Monday, March 30, 2020

We Have to Stop Perpetuating Pain


In the United States there is only one thing we do better than taking care of each other. That would be screwing each other. I know because I have been a perpetrator in the past, still guilty on occasion even now, and firmly believe I will always possess the tendency to want to punish others for times I perceive to have been wronged. We cannot continue this “kick the dog” mentality or we will never have a society worth living in. Why is this an overwhelmingly male condition? How do we start to heal and redeem ourselves?

I understand how difficult it is to suppress the urge to smite someone or something that screwed you. The other day, in talking with someone about what legal recourse I have to recover thousands of dollars in repair costs due to what I believe was an undisclosed issue with a house we purchased last year, I was reminded by the person that ethics does not figure into the situation. It is all about what you can prove. She told me she has never heard of a real estate dispute that resolved in favor of the plaintiff. I left the conversation more pissed-off than when I started. The money is the least of it, of course. The real blow is the shame. I am convinced I was made a fool of, that the prior owner of the home is laughing at me, that my father is scolding me, even from the grave. Perception is reality.

Men do not do well with intangibles. Our desire is to make tangible our feelings, and it never ends well. We smash the dish as a symbol of a broken heart. Worse yet we physically beat someone so they can feel externally what we feel internally. There! You feel that?! No, they don’t. They don’t make the connection because it is not even an apples to oranges comparison. You cannot control your own emotions by controlling someone else.

Boys learn early on that social rank is important. It goes beyond popularity. It is imperative to be an alpha if you want to receive tangible benefits like sex, money, fame, and respect. The irony is that sex, money, and fame are either fleeting, of minor importance, or come with a whole new set of drawbacks, or all of the above. Meanwhile, respect has nothing to do with sex, money, or fame. Money should be earned, but in gross amounts it seldom is. True respect hinges on how you deal with….intangibles. How do you handle rejection? How do you deal with disappointment or failure? How do you react when someone wrongs you? Does your perception of reality match actual reality?

You can’t let people walk all over you, you say. You have to fight back, your father tells you when you are the victim of a bully. You gonna let her do that to you, bro? your friends say when your girlfriend breaks up with you. Toxic logic, that is what we are constantly bombarded with. We are taught that we are already perfect, and anyone who challenges that notion is our enemy, and they need to be taught a lesson. No, it is we who need to see our setbacks as lessons. Step back, take stock, adjust, and move on.

Most women understand this. They may have the opposite problem of failing to be assertive, believing that they are not worthy alone, without a relationship. They are taught a different kind of toxic logic, that they are to be subordinate to males. This was probably never true even when we roamed the African plains in our early evolution as pre-tribal groups. Our lineage would have ended long ago if either sex failed to provide for the other.

Fast forward to modern times, to today when we face a global pandemic and our overriding reaction here in the U.S.A. is selfishness. Hoard the tangibles. Hit the beaches, physical distancing be damned. Get myself tested whether I have symptoms or not. Figure out how I can exploit this disaster for my own financial benefit, be it selling stocks via insider trading, or crafting a predatory scam. “Eff You!” has replaced “E Pluribus Unum” as our national motto.

We are consistently pitted against one another. Employers overwork and under pay during the best of times. Now they fire the workforce to appease shareholders who see their stocks plummeting. The cascading effects of a capitalist economy can now be seen clearly, yet we cling to more toxic logic: If we just work harder, we’ll eventually achieve the riches we aspire to. The American Dream itself is toxic. Material wealth is no measure of respect and self-worth because you cannot measure intangibles. We desperately strive to make it so, but it never will be.

How do we find some measure of hope when venomous economics, poisonous relationships, and now a lethal pandemic are what we face? We have to begin, individually, to perpetuate peace and kindness instead of anger and pain and resentment. It takes mindfulness, willfulness, and persistence. It is proactive instead of reactive. In essence, we have to create our own hope. The good news is, that as long as we are alive, and our brains are functioning, we can do that.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Coronavirus Reveals That Our "Normal" is Itself a Disaster


Since I am not even remotely literate in epidemiology, it would be irresponsible to comment on the medical aspects of covid-19. However, the fallout from it in terms of social, economic, and cultural reactions is fair game. What, if anything, will we learn from this collective experience? What will change permanently? Is resumption of “normal” an appropriate outcome? Serious questions abound if we want a better future.

Mandates and directives are changing daily, if not hourly, as governments at every level make new policy decisions based on the latest information available from the scientific community. We hope that is the process, anyway, but consumer confidence is often conspicuously absent. Politically-motivated courses of action are also at play, and it is left to media pundits and the citizenry to conclude which are in the best interest of the public versus being to the benefit of corporations and the (considerably) more wealthy.

This episode is a bizarre hybrid of a natural disaster and a manmade, or at least human-induced, catastrophe. Our behavior reflects it. While we are at our best, as Americans, anyway, in the face of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods, we are at our apprehensively worst when confronting a Y2K situation, or, obviously, a potentially cataclysmic disease pandemic. Consequently, the coronavirus has left us torn between a hoarding, every-man-for-himself mentality and a longing for closeness that violates the imperative of social distancing. Mentally and physically we are stressed to the max, and that only makes our immune systems more vulnerable to the pathogen we are trying desperately to avoid contracting.

My social media feed is full of humor, thank goodness, but also angst and uncertainty. There is little comfort to be had, and if there is anything we in the U.S. are addicted to, it is comfort….and convenience….and dependable sources of entertainment, food, and beverage….and ideally all at the same place and time. Right now, if the internet goes down, we are collectively screwed. Food delivery goes away? We are doomed.

Those in cities and suburbs, at least, are feeling helpless. Rural populations are likely laughing at us. They put a premium on self-reliance, and whatever we are in for as a result of our dependence on others in the big city, well, we deserve it. All our learnin’ and liberalism ain’t gonna get us nowhere. Forgive that last remark, or better yet take it to heart because there is some truth in it. Farmers, ranchers, and others who labor in small, far-flung communities deserve respect. Their skill sets are broader out of necessity. We could learn a good deal from them in how to prepare for emergencies.

As our lives boil down to basics, as our economic systems are forced to reevaluate their most basic tenets, and as we gain a new appreciation of what really matters, will we remember it all when life returns to our expectations? Should that be what we aim for? This pandemic is both a crisis and a valuable opportunity for make fundamental changes in our global culture, as well as addressing shortcomings here in the U.S.

Personally, maybe we make different choices in the marketplace, supporting local businesses over chain retail and dining. We’ve learned we can live without unhealthy foods we’d come to crave. We continue positive habits we evolved to cope with the stress of self-quarantine and social distancing.

Collectively, ideally, we embrace science again, start advocating for better pay and benefits for teachers, and press even harder for healthcare reform and a living wage so we can better weather future emergencies. We recall which of our civic leaders were on the side of working people, the elderly, and our youth, and who was trying to maximize their own gains or minimize their own losses at the expense of the rest of us. We remember that in the next election cycle, and push initiatives that would affect the removal of corrupt officials from office faster than recall elections.

Let us also recognize the need to repair the barriers between humanity and the wilderness that are necessary for the protection of our global population from novel pathogens. Not every organism is an appropriate resource. Probably not a resource in any way, shape or form, actually. Periodically we are reminded that our existence is tenuous, dependent on an infinite number of factors beyond our personal control. This is one of those times. Let us heed the warning, and work unselfishly toward sustainability.