many, there simply IS no climate change or global warming; science and scientists, too, have been trashed (on the virus, vaccines, therapeutics, and preventives). Political ambition on steroids renders, or attempts to render, individuals immune to empirical evidence. If we are all sitting on a precipice about to fall into the ocean of nothingness, then, it seems that one last gasp of “whatever” (narcissism, fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, selfishness and even a resorting to the law of the jungle) have become the new norm. Seeking to appear powerful, irrespective of holding any principles, or even an ideology, for the sake of the “hunt” for the kill, in a zero-sum political equivalent to the Roman coliseum’s kill or be killed, seems to give proof of our basest animal instincts. That process also repudiates, not merely ignores, any ‘higher’ moral ambition to collaborate, to compromise and to seek a higher ground of what some would call responsibility.

Greece, Turkey, California, British Columbia….they are all being consumed by fire as I write this. Friends in Vernon B.C. when asked what they need most, reply simply and poignantly and even hopelessly, “a rain dance!” Species of both flora and fauna are disappearing hourly; the oceans are filling up with garbage, as are the landfills, as the air becomes increasingly dangerous to breathe. Hundreds of thousands of people in all countries, have died because they “couldn’t breath’ as the final life-destroying symptom of COVID-19. Millions either defiantly and categorically refuse to be vaccinated, opening the door for the DELTA variant, and the potential of even more dangerous variants, as the spread of the virus spikes even in what were conventionally considered ‘developed’ nations like the United States.

Power differentials, superior/inferior, are a form of plague, imposed primarily by those who hold power. Income spreads, food scarcities, drug-overdose deaths, mass shootings, hate crimes, and even road carnage are all rising in frequency and severity. “What’s in it for me?” has replaced the former maxim of the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good!” Literalism, and the reductionisms that flow therefrom, takes all metaphoric mountains and their streams and flattens them into arid flatlands. Bottom lines, expressed in an erosion of volunteerism, in another demise of community, not to mention the emptying of many sanctuaries, mosques and synagogues, teach our kids that two thousand years of enlightenment are replaceable by neuroexistentialism.

If we are to burn (or even worse to permit the burning of) all our perceptions and values of a potential of living together and replace them with the law of the jungle, we are falling into the literal snare of meaninglessness, purposelessness and a literal, individual fight for survival at its most base level. Phrases like “Our brother’s keeper” and ‘empathy, compassion, and sharing’ blow across the plains of our consciousness like tumbleweed drying out even further the fertility of the soil of our imaginations, not to mention our sources of food. The indigenous concept of a partnership with mother earth, a respect for and an honouring of the fruits of food, shelter and clothing, through a time perspective of something approaching and evocative of timelessness, is both ignored and dismissed as somehow merely appropriate for “those” others.

Of course, there are a plethora of programs, government-based, philanthropic-engendered, outreaches on behalf of attempting to support struggling survivors of the many ‘plagues’ like famine, war, hopelessness, and voicelessness….as if to assuage our anxiety and psychic pain of indifference….unless and until some single image jolts us into a ‘new’ consciousness of seeming to care.

We champion billionaires, as models of success for our children to emulate. We pour billions into weapons, into intelligence and national security, into espionage, and into competing with others whose leaders and people are not “as good” as we are.,…when we all know that such a claim is pure propaganda. And those billionaires wield direct and indirect political and cultural influence far beyond their intellect, far beyond their compassion, and far beyond their imaginations.

In the midst of this burning landscape, suffocating oceans and lakes and rivers, and armies of families attempting the ultimate walk to freedom, while there are tiny ripples of sound and rhythm of hope and empathy and compassion, the overriding cacophony of selfishness drowns out those melodies and harmonies.

Another symptom perhaps of this neuroexistentialism is the rising tolerance and even championing of parochialism, nationalism, community resistance to change in favour of ‘preserving’ the past through the monuments of figures and patterns long ago irrelevant to the contemporary consciousness. Some might argue that as men (males) see their/our dominance in all aspects of human existence wane, long after its expiry date, there is a frightened gasp to demonstrate alpha power, defiance of reason and empathy, rejection of facts and responsibility, escape from all forms of shame and guilt, and a Dionysian pursuit of both personal power and a kind of ‘freedom’ that tolerates no limits. The Dionysian Mysteries were a ritual of ancient Greece and Rome which sometimes used intoxicants and other trance-inducing techniques  (like dance and music) to remove inhibitions and social constraints, liberating the individual to return to a natural state. (Wikipedia)

There has for centuries been a tension between a view of the epicurean* and the stoic# as to the “better” approach to human existence. If the definition and meaning and implications of the word “nature” are being re-evaluated today, then it would follow that many of the assumptions of religion, thought, human potential, expectations and the relationship between the empirical and the imagination require a new look. For some, that frontier abounds with opportunity, challenge, creativity, promise and hope; for others it signals doom, dystopia, apocalypse and devastation. Just as the extremes of any continuum have traditionally attracted a minority, so too do the extremes of individual beliefs and perceptions require and warrant a leaven of salt, a kind of preservative/conservative/detachment that disentangles the absolutes from their capacity to sabotage.

