Praying for Time?

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because god stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all god’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because god stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you

That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

Despite the title and the inclusion of the lyrics to one of many wonderful songs written by an amazing human, this post isn’t about the gut-punch of a loss that hit us all on Xmas day. I could write – at length – about all the specific moments and memories he contributed to my life: like the time that my BFF (looking at you, JJB) and I stood in line to get tickets to the Wham! show at Exhibition Stadium – something that was allowed only if we agreed to take my little sisters along with us – and about how amazing that show turned out to be; or about the dubious decision to teach an unruly bunch of 13-year-old campers the words to I Want Your Sex as we walked to the Tuck Shop to pick up enough sugar to see us through our out-supper (in defence of 18-year-old me, they already knew the song – they just had most of the lyrics wrong – and misheard lyrics are a crime against all that is sacred. It was my duty to make sure they were corrected); or about the true strength and comfort that radiated from his version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!”) as I drove back-and-forth between Ottawa and Toronto, looking for a place to live – a place to re-start – as I put a terrible break-up behind me, and began looking for new beginnings and the healing of myriad heart-deep cuts.

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

2016 saw too many commentaries – by me and by others – that celebrated and mourned a seemingly inordinate number of precious people. Others have spoken about the generosity of spirit and unwavering belief in his fellow humans that George exemplified in all that he did. How his talent often went unrecognized – he was dismissed as a pretty-boy, depth-less popster for far too long – when his songs (if you take the time to really listen to them), sung in that peerless voice, demonstrated an understanding of the best and the worst of the ways we human beings interact with one another and our world(s).

So that’s not what this is about.

Take it as a given that I loved him. And that I feel like the loss of him – and the rest of those who slipped away from us last year – couldn’t come at worse time. Truly. We need those lost voices more than ever – as we enter a new year faced with uncertainty and newly-mandated hatred and ignorance.

For the last couple of days, as the iPod shuffles through songs to keep me occupied on the TTC, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. (I do that when I’m unsettled – I look for patterns. And often find them – even if a bit of stretching is required. I like the order inherent in patterns. I’m all for order – unless disorder is required…). A lot of the songs in my collection, including the one that prompted this post, have something to say about time.

Needing more time, wasting time, time healing wounds… that last one is sort of what George was going for as he attempted to sort through the social injustice, hypocrisy and hatred he was seeing made manifest all around him in 1990.

Plus ça change, and all that.

After giving it some thought, though, I’m going to have to respectfully beg to differ when it comes to the idea that that might be the best approach. I’m reallyreally tired of all the ‘wait and see’, ‘ride it out’, ‘this too shall pass’ that is floating around out there right now.

It’s time, folks, to stop the freakin’ apocalypse.

I spend a whole lot of time thinking about – and reading and writing and teaching about – apocalypses, specifically those bodies of literature that deal with the end of one time and offering a forecast of what might follow. They were the primary focus of more than two decades of my adult life, and they are a hard habit to break.

Whether or not we are aware, the apocalyptic worldview is something we, in Toronto, in Canada, in the Western World, live with constantly.  We internalize apocalyptic metaphors as they are revealed throughout our social context.

We are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, we have certain steps that need to be taken. If we want a career in law, we attend law school in preparation. Then intern with established firms, take and pass the Bar, and start at the bottom with an expectation that we will move onto better things, once these mandated steps have been achieved.

We tell young people that they will not get ahead unless they have a university/college degree. As a result, the degrees are treated as means to increasingly-nebulous ends, rather than appreciated for the experience that they can bring into an enhanced life.

Thanks to the influence of biblical religions on our societies, we are all culturally predisposed to be driven by what comes next.

This propensity creeps into our language in a pretty constant and almost subliminal way. How often have you counted down the hours until the end of a day, the days until the weekend, or the weeks until vacation?

It’s part of our vernacular – our language and the way we communicate – to do so. Heck, there’s a US restaurant chain that’s named after this way of thinking (TGIFridays).

I do it when a day isn’t going as I might like, even when I should know better. I’m as guilty of watching the clock as the next person. When periods of work get intense – with deadlines looming – I reassure myself that if I just get through this task or this period of time then all will be well. And then I reward myself for reaching that milestone.

