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 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.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

National female political and cultural leaders "temporarily" off stage?...we can hope!

A currently running public service announcement from MADD (Mother's Against Drunk Driving) asks viewers to drop the "a" word "accident" formerly applied to a drunk-driver's killing of the host's brother. Deliberate decisions to drink and drive, she contends, and kill someone should not be categorized as accidents.

Reframing our consciousness to place responsibility where it belongs, however, is a cultural change not easily or readily accepted. We like those familiar categories, even if we have not given them much critical attention.

In yesterday's Toronto Star, Dr. Jane Philpott writes an elegant and poignant thanks for her relationship with Jody Wilson-Raybold, whose departure from federal politics saddens Philpott. Nevertheless, it's the unique world view of the first indigenous woman to hold the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada that prompted a deep and reflective consideration of Philpott's privileged 'white' framing of the world.

The highly touted first female indigenous cabinet member held and continues to hold "different" views from those of a colonial establishment. And, for some her "difference" was reduced to "difficult" rather than complementary and supplementary and diverse, thereby enriching the national dialogue and debate.

Wilson-Raybold's courage and conviction under extreme pressure to intervene in the SNC Lavelin matter also impacted Philpott deeply and positively.

Time together in deep and authentic reflective conversation while walking the Ottawa-Gatineau bridge bonded these two women for life, as only such conversations can and will.

Our nation is the poorer for their departure from the political arena and we can only hope that neither of these women will remain silent and disengaged from federal politics.

As for reframing one's attitudes and conventional perceptions, the relationship between these two women illustrates the only truly effective method for transformation.
Empathy, proximity, curiosity, trust and the courage to questioned assumed and presumed positions...and then to "see" the hurtful impact of many cliches on others can cause each of us to it has Dr. Philpott.

Curiously, and not incidentally, these two strong and authentic women of different backgrounds and trainings were not "in competition" as is the case with too many men in similar circumstances.

They made lasting marks on federal transformative law, Bill C-14 on medical assistance in dying, after “wrestling sometimes through tear, with massive ethical questions to land a bill balancing the court-affirmed requirements of personal autonomy and the societal requirements to protect vulnerable people” (from the Philpott piece in the Star, July 13, 2021). Together they also worked on “Bill C-37 reintroducing harm reduction into Canadian drug policy and paved the way for commnities to establish supervised consumption sites, saving the lives of countless people.” (From the Star piece quoted above)

Innovation, positive evolution, a deeper level of commitment and care to those historically ignored and dismissed, as indigenous people have been, and still are, can and will come only if and when the nation's people under go a similar transformation to that of Dr. Philpott.

Dedicated to the hard work of full embrace and comprehension day a deep personal level, not merely a glib response to opinion polls is at the core of credible and authentic leadership.

Here, in Dr. Philpott’s words, are some of the things she learned from Ms Wilson-Raybold:

“Through all this I learned from you: about Indigenous history, the long-standing denial of the rights of Indigenous peoples and the need to reset the relationship between them and the Crown. Listening to you, I began to comprehend phrases about the ‘full box of rights,” enshrined in Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982, and “free, prior, and informed consent,” the right to self-determination articulated in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Inspired by the weight of your commentary, I studied the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the history of the establishment of Section 35 and UNDRIP, and the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples…..Your Indigenous world view and experience motivated me to picture our country from your perspective. Health outcome gaps experienced by Indigenous peoples are not only rooted in the social and structure determinants of health, but should be traced to the denial of rights and the ongoing colonial reality. Access to clean water isn’t simply a social service; it’s a human right. Access to land and language—so essential for health—are inherent rights confirmed in international law, the Constitution and treaties…”

This is not and never was a superficial, transactional relationship, of the kind we see far too often especially in public and political life. This is and will always be a stable, permanent, sustainable and mutually embraced and enlightening relationship, infrequently documented by people in public life, unless perhaps in memoirs.

We need these two women to return to Ottawa and to hold many    transformative conversations, lectures, podcasts, and to write more letters, essays and full texts not only on policy visions but more importantly on leadership in schools, universities, and corporations if Canada is to realize a glimpse of its full potential...

And to accept whatever efforts emerge to persuade them to offer their shared strength and vision as national leaders however and whenever such initiatives spring up.

Dr. Philpott is confident Jody Wilson-Raybold will not remain quiet. 
Can we also be confident that Dr. Philpott will not remain quiet?


