Cynicism in the Time of Big Brother

The Problem: The Price of Security

In the era of the Patriot Act, and the National Defense Authorization Act  the free flow of information on the internet, and the hacking that regularly occurs there, it is hard to feel safe. Within our communities’, police walk around with wide eyes and a posture that resembles more of a trauma survivor or crusader, ready and willing to pounce on the slightest infraction.  Prosecutors take on cases with dubious foundation. Our community agencies and institutions have adopted a mindset based in pathology and criminality as a result. In our schools, teachers are forced to teach to standards, making effective test takers of students rather than developing the analytic and critical minds that create advancement through ingenuity.  Bombarded with the most negative aspects of our existence, forever seeking ratings from shocking and dramatic stories, the media embeds the precarious daily environments we navigate. More and more of us are facing isolation in our social organizations, family and friends through the enforcement of procedures supposedly developed to make us safe and necessitated by the cultivated fear of “Other”.

We enter relationships at arm’s length and refuse to invest in the kind of emotional commitment that makes relationships, careers and lives personally meaningful and productive. We witness family, friends and neighbors struggle, and choose to do nothing. We refuse to waste precious time that could be spent earning money, to lend a hand; the motorist stranded on the highway is bypassed, the stray dog wanders aimlessly and precariously in and out of traffic unaided and invisible to most commuters more interested in appeasing the boss than having a human moment, the bruises that have appeared on a co-worker are ignored despite the gossip that flies about her condition. We are losing our humanity and have ceased to evolve as a culture.

 We are less likely to ask for help because doing so opens us to criticism and judgment. We are told that we all should function on the same level despite the origins of our beginnings or the circumstances of our development. Brought up without the critical mindset to question the judgments made of us, we take them in and berate ourselves turning our focus inward and succumbing to mental health, cognitive, physical and addictive afflictions, or, project our pain outward by insulating ourselves with bravado and a thick skin, willing to sacrifice anyone else outside of us in order to feel more superior and thus immune to the self-made tragedies that have befallen humanity.

 The cliché says “no man is an island”. Yet that is exactly what we have created. The distance between us has made us cold and indifferent to human suffering. We are disempowered as individuals and that fact has destroyed our families and communities. The fact is that we need each other!


                        Choosing to Live Between the Black and White Realities

Developmentally while black and white thinking naturally occurs in the teenage years, not many of us move past this way of perceiving the world. The causes of this stagnation occur because as teenagers begin to push back against adults to gain a sense of self, instead of allowing teenagers to experience the natural consequences of their own faulty decision making; we impose external standards in the name of social control, thereby limiting moral development and personal accountability.

Choosing to live in the Gray: A Lesson from my Son

My son has always had a soft heart for people who suffer. In middle school he befriended a lost and confused boy who I was warned was being influenced by some unsavory and questionable characters.

“He really helps Jamie so much,” the special education teacher told me, “just his presence allows Jamie to stay on task and make good choices within the classroom. I am worried, however,” she continued, “that your son will get mixed up in some pretty unsafe interactions because Jamie is so easily influenced by some bad kids”.

I understood this. I also knew that failure to act to restrict my son’s involvement with Jamie could attract the scorn of Child Protective Services for neglect. As a therapist I knew that if I chose to limit his interaction with Jamie without his input, my interference would create a rebellion in him (a natural reaction in parental interference with adolescents) and he would continue to interact with Jamie behind my back. If he were then to get into trouble, I would have set up the scenario that he would refuse to approach me for help at all, fearing retribution. I chose instead to warn him…

“Jamie is lost,” I began, “he follows anyone who he perceives to be powerful around him, so that he develops a powerful ally and is less likely to be bullied. If he is around some rough kids, he will not be able to do the right thing for fear of upsetting these very important allies. He will even betray you to secure this false sense of safety”.

“I think he just is confused and that he does better when I am around him” my son told me, “He has a birthday party next weekend and I want to go”.

 I reluctantly agreed.

The birthday came and went. There he met some of Jamie’s more questionable friends. It became clear that my son’s presence in Jamie’s life threatened the hold that these characters had on Jamie’s compliance with their demands. My son was threatened by Jamie’s other “friends” and as I speculated, backed their verbal threats by being verbally abusive to my son.

He came home one day in tears and told me the whole thing. I listened empathetically and reflected back to him my concerns, “You are now putting yourself at risk with this friendship,” I told him.

“I need to tell him. I can’t just stop talking to him,” he told me.

“You need to make sure that you are safe in confronting him though” I told him, “you can always ask your teacher to monitor the exchange between you”. I privately called the school and talked to the special education teacher to warn her of the possible scenario. Respecting both my relationship with my son and my ability to empower lost teenagers, she agreed.

He approached Jamie and, as I instructed, confronted him  in the presence of the special education teacher. “I cannot be your friend anymore,” he told Jamie.

Jamie was devastated but since my son felt empowered by effective coaching to understand the dynamics of the situation, he was able to voice about how he felt when Jamie abandoned their relationship in the effort to please his other friends. The logic was undeniable. Jamie agreed to distance himself from my son and apologized for placing the well-being of my son in jeopardy. A lesson was learned by both boys!

If I had demanded compliance to my dictates, he would have rebelled and continued in the behavior out of spite. Then when the situation had escalated, he would have been isolated from me and not been able to consult me for feedback. I gained credibility by not leaving him all alone,  warning him without imposing my wishes as commands, supporting him in the decision he made that I did not agree with, and then helping him choose the right options when faced with the natural consequences of his own faulty decision. He could learn the lesson because he did not let me down by choosing to hold another viewpoint and therefore could approach me for help when he found out the error he had made.

