Re: Prime

Any Star Trek fan will tell you that The Prime Directive is the primary consideration whenever contact is made with another life. I’m priming the metaphorical pump here, when I suggest that this fictional Star Fleet Regulation is relevant to current discussions surrounding colonialism. In our real world of the late 15th century, explorers were faced with similar moral dilemmas yet were emboldened by The Doctrine of Discovery to claim whatever land was found for God and Crown. Aboriginal land was considered prime real estate by powerful naval nations. The expectation was to expand the Empire, fully sanctioned by the powers of the day. Living things, including fellow humans, were either considered in the way or resources to be used by the conquerors. Settlement and extraction of wealth was the prime directive. Throughout the world there is currently a renewed accounting of the results of this maniacal arrogance.

It’s enough to make anyone want to give a Primal Scream. Countless millions of lives lost like so much prime beef: Disregarding, dismissing and debasing fellow humans by renaming them as Primitive. Disgusting! Impossible to escape from the reality of man’s inhumanity to man. Seemingly impossible to reconcile the idea of human progress with all that degradation. Information we were fed in schools is sanitized through the lens of the victor. In my experience, public schools in the 1950s and sixties did not promote diverse historical viewpoints. In the countries affiliated with the British Empire, the pink area on old maps, we were taught to honour the establishment of the colonies. We traced maps and learned of benevolent conquest. We wrote essays about the captains of tiny ships who sailed through impossibly vast seas. Between the lines researchers can reveal grasping power hungry individuals, corrupt systems, antithetical religions and evil societies. The injustice has always been there and new evidence of it is being brought to light everyday. Truth is being spoken. Secrets are being exposed. Lies are being challenged. Apologies are being made. There is a demand to have these errors acknowledged by current governments.

And still the primal patterns of power and racism continue.

I dream of a world where we are united by discovery and share what we find. Our planet suffers due to our selfishness. As shepherds of the Earth we are failing to unite around a common healthy cause. Primarily we seek to serve our own needs regardless of the consequence to others. It seems a grim reality, an inconvenient truth even, that our primary function is to satisfy our urges. I’d like to believe that science has the answer: a Unified Theory of Everything as envisioned by the likes of Stephen Hawking. I wonder if there is a place of thought where it’s understood that individuals are like prime numbers sometimes and composite numbers at other times. Yet it’s impossible to dream up an appropriate metaphor for what it means to be human. We don’t fit into Number Theory. We have names. We are far from being mathematically perfect. We are all united by life.

Re: Fight

Cancer is advertised as something we must fight. Yet fighting isn’t the answer; calm, methodical, verifiable research is the only solution. We regularly use fighting references when we want to overcome, push forward, resolve tension or see the back end of discomfort. The recent impeachment trial of past U.S. President Donald Trump saw his defence team cut and paste numerous examples of the use of the word Fight from speeches made by prominent Democrats. Without the full context however, the video made both sides of the constitutional hearing appear foolish because of how we overuse this violent word Fight.

There are many examples of peaceful methods to demanding change. I admit that sometimes writing letters, Tweeting our displeasure, congregating in silent protest, marching in solidarity, creating blockades, imposing sanctions or demanding compensation are not enough to change minds. Fighting must not be our first method of resolving a problem. The United States of America is not the only country to fight abundantly, but they sure have a record for liking that word Fight in the context of almost anything. When a problem comes up, it seems to be the American Way to wage a war with it. Currently, it’s a war on viruses.