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Irreconcileable differences do not a community forge, nor a planet rescue, nor hate eliminate

 It does not seem to matter the issue, given the times and the troubles we are living in, there will be two strong, mutually exclusive opinions contending for public acceptance, converts, recruits, and the ultimate impossible as well as implausible…total victory and the eradication of the opposite view and its advocates.

In the United States, Critical Race Theory, comes to mind. Critical Race Theory (CRT)         (from “is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of colour and (2) the law and legal institutions ion the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, political, and economic inequalities between white and nonwhite people..(It) developed in the 1970’s as an effort by activists and legal scholars to understand why the U.S. civil rights movement had lost momentum and was in danger of being reversed. Their approach emphasized general and systematic features of the legal system that served to perpetuate race-based oppression and white privilege.”

Kevin Cokley, a black professor at the University of Texas at Austin, writing in USA Today, on this date, writes (CRT) posits that racism is not simply acts of individual bias or prejudice, but rather is embedded in institutions, policies and legal systems. Not surprisingly, CRT has become a target of America’s ongoing culture wars. Recently Texas became the fifth state to pass a critical race theory bill, House Bill 3979, which states that ‘a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event of widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or in  social affairs.’ If teachers choose to teach this type of material, they must ‘to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.’….It appears that the ultimate goal of anti-CRT efforts si to prevent any discussion about racism that presents America as less than perfect….There is nothing insidious or anti-American about acknowledging this fact. One can love America and simultaneously be critical of the ways that structural racism has perpetuated racial inequalities such as in health care, a fact recognized in a recent article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine….

Kokley continues,

Law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term “critical race theory”, has suggested that a lot of what is being called critical race theory in the media are ideas that no proponent would agree with. For example, a critical race theory bill introduced in West Virginia forbids teachers from teaching ‘divisive concepts’ such as teaching that ‘one race or sex’ is inherently superior to another race or sex’ and that ‘an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.’ However, there is nothing is critical race theory that advocates these beliefs.

In Indiana, for example, some parents criticized the hiring of a diversity, equity and inclusion officer, because the school district was ‘pushing left-wing ideology, an ‘ideology that will place the seeds of self hatred in our children,’ an ‘ideology that white people are born as racist oppressors and Black people are born as our victims.’ (Dwight Adams, Indianapolis Star, May 11, 2021)

The original notion coming out of legal scholarship, has obviously mutated into a bright red, even perhaps radioactive target for conservatives who believe that teaching some form of CRT is  fostering a form of Marxism, that is opposed capitalism, and that the risk of condemning white children to feelings of inferiority, as compared with Black children, their systemic victims. One side, a conservative and vocal side, protests, while another side sincerely believes that structural racism is a demonstrated reality in America needing to be confronted and the law is one of the instruments of exposing this deeply rooted reality, as well as one of the pathways to amelioration.

It is another of what seem to be a pandemic of what Margaret Atwood dubbed the “dialogue of the deaf” when she was referring to the sovereignist movement in Quebec a few decades ago. And in all cases of vehement differences of opinion, especially when one truly believes that s/he is not being heard or understood, one begins to shout more loudly, in the vain hope that the ‘other side’ with wake up to MY point of view.

In a much more local situation, an Ontario community has authored a creative concept to deal with bored, listless young people, by having the police provide “positive tickets”. In A Global News story, July 5, 2021, Constable Mike Gomulkiewicz, the officer credited with inaugurating the program in his community, is reported, “other police forces have been using similar programs…It’s about community safety, road safety for youths..bicycles, skateboards, scooters, roller blades all means of convenience for kids…when officers are on foot patrol, they will be looking for children following safety rules….(who) will be given a positive ticket…a coupon for an ice cream cone or happy meal at McDonalds.

Naturally, public support for such a “positive program” is both expected and forthcoming. However, on the same news day,  reports of a street party in an urban setting indicate the police are investigating whom to charge, given the large number of participants and the size of the event. Predictably, social media comments range into the extreme of “charge them all, what is there to investigate?”

