Re: Mission

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” Says the self-destructing audio tape given to agent Jim Phelps at the beginning of the television show, Mission Impossible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TiqXFssKMY. It was one of my favourite shows as a kid. I loved all things relating to adventure. I loved drawing detailed maps in elementary school of early explorers: Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Shackleton, Cook. I remember being fascinated by the twin tales of Stanley and Livingston: Reporter Henry Stanley was sent on a mission by his newspaper, The New York Herald in 1871, to find the presumed missing missionary David Livingston.

In the Kama Sutra of sexual positions, ‘missionary style’ (male dominant facing female) is reported to have been promoted by white African missionaries as the acceptable way for natives to procreate. This sexual act offers the promise of creation; a mission by two people to provide an individual to further the continuation of humanity. A lofty mission that has had many motives and several potential outcomes.

Most corporations, of the business sort, have well defined mission statements. The intention of the mission mantra is to focus investor imagination and provide a set of achievable goals. I worked with school principals in the eighties when societal managers were hungry to adopt a business model of operations. We were advised to see an educated student as our product so therefore could create a mission document focussed on that outcome. I fear our children’s education will become even more like an assembly line process as we move ever closer to the merging of biology with AI technology

During my career, I met many colleagues who considered education as their mission in life. For me, however, my job was not the singularity of my life. I would never have referred to my work in schools as a calling. Some people do seem born to do what they do. Recent films about Fred Rogers suggest that his teaching about love and acceptance rose to the level of a mission. In the final scene of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Mr. Rogers is shown at a piano while other crew members of his children’s show are packing up to go home, their job finished.

Missionaries bring a message to the world. Their prophet-like work needs support and accommodation from the rest of us. Many individuals throughout history have been heralded as innovators; their missions lauded yet doomed to fail when public opinion has swung the other way. I don’t believe that any individual with a creative vision can succeed alone. I’ve been supported when I’ve had an idea. I suspect those who support great leaders feel their role is to enable the mission: They become Sanchos to their Don Quixottes.

A timeless film, The Mission, tells the story of several characters on personal, political, military, corporate and religious quests in eighteenth century South America. Their chosen missions come into serious conflict. They discover for themselves how missions are huge burdens that come at great cost. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ui91q7Y9xPk

Re: Cast

The toys I remember having the most fun with as a child were die cast. I had trucks, cars, army guys, planes. I have kept one: A wheelbarrow. Go figure. When I was eight I broke some bones in my foot. Back then the affected parts were encased in a plaster cast to immobilize the area. Suddenly I was famous! My schoolmates had heroic sympathy for me. I was cast in a whole new light. Children who I thought hadn’t even noticed me before, were happy to write funny sayings or well wishes on my cast.

In my adolescence there was nothing I liked better to do than to go fishing. With little allowance, I considered the purchase of my equipment carefully. I had a Mitchell 300 spinning reel, not a baitcast nor a spincast variety. My friend and I would spend many a lazy summer on a river or creek casting into small pools and eddies, hoping for a strike. During those blissful moments of singular concentration all other thoughts of teenaged angst were cast aside.

My parents cast my sister’s baby shoes in bronze. This was my mom’s idea as she was trying, I’m casting about for a reason here, to shed her lower class English roots. WWII had cast a long dark shadow over her adolescent experience. She refused to believe her die was cast so , while my sister was yet to be born, she persuaded my dad to immigrate to Canada. People of the Downton Abbey set will appreciate how the British Empire spread this idea of your place in society. Consider the Caste system which still exists in India. It is as if Shakespeare’s pronouncement ‘All the world’s a stage…’ was taken so seriously by government that each citizen was given a clearly defined role to play. Peace, Order and Good Government eh what?

