Thursday, 11 December 2014

16. I'm not responsible because I do not exist

In these days, when so many truths are coming to light, but when accountability does not come as a consequence so clearly or strongly, the memory of my favourite book comes back every time. My favourite book is not a big romantic drama or a deep Russian novel. The book that I was dreading to end, when I read it, maybe 20 years ago is Italo Calvino's The nonexistent knightI remember turning each page with a mixture of eagerness and regret of leaving each page behind. I have to read it again.
Let me explain why I think of this book, when I read about the US Senate report of tortureThere are a few passages that come to mind: one is the very beginning when Charlemagne was reviewing his paladins shortly before going to battle. He goes through them one by one, asking who they were, where they came from, who were their parents. Until he reaches the last of these knights. A knight in a bright, clean, unscratched white armour. After presenting himself, Charlemagne asked him to raise his visor and show his face. But the knight wouldn't do it. Charlemagne asked why. He responded "Sire, because I do not exist". He then revealed that the helmet was in fact empty. "How do you do your job, then, if you don't exist?" asked Charlemagne. "By will power and faith in our holy cause", Agilulf, the non existent knight replied. He was the model soldier, a bureaucrat that followed all the rules and procedures to the point and was always right. No one liked him. It came to be when a name, a rank, some duties and a story somehow condensed into an armour.

I don't think many people were surprised by what the torture report said. Even if we did not know the details, somehow we all knew. Guantanamo bay, extraordinary renditions, secrecy, no legal framework or accountability, some precedents like the School of Americas... come on, we all knew the Emperor was naked. What it was novel in this piece of news is the US saying it to itself. It was the admission itself. The "becoming aware of it". Now it's "out there" (see the RSAnimate below from a talk by Steven Pinker on language and what he says about mutual knowledge).

It is indeed difficult to face our shadow, particularly when we have spent years projecting it to others and pointing our fingers at them. So difficult it is, that we create a carefully crafted narrative that swirls around the unspeakable truth. The words of the President of the committee were somehow of a higher consciousness "Torture goes against the very soul of our country" and relating the greatness of the country with the ability to face these facts. The reaction of the republican Senator John McCain, victim of torture himself, was probably the most poignant when he said "enhanced interrogation methods stained our national honor". However accountability is still not on the table. Some empty armors did it. And Americans seem to be ok with this. If one piece of news was US admitting what everyone knew they were doing, the second piece of news is that it did not cause any major reaction

The second passage of the book that comes to mind is when Charlemagne was warning Torrismund that due to the fact that he was born out of wedlock, he would lose his rank. He should get his father to recognise him. "I can never be recognised", 'My father was no man". Charlemagne asked "Who then?". Torrismund replies "'Tis the Sacred Order of the Knights of the Holy Grail". Then he told the story of how his mother met the knights and spent a lot of time with them, until she became pregnant. Charlemagne saw the problem: "The Knights of the Holy Grail have all made a vow of chastity and none of them can ever recognise you as son". Torrismund then explained "My mother has never spoken about any knight in particular, but brought me up to respect as a father the Sacred Order as a whole".  Charlemagne then suggested "The Order as a whole is not bound by any vow of the kind. Nothing therefore prevents it from being recognized as a person's father". No one has fathered him. It was the Order. The Order did it. 
In this case, the CIA did it. Or the Bush Administration did it. And Obama's. Or the US did it. Let's turn the page. Never againLet's look forward. We are awesome.

But how can we avoid it to happen again if we do not explore the existence of these empty armours and the functioning of these Orders? If we do not truly look at them? If they do not look at themselves? Can empty armours and faceless Orders truly "see" other people as people? 


Thursday, 4 December 2014

15. The absent father and our quest for freedom

The sense of how the social order works -and how to penetrate it- comes with the male side in our family: our fathers or anyone fulfilling a father role. They are the ones that invite us to go outside the world of mum to conquer other lands, we learn discipline (love is expressed in "doing" and completing something) and to rule ourselves; all of which gives us the sense of self-mastery and freedom. In a home with an absent father (or father figure), it is more difficult to separate the children from the mother. This may result in extreme frustration, even disgust, particularly in males who unconsciously occupy the male role of the house.

Fatherhood, and absent fathers in particular, has been a topic President Obama talked about in several occasions (there are several videos in YouTube), speaking a lot from his own experience of the challenges of growing up without a father:

In the most extreme situation, an unbalanced masculine (its absence or uber-dominant presence) can be destructive over the unbalanced feminine (the mother, the system). History has seen this at social level in the form of fascism, which represents a violent response against the feminine principle. 