Scepticism not only permits ambiguity; it requires it. And the sceptic, it seems is not longer an accepted member of the totalitarian right-wing cults that are popping up in many places. Belonging to a cult, or a terrorist organization, or even a apocalyptic belief system, taken literally, opens one to the mind-control of personality….especially charismatic personalities. And such personalities have been thrust into the limelight, in a vain attempt to provide ‘role models’ for youth being parented and educated in a culture of classical conditioning. It is not a surprise, really, that the former president of the U.S. came out of the jungle of real estate developers who broke many planning and standards expectations in the pursuit of sheer profit….given that sheer profit has replace much of the more sustaining appetites that help society to function effectively. Manipulating the message and the delivery systems, it seems, one can attract millions to one’s person/cause, in the mistaken perception and belief that  “I alone can fix it!”

Susceptibility to lies, big and small, continues to plague much of the populace and the discourse in the  United States, and those fires of deceptive propaganda help to fuel the negligence on global warming and climate change. Carl Bernstein  calls trump a ‘war criminal’ for his part in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose lives could and should have been preserved, but for trump’s criminal negligence.

However, once Bernstein’s call went out, silence has, like a dark and still night, enshrouded the quote. It has slipped below the public consciousness in the U.S. for the simple reason that Americans are among the best at ‘sucking-it-up” in order to demonstrate a unique capacity to “normalize a grotesque amount of suffering”. Ironically, this capacity is not the hallmark of a strong and health nation, no matter the latest figures of job creation and DOW data.

Individuals like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, both highly developed and talented performers in their respective events (gymnastics and tennis respectively) may ultimately bring the edifice of “sucking-it-up” down in a heap of long-repressed tears, as if the “Berlin wall” of the denial of human emotions finally gave way to a much more integral and pervasive truth: we are not “things” to be molded and programmed and performing for a gold medal. We are far more complex, vulnerable, interesting, and also empathic than too many have wanted us to be for far too long.

The moment our puppy recognizes that she has inflicted even a second of discomfort, in her play with her family, she is immediately able to withdraw, and then to administer comfort, compassion, and empathy, through her multiple displays of body language. This too is part of nature, whether or not it is implicated in our neuroexistentialism. And her demonstration of her ‘connection’ in language beyond words, is a sign of hope for our relationship with her, and a model of hope for the world.

Whether or not that model conforms to purposelessness and meaninglessness, I do not know. For me, it is more than enough to want to engage and to sustain the relationship with her. And that, too, is worth the doing.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A "new" approach to recruiting, nurturing and sustaining volunteers


volunteering challenged

How often have we heard the cry, "No one wants to volunteer anymore?"
The line comes from those already engaged in some form of volunteering...in a church, a service club or perhaps a youth athletic activity.
If the economic impact of volunteering in a community were totalled in dollars, we all would be aghast in incredulity.
According to volunteer.ca, in 2017, Canadians contributed 2 billion volunteer hours to the national economy, estimated to be a total value of $55 billion.
Of course, periodically, a news story will pop up when a special volunteer is recognized by a municipality, a service club or a sports league.
The second line in that opening cry sounds like this: "Everyone wants to know ' what's in it for me'?"
And while there is legitimacy to the question given how busy parents are in raising their children, coping with their jobs and often taking care of elder family members, it is the implicit meaning/ definition of the "what's in it" phrase.
Objectivity, literalism and the several reductions of human life into transactional functions have tended to   compress the "connotative" meaning of value into the literal/decorative definition.
Dollars, and new lines on a resum are the two most treasured "values" for activity that stretches many outside the frame of domestic/professional obligations. Of course, those two "ROI" for the time and energy needed are implicit in any volunteering engagement.
However, and this will stretch the self-concept of many organizations..."added value" to any human being's life cannot be contained or measured by those two measures.
Too many volunteer organizations have, consciously or not, adopted something very close to a corporate structure and operating manner. There is an objective purpose/task that drives the organization as in a corporate mission statement. There is usually a hierarchy of roles/leaders and "doers" whether paid or not, to carry out those tasks. And volunteers expect to fill a specific role as assigned and designed by the organization.
Inevitably, the planning and design have been done by those in executive positions and consequently volunteers too often carry out the "job descriptions" as defined with the cliche proviso, "Feel free to do the task however you like!"
Some volunteers will be quite happy in such circumstances. Others, however, will wonder if their interests, talents and especially their expertise/experience are either wanted or needed. They will often find their time and energy "assigned" by leaders in  what has been sarcastically dubbed "voluntold" ....and both time and convention restrict fuller conversations about a better fit.
The issue of inviting, orienting, and integrating potential volunteers, while complex and demanding, is nevertheless, a process that is too often overlooked, or rationalized as "the exclusive task of the newcomer".
It is not an accident that a very high percentage of executive hires fail in the first 90 days of their new hiring. And it is also not an accident that volunteers resist "joining" what in too many situations are "closed clubs" of veterans, past presidents, and a set of "club" perceptions/myths/relationships and attitudes.
The division of people into "seasoned/veteran/reliable/fitting-in" and "rookie" is only one of the demographic controls that come with each organization. There is no paper trail of such a divide; it is merely a "given" whether spoken or not. Another "given" is the relationship between and even within local organizations....under various descriptors: leaders/workers; white collar/blue collar; affluent/poor; educated/non-educated; male/female...
There are likely other dividing lines whether openly acknowledged or not.
Human identity is not, however, a matter for others to assign or even to determine. And the process of "getting to know" others is a highly complex as well as rewarding enterprise for each of us.
Each of us seeks to be known and appreciated at home, at work, and in any other activity we might pursue. Being known and appreciated, however, does not happen when only the individual recruit shoulders the responsibility. All organizations, and especially volunteer-based ones, have an even greater need to take responsibility for learning "who" they recruit/invite/admit and for supporting their integration into the larger group. And such integration reaches far beyond the assignment and acceptance of a leadership role, or a nice story about a birth, a marriage or an anniversary.
Those implicit barriers if division, as an operating principle, have to come down one "brick" at a time.
Veterans are not and do not warrant elevation in social status or in the potential of their contribution , especially in an organization
that depends on new ideas, suggestions, recommendations and processes for its very survival.
At the same time, length of service cannot and must not be the highest value of any individual...nor a guiding principle of a healthy group.
Leaders do not automatically warrant obsequiousness from rookies, nor should they expect it. By the same token, rookies, while not needing to force their ideas or their presumption, can take the metaphoric hand of a true mentor (another of the many potential growth curves for veterans and rookies without epaulets) and learn the best features of their new group.
The issue of relationship-building, sustaining, nurturing and honouring, while functionally- based in the corporate world, can and should rise to the primary purpose and goal of any volunteer association.
This will come as a shock and an irrelevancy to far too many men. Women already know and accept and embody the shift.
The transformation will take time and patience...and will grow or not depending on whether volunteering again becomes attractive to the generations between 35 and 60. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Democracy is like "imported casava" ..it rots quickly!