It is the divide between the two attitudes, the one in favour of the ‘positive ticket’ program, and the other condemning to criminal or misdemeanour charges the whole gang from the street party, that astounds. And it is emblematic, not merely local, but rather universal of a number of social and cultural features that we still have to come to terms with:

1)      Everyone is an arbiter of every situation

2)      Everyone can and will comment on social media, with or without the evidence to support an opinion

3)      There is and will not be any direct consequences for anyone who posts the most virulent, and the most condemnatory opinion of what it is they wish to ‘shoot at’

4)      The constraints on news media, facts, supported and confirmed, supported and confirmed by as many sources as one can find, no longer hold for the growth of the public and noxious “weed” of hate, prejudice, superiority/inferiority, and the bandying about of whatever ‘chestnut’ of opinion seems to relieve one of all responsibility, and certainly of any association with the tone and the deportment of the community.

In the adult world, we throw bricks, grenades, and IED’s (verbal variety) if and whenever we fell compelled to throw them, with or without regard to the impact on their target, and without any real responsibility for our attitudes, or our behaviours.

Political actors, too, both lead and follow the cultural trend of the zero-sum game, barricading themselves behind barricades of venom, unique to and supported by the framework of their alleged leaders. And from behind those walls, they lob verbal grenades at their opponents, as if we were again fighting some long-ago cannon-ball warfare campaign.

In Canada, while the rhetoric has not reached as high in volume or in toxicity as it has in the United States, we too are facing a kind of verbal and social and cultural tension between those who favour positive steps toward community building and those who favour retracing old battles, old favouritisms, old prejudices, and old epithets of thought and attitude that conveniently reduce to a war of black and white concepts, if not actual races.

The rise and supremacy of what has become known as a capitalist entrepreneurial society has potentially provided opportunity for many to eliminate the need for public services to be considered, for example, as “needed infrastructure’ in the U.S. and as social programs to alleviate the most recent pandemic. And now as the economies begin to re-start, the argument against continuing support for businesses and social service agencies, in the form of public monies, risks taking hold, under the umbrella of “protecting us against an unbearable deficit and debt”.

Whether or not the phrase Critical Race Theory applies, it is abundantly clear to anyone with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a brain to reflect, that in both Canada and the United States (likely in many other countries as well) the long-standing tradition of white power, white supremacy, and especially white male power is under critical exposure, investigation, cynicism, scepticism and outright hostility. We can no longer watch, passively, while Roman Catholic churches are burned to the ground, many of them on land commonly referred to as First Nations land. We also can no longer turn a deaf ear and a blind eye of detachment from the flaming evidence of buried childrens’ bodies, in graves from which the markers have been deliberately removed. We can no longer remain quiet and complacent in the face of the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, only 10 of which have been implemented,

We also can no longer sit by idly while others tear down the flags and attack the participants in GAY PRIDE PARADES, no matter where those parades are planned.

From Heather Mallick’s Toronto Star column today, entitled “With the personalization of politics and hate, what kind of person will be attracted to public office in the future?”…we read an account of an incident in Alberta, in which the Alberta Health Minister is accosted by hate:

‘Forcing people to take an experimental vaccine?”

‘Sorry buddy, but your father is a war criminal.’ (within earshot of the Minister’s son!)

With respect to the vaccine controversy, we know that much of the resistance, or outright defiance comes from those who have succumbed to the trap of totally false and frightening information….some of it allegedly endangering a woman’s fertility, others about the dangers of the “unapproved” vaccines and most of the dis-information comes with impunity again, from social media, much of it from Facebook, and more from the dark web.

Hate has so many fathers and faces, so many mothers and vocabularies, so many skin colours and faith embodiments, racism, ageism, sexism, and put all of that into a test tube of personalization, whereby even David Suzuki has to defend his endorsement of CBD gummies, in the face of an openly hostile charge that he resign from CBC, lobbed by right-wing billionaire, Kevin O’Leary.

It was Dr. Kavita Patel, appearing on MSNBC with Craig Melvin who noted that, when she is confronted by patients who refuse to take the COVID vaccine, she does not parent them with alternative pieces of information. Rather she begins with empathy and understanding, sharing their fears and their doubts, prior to offering some ‘new’ information, so that they might actually hear her professional, caring, and medical views.

Unfortunately, empathy, understanding, listening to the other, especially the other who disagrees with us, is neither a habit we have instilled in our school curricula, nor a value we have incarnated in our families, nor a policy or practice we have planted, watered, nurtured and are ready to harvest in our political, legal, academic, religious, cultural or psychological lives.