To fight everything and anything puts a ‘me against the rest’ stamp on our language. Once it is in our common language we find ways of making it sound reasonable so our actions then become the meaning of the word. I have fought for things I believed in and I have run from trouble, but a response to a perceived threat doesn’t need to be just Fight or Flight. Some creatures in nature survive by Freezing. You won’t survive long if you are the proverbial deer caught in the headlights, but an animal like an armadillo can get out of a tight spot with a predator by rolling into a compact ball. Other animals can even feign death to avoid conflict. A mother Killdeer doesn’t fight to protect her nest, she Freaks, making a spectacular distraction. Likewise we humans can sometimes turn to comedy to draw attention away from an aggressor. We can Fawn in an attempt to placate the offender, for a moment, to ease the tension. Turning the other cheek doesn’t need to mean acceptance, or even meekness. It can be a method of biding time until a positive awareness returns. In family arguments, rather than fight, it may be a choice to admit Fatigue with yet another go round on the same grievance. These avoidance techniques give us a chance to gain a new, more useful perspective.

Only the person at that particular time and place knows the best way out of a threatening situation. I have felt the walls closing in on me. Regular doses of aggression being pushed on us will surely inform our responses, however I feel intuitively that fighting is not the answer. I’m not wishing to be part of any Fight Club, especially when someone is trying to convince me it’s for a good cause. I’ll seek peace first.

Re: Kind

I’ve heard many authors at signing events respond to someone’s gushing praise of their work with a rote rendition of, “You are very kind.” The use of the word kind, in this context, devalues it. We are not being kind when we show someone how much they are appreciated, we are being grateful. I wish we could see acts of kindness more often. It is not something that is regularly practised, yet when we see someone helping another who has stumbled we recognize a kind heart. I believe in kindness as a form of love. If more readily applied in our behaviour it can improve life on earth. 

In University I studied Life Sciences, particularly wildlife biology. I became familiar with the work of Carl Linnaeus, a scientist who developed a system of classification of living things based on precise particulars of biological design. I had fun sorting specimens into well defined categories by kind, using observable physical characteristics. These days it is much easier and more conclusive to use DNA to sort living things. Consequently we have discovered that some species are closer kin than we could ever have imagined.

Some people say they have a kindred spirit, someone so close to their kind of thinking/feeling that they form a bond. The fictional character Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, talked a lot about this kind of friendship. While she gathered kindling for the wood stove she had thoughts of becoming less isolated as an orphan and more kin to the kindhearted community that would become her home. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery writes beautifully of a time where manners and kindness abound yet her stories are not all sweetness. She doesn’t shy away from issues found in a closed society. For example, she exposes Avonlea villagers who could be quick to tell outsiders to “Go home to your own kind!” Since the first printing of Ms. Montgomery’s widely popular stories, there has been numerous interpretations. The latest in Canada is ‘Anne with an E’. This television series is so charmingly sweet it could kill you with its kindness.

Babies, like birds, quickly show they prefer to flock together. Kiley Hamelin has done research work at the University of British Columbia showing that even young babies can sort puppet identifiers according to whether they are helpful or not. They can determine the kindness in others at a very early age, suggesting that figuring out who is kind among us may be a matter of survival and integral to forming bonds of friendship and family.

In British Columbia, Canada, residents have been lucky to have a Provincial Health Officer named Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is held in high regard for the work she is doing to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. At news briefings she is not afraid to show her humanity, often crying over grim news,. Her advisories and updates on the pandemic usually end with a familiar mantra, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.” Indeed: Kindness comes first.

Re: Hate

I actually hate Hate: It scares me. Hate is normally directed towards others on our human evolutionary tree who we don’t believe belong, neither on our branch, our tree, nor even roaming around our savannah. Hatred springs from intolerance. This strong feeling can produce behaviours that damage relationships, families, communities and nations.

Love is often considered to be the opposite of hate. I prefer to think of these two feelings as residing on different spectrums. Apathy, Indifference or Ambivalence would likely be found on the other end of the Love scale. On a second spectrum, Hate on one side might be opposed by Peace. Mahatma Gandhi well demonstrated that the compassionate promotion of peace could resolve hatred. His practises in a time of change in a divided India during the first half of the twentieth century persuaded millions of people to reject hatred.

Hate has always been with us. It is sustained by each generation. As a human feeling it resists corrosion. The language for its expression sometimes changes yet the result is similarly dangerous. Currently countries are struggling with a resurgence of nationalism, racism and tribalistic reactions to local or national problems. Hate crimes have been defined, and legislation written as a response to outrages committed by the intolerant few.

