Expectations born out of naivety can be tragic.
It is our personal, familial, social and cultural naivety for which we have to claim responsibility. And how did we get to be so naïve?
Is there a difference between hope and naivety? Are they part of a package of psychic and emotional baggage that comes from a very early age, is nurtured by a co-dependent adult culture and then plunged into the torrent of street life, like a high-wire sensationalists trying to walk on a tight-rope over Niagara Falls?
Is naivety a sure sign of emotional immaturity, perhaps even psychic lack of full development? Are those of us who assume the “best of others” designed both to be victimized by our own mental state and the obvious temptation “for attack” we offer, unconsciously, to those in need of power and control? Is our naivety at the core of all the power-trips being waged, by all of the roaring successes, in social, cultural, secular and political terms, and triumphing with such tragically demonic and devastating results?
Let’s unpack some of the obvious signs of naivety that appear to be universal.
At a very early age, we have to confront the ‘myth’ of Santa Claus, born on the wings of love, joy, new birth, and caring from parents and grandparents to the children and grandchildren. Regardless of the culture, and the various names for the ‘persona’, children everywhere stand with eyes wide open and mouth gaping at the prospect of a kind, loving, caring and benevolent ‘father figure’ out of never-never-land, bringing gifts, ‘knowing too if they have been bad or good’. Parents and grandparents have been committed for centuries to the benevolence, the profound joy both in giving and in the eyes of their offspring at the sight of their most anticipated and valued gift. The spirit of Christmas, in the Christian calendar, is also core to the story of Bethlehem and the birth of the baby Jesus. The whole story is replete with kindness, celebration, humility and homage to a miracle. Married to the secular story of father christmas, Saint Nicholas, the bond is impossible to break, and who would even want to. Link all of this to the economic bonanza of the billions or trillions of dollars “we” spend on those gifts, injecting adrenalin into whatever kind of economic pulse we happen to be experiencing, and we share a political, economic, religious and cultural “birthing” at so many levels. Complete with roasted chestnuts and songs with both repetition and longevity that make them indelibly imprinted on our memories, so deep that many of us can and do sing them without lyrics or melodies, at the most nominal prompt.
Naturally, the ‘lifting of the veil’ for an eight-year-old can comes in a variety of ways: tears, aha in that some already ‘knew’ it was mom and dad all along, or perhaps even relief that the suspension of disbelief was a stretch too far for some time previously. Similarly, the Easter Bunny, and Easter Eggs, and the rite of spring, linked to another pivotal Christian story of the death and resurrection of that same Jesus, offer opportunities for celebration, the mystery of the hunt and discovery, costumes and tummies filled with sweets. Another rite of passage for those in “Christian” cultures, leaves young people with a mixed message of hope and perhaps confusion, or at least wondering.
And then there is the daily routine of patterns of establishing trust with children, both by parents and teachers, perhaps clergy, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours, as well as team members of whatever athletic or academic interest applies. These interactions, while not considered historic and legendary at the time of any specific encounter, also form a foundational pattern that includes some trust, some wariness and scepticism, and some dismay for most adolescents. Naturally, the public airwaves, popular music, popular movies and television, as well as social media all play a role in the growth and development of an adolescent world view, attitude, perception and “maturity”.
“Old before his time,” or perhaps, “eighteen going on thirty-five” are phrases we have all heard in the presence of precociously “adult” young people. One assumes, perhaps with some reason, that such young men and women have ‘grown up’ in a family system that cultivated serious approaches to most decisions. Others, on the other hand, receive cliches such as “party animal just like his father” or “so spoiled she will never grow up” or even “mother’s or father’s ‘pet’ child over-protected and at risk of being overwhelmed by reality.
It is the collision of “reality” and expectation that is our focus, and while such collisions occur daily and perhaps even hourly, for many, there are some notable examples that bring this issue into clear lens. Recently, I read the words of Jody Wilson-Raybould in an excerpt from her new book, “Indian in the Cabinet” about her believing Justin Trudeau when they first met that politics was going to be ‘done differently’ and her reflection on her own naivety After having run and won election and after being appointed the first indigenous, female Attorney General and Minister of Justice in Canada, and then having been removed from Cabinet and ultimately withdrawing from elected politics, Ms Wilson-Raybould is changed in her perceptions and attitudes about the ultimate truth and credence of Trudeau’s commitment to change. She is now much more sanguine, more detached, more sceptical and much more deeply hurt and disappointed, even though she had, before entering national politics, worked with many indigenous and non-indigenous leaders and groups in the effort to reconcile the Canadian racial history. A graduate in law, and seasoned and sophisticated and deeply cultured and committed individual, a wife, and a mature woman, nevertheless, she is still appalled at what she experienced, and her experience is conditioned in part by her own naivety, according to her own words.
Her naivety is not to be judged; rather her courage in facing it is what many of us lack. She has become, through her service, her angst, the collision of her high ethical standards with the realpolitik of Ottawa and Quebec, and SNC Lavalin, even more elevated than when she held public office, in her capacity to both comprehend the full complexity of the relationships between indigenous peoples and the ‘establishment’ over centuries on this continent and to bring those perspectives and attitudes to the ‘table’ of any attempts at reconciliation. For her people, and for the people of Canada generally, she is and always will be a national leader. And her contribution to the national debate, on whatever issues she selects to advocate for, will continue long past her brief stay in official Ottawa.
On the other hand, M. Trudeau, her antagonist specifically in the SNC-Lavelin affair, is permanently damaged politically, perhaps, and this is mere speculation without hard evidence, succumbing to his own naivety that “fighting for jobs,” his war cry of support for his position advocating for a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC Lavalin, saw him fall, in the public mind, on his own sword. There is obviously a degree of naivety in any assumption that ‘fighting for jobs’ would trump serious illicit and potentially illegal behaviour of bribery, for which some SNC Lavelin executives have been convicted. There is also a level of naivety among the staffers in the PMO at the time of this affair, that Ms Wilson-Raybould would succumb to whatever pressures were applied to achieve her compliance with the political agenda of the Prime Minister.
Indeed, the prevalence of naivety that encircles the political and cultural ethos is astounding.
· Biden that the Congress would be amenable to his multi-trillion spending proposals on both hard infrastructure as well as social infrastructure;
· Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren that the Democrats would comply with their “socialist” agenda, even though it does not and never will warrant such a loaded diagnosis:
· The Green Party of Canada, that the party itself would tolerate, support and even champion a black, Jewish diplomatic scholar as leader, or was that another of Elizabeth May’s expressions of hope-inspired naivety?
· The long-standing and even longer-suffering fans and season-ticket-holders of the Toronto Maple Leafs that the bumpf of triumphal puffery being pumped out by the organization about the potential winning ways of their million-dollar babies would bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto, after six-plus decades of scarcity;
· The people who have swallowed, hook-line-and-sinker, the bullshit that has been spewed forth from the trump cult about the pandemic, the efficacy and safety of the vaccines (all of them ironically evolved in revolutionary time in part from trump’s funding injection), the research about the spread and the mutations of the virus;
· The same cult’s drunkenness over the ‘election steal’ and their impending and potentially lethal threats against even their own Republican election officials who defy the “steal” and the “big lie” about the steal;
· The Republican party, especially in the Senate, led by McConnell and Graham et al, that trump is the best their party can offer to the American electorate in 2024, and his candidates in 2022;
· The Democratic Party, in both houses of Congress that Manchin and Sinema will bend far enough to permit a substantial and historic bill of an expanded safety net, including climate protections to a successful majority vote, and their collective naivety with the White House that starting with a number like $3.5 trillion (lobbied for by the radical wing) was the politically astute approach, when we all know that snail-paced incrementalism is the dogma and ideological “process” of contemporary western politics where “process” trumps “content” every time;
· The Christian Church, hierarchy, traditional theologians, and church “orthodoxy” based on the presumed naivety and innocence of the ordinary parishioner, first with the printing of scripture, that only clergy could explain and interpret it satisfactorily, and then with such tone-deaf dogma of only male clergy, the even more tone-deaf dogma excluding divorce, gay marriage, and gay clergy; then over the banning of books and contraceptives; and then over the apartheid practiced jointly with the Canadian government to “christianize” and eliminate “the savage” from indigenous children…this list could go for volumes;
· Governments in the west who/which have succumbed to the totem-pole adulation if not actual sacralizing of everything fiscal and economic dealing with money, as the criterion for assessing and predicting and promoting political success, while ignoring such basic concepts as human well-being, planetary health, rape of the natural resources everywhere on the planet and the basic assumption that those with wealth must prevail over those without;
· And the complicit naivety of all of us, in tolerating more and more deceptive “advertising” bumpf from a variety of corporations about the safety and quality of their products, (one glaring example from the past is thalidomide!) including tobacco, sugar, salt, unsafe cars (remember Ralph Nader?), jet planes that were not adequately safety tested prior to approval by both internal company quality control experts as well as the FAA, asleep on the job while hundreds died; the naivety of the western populace that NATO will actually, on the ground, face-to-face, protect its members when invaded, and similarly that, should China attack Taiwan and/or Hong Kong, the west will effectively confront such aggression; that the United States, the self-=proclaimed protector of human rights and democracy has not and will not sign on to the International Criminal Court fearing that should it be necessary, their own personel would be subjected to its jurisdiction; and the complicit naivety of the public attitude that whistle-blowers are more dangerous than helpful in achieving a “more perfect union”: and the gullibility of the public that more dollars and more laws and more police will reduce the rampant racism that kills innocent people of minorities of colour at a rate far exceeding the abuse of power against the white majority…
And then there is my own unequivocal naivety in leaving documents I consider important on the kitchen table while our nine-month-old Portugese Water Dog roams the house, as I write this, only to then appear beside my desk with torn pieces of those documents hanging loosely from her mouth, as she wags her tail in triumph, and attempts to lick my hand.
Maybe Ms Wilson-Raybould’s open acknowledgement of her deep and profoundly impactful naivety is an example for each of us, letting none of us ‘off the hook’ including the political leaders, the media, the educators, the clergy, our doctors and our legal and financial establishments.
Being hoisted on our own petard, then, would have meaning and application far beyond “the other” whom we love to point out, while hiding in our own weeds.