 While western countries struggle with incentives to convince, bribe, nudge, cajole, shame, or even  threaten those opposed to both wearing a mask and even more intensely to getting a vaccine to combat COVID-19, there are different variations of the same theme playing out in international politics.

Autocracies, even those with a veneer of free enterprise, are in the ascendency, and liberal democracies are receding, both in numbers and in influence. Power, as voraciously and  gluttonously seized by the ‘right’, threatens to obviate, if not actually obliterate, moderation, common sense, respect and value for the common good. An obvious and even glaring example of this stranglehold on thwarting the popular will is and has been staring us in the face in Washington.

Determined to render Obama a one-term president, (McConnell), and now equally obstinate in his, and his party’s blocking any and all even moderate proposals from the Biden administration, (while the press drowns in the minutiae of whether or not Manchin and/or Sinema, Senators from West Virginia and Arizona respectively, will bend and permit a carved out abandonment of the filibuster rule in order to protect voting rights, we are watching the demise of compromise, collaboration, and bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress. Not only is there a chasm dividing moderates from the left wing of the Democratic party, and another dividing the Republicans from the Democrats of all stripes, there is also another divide inside the Republican party. One large segment continues to believe, and to campaign to extend its penetration of the political culture, that the 2020 election was “stolen” from trump. While Republicans continue to leave the party, like rats abandoning their sinking ship, there is still a dangerous political tornado swirling around the American republic whose winds are strong enough to provoke continual references to Franklin’s epithet in answer to the question “What kind of government have you given us?”…

Franklin is reported to have replied, “A republic, if you can keep it!”

There is such a wave of proposed, and in some cases passed legislation, in state legislatures, to repress the vote of minority voters; legislation designed to preclude the Republicans from losing elections for the foreseeable future, given the dramatically changing demographics-the rise in immigrant numbers of minority voters. White, antediluvian males, the dominant segment of the Republican Party, who have held power for too long already, are in imminent danger of losing their grip, and for a potentially protracted length of time. The likelihood of the Senate passing legislation that would thwart these state laws, seems to rise and fall, like the sun peeking in and out of dark grey storm clouds.

Naturally, in the U.S., if the Republicans are able to repress the vote, (based on the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent), they are also determined to thwart legislation that would/could/must address the glaring threat of global warming and climate change. Republicans, in general, (there are a few exceptions!), care far less about clean air, water and environmental protections than they do the gluttonous tax cut they gave to their wealthy friends and funding sources, under trump. Regulation, too, of those polluting industries, and their executives who comprise much of the membership lists of the Republican Party, and write cheques in inordinate amounts, (without public disclosure) is another aspect of Republican orthodoxy, including all attempts to “grow” government, as they consider it the ‘enemy of the people.’

That phrase was also used by trump to describe the media industry in the U.S. in his unbridled and largely successful coup of its impact, through the elevation of networks like Fox, as his personal PR firm, the saturation of twitter and facebook, from which he is still, too late, banned, and his uncontrolled, and potentially uncontrollable lying propaganda machine that literally and proudly, even unabashedly, trumpets lies, designed, formed and delivered to feather his personal political legacy, and that of his cronies.