I work, essentially, as a cog in the machine of bureaucracy – driven by deadlines that are imposed by project managers who have no context and no interest in seeing beyond a ‘go live’ date that removes them from all responsibility for the ongoing operation of the project-at-hand. Project development decisions are made in accordance with siloed mandates, and thought out only until they become operational. After that event, the maintenance of the project is no longer the concern of those who were designated as the implementers of the plan. The ‘go live’ is the thing. Our workdays revolve around the timelines of PMs who just want to get the thing done so they no longer need to think about it and can move on to the next project.

I function, daily, within this paradigm. It’s how I make a living, how I pay the mortgage, and (hopefully) save enough money that I can look forward to time away (temporarily – to my next vacation, and to the hope of eventual permanence – as a retiree) from contributing to the perpetual motion of the hamster wheel of government.

As human as this inclination to look with hope toward the future may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglect to acknowledge the importance of the moment in which we are, right now, living.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

How passive is that? Ick. That does not sit well with me.

Especially when you consider that, in historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status-changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments – even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities – and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

And that makes me want to bite something.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

Don’t get me wrong- it can be a very useful coping mechanism- when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique- “let’s get over this hump and then things will quiet down”. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of this kind of anxiety now – what with a sociopathic ignoramus untested and radically divisive individual about to be sworn in as POTUS. We are conditioned, by our myths and cultures, to think that we NEED, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

At its most extreme, we get so caught up in thoughts of the future – and how it has to be better than the stress/boredom/suffering – that we are currently experiencing – that we lose the experience of right now – and miss the both potential enjoyment that might be found in all those passing moments and, perhaps even more importantly, the occasions through which we can work to affect change. We waste countless opportunities that can be found in our immediate reality as we wait for a projected reckoning at which time all will be set to rights.

So, how do we overcome a narrative that is a hidden but ever-present part of our way of looking at the world? How do we stop thinking apocalyptically?

Popular culture loves a good apocalypse (as I said, the BEST stories) – and it has transformed the way we think about them. In most of the narratives that deal with apocalyptic considerations these days, the world as we know it ends, one way or another, and things get even worse after the fact.

Zombies and aliens dominate our tv, computer and movie screens. Through all these imagined outcomes we can see that the paradigm behind the narrative has changed. The end result of that event that changes everything is dystopic – and punishing to all those who felt the disconnect with expectations and assumptions and held out hope after hope that the future would offer succor for the suffering. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do before the eschaton happened.

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

What they’re saying is that we’re damned, regardless of what we might do and what form the end of days might take. No action we take or role we play will affect the outcome of the apocalypse – and what comes after.

As a philosophy, that really sucks. But it does point out that eschatology has its vagaries. You can’t count on apocaplypses to work out the way you wanted – they, like the gods who deliver them, are capricious by nature.

As we begin 2017 we need to acknowledge that being singularly and constantly focused on the unknowns that the future might hold is counter-productive to living our lives with investment in our current situations. We can certainly look forward to future ‘better things’ (I reallyreally hope to get to Scotland again this year – something that would be better than going to work every day) – but we must do so without squandering the experiences of the present.

Popular culture has already changed the narrative from what it was in biblical times – (although there are still those people – waaaay too many people in a supposedly-educated population – who hold fast to versions of us/them righteousness triumphing over evil) the world ends, but the external salvation/rewards aren’t forthcoming. So the world ends, people adjust and keep moving forward as best they can. And deal with the new challenges with all the tools they can bring to bear. Cross-bows, come to mind.

But how’s about we do all that without waiting for the end-game event as a spur to action? Isn’t that a better use of our time than waiting around for a catalyst that forces us to do something?

We do have time.

Lots of it. Enough of it that we tend to waste it – focusing on issues of irrelevance or binge-watching television programs about zombie apocalypses – and then lament that it is gone.

We need to take what time we have – and the amount varies from person-to-person – to invest in what is happening right now and acknowledge and overcome the defeatist rhetoric that says that better things will come if we just wait it out.

Better things won’t come unless we actively seek to create them. Complacency and unmerited hope isn’t an option. Patience, in this case, is not a virtue.

Arguably we have seen events (the US election is but one symptom of the ass-backward direction that a number of people seem determined to take) that might be seen as cataclysmic. Is it hyberbolic to assert that Trump – and those he is bringing to his ‘leadership’ table – is a disaster of historic proportions? I’m not sure that it is. Underestimating the severity of this situation is not an a risk-appropriate option as things stand.