This is somehow told in Pink Floyd's The Wall: the protagonist goes through childhood with an overprotective mother (unbalanced feminine, unable to see and feed the individuality of the child), a rigid school and an absent father. In this context, his Ego creates an internal fascist dictator, seeking to counter-balance the oppressive environment in which he lived, that was extremely invasive. In the film Pink, the child, the ashamed, the wounded, the unseen by the people that were supposed to see him, unfed with attention to his individuality, and unable to separate from the mother, gets replaced by the unbalanced masculine, a fascist persona who performs this separation with violence, and in a twisted manner reclaims what he did not get as a child: the unconditional maternal love and attention (that's not the same as control) in the first place and the paternal order and notion of freedom later on. 

This persona incarnates the power without the love, "the all for one"  without "the one for all"; still merged with the maternal, he fears his own masculinity cannot be expressed and see 'queers' as a reflection of this fear (his shadow); it objectifies all (because he had been objectified), judging, labelling and discarding, particularly women that now should be at his service.

But this fantastical story was inspired by his (and Syd Barrett's) own life, with the anger he felt growing up without a father:

In this video (it's only 4:46 so, worth watching), the philosopher Slavoj Žižek speaks about Freedom and more interestingly for this post, false freedom. 

From this, I'd to highlight a couple of passages:
"The most dangerous form of non freedom is the non freedom which is not even perceived as such.
Then there is another form of freedom, which I think has a disastrous impact and we shouldn't underestimate. I met at some point in Belgrade in the late 90s, when Milo
šević was still in power, some probably ethnic cleansers, nationalists. And -I'm even ashamed now for doing this- I got in conversation with them. And they gave me a wonderful short lesson on how nationalist fundamentalism worked. They told me "We experience your western liberal world as over-regulated... you know, you are all the time bombarded by messages of be political correct, don't be a racist, be careful what you eat, disciplined yourself and so on and so on.". And they told me openly "I want to eat whatever I want, smoke, I want to steal when I want I want to beat women, rape them and so on. Becoming a nationalist, doing some ethnic cleansing gives me this terrifying freedom".
This is why I was not surprised when I heard that in the area of Irak and Syria controlled by Isis, it is not just religious fundamentalism, there are also gang rapes, tortures, freelance killings and so on.
You see. This is the problem with fundamentalism. It is not just that there is no freedom. There is also this kind of false freedom. The explosion of this obscene freedom. For me the highest form of freedom is love. Here I'm a pathetic old romantic."
In the mystery of how the Islamic state recruits so many Europeans, we need to start to recognise how this seed of anger is implanted to then understand why it gets attracted to a promise of false freedom, so we can treat it differently. On the one hand: either a toxic mother or lack of a soothing mothering figure, on the other hand the absent father so no one is negotiating a detachment with the development of self-sufficiency and self-mastery. When not in the extremes, the separation from the mother does not require violence, but it tends to require a "masculine" force. That's why Princesses liberation from the mother -the stepmother being the shadow of the actual mother-, requires finding a Prince with a spade -the prince being their internal masculine-. 

However, after so many dictators, orphans turned terrorists, destructive regimes, drug addicts; after so many philosophers, spiritual leaders, politicians, movies like Star Wars, and Lord of the rings -to name a very popular couple-, after so many artists who all talked about this very subject, we still don't fully recognise the anger into the spectrum of human behaviour, we demonise it. We still don't accept it, we don't own it: it's not civilized, anger is barbaric. We don't own the anger of the oppressed, of the ignored nor the oppressive systems we sustain. 

Anger is an emotion that is very useful, in fact. In a culture where only the rational is good, emotions are not acknowledged nor understood. They are simply judged, normally as something of an inferior nature. However, anger helps us build the strength to defend ourselves and our limits. With this I don't mean to condone violence, but rather pointing out that anger is an important, valid and useful emotion if it can be fostered to energise a constructive purpose. 

When the official narrative is oppressive it is because it lacks self awareness (it does not see itself, it does not recognize its own failings),  and is fatherless: it lacks an equal force that limits the power of this mother-system to leave room for the individual to be and feel free. An oppressive system only leaves room to anti-system narratives and this initial natural anger to escalate into violence, the false freedom Žižek talked about.

Racism has long been unrecognised by the US institutions.

So it is probably because Barack Obama is the first black president, racism in America is more visible now than it's been for a few years. Most significantly, the racial tension and the bias of institutions against the African American community are being named, thing that did not happen for a while or at least not so clearly. 

First you see, then you name, both are significant and might be the first needed and painful steps towards a deeper change. 

