Re: Violence

The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.

Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.

The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.

Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.

I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.

Re: Watch

Long ago, in a land far away, some shepherds stood watch over their flocks by night. Others watched for a light in the distance. Some are watching still; for a saviour, an answer, a way out, a bit of truth at least. We all get comfort from a good story. We watch for ways that the story can help us in our fragile existence.

Many years ago I watched over my wife who was dying of cancer. I wasn’t the only one. Palliative care is a draining exercise. During the hours that I set off to work I had asked several friends to spend some time caring for my bride’s needs. One member of this collective took charge and organized a weekly calendar of visitations. I dubbed the 12 member group, ‘The Watchers’. A month after her death, we all gathered to reflect on our experience. We ate cake and posed for pictures. Many voiced that the job of being an active witness during a chapter of life was profoundly moving. 

Yesterday I was standing outside a store waiting for it to open. Two others of my age were also watching to see if anyone was coming to open the door. I commented, “It must be close to ten.” “Sorry, I don’t have a watch,” came a synchronous, stereophonic reply. We three wise men chuckled. We collectively wondered if anyone owned a timepiece anymore. I haven’t worn a wristwatch for years. I have a fake Rolex that my wife found for me in a rummage box. I’ve worn it a few times feeling expansive. I took it on a cruise holiday once and I felt overly watchful of it. Regardless of my attention, I dropped it, cracking the crystal dial. It became a heavy burden on my wrist and my mind. I resigned myself to fixing it, now I keep it in a bedside drawer. I don’t want to watch the watch any longer.

Today I talked to my son who reported he had just bought a Fitbit. He wears it on his wrist so he can monitor his health. He can program the device to watch his heart rate, his REM sleep patterns, his daily steps and to remind him when it is time to get up from his chair. He feels it’s helping him to be more active. I felt comforted by the news of this purchase. Perhaps I was pleased that the digital device was watching over him, since I no longer can with such regularity.

Watching signs of the passage of time is a very watchable activity. I like looking out windows. I can be transfixed by the slow lengthening of shadows as time moves towards dusk. The sight of logs bobbing in rounded waves, then getting beached by the receding tide can tell me it is time to go home. The slow rise of an orange moon makes me wonder how many times I have witnessed the fullness of a complete day with someone I love.

Re: Understand

I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.” 

We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.

For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love. 

If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!

Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.” 

Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.

Re: Sense

With the luck of my second marriage, I acquired a ‘Special Mom’. She has a quiet, accepting presence that I appreciate whenever I get the chance to be with her. I watch her and discover nuggets of wisdom. She has lived long enough to share many treasures, among them, common sense.

Many might agree with the notion regarding ‘common sense’ as being anything but common. It’s a sense that seems to grow as the traditional senses diminish. Caution is part of this sense as well as patience. I feel for those who have lost one or more of the tradition five: Taste, Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell. Losing one of these gems will necessitate adjustments I don’t know if I’m brave enough to face. But age does create new challenges to overcome.

I remember a childhood talking game that proffered which sense you could manage without. In order to help us decide, we might playact with a blindfold, stuff Kleenex up our noses, plug up our ears, or wear thick gloves. We were young scientists and needed props to facilitate our silly investigation. I felt that being blind would create the greatest amount of trauma. I’m mildly claustrophobic and being without vision added to that closed in feeling. In fact I remember feeling fear the first time I saw someone walking on the street with a cane.

In that way I think Emotion is a sense. It comes from the heart. When we speak of feeling something, it is beyond our physical senses. I feel that Emotion is the sixth sense that is so often stated in fiction. If it is suggested you are using your sixth sense you are likely tapped into something you can’t quite explain yet you know there is truth to what you are experiencing. You are engaging with intuition, such a misunderstood sense. Like an ‘Empath’ in some space SciFi story you are sensing something ‘out beyond’ even though others can’t detect it with their lesser senses. Spiderman would know what I’m talking about.

We link our senses to our emotions with our language choices. We might have a ‘Bad taste in our mouth’ after an uncomfortable event. We could be ‘blinded’ by love. Perhaps we feel that we are ‘out of touch’ with a current reality. Someone’s idea may illicit, “That smells fishy to me.” At the end of a tiring experience we can feel we have ‘carried the weight of the world’ on our shoulders. Western medicine is slowly becoming aware of what Eastern practitioners have know all along: our sensual experience can focus attention where it is needed.

We know we are alive when our senses are engaged. Depression is often characterized as a state where senses were numbed. Depression is the closest we get to death while still breathing. I think the experience of the senses is the whole reason for living.