Rather than waiting for any further apocalyptic happenings – and the changes they might bring, for better or worse – we need to look to our past and follow the example of those who came before us, when they faced injustice and inequity . There are LOTS of great examples. We can mobilize, agitate, and use our voices to speak passionately (like Ms. Meryl did the other night) against those who seek to further their agendas at the expense of freedoms and truths.

What happened in the US in November is wrong. How it can be permitted to stand is demonstrative of systemic issues that lie well beyond my ken (wasn’t the Electoral College created to prevent the rise of demagogues to the highest office in the land?). What has followed clearly demonstrates the need to wake up and affect our current reality through the use of words, action and activism. Wishing for time – to (hopefully) ride out this storm – moves us nowhere, except towards the infamy of nativism, racism, xenophobia and sexism that we see in daily tweets from the next leader of the Free World.

To be sure, there are disparities between our expectations and societal realities. My expectation was that no one in their collective, national right minds would even come close to electing that guy. That isn’t something that’s new. But doing nothing more than placing hope in a future that will prove salvific and redemptive for those who have to endure the imbalance is an abrogation of responsibility and morality.

Returning to those things that belong in the past – ignorance and ‘legitimate excuses’, as examples – is not an acceptable response to the anomie, discontent and disconnect that so many are feeling in the here-and-now of 2017. That there are those who think that waiting for a Judgement Day – which will redress the varied imbalances felt by a diversity of people – is the best course of action, lends itself to some level of understanding about how we got here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also hard to let go of a closely-held and precious delusion that confirms that we will be vindicated and rewarded, if we suffer long enough.

Understanding – and even empathizing with – the place from where that ideology hails doesn’t mean we should sit by and watch the apocalypse play out without our participation. That’s what people like the POTUS-elect want you to do – sit idly by as he and his cronies run roughshod over freedoms and human rights.

Apocalyptic narratives support his positions – and the promises he made (we’re seeing some of those promises broken already – and he isn’t yet in office). We can’t ‘wait and see’. The course is set – but it can be diverted, if we take hold of a narrative that speaks to something other than a linear rush to fruition – if you are one of the ‘chosen people’.

Praying for time? Hanging on to hope in the face of hopelessness? All due respect to our dearly departed, but these things cannot be the answer.

But he also wrote this:

I believe in the gods of America
I believe in the land of the free
But no one told me
That the gods believe in nothing
So with empty hands I pray
And from day to hopeless day
They still don’t see me

Instead of placing hope in false gods and demagogues – who don’t believe in us – let’s give them a run for their money and show them that we aren’t going to wait and see any longer. The system needs a shock – that is one positive take-away from the recent crisis – and we need to be the ones to stand and deliver that shock.

A good way to begin? Set aside childish things – including anachronistic biblical metaphors. Together we have the power to stop the apocalypse and, instead, spend our time doing the work that will bring a future that benefits humanity as a whole.

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

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… and I feel (de)fine

The other day I briefly referenced the fact that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about apocalyptic thinking- particularly in the context of the workplace.

A sizable portion of the reading I’ve been doing lately has to do with the development of positive corporate culture- a mixed bag of approaches to the office environment in the midst of changing realities in the wider cultural/societal environment.

So many of the concepts I’ve been reading about have one thing in common. Whether they use the specific terminology or not, they are advocating the eradication of apocalyptic thinking.

I’m in the process of trying to pull some of these ideas together- and add my own particular voice and perspective to the discourse. Doing so involves some definition of terms and exploration of apocalypticism- as both a body of mythological literature and a worldview.

I love the literature. GREAT stories- some memorable and colourful characters that persist in holding our imaginations. As an ideology? Not so much. The nature of apocalyptic worldviews lies at the heart of a boatload of our social, cultural, political and just plain ol’ human problems. That these issues lead to problems in the workplace is, to me, a logical extension of the fact that we inherit and adopt ideologies without necessarily being aware that we have done so.

I wrote this post over a year ago. It serves as something of an introduction to apocalypticism (as does the previous post that is linked in this one) and begins an approach to getting my thoughts on the connection of end-of-world thinking and general (and, by extension, workplace) dissatisfaction.

colemining

The Eschaton.  The End of Days.  It seems to be everywhere lately.  There are television shows, movies, books and seemingly constant news articles about various ways in which society as we know it might be brought, abruptly, to a problematic conclusion.