However, while the system does not acknowledge this fact, and does not evolve into a father-led emancipation, it only leaves room for the desperate violent separation. In Ferguson we can find a hint of this logic: one of the demonstrators -after demonstrating peacefully in August- concluded: "If we don't tear anything down, if we don't destroy anything, if we don't set fire to anything, they won't even pay attention"The New York protesters where highly allegoric too with their signs and chants "I can't breathe" these final words from Eric Garner quickly became their cry for freedom

The racial conflict in America won't go away, and won't be resolved but with the full transformation of society. We are all part of the context, we all build the "them, us" model. 

Here is where Obama in his symbolic paternal position could've helped to guide the change needed in the institutions, however, as the article in Der Spiegel "Racial divide: the tragedy of America's first black president" describes, the prevailing sentiment is of disillusionment.  

The final part of Slavoj Žižek video speaks says:  
"The lesson is true freedom means looking into and questioning the presuppositions of everything that is given to us by our hegemonic ideology. And by ideology I don't mean here, some explicit teaching, simply the way in our daily lives we experience our reality. To question everything including the notion of freedom itself."
In our own quest for freedom, we need to find the father within: the one that can separate us from the whatever is our construction of a maternal narrative (the ideology coming from the many mothers we adopted in our lives: our country, a political party, a company, our actual mother, etc); the one that can help us build discipline and self mastery and navigate the journey of "we love, we hate, then we become". So the systems we create and sustain will have also a father within, the one able to restrain the system itself and better negotiate the balance between the individual and the whole.

In this video, Russell Brand (another public figure highly critical of the system), who also spoke about his absent father, proposes his father to have a boxing match, but mainly his aim is to get some form of healing in this staged measurement of his masculinity. He also discusses it with the psychologist David Cohen (author of The Father's book).

Almost at the end of this 10 min part 1, David Cohen praises Russell and his mum. "Your mum did definitely something rather right as the main caregiver", he says. "You want to find out about yourself. You are taking quite a lot of risks". This example is particularly good for many reasons, because an absent father does not mean the mother is powerless, but the work is more subtle. And secondly, because the culmination of a "patriarchal drive", the emancipatory movement, is to beat the father. The father symbolically dies just to mark the end of submission and that the father role has been integrated.  

This is important because this first questioning is purely ours (sometimes with the help of self-aware mother). Following the path that leads us to the answers does not depend on anyone else, it does not depend on heroes or demons we find in the world. If it happens, if we find the father within, it will enable us to make new decisions, and then we are free(r), we become our rulers.
This process cannot be reversed and if many go through it simultaneously will emerge in society too, with better systems, that are self aware and have a Good Father within, to ensure that everyone has the right to feel safe, be cared for, looked after and free.

We might need a bit of resilience. 
And patience.


PS: did I mentioned that J.R.R Tolkien lost his father when he was 3?
PS2: A "dad" made it tenth most popular Christmas list request for children
PS3: Absent fathers in music: Papaoutai by Stromae (Papa where are you?)

Lyrics in French
Lyrics in English

If you liked this article, have a look at:

-The absent mother
-Women: invisibility or blindness?

External links:
Anne Manne, The Guardian: Narcissism and terrorism: how the personality disorder leads to deadly violence
Der Spiegel, Racial divide: the tragedy of America's first black president
Der Spiegel, Terror from the fringes: searching for the answers in the Charlie Hebdo attack

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

14. 2014: Walls, World Cups, Integration and the lightness of being

Don't worry, this article is not about football. It's about integration, so even if I start with the World Cup... bear with me. 

I have to think twice to remember that 2014 was a World Cup year. An event that seemed to be omnipresent a few months ago, now it is a thing of the past. 

Sometimes it is interesting to see how the World Cup -and the emotions it generates- sit against the social context of the countries that win it and the countries that host it. World Cups, as many big events and rituals, can feed and synchronise the collective unconscious.  The most remarkable of all, probably was the Germany win in 1990 in Italy, as it was soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the reunification of Germany. This win became a celebration of having their country back to life, after fascism had killed it, the occupation had torn it apart and had built a wall to keep it that way. 

Germany is for some the corpus callosum of the world's brain. It is the place where connections between the two hemispheres happen (West and East). It is the country where strangely the sun is female and the moon is male. Where things flip. With a strong masculine personality, analytical, focused in planning and order but still connected with instinct, nature, a country that gave birth to some of the greatest philosophers. It is also the place where the conflicts and tensions were expressed in the point of history when the world was at its maximum polarity and, probably where many of those tensions should be resolved. 