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go to a casting call to audition for a part in a play or film. My favourite stage or television productions are always ones with a varied cast of characters. Due to the technological advance of green screen computer enhancement, you don’t get too many movies these days advertising a ‘cast of thousands’, but for my Sunday matinee viewing pleasure as a kid, there was nothing to compare to Ben Hur or Around the World in Eighty Days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjiCO8k6Jhg

During Shakespeare’s time, ruling British monarchs waffled over rules regarding the casting of female roles. The underrated film ‘Stage Beauty’ examines this political dilemma. One of the best lines in the film is, “Who are you now?”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlKmqH_5ak. This film alludes to the challenges of defining oneself. A current phrase used in self exploration is, “I identify as…”. Part of becoming mature is being able to be comfortable with your individual nature. Looking into that metaphorical mirror we must be able to see ourselves as the one who will play the most important role within that play of a lifetime.

Re: Motive

Motive is a cool word that can grow with the addition of syllables. Motive, a noun, can blossom into Motivate, a verb, then growing again to Motivation to become Motivational. It’s fun to see how flexible a word can be with a prefix or suffix. Like LEGO but with letters! So many different permutations eh?

My mother used to work for a busy private detective in Toronto. She picked up on some of the undercover language at the time; “That sounds like their MO. Just give me the facts. I wonder what their motive is.” It was one of many reasons I felt fear and love for my mom. She would often use her training and natural instinct to find out a reason behind my sister’s or my misbehaviour. We resented it. “You don’t know me!” I can still hear my sister yell after being accused, analyzed and sentenced almost in a single breath by our mother in a rush of anger. I’ve long past given up trying to sleuth out someone’s motive for a particular behaviour.

If we work at it we can come to know ourselves. I’ve concluded my own prime motivators are Fear and Love. Burrowing down into those two headings I find I can relate all my motivation to either Waste, Cost or Loss. Fearful mode is not where I wish to spend a lot of my time, yet fear of losing things makes me put things away carefully and therefore like all OCD individuals I get joy, pleasure, even loving feelings when I have ordered my world.

Some motivational speakers are making money helping us reduce, or cope with loss. FOMO (fear of missing out) is an acronym I just recently learned. If you feel FOMO you may become motivated to be involved. You might be worried about your time being squandered. No one wants to lose time when there is only one lifetime to live. When I graduated from University I was strongly motivated to get a job. I had met a woman I wanted to start having kids with and that was going to cost money, lots of it. Once I got a job I enjoyed the paycheques. I loved earning money and supporting my growing family. In the early days of employment I was fearful that I would lose my job.

Lately it’s Waste that has become a motivating force in my life. I’m motivated out of love for the planet to use less, waste less and make my efforts more kind, more respectful. I make servers in restaurants smile when I ask for a doggy bag. I used to do that because of the money I had spent, now it’s more about the thought of food being thrown out that motivates my request. Cost doesn’t urge me to action like it once did; I feel confident I can get by. I’ve seen and felt the loss of loved ones and precious things so I am less motivated to worry about this inevitability.

Perhaps wasting less can become a more universal motive for saving our precious planet. We can always hope.

Re: Truth

There is only one truth. Usually this universal truth is described as scientific fact. The existence of gravity on a planetary body is irrefutable. Scientists use the scientific method to explain observations, then they form conclusions which can then be tested over and over by other scientists for accuracy. Empirical evidence is the cornerstone of any scientific discovery.

Often Truth comes with a number. You get a traffic ticket because you were travelling at 100mph. The measurement on the bathroom scale indicates 85kgs. The library fine must be payed since your book is 2 days overdue. You may disagree with any of these numbers but you can’t say they are false. Science isn’t the only area where we can be confident in a singular truth. Banks keep track of the financial numbers and we feel confident that our account is accurate and up to date. Our judicial system is based on finding the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Historians make a point of checking facts of events so that we all can agree that certain things did happen as witnessed. Unscrupulous governments or corporations can distort historical documentation to bend the truth in their favour and thus control the citizen or consumer. I remember first being awakened to this deception thru George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Ybkd_beUU

We often like to ignore the truth, even when it is staring us in the face. Seems these days that people are playing fast and loose with the truth. We see so many examples of the twisting of facts and figures that we can lose trust in the authority of numbers. Mark Twain found humour in this manipulation by suggesting, “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” We’d like to know deep down that the truth can set us free, yet how will we know it when we see it?