Positive tickets, infectious disease doctor’s empathy and listening, even clergy agape (fatherly love of God for humans, and human reciprocal love for God extended to one’s fellow human beings….and the occasional “good news” story about how an individual came to the aid of a desperate and threatened human….while these all warm the heart, including the heart of both the donor and the recipient, they do not command the kind of respect and honour that we collectively, and unfortunately also individually, offer up to winners, to criminal charges that result in convictions, to statistical evidence of how men and women are willing and able to transform their/our lives through the help of the Dr. Patels, the local police officers, the favourite teachers, the empathic employer, even the reasonable and reasoned politician.

We have sunk into the slough of judgement, fearful that our lives are unsettled, unstable, out of the reach of planning and predictability, clinging to the last vestiges of some hint that there must be something we “know” even if that something is not substantiated by verifiable truth.

There is a line in an essay in The Atlantic, July/August 2021, by George Packer that shed light on our situation. His piece is entitled, “Competing Visions of the Country’s purpose and meaning are tearing it Apart. Is reconciliation possible?” The opening reads like this:

“Nations like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be. National narratives, like personal ones, are prone to sentimentality, grievance, pride shame. self-blindness. There is never just one—they compete and constantly change. The most durable narratives are not the ones that stand up best to fact-checking. They’re the ones that address our deepest needs and desires. Americans know by now that democracy depends on a baseline of shared reality-when facts become fungible, we’re lost. But just as no one can live a happy and productive life in nonstop self-criticism, nations require more than facts—they need stories that convey a moral identity\ The long gaze in the mirror has to end in self-respect or it will swallow us up.”

How can one see self-respect in a mirror if one is deliberately flaunting norms, evidence, stories and episodes that convey hope, care, sacrifice, sharing, openness and vulnerability? Whether they are dictators, fascists, autocrats, or opportunistic Facebook CEO’s,  or evangelical cultists seduced by the narcissism of a trump’s big lie, or the deceit and arrogance of Putin’s lie about Navalny or cybercrime or the lethal commitments of a nihilistic terror cell, these mostly men (and a smaller number of women) are a kind of scourge that darkens the horizon of each of us.

And just as in our shared need to stem the tide of toxic emissions into the atmosphere, we all need to staunch the tsunami of hate, fear, lies and nihilism that, directly and indirectly, through direct infection of the pandemic, or indirect poisoning of  the air and water needed for life.

And it is not a ‘step too far’ to link the issues in a common cauldron of a globe for which we all have a responsibility.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Canada..a nation at the crossroad of shame and atonement

How can or does my native land atone for sins committed by officials in power as long as a century ago?

Each day brings word of another 215, 751, 182 unmarked graves near or adjacent to former Indian Residential Schools, most so far formerly operated by the Roman Catholic church. Other campuses, operated by other Christian churches, may yet yield similar desperate pieces of racist, hateful, despicable, deplorable and perhaps even unforgiveable horrors of similar deaths and burials. The accepted ‘cause of death’ at the time, according to reports, was tuberculosis; that clinical coroners’ report, however, may well ‘cover’ the full truth, and may have helped both to excuse and to dispose of any legal, moral or public responsibility for the manner in which these hundreds, if not thousands, of children were treated by the state.

Ripped from their homes, often at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from parents defiantly objecting to the familial “caesarean section” of rupture and separation, unneeded and unjustified, these children were carted off to unfamiliar, effectively ‘foreign’ territory, and effective colonization under the preferred rubric of ‘civilizing’ (really through social, educational, and even penal surgical removal of their native identity), or the even more heinous motive of “evangelizing”. A most profound irony of history is that the ecclesial organ(s) that were allegedly established for the purpose of bringing the “love of God” in the form of agape, storge, to the native people, have perpetrated acts for which there may be no authentic, effective, lasting, transformative expiation.

Expiate is not a word that has even found its way into the public discourse; its closest cousins are ‘atone’, ‘to make amends’, ‘to reconcile’, ‘to make reparations’. In a public arena/theatre filled to overflowing with words, attitudes, notions, conceptions, metaphors and similes of combat, war, generalship, commandership, winning, weapons, arsenals, deceptions, deceits, even lies to confound whatever or whomever might be the perceived enemy, whether it be for financial, political, professional or even ethical superiority, often at the compete demise of the enemy, in what is commonly referred to as a “zero-sum game,” the words, metaphors, similes, concepts, notions and, actions implicit to expiation, atonement, reconciliation are almost irrelevant, if not easily and readily ignorable. Certainly, they are readily and easily disparaged, discounted, demeaned and rendered weak, vulnerable, and, in a word, unforgiveable.