As most of the world, Germany is too looking for its own identity. Not without problems. Not without fear. 
Fear of finding their Ego again instead of the self. In this fear, Germany used to hide behind the EU (up to recently many Germans were more comfortable saying they were Europeans rather than Germans). In this confusion, it constantly needs to negotiate very fine lines between helping to build a union of nations -respected on the grounds of their own power and individuality- and creating another big devouring Mother called Europe that in the name of integration, swallows. The fact that we should be all connected does not mean that we should be or act all the same. Recognition of individuality and difference is a step that cannot be jumped. For Germany to understand the difference, it is important that they find their own individuality, remember it and celebrate it. Funny enough, a string of Wold Cup wins helped them to do just that: right after the World Cup semi-final, Der Spiegel published an article called "The bearable lightness of being: the Germans are learning to like themselves", describing the evolution of Germany from its unification onward. 

Integration is a big word for Germany in this journey: integration of former West and East Germany, integration of the high number of immigrants, integration in the context of the European Union, and probably playing an important role in the resolving (integrating) the world biggest polarity: the tensions between US and Russia (Spiegel's article Germany's choice: will it be America or Russia?). Integration is not only a big word for Germany, it is THE word. Now, from the streets of Dresden, led by Pegida, we are hearing the old story against "others" again: "they are not integrating" and "what should we do with this hordes that milk welfare here and bleed our social state dry?".  This "they" is Islam this time and even if it will never be minor when Germany finds yet another religious group to call "they", the problem is less about religious intolerance that it may seem. Firstly: seeing the problem outside and not recognising it inside. Dresden, as the whole of East Germany is also in the process of integrating with former West Germany, which also at times talks about East Germany as "milking" the mother-nation (which in Germany is rather the Father nation). Secondly, speaking about integration without understanding what's about: integration IS acceptance. 
We cannot integrate what we don't accept. Moreover, integration is not something "the other" does. Integration is a work for all, and that's why it is a challenge, that's why sometimes it feels uncomfortable. 
Something similar occurs in the new battle against Greece. Germany is projecting the failings of the Union project on the weak nations, without recognizing that they were competitive all those years thanks to a group of weak nations, without acknowledging that fixing the interest rates the same for economies that were in structural terms  radically different was also a mistake. And it was not done by the Greeks, or the PIGS. Projecting the union failings onto others is denial. So if Germany wants to lead Europe, it will also have to own part of its failings.

Integration is also a big word for the world and for all of us. In the way of resolving our own internal conflicts, we need to integrate them: find what's stored in our shadow, accept it, own it, assume responsibility for it, find the potentiality in it, and use it to help us do what we want to do, become what we can be. We need to knock down our own internal walls, the ones that separate us from our shadow and the walls that separate us from the other. Haruki Murakami wrote about walls for the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall
"In some cases a wall may protect us. But in order to protect us, it has to exclude others - that's the logic of walls. A wall eventually becomes a fixed system, one that rejects the logic of any other system. Sometimes violently". 

Marina Abramović, the famous Serbian performance artist, spoke (somehow) about the integration process when she was preparing to perform The life and death of Marina Abramović, a theatrical piece. As a performance artist, she hated theatre "Theatre is fake... The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real". But then she realised that Performance was just a tool to express herself "When you really found your own language and you become secure of what you are doing, then you can accept anything else." Somehow in being able to detach herself from her love of Performance and the hate of theatre, she felt secure she could also use theatre and experience it. "I've learned patience". 

Apart from knocking down the wall, and integrating the other side, Germany is still working on integrating its past. With my former job, we had a lot of internal training, one of which was on leadership, which involved exercises questioning who you are as a leader, why people should follow you, etc. A colleague from India once commented: "It's definitely a challenging exercise...making yourself those questions, but I'm surprised how much the Germans in the course were struggling with it". "Well, it is clear, isn't it?" I said. "Why?" She asked. "if they translate Leader to German is Führer, a heavy word for them" I explained. Confronting the past takes time, and Germany needed many years to make its first mayor film on Hitler, Der Untergang (Downfall, Oliver Hischbiegel, 2004). Not only that, they wanted to portray him as a human being (see Demonising and Idolising), which is not easy and became big topic of discussion (New Yorker.The Guardian) as some people would consider this dangerous and would rather see the demonic narrative, which leaves you in no doubt that it was his fault alone. It is by no means a closed chapter, Oskar Groening was convicted only recently: one of the few 50 SS officials out of 6500 at Auschwitz convicted.  