Oprah Winfrey has often encouraged her followers to trust ‘your truth’. I would call this Personal Truth. It is subjective. It is not truth at all: it is belief. We all have a belief system that helps us make decisions. We grow up learning rules of life; some we keep from childhood, some we discard when they are no longer useful. ‘Your truth’ may put you in danger if it causes you to ignore objective truth. Our true selves may crave speed but we are testing the laws of physics and tempting statistics when we drive our car too fast. Slow down or better yet, stay off the roads or maybe try out for NASCAR. You pick.

Throughout history people have found comfort in joining others with similar beliefs. When your truth finds commonality in a community then you have found faith. This is Social Truth. Like Personal Truth it is still subjective. Viewing Social Truth as fact can be comforting but also very dangerous. Religion is a Social Truth. Some sects attempt to provide evidence that their faith is fact or at least better than the other person’s faith. This has led to war.

And, perhaps finally, there is our current Inconvenient Truth: Climate Change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4DFXUndvbw

Re: Why

My granddaughter has discovered the word Why. This is an amazing step for one small girl. This word can be used to stop time in its tracks. Bath time can be delayed while answers are being weighed. Even if the answer is not understood, an important moment of assurance has been established: Why is a very powerful word. From our beginning we learn to use language to shape our environment, to control, or at least influence, those around us who are important to our well being. From the parents’ point of view, the word Why can sometimes seem as a test, at best it is surely a quest for information. Here is a wonderful song by Anne Murray that captures the importance and frustration of this word. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYsadwkBrnI

Before wee babes can formulate discernible words, sounds sub in for communicating needs. Likely, the word When was the first question which came out more like Whaaa! This universal cry: When will I be fed? When is my diaper going to be changed? When is Mommy coming? Translation: Whaaa? Whaaa?

Journalists are taught the five Ws in order to get the important elements of a story. The who, where, what, when, why of an incident are key to understanding. The reporter wields these questions as a surgeon might use a scalpel, to expose from witnesses the details of the event. In my chronological order of question development I see Who, What and Where, as words learned after the When and Why of baby vocabulary: The Who? babes can see, the What? they can point to or grab, The Where? will eventually be explored on pudgy knees.

Getting to How, now that is the most important question of all. In my life, the question of how has been the difference between youthful thinking and adulthood. After you have accumulated data on the first five questions it is the “how about it?’ that looms large. When we reach How, we are searching for our essential selves. We alone can answer the How’s of life: How will I behave? How will I make a living? How do I want to fit into this world? How shall I be?

I’ve spent many a frustrating time trying to figure out an answer to why after an event in my life. It’s a windy road of back alleys and dead ends. It’s a journey of little use. It’s a spinning wheel of thought, endlessly circling without resolution, without direction, without hope. Here’s David Clayton Thomas singing about the trouble with Why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Agonizing over the Why of something is part of human nature. Most times the reasons behind something are not as important as finding a way out, over, through or forward. Inspecting the How To, can point the way to the future better than any other question. How is a hopeful word. When you become an adult, dumping the Why frees you to consider your present moment so you can finally assert, “This is how it’s going to be from now on.”

Re: Devote

Many English words are so close in meaning that they often require explanation after use. For example, I have an issue with the word loyalty yet I have no problem saying I am devoted to someone or something. Faith, Loyalty and Devotion are often linked as closely as siblings in the Etymological family. The latter suggests to me an action of giving one’s self over, sometimes completely and with willful intent. I am devoted to my wife, I am faithful as a result of that intention, yet my loyalty has limits. That can seem strange yet in context it’s consistent.