Fomenting racism, (the China-flu), Mexican rapists, banning Muslims, incarcerating children after separating them from their parents on the border with Mexico, flirting with autocrats/dictators, calling global warming a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese…these are just some of the specific misrepresentations still haunting the American political scene, and even the Congress, as it attempts to root out the back story to the insurrection on January 6th.

So significant is the damage done by the former president, especially in the negligent and incompetent and deliberately misleading manner in which he addressed the pandemic that Carl Bernstein, he of Woodward and Bernstein fame from Watergate, dubbed trump a “war criminal” against the people of the United States.

While I totally concur with Bernstein’s assessment, it is more than a little ironic that the United States is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, fearing that their own military personnel might be subjected to its processes. There is, it seems from afar, almost no likelihood that “war criminal” is a label that can or will be assigned to the former president, no matter how long he lives.

However, it is because of his mercurial (as in slippery) nature, sliding, evading, slipping past, paying off, and denying, while hiring sycophantic (some now disbarred) legal teams, that the former president still moves about freely any where in the world. And, in his persona, the human vacuum  that sucks the air from any and every room it enters, he has emboldened other autocrats, dictators, and aspiring imitators, thereby effectively polluting the political conversation with both lies and negligence around the globe.

And then there is the pervasive problem, also enacted inside the U.S. Congress, that liberals (both those wearing a small “l” and those with a large “L”) perceive, consider, evaluate and perform their political roles very differently than those on the ‘right’. As many ex-Republicans like Nicolle Wallace, have reminded us, for Republicans their political fights are “war,” while  Democrats bring a machete to a gun fight. There is little to no likelihood of the latter winning such an engagement.

Some of the more radical Democrats, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, appear to have learned the lesson of the need to enter the political debate with a full-throated, and gun-loaded preparation, Democrats for the most part continue to take a position that can be depicted as moderate, seeking compromise, willing to bend to reasonable suggestions and even to learn from their opponents. Almost in a reverential attempt to restore both decorum and decency, respect and reason to the debate, Democrats risk losing the political fight, including especially the votes needed for passage, not because their ideas are wrong-headed, not because they are opposed by the vast majority of the American electorate, and not because the nation cannot afford, or does not need most of their proposals.  They risk losing, both their votes and thereby their principles, and potentially risking losing the already flagging trust of the American people, just as they did over reigning in gun rights after the slaughter at Sandy Hook elementary school, and after other mass shootings.

This model, of right-wing demagoguery, right-wing subversion of the will of the people, personal political attacks verging on destroying the reputation of their political enemies, deafness to the protests against the abuses of power and acute attention to punishing their political enemies, controlling and manipulating the flow of “information” for their own purposes, whether paid for by the state, or operated by the sycophantic private sector (Fox, OAN, etc.) is another of the illusive, almost imperceptible smoke screens, like the smoke in the doorways of the night streets of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, that is slithering over the planet, in and out of the corridors of power, throughout the military minds and generals whose need for absolute control eclipses even the recognition of a public good, or any legitimate public need.

Meanwhile, those conflicts that seem to know no end, and that continue to enable weak and dangerous men to hold power, supported by their opportunistic and autocratic allies, and that continue to bleed refugees, immigrants, across borders, seas, rivers, mountains and desserts, with no end in sight, continue to provide a kind of “cover” to the nefarious deeds, policies, abuses of human rights, perpetration of lies and deceptions, as well as outright distortions of the motives and actions of their “perceived” competitors, (read perceived enemies).

And the ordinary people in all countries, now consuming in-time details of acts of violence, political corruption, human rights abuses, and the absolute denial of those abuses of power by those committed those “criminal” acts, are left powerless to combat the tidal wave of injustices.

Nudging those resistant to vaccines against COVID, as recommended by some, as opposed to incentives, may have some impact. And yet, as Fareed Zakaria noted earlier today, that might have strategy appropriate to curtail the cigarette industry, today, the world does not have a similar time frame to confront the ravages of COVID. Nor do we have the same protracted, and private/personal time, to confront and to neutralize the deadly virus of political criminality.

In another life, in another small town, in America, where the drug trade was rampant, the police were busy attending to the petty stuff, dubbed by one town resident, “The ‘mickey-mouse’ stuff, “because they are incapable and powerless to deal with the big and dangerous stuff.”

There is a potential risk that the world is so busy drowning in the minutiae of the political process, the personal conflicts, the personal ambitions and neuroses of the weakest of male leaders, the fixation of the mega-media barons on both ratings and revenues, that the only winners that can count on coming out of this period of history are those so dedicated and committed, obsessively no doubt, to the pursuit of the almighty dollar, that “idol” to which all autocrats bow so subserviently and reverentially. If the world comes to believe, whether through seduction by propaganda, or through their/our own gullibility to the bobbles and the shiny objects spread around by the dictators, or through the inescapable desperation of seeking a morsel of food, a tiny piece of sheep metal for a roof, a piece of wood for a fire to stay warm and possible to boil water for a cup of tea, that the lies and the deceptions of the oligarchs, the dictators, the autocrats and the Republican Party in the U.S. following the trump debacle, then the institutions of the world that were designed to counter such dangers will prove both emasculated and totally inept to the challenge.