Banksy - West Bank
Spain is taking a different road regarding its past: the civil war and the Franco years. The judge Baltazar Garzón was deemed wrong in investigating deaths during Franco's dictatorship according the the Amnesty laws, and the team looking for the grave of Federico García Lorca, killed by Franco's nationalist forces, faced many obstacles with the loss of public funding related to the Memory law. Of course, avoiding to look at the past is nothing new. Moving forward without looking back is a known coping strategy for severe trauma. We build a wall, "a wall may protect us", we fragment ourselves and give power to what we consider our strong side, hiding the weak, the ashamed, the bad, the not worthy behind the wall. In this article of The Guardian, Kate Connolly speaks about Dresden being at war with itself in this regard.

We fragment society and the world, separating too the weak, the ashamed, the bad, the not worthy, the sick, the poor, the immigrants, the old, the african americans, the PIGS, the third world....
However, walls can stand for a long time, but not forever. Hating and segregating the weak is hating our own weaknesses instead of accepting them.

There is a moment when a new generation comes that is able to detach themselves from the love and hate that built those walls, and just sees them as oppressive. The emotions sustaining walls are always dense and heavy. A new generation that can make questions, that want to see what's behind, that want to knock it down, challenge the beliefs, unveil the secrets, with the hope that through that density and armed with the ability to step to the other side, there might come a break to the wheel of eternal recurrence, and find a lightness of being.


If you liked this article you may also like:

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

13. Demonising and idolising

Demonising and idolising are the same thing. It is the transfer of the bad and good inside to an external being or thing. We put the devil outside so, if we kill it, it will take away our own evil nature believing that this act of violence will be an expiation rather than a manifestation of it. We put the hero outside so if he is saved, we'll believe we are elevated too, without risking much or ever confronting our fears.
Both are mechanisms of delegation of power and a manifestation of the lack of ability to see: to see ourselves and to see others and accept responsibility.

We demonise food (only in a time and place where food is not scarce we can call any food "junk"). We demonise sugar, McDonald's, Coca Cola, carbs instead of our habits or our inability to take care of ourselves, learn what truly nourish us, see what's our hunger about and look for help when we need it.

We idolise celebrities, footballers, rock stars, actors, instead of exploring our internal need of being looked at, and giving ourselves attention. Attention is like money somehow. We pay attention, we steal attention. Trolls do something similar to celebrities but from a negative place: they are stealing attention back in an aggressive manner.

We demonise the other, the immigrants that come to steal our jobs and our resources claiming benefits without recognising our own invasive attitudes, history or that we are accepting to play a game, but blaming the rival for the result.

We idolise the rich, believing they feel fulfilled, that they "own themselves", instead of looking at our inner hole and thinking what makes us feel empty and poor. In this chat, it is explained how even people belonging to the top 1% of society keep looking upwards without recognising their own wealth and feeling they do not have enough (or as much as the other).

We demonise dictators, with the need of elevating them to some sort of evil deity level because thinking of them as people would call for the reconsideration of our own obedience or recognition of our own capacity for violence and cruelty.

We idolise cool people, the sort of Steve Jobs, and we buy an Apple product hoping that some of this coolness will be spilled over us without thinking why do we need a white computer to feel good about ourselves.

We demonise people that believe "we are not right", because we fear that the system of beliefs we sustain is what defines us, so if we are not right, then what? We die? Protestants and Catholics (or Unionist and Nationalists) are still separated by a wall in Belfast, Sunnis and Shias are fighting right, centre and left, atheist think that people who believe in God are stupid. Communists and capitalists can equally use the antagonist word as an insult.

Some use and exacerbate these transfer mechanisms to concentrate power and wealth. Idolise me and give me your money. Idolise me and buy the products I endorse. Demonise him and surrender power to me so I can fight him.

When we are not connected with ourselves and our inner feelings, we don't connect with our own power and surrender it to a Idol/Hero to go and fight the devil in our name. 

However, sooner or later we'll realise that no one can do any of these things for us.


Friday, 31 October 2014

12. Labels, brands... because we are not worth it

Salvador Dali
Naming is an important process of the construction of the conscious memory. What we don't name, we can't recall -even if it is stored unconsciously-. What's named, exists in our consciousness and can be remembered. If we imprint an emotion on top makes the memory even stronger, it gives it a meaning. That's why some experts advice that when you had any accident in the water that made you felt scared, the best thing to do is to go straight in again, so the emotion with which we store the memory will not be as strong and we don't build a "water is dangerous" belief.

In this process of naming, we build some sort of inner drawers that we classify with labels. Some of the labels (and beliefs) will be written by ourselves out of our own experience, some will be copied from our peers but many of them are just inherited from our parents, our culture or our religion. The ones that hold our strongest judgements are normally linked to a strong past emotional experience (ours or not). Even though, this process of naming is a natural organisation mechanism of the psyche, it is also very limiting when we fail to challenge these structures in our ever changing reality.