The internet has been a wonderful invention that I can fortunately embrace in my lifetime. I enjoy the way its structure permits a free exchange and expression of ideas. Yet hate is found here. On various social networking platforms it is easy to find hateful comments that are passed off as reasonable or comedic opinions. Hate mail has become illegal in several countries as a result of suicide claiming the victims of this horrid form of harassment.

I have felt hatred. I once called a nasty Principal ‘Raisin Head’ in front of my young sons. I hate the current President of the United States. I have hated human behaviours, like arrogance, hypocrisy and bullying. I’m not very tolerant of people who have great wealth. I ranted over billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates ‘controlling the agenda’ of health response and I said I hated him. My friend was shocked, “I never saw this side of you.” I was angry. That’s not always my response to hateful feelings, usually I retreat and ignore out of fear of this strong emotion.

Passionate feelings can get mixed up with other stuff going on in one’s head, so it can be hard to sort everything out. Recent protests due to government requirements to quarantine over COVID19 realties have shown that some people just hate being told what to do. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/protesters-michigan-whitmer-coronavirus-covid-19-1.5551373

I hate being in crowds. The unpredictability of human nature makes me nervous. Shouting from a group can cause an alarm response in my heart. I can be timid yet I will speak out if I feel the cause is just. I would and have rallied against Hate. I try to keep a close watch over my prejudices so I may steer around them when they produce hateful notions.

Re: Judge

Someone who has an opinion is often thought to be judgemental, now that’s an unfair judgement. In fact I believe the word Judge needs a hard look before we jump to conclusions regarding a person’s intent during a conversation. I think evaluation is appropriate. It keeps us safe from dangerous situations and people who may wish to harm us. Judgement implies sentencing and I’m not for that. Society sometimes has to judge and individuals who are authorized by governments to make judgement must tread carefully, lest their judgement ends up doing harm. In my experience judgement can lead to abuse.

For example, I may be walking in the wilds and come across a bear. I have heard that bears are dangerous, shouldn’t be fed and may strike out when cornered. My personal conclusion is to give bears a wide berth. My evaluation may suggest bears and I have to find ways to co-exist. That would be my preference. It would be wrong to judge, that because of my evaluation, all bears must be killed or be put in cages.

I have been in conversations where someone has said, “Now don’t judge me.” This usually means that the person is not sure how I would feel about their behaviour. I have to reassure them that I’m not here to judge. I might jokingly say that they are in luck because I didn’t have my gavel with me that day. Or I might refer to Sammy Davis Jr. posing as a judge on the television show Laugh-in and uttering what would become one of comedy’s first memes “Here Come Da Judge! ”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hIcKkKID8k . Hippies might have said, “I don’t care about your behaviour, just don’t hurt anyone.”

Polite manners of speech often force us into thinking along the lines of judging or being judged. Too bad, since once an emotional line has been crossed both sides stop trying to come to a mutual conclusion. A threat has been perceived, thoughtful exchange degenerates into shouting or worse. When an evaluation can come about as a result of full participation then no judgement is really necessary, only planning together for resolution of the original problem. No further protest is needed since there is a will to rectify rather than justify.

I’ve been shaped by film as some people are shaped by books or influential mentors. One of the themes of A Christmas Carol (1951, starring Alastair Sim) is judgement. In a memorable scene at a rag shop, characters gather to talk of their employer after his death:

Charwoman, “Why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? …If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him…”
Mrs. Dilber, “It’s the truest word that ever was spoke…It’s a judgment on him.”

This scene is the clincher. Lucky for Scrooge he is given a view of his selfish, misguided life while he still has a chance to change it. He sees the truth in his charwoman’s statement, not in judgement, but in genuine curiosity; “Why wasn’t he kinder?”

Re: No

No is a small word with powerful connotations. It can be used to send a message of finality, of desperation or of resolve. It is incontrovertible. It does not mean maybe. This is not the time for coaxing, bullying or cajoling. This is a word that must be respected.