And the pandemic (COVID) will look, in retrospect, like a case of the common cold, from the perspective of the dominance of the autocrats, the dictators, the terrorists, and the thugs, more and more of whom are seeking and winning power in too many capitals. And clean air and water will be not only the envy but the privilege of a very few, not to mention the access to healthy nutritious food, excellent educational opportunities, and of course, access to the instruments of power, when the vote has been declared “a pollutant”…by those in charge.]

A dystopia far more disconcerting than the Handmaid’s Tale!

The father of William, in the movie “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, when faced with the hard-heartedness of the “state” in the drought in Malawi, commented, “Democracy is like imported casava*; it rots quickly!”

Without all of us paying close attention to the sounds and the rhythms, the words and the graffiti, as well as the bullets and the bombs, the viruses and the intemperate ambitions of weak and dangerous men, our democratic “casava” will also “rot”.  

*cassava:  a root vegetable, similar in shape to sweet potatoes, native to South America, one of the most drought-tolerant crops, made into cake in some parts of the world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Perfect imperfection* is not just a song....but a hopeful hymn

 There seems to be no bottom to the “dig” from a research, experimental, reflective and experiential perspective, to the quest for a grasp of the human search/drive/compulsion/inspiration/prayer for perfection.

Various definitions of perfectionism abound, among them Marion Woodman’s “Addiction to Perfection,” as the western culture emits tidal waves of evidence lauding those who strive for perfection. Everyone one, and every organization, especially those in the corporate world, is struggling for perfection, and the cultural expectation, whether articulated or not, is that normalcy demands compliance.

The trouble with that high bar, however, is that it becomes, not the brass ring, or the holy grail it was intended to be, by those whose ‘charisma’ wooed millions over the centuries into believing that perfection with the highest achievement of the human being. It seems too that men are especially vulnerable to the seductive image and the attendant connotations of social praise, fiscal rewards, trophies, promotions, enhanced portfolios. We are also, it seems, susceptible to the fear/risk/shame/turbulence/failure of not attaining some form of perfection. Too often, we seem to exist in a world boundaried and thereby governed by polar opposites…If we, or the people for whom we are responsible fail in the performance of our/their/shared duties, then the sky will fall somehow, somewhere, and with consequences too scary to contemplate.

In fact, it may well be our blocking our own capacity, willingness, openness and perception of the kind of options that come with any and all situations, regardless of their gravity that is at the heart of our dilemma. Authority, the kind that has been implanted into our conscious and unconscious mind, carries multiple, extraordinary, almost incomprehensible power, a kind of power over which we often lose even the possibility of bringing it under our strength. Whether it originated in a highly neurotic parent, whose own failure to achieve what s/he considered perfection, or a peer, or a teacher whose abuse of power scarred our psyche, a law enforcement officer whose interventions were less than salutary, the source is less significant that the lasting imprint on our psyche. It may also have been a clergy whose conviction about the mind and the rules of God were so severe that s/he literally and metaphorically convinced us that we were “hell-bound” and required immediate, total and utter salvation, and if we were a little uncertain about the absolute certainty of his or her conviction, as any reasonable, mature, sentient, intelligent and imaginative adolescent or young adult, or even more likely an older adult, except those of us who have ‘hit bottom’ in the words of the AA movement, and we didn’t fully by into the sales pitch, we are still likely to have been marked, perhaps unconsciously, as less than O.K., in the eyes of God, and by inference in the eyes of the church, the clergy, and who knows how many and which others.

Les than worthy, unacceptable, alienated, separated, abandoned….all words and phrases that bruise, at minimum, and deeply wound, at their most serious. They will always leave us confused, anxious, highly motivated in an almost surreal manner, and certainly determined never to permit others (and quite likely ourselves) to be able to peer behind the curtain of professionalism, performance in our specific skill set, our chosen mask of humour and being the life of the party, our shyness and reserve, our deep and profound anger that, like a volcanic eruption, jumps out at a dining room or kitchen table, among those we ostensibly care for and even love. Our privacy, for fear of exposure as a less than OK person, in the eyes of those who matter to us, also contributes to our own capacity to function without having to be burdened with our own “shadow”, that bag of wounds we all carry over our shoulder, until the weight of its cloud is so unbearable that we just have to open it, dig out those moments/periods/months or even years when we were drowning in waters too turbulent for us to confront.

We all know about, care about, take precautions against, and protections from a pandemic, from a ‘natural disaster like a flood, runaway fires, droughts, famines, criminals, and even competitive rivals whose motives and methods cause us to purchase/invent/design protections. It is, however, the inner threats, those we cannot either see, or hear, or smell, or even imagine until long after they have left their mark, that drive our impulses toward integrating our disparate personalities, and thereby ourselves into the circle in which we find ourselves.

At this moment, we face a juncture in the road. We have been relatively successful in not having opened that bag of hurts, and who knows how deeply impacting our baby steps to open it might be. Also, having lived for a few decades, likely 4 or 5 at least, we have already established relationships based on our “armoured” self, our public face, our highly sophisticated, subtle and almost imperceptible mask. Those who know us best have come to ‘trust’ what they legitimately perceive us to be, our idiosyncracies, our preferences, our sense of humour, our commitments and responsibilities, and our patterns. Even to contemplate confronting our deepest pain, our fear and our anxieties seems like a step too far if for no other reason that to do so will, we believe, upset the applecart of our world. And now we have entered into another bucket of anxiety, the potential of alienating our family, our children, our spouse, and potentially our employer and thereby our source of income.

With only a few more decades to live, why take such a radical step as to dive into our unconscious, in a psychological archeological dig for those heretofore buried demons, emotional wounds, regardless of how deep they may appear to others? And for those who are highly conscious of what the conventional culture considers “normal” and by inference, abnormal or serious, we are even more inhibited in our confusion about whether to plunge into our own darkness. What if, for example, our wounds are considered superficial, when compared to the stories like that written in Educated,  by Tara Westover, or the horror stories of residential schools and the impact they had, and continue to have on indigenous children, robbed of their parents, their heritage, the indianness?

Social and statistical reporting, about, for example the number of female victims of domestic violence perpetrated by men, renders the violent, intemperate, inexcusable, unjustified and unchallenged parenting of some mothers mere “tough love” in many quarters. Stories about such wounding, therefore, slide into the closet of the culture, perhaps forever. Similarly, stories of fathers perpetrating incest on their daughters, if disclosed, could and would likely result in criminal convictions, prison sentences and the obvious family destruction. Barnacled to the pain of many is the shame of disclosure, the fear of losing what one has, even if the current situation is unbearable. So now, some are suffering from the complication of the original wound and the potential avalanche of disgrace and shame if they/we step forward to tell the world our stories.

There is a phrase uttered on every television channel, and echoed on social media, whenever a woman declares that she has been sexually abused, that comes from a chorus of women who know the depths of her courage, conviction and maturity just come forward, knowing the potential backlash that will ensue. There simply is no such chorus from men, if a male comes forward to declare his victimhood of real abuse. Men are, however, coming out to support the first male in the NHL to declare his gayness, a pathway paved in part by the former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, whose candidacy was not derailed by his openness.

It is the “suck-it-up” culture, however, that still dominates much of masculine mythology and psychology. While none of us is willing to acknowledge bereavement as a psychiatric condition needing treatment, given that death comes to all of us, including all of our families, as a matter of course. Rendering grief a psychiatric illness is not merely redundant; it is unethical, immoral, and inexcuseable, except perhaps in cases of untimely tragedy like the condo collapse recently in Florida, or the inexcusable rampant mass-killings that ravage the United States currently.

Parenting young boys, in a manner steeped in cultural tradition, with epithets such as “don’t cry” and “get-back-up-and-show-us-you-are-a-strong-man” have implications in so many fields: professional athletics, for example, where many men play with serious injuries and are lauded for their heroism, or in medicine, for example, where students and graduate doctors are expected to be on call 24-7 for a week, while expected to make correct diagnoses and even more perfect treatment plans. Endurance, except when unexpected conditions arise, is considered a masculine trait, positive, endearing, uplifting and highly admired. So too is a kind of stoicism, redolent of emotional repression and suppression, both of which are traditional signatures of masculinity.

And the implications, for the repressed and suppressed men, many of whom would likely deny their repression and suppression, and their part in that process, as well as for the families of those men, are legion. Millions of men, today, are walking around in their offices, on the factory floors, driving their rigs, captaining their planes and ships, riding in their squad cars, ambulances, and even hearses, in an emotional state that could legitimately be dubbed “drugged” without the implication of either prescribed or illicit drug ingestion. And the pain, naturally, undiagnosed, undetected, buried, and then medicated by any one or more of a variety of pain-killers, both legitimate and legal and illegitimate and illegal depending on the circumstances, leaps out in headlines of mass shootings, overdoses, domestic violence, workplace absenteeism, neighbourhood conflict, highway crashes that cannot be categorized as accidents, suicides, excessive gambling, bankruptcies, missing persons, abandoned children and women…..

And, as is our habit, we permit the news media to glibly report these “tragedies” as shootings, accidents, or some form of legal, superficial and therefore easily glossed-over words that do not, and cannot do justice to the harm we are, and will continue to inflict on our own species, without even considering the massive existential threats of pandemics and global warming and climate change.

If in our private lives, we men are willing and complicit in our subtle and sophisticated cover-up of our own deep, permanent and threatening psychic wounds, for the sake of maintaining a proper, professional, successful and even endearing performance reputation, then how could we expect a global population whose psychic culture is dominated by masculine archetypes, to be worried, concerned, hyper-vigilant and committed to prevention of our environmental sources of life?

It is not only men who will have to strip our masks from our individual and our collective faces; our women, too, will have to acknowledge that they have and continue to depend on our “secrets” remaining buried, so that the public face of their/our families remains intact, and we can and will continue to operate on a superficial consciousness that is barricaded from our collective and individual unconsciousness. And the stripping of our individual and our cultural masks will take some monumental and courageous steps being first contemplated, and then enacted, if families are to come to a fuller truth and the authentic complexity of their individual members, and the much richer and more complex social fabric that currently on display in our public forums.