When being wrong is right
In the TED talk: "The best stats you've ever seen", Hans Rosling speaks about preconceptions regarding our view of the world. In his work as a professor of International Health in Sweden, he discovered his students had a preconception of the world that divided it into "we and them: the Western World and the Third World".
 However data shows that the views the university students had, were more aligned with the reality of 1960's: the one that describes the world their grandparents lived in.

Without realizing, we see the world only in accordance of the structure of our drawers. When we see it in a way that fits with them we think: "everything fits therefore I AM right". In judging and categorising, we feel reaffirmed. So we go out to the world, looking for evidence that proves "we are right". The stronger the belief, the more we pay attention to cues and hints, up to the point of deforming and forcing facts and stories to fit into our drawers. At the end, we will find what we are looking for, whether it exists or not. This week, newspapers shared a study showing how much of a difference there is between measured statistics and our beliefs. The Guardian title was "You are probably wrong about almost everything", showing how much unemployment, teenage pregnancy and immigration are being overestimated in people's minds. So if we feel quite negatively about these topics, probably whenever we hear of a case of a pregnant teenager, walk down the street and recognise a foreign language or hear of someone struggling to find a job, we'll pay more attention to the information that reinforces our belief and overestimate their actual incidence (it is called confirmation bias, if you need to label this concept). 

Making up an statistic will be in any case tricky as we don't go about counting (unless we have some sort of OCD), but this also happens in a more generic way. The Pope speaks about the poor and criticises the economical system, so the corresponding label is "communist", particularly in the US where this label comes attached with a very strong emotion. And Russell Brand? Rebel? Anarchist? Communist? Are you a politician? Do you want to run for mayor? Damn you. You don't fit. You must be confused.

When being right is wrong
Salvador Dali
Anthropomorphic drawers
Believing "we are right", however, does not mean that we love or approve of ourselves. We can believe we are "right" in hating and punishing ourselves and we can be quite nasty. In feeling guilty and worthy of long and harsh punishments, we don't limit ourselves to situations when we hurt someone or committed a crime. It can be triggered by anything that goes against a belief. If we hold a belief that being fat is wrong (or gay, or a woman, or short or whatever it is), we'll feel right if we exert a level of self punishment, for example paying special attention to the people that judge us. If we are a perfectionist, we'll have a very neat set of drawers and, of course, we'll overestimate our failures: proving ourselves right can be our own doom.

Labels, labels and more labels
Brands help us judge ourselves and others with regards to our choices. They make it so easy for us, that we all go about our lives literally wearing labels, putting people in the drawer of "good person" -when they are wearing a label we approve of- and trusting they will do the same with us. Therefore, in a world where "we are our choices", choice carries a high level of anxiety. This is brilliantly explored in Grayson Perry's documentary "All in the best possible taste", particularly when he explores the middle class in the UK. When we submerge in this anxiety we "identify" and adopt mother figures (brands, nations, even religions, etc) that can make the choices for us and tell us how to judge others. We follow their guidance because we think that we'll be "seen" and appreciated; we follow their guidance because we don't trust our own judgement and think that if we make a mistake we'll be judged as not worthy of love or recognition, probably because deep down this is part of our core belief, our shame.

We carry our drawers around and if we ever experience something that put this structure to doubt, we have a crisis. If we ever act (or felt like taking action) against them, too. Even if many beliefs are just adopted and are not of our own creation, somehow this structure can be perceived as "ourselves", but it's not. There is a deeper inner voice that sometimes disagrees (this inner voice can talk through unexpected explosions of emotion or through our body by not letting us sleep, having a breakdown or getting sick). This means that our beliefs are not us and that we should be able to reflect on them and disown them when we need to. We need to learn to hear these other inner voices before they take over our bodies to shout, to swear or to get us sick so we listen. We need to learn to redecorate our interior, rearrange our drawers, knock down some walls with the ultimate purpose of being coherent with ourselves. Our true self, without shame.


Other links:
Eleonor Robertson, "Why are baby boomers desperate to make us millenials hate ourselves", The Guardian

Thursday, 2 October 2014

11. The absent mother

A couple of months ago I read this article where the CEO of Pepsico, a woman, Indra K. Nooyi explains that women can't have it all. See full article in this link.
I've seen this article being shared in facebook and people commenting how true and how sad it was. They mostly empathised with the feeling of powerlessness that this woman was transmitting. But there was another reaction too. The one of disappointment in front of the message "I have a big job so I won't be a good mum". 

