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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.

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