Women already have the confidence and the relative security of sister-circles, in which to begin to shed their “psychic make-up” while men, on the other hand, are still searching for safe places, and safe friends, not to mount more “perfectionistic achievement campaigns” but rather to begin the long and arduous and both frustrating and enlivening work of digging into our own biographies for the gold gems, currently covered in the algae of denial and avoidance, but underneath, just waiting to be burnished and polished, is the gold of new insight, new consciousness, often new forgiveness of both self and injurer, and the lightness and freedom that can only come from such an unburdening.

And we men need our women to hold our hand, not in pity, or in patronizing, or in condescension, or certainly not in superiority…but in love, patience, tolerance and hope….that we can all get through this personal, cultural, global darkness together….and our kids will get to know who we really are!

* Song by Kevin Gates

Songwriters: Gilyard Kevin, Sibley Alanza Carde,Braxton Dae'wan

Monday, July 19, 2021

Lifting the burden of anxiety in pursuit of perfection....

 Yesterday I listened as a business manager/sales rep. worried about how his “reports” (those for whom he is charged with responsibility) might not fulfil his expectations while he is on holiday. His predictable consequences for their failure was that his reputation would suffer irredeemably. That prospect was causing him to waken after only three or four hours of sleep, thereby casting a dark cloud on his time on vacation, that time legitimately needed to restore, to relax, to rejuvenate and to renew his energies for his return.

This is an extremely complex situation, one that many supervisors find themselves confronting, regardless of the business enterprise. As a quarter-century classroom teacher, one is constantly on guard to ascertain, discern, discover, investigate whether or not students are complying with various expectations. They range from the obvious cheating on tests and exams, to plagiarising on essays, to smoking weed just before entering class, as a perverted prank on the generational differences between student and teacher, all the way to, and this actually happened, to destroying a cricket bat that belonged to a fellow student, and then reporting the damage being caused by an instructor. In residential/private schools, there are other kinds of “pranks” to watch out for, including ‘frenching’ another student’s bed, stealing his X, Y or Z….dissembling on reasons for leaving campus, dissembling even on reasons for missing a test (“I feel sick and need to see the nurse!”)

There is however, a qualitative difference between the relationship between a teacher and the students, and that between a sales manager and his staff. In the first place, the teacher is not being paid in a manner directly dependent on the performance of his staff. Secondly, the school is a place designed, expressly, for the purpose of “instruction” and that includes instruction in not only the specific details of the curriculum, but also in the far more important details of how one is to comport with the expectations of both the individual classroom and the school generally. And all students know precisely the school boundaries that, if crossed, result in specific sanctions from detentions, to suspensions, to expulsions and possibly to transfers. Most students are also highly acquainted with the expectations of each respective instructor, and the consequences of failure to meet them.

The business/corporate supervisor, on the other hand, not only bears responsibility for his supervisees; he also bears responsibility to his own boss(es). S/he is caught tightly in a highly nuanced, often vaguely defined, and also frequently ill-managed web of both the potential for growth and success as well as the significant potential for subterfuge, deception, deceit, and the ultimate undermining, behind the back of the supervisor. The cliché that healthy relationships depend on the foundation of trust, while often chanted, is also frequently flaunted. In fact, in a culture dominated for centuries by an alleged ethic based on the “darker” side of humanity as the defining quality, and the legal/administrative/supervisory and leadership training in how to deal with miscreants, the starting place for most supervisors is not that their ‘reports’ will behave in an exemplary manner. The starting place is often the reverse, that there will always been deviation from what is expected, not only under corporate policy, but also more subtly, within the specific and far more clandestine relationship between a single supervisor and his single charge.

In the school situation, as a vice-principal responsible for the ‘discipline’ inside the school, I found that when a student (middle school age) committed some obvious offence, it was important to listen to the full story, not only of the incident, but also of the background, perhaps the ongoing relationship with another party, or the ongoing situation in his (usually a male student) family, or even what was going on in a part-time job, or even in a relationship with the opposite gender.
Full narrative, when sought and delivered, will often, if not always, unearth details that will either explain an incident in a far different light than the light imposed by a superficial public ‘gossip’ conversation, or more recently on social media.

Nevertheless, corporate sales and management leaders are not in the business of what they would deem “social work”, the task of ascertaining the back story to an incident/event/conflict/deception/undermining. They are in the business of both preventing and then punishing mis-deeds, if and when they are discovered. And the problem with some of the behind-the-back shenanigans of workers is that it is often neither fully discovered by the supervisor, and certainly not fully disclosed, by the perpetrators. Detective work, however, is not the normal curriculum for business supervisors, although they do know that deviance will take place and they will be expected to be vigilant to prevent and then to sanction it. In fact, the minimal amount of evidence will often, if not always lead to a “judgement” and a decision to act, to enter the report into the personnel file, to document the accumulation of demerit points, to sanction by withholding pay, or even to suspend from work with pay, or perhaps even to dismiss, with or without a resignation possibility, and with or without a “reference” codicil.