My mother-in-law has poor vision and weak hearing yet I haven’t sensed that her reality has got her down. That’s a comforting thing for me to witness.

Re: Guilt

“I don’t do guilt.” John, a teacher colleague of mine, said long ago. I can still picture his face as we discussed heaven knows what. I remember wishing that I could be so cavalier. The way the word ‘guilt’ came out of his mouth made me want to shed the strong feelings of responsibility that weighed on me at the time. I wondered how someone could honour their responsibilities to others and not feel guilty when they inevitably let another down. While I envied John for his stance I also felt such a position could only be held by someone selfish. After all, guilt came easily and could not be ignored by a stalwart individual such as myself. I still wish that I might find an easy way to let myself off the hook.

Feeling guilty is not a disease but unless it’s resolved it can make you feel sick. I have had periods where I have been rendered guilt-ridden. At the other end of this spectrum we have a label for people who don’t express remorse: Sociopath. Perhaps these individuals never resolved early feelings of guilt and so chose to tuck them away in the recesses of their mind.

These days, others named John may use a different word or phrase to easily absolve themselves of remorse: They might stand straight and utter, “Guilty as charged.” They may choose to feign humour, “Ooops! My bad.” Some may intellectualize their dilemma with the words, “Mea Culpa.” Saying sorry is difficult. Courts provide an opportunity to get things off your chest. An admission of guilt is often a precursor to a more lenient sentence after a verdict is passed. Witness impact statements can move those involved in a criminal act to feel remorse. In a perfect world, offenders and those offended can find ways of reconciliation beyond guilty/not-guilty definitions in order to create justice that lingers.

I always thought going to a Catholic confessional was an easy way out of dealing with the reality of guilty feelings. A few Hail Marys strikes me as not getting to the heart of why bad thoughts remain after committing an offence. Guilt thrives in the absence of forgiveness yet telling ourselves that it’s all right can be a hard thing to do. When my children made a mistake they were encouraged to apologize with an explanation of why they were sorry. The resulting dialogue helped everyone feel better because the act itself was acknowledged, feelings shared and understood, forgiveness provided. An emotional drive-thru experience: A happy meal.

I feel guilt just like I feel regret. There are times I say things that are unwarranted or do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing. I can’t blithely state that guilt doesn’t affect me. I’ve known some people who have responded to guilty feelings by seeking revenge on the very person who made them feel remorse. Deep feelings can be frightening. When I hurt someone else I feel the hurt too. Stopping the cycle of hurt is not easy, like most things in life, it starts with patient understanding.

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: Pause

Thankfully I haven’t had to suffer physically from the COVID19 pandemic: Thus far, at least. Like many, I have found myself with lots of time to reflect. Looking back from some future time I may coin the quintessential phrase for this period of human time. Perhaps something descriptive like; Culture Paused.

Long before the remote control device was invented I was hitting my own personal Pause button. An Adam Sandler movie called Click explores this attempt at managing your life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZNC5emNyEQ . Time travel is suggested in the film yet for me, the Pause button was most creative. Going into Pause mode in my life is about zoning out. During moments of inner exploration I’ve come up with some astounding notions, however one button on a remote is boring, so I’ll add two others to better represent my experience: Yes, No and Pause.

Yes: Is full speed ahead and don’t turn back! Embrace life and fulfill your wishes. No: Is life as negative, a dull pit where even thinking is viewed suspiciously. Pause: Let’s digest, regurgitate, forecast while chewing on some serious cud! These three settings on my remote control are an internal function, not a response to others. Importantly, “No!” is an appropriate answer to an outside directive. I can say no readily even when I am in my Yes internal setting because I don’t want someone or something to stand in my way.

My Yes moments generally come when my partner can share my curiosities. These are mildly manic times when I felt supported to try new things, experiment with new opportunities. I have jumped into marriages, leapt into fatherhood, changed dreams to accommodate unexpected passions, embraced new places and methods. I was not thrill seeking yet I surfed on high levels of confidence that opened pathways to new adventures.

My No periods have been awful times when I denied my own personality. Time would march on for others while I made excuses to get out of stuff. I lied with a “Maybe” or “Let me get back to you.” I retreated to places that kept me from decisions. I preferred to reside in my hollow. The No button, on my device, represented guilt, failure and insignificance. I can recognize myself in stories of people who admit they have given up on life. They are in a No time. I too have once said No to life. I’m forever grateful to those who stood by me as I found my way back to Yes.

Young or old, there are times in our lives when hitting the Pause button is meaningful. Fascinated by my own hands and how they fit together palm to palm, I once confounded my grade six teacher when I asked (during the middle of an unrelated lesson) if I could exert enough pressure to expel all the air from my hands so that they would remain locked together. Perhaps forever glued, without adhesive! He asked me to continue my experiment while sitting in the hall.