There are viruses, plagues, earthquakes, aliens, and, pretty much everywhere you look, zombies!  Zombies!  ZOMBIES!  From the Walking Dead to World War Z(ed)- they are among us and just waiting to rise and make life even more miserable.

I wrote here about societal anomie and how it leads to expressions of anxiety that include apocalyptic stories.  The apocalyptic tradition has provided some of the best, and most enduring myths.  They endure, in part, because periods of great collective social anxiety tend to be cyclical.  As the stresses return again and again, the idea that there is something better (or at least different) that will redeem us while punishing those…

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‘We watch in reverence’

You know that thing?  That thing that happens when something- a word, a person, a concept- comes into your immediate frame of reference and then seems to be everywhere?

You do.  You know what I’m talking about.

Way back when (it’s only been a few months, but somehow it seems like eons ago) I wrote a little bit of a thing about our selfie culture and what larger meaning and impact that whole mindset is having on us, communally-speaking.  I also wrote something- even longer ago- about our current sorta mayor and his particularly heinous form of self-aggrandizing.  I don’t want to think/talk/write about him right now.

I also noted, much more recently, there are (at least) two great bloggers out there writing about narcissistic personality disorder, who have seen fit to acknowledge my own humble scribblings hereabouts.  As I said, I know little about clinical narcissism, myself.  From a psychological and/or diagnostic perspective, anyway.

But the subject keeps popping up…

Just today, for example, it appeared in my Facebook feed in a HuffPost article.

There’s a double-edged sword to all the potentiality for wonder and discovery in this world of ‘information sharing’ that we have happening.  There are SO many great sites- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, essays, opinions… there are myriad variations on endless themes out there.  But, as I’ve also mentioned, the lack of editorial control sometimes means that there is content out there that requires that we look at it quite critically  (certainly with a keener eye than is our general practice) to ensure that the material is coming from more than a troll-ish imagination that seeks attention and cares little for source checking or anything like documented support to ideas and statements.

There are also those sites that are devoted to pure vitriolic hatred- but they are easy enough to spot and avoid.  The pages of those with narcissistic leanings can be a little more insidious (like narcissism itself), since, needing attention, they have learned to disguise their manipulative ways by claiming to be talking about something else.

One such page was brought to my attention recently.  Generally I would have had a look and then dismissed it from my mind never to visit again.  But this page… In addition to the fact that it is poorly written (the grammatical and spelling errors are almost physically painful) the blatant pandering for attention is out of control.  Again, not normally my concern.  Except that such poorly-written blogs can be a little like a train wreck- and it can be hard to stop looking out of sheer amazement and morbid curiousity.  They often remind me of some of the more classic (using the word loosely) assignments I received while I was teaching, and so provide an element of nostalgia alongside the horror.

This one has stuck with me since it seems to be an exemplar of specific narcissistic tendencies- in particular the pathological drive to maintain contact and receive attention (if the ship of positive attention has sailed, then, evidently, negative attention will suffice) from those who have terminated relationships with the narcissist.

It’s such an inexplicable response that I can’t even wrap my head around it.

Ursula, at An Upturned Soul, wrote a post that helped me understand this propensity, at least a little bit.  She also noted that narcissism, as a theme/buzzword, appears to be the newest popular ‘trend’ in pop psychology.  For those who have experienced life with someone with narcissistic personally disorder this must be met with mixed emotions.  Everyone may be jumping on the bandwagon of late, but, as Ursula notes, overexposure and then boredom with the subject (side effects of our limited attention spans) will happen and something new will fill the void of topical psychological diagnoses.

I have had little personal experience (thankfully) with NPD.  But the other day a colleague asked me to define ‘narcissism’, so I inquired about the context of the question.  A mutual friend described the person she is involved with as a narcissist- and, not having even basic internet search skills, she didn’t know where to begin to look to discover what such a designation might entail.  I explained that there is a significant difference between narcissism as a character trait and narcissistic personality disorder as a pathology, though both terms come from the same source (it turned out that the person in question, while something of a ‘vain peacock’ does not, likely, have NPD).

You know I love words- and I’m all about the myths from which some of them originated…

Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph.  Something more than human, and, by all accounts, quite something to behold as far as physical beauty is concerned anyway.  He was also a jerk.  He delighted in the effect that he had on those foolish enough to think that a pretty face meant that he might have a heart/soul to match.