Choosing to live in the Gray: A lesson from my Daughter

My daughter has always held strong opinions. Being the last child with 2 older brothers made it inevitable. So when she began developing into a young woman, I was sure that I would be faced with some pretty turbulent times. She did not let me down.

My own sexual development had been traumatic so I had been deathly afraid that my experience would deprive her of coming into a meaningful and satisfying sexual identity. The fact is that the development of secondary sex characteristics within a culture that gratifies and focuses on aspects of physical appearance without consideration of the need for both cognitive and emotional integration, fragments our girls and leaves them prey for the voracious sexual appetite created by consumerism devoid of human interest.

I talked openly about what the experience was like to develop breasts. I talked about what it was like to have a menses. I wasn’t afraid to tell her that I was being affected by the hormonal shifts in my cycle. I spoke of natural ways to deal with yeast infections and the reasons why underwire bras and douching was not necessarily in her best interest. We talked about the ingestion of preservatives and additives during the cycle and the use of supplements to ease its symptoms.

My daughter told me when she lost her virginity. She thought, like I once did, that she would be able to be sexually active on a platonic basis. After finding how little consideration she was given after she had given herself to a young man, she was confronted with the real effects that the hypersexualizing of boys and young men does on their relationships. She has learned from her own choices and I have supported her as I did her older brother before her. She lives with the consequences of her own behavior. I am always there to remind her of the foundational elements of our discussions and adapt them as she figures her way through her adolescence.

External Obligations: Socialism at its worst

Most single parents will tell you, life can be hard. Being held to standards of families with two parents, we often find ourselves exhausted, overworked, forever juggling family obligations with the real economic necessity of keeping a roof over our family’s head, food on the table, children clothed and engaged in all the activities that society deems necessary to create healthy and stable adults.

Face it, in this economy, there is less time and money to do the extra things that help our children succeed while at the same time keeping parents out from under the radar of governmental services. Parenting these days consists of doing parenting chores dictated by state and federal agencies and organizations who have taken over the responsibility for seeing that we meet minimum parenting standards  (Sounds like standardized tests, huh?) As a result, we are completely divorced from understanding the specific needs of our own children. At the same time we lack the financial supports by the same state and federal agencies and organizations policing our actions within our own homes. With the suspiciousness for people who are different created within each and every one of us and the loss of supportive members of our communities, friends and families now turn to calling Child Protective Services rather than extend a hand. In this country allegations of child neglect or abuse (that is very loosely defined) can result in the removal of children from a home without an investigation or criminal charge. It remains the most blatant and long lived form of civil rights violations that exist within our culture.

                          Learning to find hope in Random Acts of Kindness

Just a phone call…

I received a call from a frantic woman looking for help getting away from an abusive partner. She was breathless and spoke through long choked out sobs… “I don’t know what to do” she stammered in her highly agitated state, “he would have killed me”.

 I kept my voice calm, “Honey, are you safe now?”

“Yes, I just don’t know what to do now. I tried to call crisis, but the woman told me to stop be so melodramatic.” Her voice cracked with effort and I could hear her pant as if she was trying to catch her breath. “My heart is pounding so hard.”

“I am so sorry you were treated that way” I told her, “I will help you. Do you have friends or family in the area that you can get to… You may be having a slight panic attack, try to breathe deeply and open your lungs completely to receive each breath”.

“I am with a friend now but she can’t have me here cause she is taking care of her mother.” She let a long breath out as if she had been holding it for a long time.

“Okay” I answered, “how about your family? Are they nearby?” I could hear her focus shift over the phone as she put effort into thinking her way through my instructions.

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I started calling random counselors and therapists in the phone book until I found you”.

 “Where are you?” I asked.

“Marblemount,” she answered matter of factly, “I should have known crisis would treat me the way that they did”.

Marblemount is part of the upriver Skagit County community that is poorly served and treated by community and judicial services downriver in Mount Vernon, Burlington and Anacortes. We spent the better part of an hour developing a plan to get her out of her home and to, what turned out to be a family member who lived downriver. With the plan we developed she would have accessibility to begin connecting with domestic violence services, food resources, the Department of Health and Human Services and the like. She was calmer when we were done knowing what she could do for herself.

I called 2 weeks later to see how she was.

“I can’t believe you called again,” she told me, “I was so lost. You might not believe this but I was sitting on the other end with a revolver pointed at my head. You gave me hope”.

That was all I needed.

 The Good Neighbor

I live next to a young man who is just a bit older than my eldest son. He is a father of 3 now and a practicing Mormon. I had my misgivings about him when he would corner me and preach from the Bible, leave leaflets for me and send fellow parishioners over to reform me.

Well, these have been hard times, but I practice what I preach, so I took in several homeless teens that had been kicked out of their homes. There were 3 of them, my 3 and myself. There wasn’t much food so we would go to the food bank several times a week. When my neighbor heard of my situation, he began coming over with excess milk that his family had. When I didn’t have enough gas for my mower, he started mowing my lawn.

I smile when I think of receiving his call the other day…

“I am headed over to the city dump site” he said to me, “you have anything you want me to take?”

“Sure, that would be a big help,” I told him.

“Just put it over next to my truck and I will load it up”.

He has done things like that more than several times.

It is time to take back our communities and demand a better life for ourselves and our children. Start by questioning the methodologies of community agencies that act as mouthpieces of intolerance and hatred of people who are different then us. It just may be that the people we fear the most have the most to teach us!