The conundrum of these three value words is well expressed in the love song, ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’ made famous by Olivia Newton John in the film Grease. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i52mlmJtyJQ . In my defining way the word Devoted in this song is more like Loyalty. From my past experience, when the head is separated from the heart, decisions are fraught with danger. In my lexicon Loyalty, certainly the blind type, is foolish. I have faith that when both my emotion and my thinking are involved I can permit clear sighted devotion.

Having a career requires a certain level of devotion. Those training to be Olympic athletes would need the highest level of devotion to their goal. Equally, someone who wishes to master a musical instrument might say they are devoted to their art. I have worked with some teachers who exhibited this extreme level of devotion. It’s inspiring to see that high level of passion or devotion. There are many examples in history of religious figures who followed a calling and thus devoted their lives to a cause. That level of devotion moves too close to zealotry for my liking. A devout person I am not, for that means a willingness to forsake all else in an adherence to a defined path.

Whether in religious practise or other areas of a full life, I avoid thinking of myself as a devotee. Likewise I resist calling myself a fan of something or someone. Both terms suggest a slavery to a cause, or an overwhelming commitment to an idea. When we get ourselves so wrapped up in something that we lose sight of our original intention, we can move across the border from carefully considered thought into hopeless obsession.

During my church years I met many who espoused the practice of daily devotions. Some on the zealot end of the spectrum would rise at the same time each morning to follow their routine. Others saw value in spending a few minutes each day with an activity that centred their busy minds. These activities don’t need to be of a religious or scriptural nature. I have found reward in a singular moment gazing intently at a bee as it wiggles through a cluster of sweet flowers. Or, devoting time to listen to what my wife has to say when she returns home from an adventure makes me feel closer to her and brings me the peace I desire.

Re: Circumstance

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” so sayeth Epictetus. He was a famous Stoic, among those Romans of the stiff upper lip. Much of Stoicism I can agree with, yet I think we are all to some degree a victim of our circumstances.

Yes, we have choice. We can go high when others go low. We can keep our wits about us while others are losing theirs. I’d like to be easy with it all, as Keith Carradine sang it in Nashville.

However, it ain’t easy to be noble when the leaders of our world do things that create uncomfortable or dangerous circumstances. Currently, in the U.S. of A., it is a wonder to me that there is not chaos. Some days I feel like freaking out with the lack of kindness and civility that streams at me from the White House. It wasn’t always this way. Circumstances have changed.

Sometimes it’s only circumstantial evidence that leads to a conviction in a courtroom. Circumstances can point a finger and if one doesn’t have an air tight alibi, then one can find themselves in a whole new set of circumstances. Being free to be is certainly the objective but some circumstances can lead you away from positive choice. Poverty, despite what the one percenters say, is not a choice. It’s a circumstance that is difficult to find relief from, let alone propose a cure for. My sister once found herself having to register at a food bank. The company where she had worked for almost two decades folded and she struggled to find herself after that shock. She died trying. In my opinion poverty prevention must be discussed at every election event until not a single person finds themselves in such unforgiving circumstances.

Fate, fortune and randomness all have a part to play yet sometimes you have to assert, “Under no circumstance will I permit this!” I hear a struggle for a path through difficult circumstances in the voice of Billy Joel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3JFEfdK_Ls

We can be victims of circumstance. We like to think that we are in charge of our happiness. The truth is others impact our lives. Undoubtedly we have a role to play in making things better, but so do members of society have a responsibility to build a better village. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the Holocaust, reflects on our personal agency under trying circumstances when he states, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; The last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” I don’t want to believe that a circumstance like being taken to a death camp would be regarded as something within someone’s personal control.

I enjoy love stories where a couple has to be separated by circumstance yet they make a vow to find each other when things change. Sometimes we must trust in Time: It may be the only agent that can bring the change we long for.