When I am angry, the word No comes to mind quickly. My mental dictionary translates the feeling and I may end up shouting “Stop!” I never feel well after I have lost my temper. The emotion behind the thought of No is strong. It comes when you find yourself backed into a corner. You must quickly demonstrate that what is happening is not to your liking. Retreat is the order of the day. You are not deserting the field, only choosing to live on so that you can fight another day. No can be an active word in that it leads you to reshape what will happen next. Paradoxically, sometimes before getting to Yes we have to say No.

No is a levidrome. Its twin is On. Herein lies an amusing puzzle: In the binary world On would represent the opposite of No. So from analog to digital we have a yin/yang mystery. No implies that we have turned off, turned away, or maybe even turned ourselves inside out. We need a rest from decision making for a spell. The lights are out. The Off switch is engaged and taped down. Please leave us alone while we go into shutdown mode. Processing. Processing.

There was a time after the death of my first wife when my decision making circuits were shut down. Every time my brain came to a choice intersection, I would reflexively turn off. For a while I even forgot how to engage the On switch. Did it go up or down? Saying No outright was way easier than risking another foreign situation. I didn’t feel lazy so much as squeamish. My biological cyber security was in question. The passage of time helped. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to say yes more often. I spent less time weighing the options presented and more time engaging in the invitation. I recalled a mentor once saying to me that there is often a good reason why someone invites you to do something.

My new granddaughter is almost two and the only word she uses consistently is No. It makes me smile when I hear it. I wonder what awareness of the situation she has when she says it. She seems to know her mind and I act accordingly. For adults, in some situations it takes courage to say No. We may not want to let someone down. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. We don’t want to be labelled a poor sport or a Debbie Downer. We don’t want to turn people off. The fact remains that sometimes the word No needs to be said.

Even though No is a valid answer to a question, my life feels somehow better when I can get to Yes.

Re: Tear

In the inner city elementary school where I was hired to provide Guidance programming there were many children with mental health issues. In one case, a grade two classroom teacher asked me if I would help reduce the amount of bullying that she had observed. I began by building awareness amongst the students by asking them to wear a tag, during recess, fastened to a chord around their necks. Every time they felt they were being bullied they were to tear a little piece off of their tag. When we met at the end of the first day we talked about the damage that had been done to their tags. Some students hadn’t torn any pieces off their tag. Others had a few pieces missing, while a few had most of the tag gone.

The focus throughout this exercise was not on the bully but on the response to a feeling of being torn.I recorded these results, using the data to design an appropriate program. By the end of the month the majority of the students were talking freely about their feelings and were sharing with their teacher how they were standing up for themselves.

Every teacher will tell you that they learn from their students. In this particular case I was shocked to learn how many people (young or old) can feel that pieces of themselves are lost by the end of each and every day. As we tear around trying; to get what we need, to satisfy our wants, to please others whom we love, it’s no wonder we can feel shredded.

The youngsters in my school setting would often tear up as they told me their stories of being pushed around. At that age emotions rule. Everything HAS to be fair. Crying helped to a degree but then the tears would dry and a more constructive solution had to be found. I was pleased to see that, over time, many students understood that there were things they could do as individuals to protect their ‘tag’. If they didn’t reduce the tears, at least they could find ways to repair themselves to face another day.

Much later in my life, a friend of my wife introduced me to this wonderfully poignant song by Peter Mayer called Japanese Bowls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOAzobTIGr8
The imagery is outstanding and relevant to the notion of our amazing ability to be resilient to the soul tears each life can experience. As I have come to feel the full understanding of this song I often cry. The tears that fall are from the joy of my personal healing.

Whether in early stages of personality development, in relationships that fall apart or in end of life considerations, assessing our tears helps us to decide what to do next. The data we have collected on ourselves is not always pretty. Our experiences may have left scars.

But I believe we can always come around again to the beauty of life.