She draws this conclusion from a particular example: she was told she would be promoted to CEO and came home 10PM instead of midnight as she would've normally done. She was very happy and wanted to share the news with her family. But she found something else instead. As soon as she had arrived, her mother asked her to go and buy some milk.

"I got home about 10, got into the garage, and my mother was waiting at the top of the stairs. And I said, "Mom, I've got great news for you." She said, "let the news wait. Can you go out and get some milk?" I looked in the garage and it looked like my husband was home. I said, "what time did he get home?" She said "8 o'clock." I said, "Why didn't you ask him to buy the milk?" "He's tired." Okay. We have a couple of help at home, "why didn't you ask them to get the milk?" She said, "I forgot." She said just get the milk. We need it for the morning. So like a dutiful daughter, I went out and got the milk and came back. I banged it on the counter and I said, "I had great news for you. I've just been told that I'm going to be president on the Board of Directors. And all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?" And she said to me, "let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother. You're all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don't bring it into the house. You know I've never seen that crown."

The mother 2
Jaco Van Der Vaart
Of course I understand the sadness that people feel. The sadness I feel however is not about her being powerless. I think she is not, not a bit. It's about these two women being absolutely blind, not able to see each other and both somehow resenting the absent mother. Mrs Nooki, resenting a mother that doesn't understand that she worked hard all day and that is tired. A mother that quite ruthlessly does not join in the excitement of her promotion while she was expecting a deserved little cheer. And the other that resents the daughter as an absent mother, the one that does not put limits to her company, that is not aware that there is no milk and expects her to fill the gap. Of course here, the lack of milk is highly symbolic to what goes on.

In this case, when I speak about presence or absence is not about physical presence. I am a working mother too. It's the psychic and emotional presence. It's this feeling, this overall awareness of what's going on in the family and within ourselves. It's a lot about being present when you are present, connected to the moment and perceiving what's going on now. Mothers that see and pay attention to others and to themselves.

But instead of resolving, of talking at least about this absence that both felt, they fall back to their masks. The dutiful daughter, the resentful mother. The dutiful daughter that burns herself working for a company until midnight instead of leading the company and changing the rules (probably projecting in the firm her own unsatisfied mother). The 'good girl' that goes to buy milk instead of confronting her own mother, talking to the family about her news, asking them about theirs and trying to resolve together this small issue that there is no milk. But we, the world, are left with powerful women choosing to be dutiful daughters, choosing to obey without even thinking of challenging unwritten rules, not even in their own house. We are left with women that see danger in this burn-out and escaping from leading roles. We are left with men (with the useful blind spot in systemic issues and always relying on individuality) justifying the absence of women to their lack of ambition. We are also left with the Queen Bees that quite enjoy being the only ones up there, with their crowns, and instead of pushing for change, have discouraging messages for the rest of the women.

The Pink Floyd's song Wish you were speaks about absence in a very universal way, but consider it in this context:

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?

Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? 

Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground. 
What have we found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
Copyright: Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

I do rescue that Indra "sees" herself as an imperfect mother. And says so without a taboo. It is not a small step when (imperfect) motherhood is still a taboo. But the whole anecdote lacks so much insight, so much self awareness that is worrying rather than sad.

Women need to see themselves, see their mothers, see their children to be able to connect with their own power: the power to drop the masks and to lead the needed change in whatever task or profession they chose to be an actor in. 
And their children need to see that they are being seen in order to awake their power in turn. It's not about children getting on with stuff preparing themselves for the future. It's about children that are living their lives now and feeling valued now. See Ken Robinson's Ted Talk How schools kill creativity.

In its most extreme, when absence is tinted with rejection, children are left full with self destructive tendenciesChunchi is a canton in Ecuador with the highest level of youth suicide in the world. It is also a canton where mothers left their children behind to go an make a living in the developed world after an economic crisis in 1999. 51% of school children live in a house without parents. They dutifully sent dollars and technology. But this is not what they needed. Children with dollars and an hole in their soul meant that drugs and alcohol became a epidemic, as much as suicide.  
"Not being able to receive the love of your mum is like being dead" Luis says. 
I like the expression paying attention because it (kind of) represents a monetary exchange. Attention has that sort of property. Those who receive a lot, feel rich. Those who receive little attention, feel poor. When I pay attention to you, I am valuing you. You are worth my time and my attention. But attention is a scarce resource and it is where the tension lies. 
Jobs and women's inner circles should be a source of "fuel". Professional and/or personal recognition should help mothers to have their tanks full (and their pockets) so they can feed their children with food, love and attention. If we feel 'poor', if our tank is empty, we cannot give others our attention for free, sometimes not even to our children and might even try to grab their attention instead, feeding from them, leaving them feeling empty, invisible.  So invisible-blind mothers give birth to invisible-blind daughters who become invisible-blind mothers. All 'poor' women that were never seen or recognised. 