I like to think that perhaps my question gave him pause.

Re: Shame

Shouting “Shame” at a protest rally on the steps of the Provincial Legislature building felt shameful. Yet I was drawn in by the pulse of those assembled as the speakers called out the injustices of previous governments. We were attempting to make ourselves heard and to hold those currently in power to account. Yet as I walked away from the demonstration, I felt slightly ashamed by my vocal use of that word. I felt embarrassed that I had lost some control over myself for the sake of joining in this act of public shaming.

I spoke with a friend about the meaning of shame and guilt within our personal narratives. She asked if I had experienced any shaming as a child. I told her one of my first memories, sitting with my parents at our dinner table, wanting to join in on the adult conversation. My mother loudly admonished me for barging in. “Shut your face!” she shamelessly shouted. I had been excited but now I was ashamed. I remember the blush of embarrassment, resisting tears yet fully shocked. What did I do? I was too young to analyze all the meaningful particulars, but now as an adult I can say to myself, I am not a bad person for interrupting my mother.

I can even say I bare no feelings of guilt, yet by telling this story I still feel the flush of shame coming to my cheeks. I was brought up in an age where parents and teachers might regularly say things like, “How dare you?” or “Shame on you!” to drive home their point of knowing one’s place in the world. Some old school teachers might send kids to the corner, or even get them to wear a dunce cap. My mom would give me the silent treatment when I had misbehaved. I wonder if shunning is a form of shaming.

The novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was one of several books I read in high school English class that had a lasting impact on me. In this moving story of shame, Religious zealots (Puritans) force the character, Hester Prynne, to wear a red letter A to atone for her sins. What astonished me was her grace in protecting those who had brought her this embarrassment. I learned that guilt is put onto us by others while shame is generated from within. She refused to be ashamed of herself. We too, can refuse to be ashamed of ourselves.

I don’t believe it was right then, anymore than it is now, to belittle someone. There are other ways to register disapproval of our elected officials or anyone who might offend our view of things. Questions can be posed, opinions shared, without pushing guilt on to the other. We don’t have to make others feel unworthy to satisfy our own sense of righteousness.

By the same token we have every right to shamelessly go about the business of our lives, looking for ways to express ourselves and be fully human without owning the knitted brows of disapproval that sometimes are directed at us.

Re: Fond

I was gazing out of a floor to ceiling window at a university campus recently and I felt a touch of fondness as I watched students going about their business. I think I was feeling sentimental about my own experience on a campus. As I tried to unravel this fond emotion, I recalled the crunch of maple leaves in autumn, brick walkways that directed me to my morning labs, looking for that red haired girl in lecture hall 320, the bell that sounded the hour from the tower at Convocation Centre. Maybe that red haired girl was an illusion; someone I was destined to meet much later in my life. Fondness might be inexorably mixed with ennui; that restless yearning that comes with pangs of wanting. “When will it be my turn?” is an expression that belongs to similar cries heard in countless college quads around the western world. On my campus it was usually a male voice crying out longingly for “Sylvia!” Those were heady days of freedom for me, the first time I ever felt the pull of the future and its possibilities. Those early journeys of independent action are among the fondest memories I have retained.

Being fond of someone might sound like puppy love; a crush. Yet a crush comes in a rush of emotion. When you think fondly of someone it requires some history to develop a context. I can think fondly of teachers who have left part of their soul with me. I recall a multitude of fond thoughts when it comes to the growth of my sons; how we played and worked together. “I remember fondly the time when…” can start interesting conversations about the joy of growing older together. Like most toddlers, my lads were fond of a special blanket. They each had their own; white manmade fibre mixed with some cotton or wool blend with a border of smooth satiny binding. To settle themselves to sleep they would take a smooth corner and fondle it between their chubby fingers, sometimes tracing it along the side of their cheek.

Some of my elders used to tease me if they found out I was fond of someone. “Do you fancy her then?” they would ask, as though the object of my affection was a mince tart I might crave for dessert. When I told my wife I was examining the word Fond for any meaning in my life she expressed surprise since she knows I’m not fond of food. I’m sure many ‘live to eat’ people could name dishes they have a fondness for or restaurants that keep drawing them back for the food and friendship they find there. Many have told me they are so fond of their pets that they have proclaimed them ‘Family’.

I can tear up easily when I see a young person performing their hearts out at a concert or play. A thread of music can do the same. My fondnesses are not concrete or absolute. They lie in those intangibles that border with thoughts of times gone past.