Apologies, especially by public figures, are regarded, at best, as pro forma, de riguere, written by some public relations flack, for the purposes of “stanching the bleed” in some public disgrace. And ‘getting out in front’ of expected, suspected and predictable ‘bad news’ has become the modus operandi of the publicly elected fraternity/sorority, including the corporate ‘suits’ who have also hired their own army of “messenger merchants”. Acts like those of a Mennonite community, at the moment of their most tragic and criminal victimhood, in open, public and authentic forgiveness of the perpetrator(s) of those acts, are so infrequent as to be considered “other-worldly” or only possible from a community so steeped in their faith that they are regarded not merely as exceptional, but “unbelievable” in the public discourse. Similarly, acts of forgiveness, by the victims of apartheid, in and during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu, are virtually, if not also literally, unheard of in North America, as part of the historic drama of any nation, or community. And churches here are renowned, rather, for their willingness and complicity in excommunicating those they find ‘sinful’, ‘offensive to the faith’, disobedient to the will of the church’, or ‘not in conformity’ with the teachings of the church. It is not only the Roman Catholic church which “excludes” those they deem to have contravened their rules. Others may not use that word, but their facility in isolating, even by the venal vehicle of social gossip, has rendered many socially and emotionally crippled for centuries. And, all of these acts of exclusion, arrogance, superiority, absolutism, and the tragic prices on human individual lives, as well as on families and communities, are ostensibly carried out in the name of, and under the banner of the “will of God”….that is as conceived, perceived, and promulgated by the church ‘fathers’ originally, and then complied with as women merged into the hierarchies.

There is, and there can be no theological justification for the evidence that we are having to consume each day, from these reports on buried remains, in unmarked graves. There is also no social, political, cultural or especially ethical and moral justification for these acts. They are acts committed under the rubric, and under the shroud, and under the secrecy of closed doors, closed mouths, closed ears and closed eyes. And the motivating force that closed those doors, mouths, ears and eyes, and presumably public consciousness(es), was FEAR. Whether that fear was of the presiding bishop, who took his fear from the presiding Cardinal, who took his fear from the presiding Pope, who, presumable took his fear from the word of God, as represented in whatever interpretation of scripture he adopted.

Accepted and thereby acceptable behaviour, in a closed, closeted, secret, vaulted and sealed community is dictated, easily, readily, and with almost absolutely perfect conformity, by a single person charged with the administration of the four walls of the operation. Who knows what anyone else knows, and who knows what anyone else will “tell” to anyone at any time, that they see, sense, hear, smell, or even intuit, that might be “objectionable” to the powers that be? And in such an environment, anyone who has already committed to the purpose and the goals of what is essentially a mind-bending, tortuous, militaristic and punitive brain-washing experiment, again, in the name of God, albeit a white, male, Christian, and primarily Roman God.

There is not, and there cannot be, anything even evocative of a ‘noble savage’ in this regime. There is not, and there cannot be, anyone who deviates from the prescribed formula of discipline. It is discipline, after all, that will MAKE these children civil human beings, given that they come from homes and communities where that kind of existence is unknown, undesired, and undesirable. Parsimony, too, in the form of scarcity of food, scarcity of heat, scarcity of warmth, physical and emotional (and obviously spiritual) is a prescribed ingredient in the carrying out of the mandate of these institutions. On the other hand, and supportive of the scarcity (read humility, purity, trust-worthy, obedient) is an onerous burden of punishment, physical, social, emotional, sexual and psychological.

These are exaggerated schools of scandal and terror, although they masqueraded as schools of purity, of the sacred, of the civilized and of the “loving” parent. So divided was the mentality of their existence and their continued operation for over a century, that Manichean as a descriptive might qualify as an understatement. In order to preserve the appearance of perfection, in all of its desirable and prescribed forms and formulas, all evidence of imperfection had to be detected, reported, and then severely punished. The “perfection” mask of those in charge could not and would not be challenged by some insulant, uppity, presumptious, pretentious, defiant and disobedient child. A literal war of insurrection by the church/state, onto the psyches, the consciences, the consciousnesses and the spirits of these innocents. More melodramatic, perhaps were the crusades; yet the impact of these callous, sick, ‘devout’ religious officials on the lives of these innocent children, and on their children and on their childrens’ children…etc….long into the future/our now, continues.