In order to cut the trans-generational chain of blind-invisible women, a generation needs to wake up and see themselves first. So women in power are... women (not daughters), present and connected with themselves so they can see the game and the rules that have nothing to do with business and more to do with our old wounds.


Bonus: On absence: The making of Wish you were here Pink Floyd (must see documentary)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

10. Just war or just...war

Daily we are being "bombarded" with news on how aggression gets justified by one side while we see up to which point the other side does exactly the same. Ferguson, Ukranian crisis, Gaza, ISIS and Syria, all these cases are full of reasons or excuses to trigger more aggression and to build the rhetoric that justifies it, which will then become the provocation and justification for more aggression on the other side.

ISIS justifies its horrific actions on religious or geopolitical grounds while, US justifies its action as supporting the peace process (Noam Chomsky explains,  everything that US does is "named" peace-process) and lately justifying the use of drones.
Most mandataries in Europe agree that Putin actions in Ukraine are inadmissible but the actions of NATO in terms of its relationship with Russia  are not so openly discussed.

All of this is reigniting the debate about whether there is such a thing as "Just war" or if it is all... well... just war: one side trying to alter the structure of power in any particular geography and the other side trying to keep it the same, in many cases involving rearranging borders. Of course, we need to be open to admit that many of the borders in the world have been drawn by foreigners on a table, sometimes dividing and sometimes grouping up people that cannot see each other, and therefore they will be naturally subjected to challenge at some point in the future. And also that when structures of power lack multi-lateralism, tolerance, inclusion, discipline to work within a diverse universe, fluidity and proximity with the people they represent, they will go through different levels of conflict.

Pope Francis has recently spoken about the justification of war from two different angles. One, is that religion should not be used to justify acts of violence. He was clearly referring to ISIS but it is just as important to remember that "evil" was a common label -label of religious nature- that the West has used to justify its role, even if it considers itself secular and the Big Other authorising and validating the aggression has replaced God with "the Nation", and martyrs with patriots and heroes.

This article in the Huffington Post draws parallels between the intra-Muslim tensions (Sunni v Shia) with what happened with Christianity with the rivalry between Catholics and Protestants some centuries ago but that has continued to this day and are very much alive in Belfast where the peace wall still separates Catholic from Protestant areas.

The second angle was that stopping an aggressor is licit, adding that stopping does not mean bombing, probably trying to limit the traditional doctrine of Just War.

But it is not only at war level that this justification happens: only a few weeks ago, we saw in Ferguson how one act of unjust aggression quickly escalated simply because it justifies new ones. 

However, there is something else on the news almost daily for the last few years: child abuse and violence against children in everyday life, in poor towns, expensive schools, and in current wars.

Here is, of course, when excuses don't work. There is no justification for it to happen, no justification for this to be organised and even less for this to be denied and covered up. 
And this is where our mental work has to stop: our rational for aggression is not objective, it is not an unobjectionable "truth" and it is part of a deluded discourse (deluded because we believe that this partial vision is an absolute one). I don't mean to say that the aggression received is not real. It is. As much as the one we exert. The challenge is to see beyond the aggression we receive and the one we feel entitled to use.

When was the last time WE were aggressive? Were we right? What was it about? How did we feel about it? How much are we imposing ourselves to others? How much are we wishing for others, doing for others, thinking for others? and the other way around? How are we using our power? How much are we allowing others to do, wish and think for us? All these invasions represent our own inability to balance our own power, respect and assert our own space (physical, mental, emotional) and respect the others.

If we do not own up and take responsibility of our aggression we won't be able to explore what's behind it, what's sustaining it and how to better resolve it. 
"The Tibetan spiritual leader focused on the concept of "jihad," commonly thought to be a holy war, but which he said has a far more spiritual dimension within the context of Islam. Jihad combats inner destructive emotions," the Dalai Lama said. "Everybody carries jihad in their hearts, including me.


If you liked this article, you may also like:
Demonising and idolising

External links:

Noam Chomsky on State Propaganda

Pope Francis on use of religion to justify violence

Jack Miles for The Huffington Post: How will the Midast war end? Christian history may provide a clue

Martin Stirling video for The Syrian Campaign "In Reverse"

Karen Armstrong: Religion causes violence and war? Why it's really not that simple

Milgram experiment (acts of aggression while obeying an authority)