When income is based directly and even indirectly on performance, as it is in the case of the insomniac sales manager, then it is not only his “professional reputation” that is on the line. It is also his family income that could be impaired, curtailed, or even terminated, depending on the manner in which his ‘reports’ take their own responsibilities, in his absence.

In the world of amateur and professional sports, we frequently hear of players who will “do anything for their revered coach” and others, who take an opposite attitude, and play poorly in order either to attract the attention of the coach, or perhaps in an extreme case, to be moved to another team with another coach. In the case of my family, my father supervised at least a dozen people in the retail sector, with many more, especially summer students, knocking on his door to “work for George”…He was, apparently the first kind of coach, for whom his workers would go the second or third mile. On the other hand, both my maternal grandfather and mother were respectively evaluated by former employees as “very hard bosses” who nearly drove us crazy, in the words of more than one survivor. My grandfather supervised a Canadian National Railways roundhouse, while his daughter supervised a cleaning staff in a general hospital. Perhaps, if I had not already listened to the choirs of endorsements of my father’s supervision style and capacity, I would not either have heard, or been easily able to compare the different approaches.

Between the two approaches, there is also a very different level of mental anguish within the respective supervisors: grandfather and mother likely barely thought about or even gave a passing thought to whether or not their ‘staff’ respected and/or liked them. My father, on the other hand, needn’t have worried, and likely never did, about his standing with his troops.

Extremes, at either end of the spectrum, however, are not likely to be of much help to the sleepless manager of my acquaintance.

Given that his own performance, by his own admission, is of a very high standard, likely as “perfect” as he can make it, he is already undoubtedly under considerable strain, even before his holiday, to measure up to his own expectation standards. Expecting any others to fully fulfil a similar standard, however, is both unrealistic and foolhardy. There is a good likelihood that at least some of his staff are jealous of his degree of commitment and level of performance. There is also a good likelihood that his own bosses are fully aware of his conscientiousness, his dependability and reliability, and are likely far less conscious of his own anxieties.

In her book “Addicted to Perfection,” Marion Woodman,

 “explores the hidden causes of compulsion in the lives of men and women. At the root of eating disorders, substance abuse, and other addictive and compulsive behaviours, Woodman sees a hunger for spiritual fulfilment. The need to experience a sacred connection to an energy greater than their own drives people to search for an illusory ideal of perfection….We are each, man and woman, made up of masculine and feminine sides or our psyche. The masculine side is the intellectual side, and it’s also the side that strives for order and control. The feminine side is based in the body and the earth, and it’s more intuitive. Neither is better or worse than the other, but if they get out of balance, in ourselves and/or in society weird, off-kilter things happen…The impulse toward perfection is the result of an imbalance toward the masculine side. The ‘cure’ is to awaken the feminine side, build trust with it, and bring it out to help integrate the psyche….perfection is static, unlike life which is constantly changing and moving. Therefore perfection is more closely related to death than it is to life, and the pursuit of perfection can be seen as the unconscious pursuit of death…When we begin the transition from an overly masculine psyche to a more integrated and balanced psyche, we can expect to pass through turmoil and fear before we attain the balance and peace on the other side. (from librarything.com reviews of Woodman’s book)

The complexity of the over-weening concentration on the masculine as the sine qua non of the business and the athletic world, renders the above paragraph likely inaccessible to most business leaders. It would also be inaccessible, for a variety of reasons (excuses) for the majority of ecclesial leaders, especially male ones. The inordinate striving for order and control, at the heart of this manager’s sleeplessness, is a condition millions of us strive for, especially in the midst of a pandemic, an environmental/existential threat, an abdication of political leadership dependent on and reliant on truth, a failure of public figures to take their own responsibilities as seriously as we think they could/should.

In the midst of chaos, we not only can see and hear data that demonstrates a world in chaos, we can even imagine, extrapolate, and envision one or more of an infinite number of catastrophes, including the failure of our staff to perform to our expectations. Added to the already humungus pile of other anxieties that have swept the public consciousness over the last several months and years (and yes that includes the disastrous, venal and irresponsible presidency of the former occupant of the White House from 2016 through 2020), whether or not a single group of employees will, or even can be expected to fulfil every last crossed ‘t’ and dotted ‘it’ while the boss is on holidays, is highly unlikely.

We do not become closer to God, by imposing a standard of perfection on ourselves, as is the case in the mis-guided application of religious ‘service’ in too many churches, including the Anglican/Episcopal. We also do not emulate God by imposing a weight of impossible proportions on our own shoulders, in an illusory enactment of responsibility taken to its “perfection”.

We only foreshadow our own collapse under the weight of a psychic burden too heavy for any person to shoulder. And the top bosses at the cited manager’s firm have to already have a realistic and true, and trust-based confidence on our somnambulant manager, so his worries are a creation of his own mind.

Will or can any of these words ameliorate his angst? Who knows?

The process of shedding the weight of an envisioned block of marble resting on one’s shoulders by revisioning it as a bar of Ivory soap (that floats) is not one that is or can be accomplished in an hour, a day or a week of holidays.

The process, however, can begin with a new perception of one’s role in the generation and the perpetuation of the angst.