And just as in a family paralyzed by family secrets, often with a single “symptom bearer” of the family sickness having been forced, sent, exterminated, excommunicated and alienated from the family, in order to excise the ‘demon’ within the family, the nation now faces the final uncontrovertible, unarguable, inexcuseable, shameful, heinous truth (however trickling and slowly it reaches us over the next weeks and months and years). And how we attempt to see, to frame, to diagnose, to understand, to grasp, to empathize, to come to grips with…these national atrocities will go a long way to answering the question of whether or not we even fully comprehend their impact.

It is our children and our grandchildren who depend on our embrace of the complexity, the totality, the venality, the psychology and the theology, as well as the implications for our times and our futures. It is they, just as they will be on our (mis-)handling of global warming and climate change, who will judge us, legitimately, on our shared courage, willingness and compassion to accept our responsibility for our complicity in, and especially for our complicity in keeping the secret for these many decades.

Keeping secrets is a dynamic with which every family is familiar. In my own case, on a far more muted and far less traumatic scale, the secret of the exercise of narcissistic absolutism, in the discharge of maternal responsibilities impacted our nuclear family directly, and spilled over into the neighbourhood, and beyond. Only a few months ago, six decades later, was I made aware that classmates with whom I never spoke about our family life, were “aware” of the abuse that was going on while I was in elementary and secondary school. They neither asked for, nor were given, the details of the abuse. They were likely unaware of the religious motives, and the psychological motives of the abuse. Many of my latter years have provided a more clear and more critical look at what was going on, and how I was enmeshed, emotionally stunted, and alone in the family secret, while our family “religiously” sat in the same church pew every Sunday, scrubbed and polished in our Sunday best, singing loudly to each hymn, participating in every communion, and then retreating to the secrecy of our shared emotional/psychological closet.

Just as pride, and the fear of embarrassment underpin all of our repressive acts of silence, it is the churches’ foundational teaching of the fear of God, the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ epithet of discipline, along with the rigorous enforcement of no dancing, no movies, no Sunday meal preparation, no tolerance of Roman Catholics, that, like an air-brush in a paint-by-number religious community, erased all evidence of ‘evil’ or at least all evidence of what was considered evil, and then turfed out any who defied the code. Secrecy, ironically, is not an essential instrument of the spy world, of espionage, of cyber-war; it is also an essential tool in the arsenal of the religious community. Priests who are alcoholic-dependent, are silently dissuaded, and never publicly exposed; priests who prevail upon their spouses for an inordinate number of children are turned a blind eye and ear; priests and bishops who turn sycophant to large affluent donors are tossed off as needing the attention; wives who complain that their husbands are indifferent to their emotional needs are swatted away like an irritant mosquito off the shoulder of many male clergy who themselves have succumbed to the macho, heroic, alpha model of religious, spiritual and institutional leadership.

Our nation will express shared grief, will mourn increasingly as the evidence mounts, and will turn to shame, individually and collectively as the tide of ignorance and even denial of the full truth of this black chapter in our history unfolds in public. However, to expiate, to atone, to ask for forgiveness and to be forgiven, in a manner that is visible, authentic, trans-generational, steeped in each and every community and school in the nation…..these things are currently outside one’s reasonable and realistic imagining. Given the failure to implement more than 10 of the 94 recommendations of the Missing and Murdered Womens’ Commission, there is legitimate and lingering scepticism and doubt that our nation has the fortitude, the political will, and the ethical conscience to face the two-headed monster of the church-and-state that perpetrated and permitted these cruel and inhumane, and undoubtedly non-christian acts to shed blood on our history and our souls.

If and when the nation fully come to grips with the implications of doing nothing, the preferred modality of governments, and takes actions that exemplify empathy, agape, storge, and shame, then perhaps such a model can and will serve to ennoble mothers and fathers, daughters and sons uncles and aunts to take an inventory of their own family’s secrets, however unsettling, disturbing, embarrassing, and shameful, and their own part in both generating those events/relationships in the first place, and then, just as importantly, in covering them up to avoid the challenge/threat and the gift that can only come from a full confronting and a full accounting.

Can this moment sing the theme song of how and why the individual/family and the state/nation can reflect and reinforce the ‘better angels of both’ in a reciprocal and reconciling healing?