The version of the story that most know comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The mountain nymph, Echo, sees and loves Narcissus, who spurns her advances and leaves her lonely and existing as little more than a remnant of her true self- a hollow reverberation that is the source of our word for the (partial) repetition of a sound or thought.

The goddess in charge of revenge- Nemesis- is unimpressed by this behaviour and causes Narcissus to fall deeply in love with his own reflection- his exterior love mirroring his interior love of himself.  Since this love would forever remain unrequited, Narcissus died alone and in agony that it could never be fully realized or properly addressed.  He pined and wasted away because his self-centredness was so encompassing- both before and after Nemesis played her little trick-  it never allowed for the presence of another person in his life.

Other versions of the story- both contemporary with and earlier than Ovid’s- end even more bleakly, with Narcissus actively killing himself when he realized that no one would ever live up to his self-idealization and replace himself as the centre of his own universe.

The takeaway from all versions of this story is that extreme selfishness/self-involvement/self-love- whether stemming from pathology or personality- is never going to end well.  As one of my blogging buds said a while back (I’m pretty sure it was Beth Byrnes- check out her post that I reblogged earlier today- awesome stuff, always), the historical pendulum- that has seen our societies move from a norm that was community-centric to one that highlights the importance of the individual- has swung too far.

We need a happy medium.  Yes, one must pay attention to the needs of oneself in order to effectively contribute to the addressing of the needs of the many.  Definitely.  No argument at all there.  A little selfish hedonism every once in a while is certainly acceptable and to be encouraged- provided it is done without completely ignoring our responsibilities to those with whom we share the planet.

Our systemic self-interest is directly connected to our lack of historical awareness and engagement with the lessons that have come before- those that are recorded in our collective myths and the events of significance that we can all access, should we be bothered to stop thinking only about ourselves and take the time to actually and actively LEARN something.

I know.  I’m lecturing.

It isn’t all about ‘ME’.  It CAN’T be all about the individual.  Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our societal structure is in real danger of crumbling beneath this misperception- that the things we do need benefit us and us alone.  We are encouraged in this belief by our leaders- mainly through the lies rhetoric that speaks about people looking for ‘handouts’ or a ‘free ride’- at the expense of ‘the rest of us’.

Systemic selfishness is NOT an acceptable way of approaching the world.

Back in the Dark Ages (or the 1970’s), a band called Genesis (which then included Mr. Peter Gabriel) recorded and regularly performed an epic song that is both a work of musical genius and employs lyrical imagery that alludes to our shared histories and mythologies over the course of its 23 minutes.  It’s a commentary about- among other things- religion/spirituality, society and personal journeys.

Section IV- entitled ‘How Dare I be So Beautiful?’– references a solitary person, seemingly obsessed by his own image and evokes the story of our friend, Narcissus.  The heroes of the song witness his transmutation into a flower and are, themselves, pulled into their own reflections in the water.

The next section- ‘Willow Farm’– sees them emerge from the water and find themselves in a new reality- where everything moves and changes quickly and everyone seems mindlessly busy.  With each random blast of a whistle, everything changes into something else.  (Keep in mind that this was written in 1972.  Holy prescient view of the technological future in which we now find ourselves, Batman!)

After passing through the Apocalypse (there’s that apocalypticism creeping in- societal discord seems to make that happen), Magog is ultimately defeated by the forces of good.

It’s a powerful piece- made even more so by its employment of the imagery and archetypes that are drawn from our shared mythologies.  Its length (given the shortness of attention spans these days) and the fact that it alludes to all kinds of cool stuff, likely renders it unapproachable- to too many people- these days.  Like so much else of value.

Part of understanding the value of the Humanities is the necessary comprehension that we NEED to look outward- as well as inward- to really manifest our connection with this world of ours.  The fact that narcissism- with all its meanings- is such a topical term of late seems to be profoundly illustrative of the fact that this reality has been neglected- to our extreme and dangerous detriment.

And the fact that our putative leaders encourage and lead us by example into these behaviours?

Sing it, Pete.

So we’ll end with a whistle and end with a bang

And all of us fit in our places

With the guards of Magog swarming around

The Pied Piper takes his children underground

Dragons coming out of the sea

Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me

He brings down the fire from the skies

You can tell he’s doing well by the look in human eyes

Better not compromise, it won’t be easy

666 is no longer alone

He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone

And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll

Gonna blow right down inside your soul

Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon

In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune