dysfunctional families

Tar Sands Action: Random Observations

(My 1st 2 posts on the Sept. 26th tar sands action in Ottawa are here & here – those posts have links to lotsa relevant sites/sources of more info on the tar sands project.)

So, drafted this on the bus on the way back to Toronto after the Monday events (a school bus, btw. Without the "deep pockets" of corporate types, we enviros have to do things on the cheap. We may be cheap, but we sure know how to have fun!! & as a very low-income person, I am grateful for the free bus ride!!!!)

Some random thoughts about the events of the Ottawa tar sands protest:

  1. I was/am super impressed by the fabulously well-coordinated civil disobedience training & overall event coordination of this event. Wonderful collaborative effort among different NGOs (non-governmental organizations) – all or most of the organizers young & wildly capable. Kudos to you all!!
  2. It takes a huge support team to pull off a happening like this! Tons & tons of work “behind the scenes.” So while the public sees 200 people willing to take part in this act of civil disobedience; they don’t see the HUGE amount of effort it took to put it all together. I’m so grateful to all the busy worker bees who pulled this off!!
  3. I was incredibly moved & inspired by the many aboriginal speakers who spoke so passionately & eloquently about the impacts of this horrid tar sands project on their land & their people. Nice to feel those emotions, that we 21st century folks have a tendency to suppress. Good Web source here on the tar sands’ impacts on our indigenous communities.
  4. Motherhood kept coming up! In a discussion about what to wear to the protest, someone said, “Wear something your Mom would approve of” & I thought “Yeah, & behave in a way your mother would be proud of, too.” And then at the rally on Parliament Hill, actress/activist Tantoo Cardinal, who was arrested in the Washington actions on the Keystone XL pipeline spoke of the Iroquois Confederacy, & the native tradition of having grandmothers choose the (male) leaders & placing children in the centre of the circle (& the centre of concern). Got goose bumps thinking of how the wisdom of women used to be honoured!
  5. Dysfunctional family imagery kept coming up for me. Human culture on the planet is something like a great big dysfunctional family. There is all kinds of nonsense going on. Someone has to call it, right?? & not everyone in the family feels real comfortable about that. Yet someone has to do it, or the whole family may be destroyed.
  6. The power of personal convictions…personal conscience. One of the police officers who arrested me commented “You folks sure have a lot of conviction.” Yup! (Norman Cousins said “Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life.”)
  7. The naïvete (or perhaps wilful blindness??) of human beings regarding the shocking venality of our governments & corporations. We behave like children – & indeed, have to be taught not to submit to police bullying, & almost browbeaten into insisting on our right, for example, to remain silent. Innocence is touching (& I could go off on a tangent here about why I believe most human beings are indeed touchingly innocent – I'll save that for another day!). Innocence can also be reckless. Wilful blindness is not an admirable thing, I think…
  8. Ensemble imagery kept coming up for me, from the wonderful choir event I attended in Ottawa on the Saturday evening (several police choirs & the Ottawa Children’s & Canterbury High School Chamber Choirs) to all the activities during the non-violent civil disobedience training & the events on Sept. 26th on Parliament Hill.

Frederick Nietzsche said “Sin is that which separates,” which has long struck me as a profound insight. We human beings have become islands of me-me-me-ness, or, in the words of Sister Joan Chittister, “pathological individualism.” Members of choirs & teams (& activists) presumably “get” this – that we are meant to be members of ensembles, or tribes. Bees in a beehive, working together for the common good. These big “protests” or actions show us how we are meant to be. Check the ego at the door, & do one’s very best for the team (when we do our personal best in these situations, it’s really for the whole team.)

Sooooooo delighted to have taken part in this historic event…


p.s. a few good quotations about civil disobedience here


Innocence & Evil (Apathy too...)

I’m no philosopher, OK? I once took a course in philosophy (Philosophy 101, more or less), way back in my misbegotten youth. It made me crazy to even contemplate the (to me) exceedingly dumb question “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it fall, can it be said to make a sound?”

I was, like, “Well, duh! The birds & squirrels can hear it, so, like, could we please talk about something meaningful??”

As regards innocence, I’ve thought about that some, & what I believe is this:

We humans are fundamentally innocent by nature. We are born that way. We come into the world wired to trust the people into whose arms we have been born. We are wired to love & trust. It’s the way we’re made. (I don’t buy into religious claims that we’re “born evil” or “born bad” or whatever the heck religions say in this regard. It simply doesn’t ring true for me. Does it really for you???)

So, we’re born innocent & naïve & trusting – & along the way our dysfunctional families muddle us up 6 ways to Sunday (as does our entire culture, of course) – but by golly, most of us try our damndest to be good girls & boys, don’t we?? (Some of the children from alcoholic families try so hard, folks in the corporate world know we’ll work our asses off, so eager are we to please. Yes. I will not reveal my confidential sources here (thanks, P.!!), but I’ve been told Human Resources professionals know that many of us damaged by alcohol-drenched childhoods will work very very hard indeed to please our corporate masters (we could never really please Mommy &/or Daddy, who were so darn unpredictable & pretty well impossible to please), but we can please our bosses in the corporate world, oh yes….

So. Born innocent & trusting, hmmm? Why should this be so? Well, for one thing, ‘cos we pretty much have to trust the big people, don’t we?? They feed us & look after us & teach us until we are old enough to look after ourselves (and, parenthetically, since we do not exist in life merely for ourselves, contribute to looking after our fellow “tribe” members).

Along the way, life generally knocks us about a good little bit (!?), but many of us remain so innocent & so prepared to be good little souls that we cannot even bring ourselves to remove those little plastic-y tabs on things we buy (pillows & such) that say DO NOT REMOVE UNTIL AFTER PURCHASE or something along those lines, that we leave on in perpetuity because we are so damn obedient… (If you put your mind to it, you will come up with many examples of how trusting we are by nature.)

Innocent. So innocent & trusting we all agonize over our personal bodily odours & errant hairs & clothing & appearances (after all, life is all about looking good, is it not?? And not looking stupid, Heaven forbid). And we dive headlong into our own personal pathologies, don’t we? And get quite quite lost there forever… (What Joanna Macy has to say about this is very very helpful indeed. Posting here tells you more on that score.)

All the while swallowing the swill our culture pours down our innocent little gullets. Buy-buy-buy! Keep up with those Joneses, dammit! S/he who dies with the most toys wins, don’t you know!!!!! Everything is all about you

Impervious to the corporate…evil?... that results in fouled air, poisoned water, toxic earth/Earth. Cancer. Trashed immune systems. Poverty. Hunger. War. (etc.)

Nuclear waste that will remain wildly toxic & dangerous for 100s of 1000s of years?


Children being lead-poisoned from gasoline & paint & (some) herbal supplements & toys & (am I forgetting something? To be revised… Ah yes, some ceramics, too). Warning: Lead = big topic. More coming here very soon!!)


Not only do all these wretched corporations poison us in a thousand ways, & not only do they poison & exploit to the death less “developed” countries & people, they do it using us as their willing foot soldiers. We serve these rapacious masters. We not only serve them, we do it gratefully! With massive amounts of our personal energy!! (& dedication. &… willful blindness??)

We see no evil.

Hear no evil.

Speak no evil.

(We just do evil. Offering our …quiet…’mmmm… assistance…)

& so now, here we are, having finally arrived at evil.

We’ve already established that I am no philosopher. Nor am I a theologian. I have no Ph.D. in any academic discipline. I just think (& read) a lot. Then think, read & think some more.

I think it is evil when we knowingly & willfully & deliberately take advantage of the innocence & naïvete of others. When we very deliberately exploit others’ innocence. For our own personal gain, of money &/or power &/or influence.

The advertising industry deliberately exploits our innocence, doesn’t it? Has done so all along.

  • As does the auto industry, hmmm?
  • Banking industry?
  • Chemical industry?
  • Pharmaceutical industry?
  • Insurance industry? Lead industry? Nuclear industry?

And so on & so on, no doubt.

Our politicians too, of course. A great many of them, anyway. There are some trustworthy ones, of course. (My own votes, here in Canada, where I live, go to the Green Party. I’m a very big Elizabeth May fan. I happily acknowledge that there are some very fine individuals in the NDP (New Democratic Party) here in Canada too. But the folks in power? You cannot convince me they are there to do anything other than exercise power for its own sake, & for the sake of their darling corporate buddies. They do not give a rat’s ass about you or me, of that I am quite, quite entirely sure.)

This isn’t a pretty picture, & I do apologize. Most often I am the Pollyanna lady, or Tinkerbell, or whatever the heck it is my role here seems to be.

But telling the troooooooooth seems to me to be of ever-increasing importance.

I’ve been telling the truth & trying to learn about the truth for more than 20 years now. I even have people who tell me they admire & have been inspired by me & definitely support my efforts. A lot of folks don’t seem to actually do anything much though. Seems like an awful lot of us still seem to think our own little personal lives are the whole darn deal here.

Very, very frustrating, isn’t it??

What is a person to DO???

I’d say, let the “scales” fall from our eyes.

Embrace the truth in all its messy, despair and crazy-making glory.

If we are indeed marching off to our own species’ demise (something many now seem to have come to accept), let’s at the very least do it with some dignity, shall we?

If we’re going to live – until we die – let’s do it at full throttle, dammit.


p.s. This blog has oodles of suggestions for things you can do. Have a gander thru the Index at the top & scroll through the list of postings for some titles that sound interesting to you. There are groups to join, a ton of issues to get on board with (my top pick: climate change!!!!!), films to watch, books to read – & don’t ever, ever, ever underestimate sheer human potential, hmmm? We funny little critters are capable of far FAR more than most of us know. We have to stop colluding with this horrific soul-destroying culture that is leading us … well, never mind where it is leading us. As I said, let’s at the very least go wherever it is we’re heading with our eyes wide open. Let’s do it with some class & dignity. And, hmmm. How about courage, too…

And let’s have fun while we do it!!


‘Quote of the day’ with this post:“Evil thrives on apathy and cannot exist without it.” – Hannah Arendt

Additional relevant quotes:

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.” – Helen Keller

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, exiled Russian novelist, quoted in Yes! (Winter 2002) – Utne Nov-Dec 2002

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Martin Luther King Jr. [more MLK quotes]

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” – Simone Weil

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as cooperation with good.” – Martin Luther King

“You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken, entrepreneur and author, The Sun (April 2002) – quoted in July/Aug. 2002 issue of Utne Reader [more Paul Hawken quotes]

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Albert Einstein [more Einstein quotes]

“It is the only thing we can do, Klaas, I see no alternative, each of us must turn inward and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.” – Etty Hillesium, on her way to her death, at 29, in Auschwitz, quoted in The Open Road – The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, by Pico Iyer, 2008.


Christmas 101...

<My first impulse was to call this post ‘Uh-oh. Christmas: here we go again!’>

It’s a couple of weeks before Christmas as I write this. Oh, Christmas – season of emotional confusion & messiness, & (in some cases very likely) emotional blackmail, even. (What fun! Not…)

Season of all our wanting & neediness to reach preposterous levels – & our dissatisfactions & pain, also.

The emotional complexity of this time of year boggles my mind! Stirs up my own emotions & emotional neediness like some great big bubbling, messy stew. And has, now, for more years than I care to think about.

I can’t help but wonder: do Jews & Muslims experience this season (or any season) in this same way?? Is this great big annual mixed-up, emotion-laden season the sole province of “Christian” people? (quotation marks because I & so many of us are, of course, merely “cultural Christians.”)

Christmas has always been a bit loaded for me (&, I think, for many). It seems to be all tied up with nostalgia – nostalgia for those “perfect” Christmases we had as children. (Ha! Since so many of us come from dysfunctional families, I think many readers will “get” that little ironic chuckle of mine there.)

A long-time un-fan of waste (of any & all kinds), & of this culture’s excessive consumerism, Christmas has long been an ambivalent time for me.

I want it to be about family, & love, & togetherness, & laughter, & preferably some snowy activity such as skating or tobogganing, with a little (or even a lot) of chocolate thrown in – & truthfully, I’m grateful to be able to say, I do spend some very enjoyable Christmas days – but the weeks of agonizing over who is going to be where (divorce, eh? That gift that keeps right on giving…) & what to get for everyone & … the angst, the angst! Sheesh!!

This year is proving no exception. We families of divorce have our awkwardnesses to navigate, year after year after year. It’s a real bummer. This year’s crop of personal angst (details not important) is helping me “get” a few things, I think, about the “human condition.”

First off, & apologies in advance for the offence this will very likely cause to some, but I do not believe for a moment that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christmas celebrations are really about the big blow-out human beings have been having to celebrate the end of that painful trajectory of growing darkness – those days that grow shorter & shorter until December 21st. Our species has apparently been hosting big bashes at the time of the winter solstice for … a whole heckuva lot of years!! (Do look this up, if you like. That’s what Google is for!!)

So, wanting to “party” at this time is practically primal. It’s virtually wired into us.

All the gift-giving … baloney… All the hoopla & the excessive consumerism – that’s just modern-day nonsense.(1)

I have my own theory about Christmas – first floated in 2006 in one of the “Letters to My Daughters” collection I was then working on. I keep fine-tuning this little theory, & recent/current events are adding more ingredients to the mix.

I think what really comes out in (many of) us at Christmas is the pain of our abandonment. I believe we all have feelings of pain & abandonment; every last one of us, one way & another. It’s a matter of degree.

Long story short?

We human beings evolved to be tribal creatures. We need more than these ever-so-aptly-named “nuclear” families. On the big picture, geological time scale, we only walked out of those caves yesterday afternoon. You get what I’m saying?

Not only do we each have our very own personal experiences of abandonment, we feel abandonment/alienation as a species.

We feel lonely, alone, adrift, isolated, alienated. Why? 10,000 years(2) of living in opposition to our very nature as tribal (communal, if you prefer) creatures have left us feeling this way.

Don’t buy this? Well, you don’t really have to.

Bring it back down to the level of the personal. To Christmas, & our nostalgia & our neuroses & our angst – every year, like clockwork, at this season.

As I alluded to, some recent/current “stuff” in my own life is helping me rassle with this. On the personal level – on the very down-to-earth, Janet McNeill level, I am rassling with it all, trust me!

& I am “getting”:

  1. I have emotional pain that rears its head for me most particularly at Thanksgiving & Christmas.
  2. Divorce is a very generous contributor, in my case, to this annual angst. There is simply no getting around that. No point pretending it isn’t so.
  3. In my pain, it is very tempting to lash out. To want to “punish” someone else for the pain I am feeling inside me.
  4. This emotion of wanting to spread the pain around (“Misery loves company,” hmm?) is very…real. (Can you say “war,” anyone?? Can you say “So-&-so just did such-&-such; let’s whack her/him/them with a 2 x 4, or a rocket launcher, or a missile, or a nuclear bomb,” or…you’re getting my drift, hmmm?)
  5. I can’t just “talk myself out of” the pain that comes up sometimes over some of this ancient or more recent or current personal slights & slings & arrows. It does seem to help an awful lot, though, to be fully honest with myself about what I am feeling – & sometimes even to articulate it out loud.
  6. And then do my best to take that understanding of my own self, my own situation – my own emotional conflictedness…to understand better what other people are feeling – without making them wrong for their feelings.(3)
  7. Because being petty & mean-spirited in my own “personal life,” & acting as though making other people miserable (punishing them, in essence) will make me feel better is only so much futile nonsense. It doesn’t work... That way does not lie happiness.
  8. So. I know I have some more figuring out to do. The nuts & bolts of this year’s Christmas remain to be fine-tuned. I’m hoping that some of my understanding of the “big picture” (millennia of celebrations at the time of the winter solstice; universal feelings among human beings of loss & abandonment; the state of life here on Planet Earth at this so-very-sobering time in human history) will help me out on the personal level. I need to be sensitive to – mindful of – my own emotional … stews; to know with certainty that making others miserable will not make me feel good; and to figure out how to balance simple honesty about the challenges that rise up at this time every year with sensitivity to everyone else’s personal share of emotional ambivalence & pain…

& try to have some fun!! I do believe the blow-outs we human beings have been having at this time of year – for millennia now – are really all about what some brilliant thinkers(4) say the whole point of human life on Planet Earth actually is:



p.s. Over the years, I’ve written environment columns for several small town newspapers. The most recent one was the North Renfrew Times, during the Deep River phase of my life. A few of these columns can be found under the NRT Columns tab. The one that springs to mind right now is ‘Transforming Christmas.’

p.p.s. I just came across a scrap of paper that reminded me of Sister Joan Chittister’s phrase that describes our current way of living. “Pathological individualism.” Bang on, I'd say!

p.p.p.s. I came up very recently with a thought that maybe I should share here. It was this: The human tendency toward pettiness should never be underestimated. You can quote me on that! It came up while I was out on one of my daily walks. I had an episode of personal pettiness come over me, & up sprang those words…We can all, of course, resort at times to pettiness & mean-spiritedness. But it never really makes us feel good, does it?? I think we tend to feel much better when we strive to be big…not when we get all caught up in unpleasant “little me” stuff.

(1) & btw, if you have not already watched the brilliant little animated show “The Story of Stuff, get thee to it & watch!! It’s funny & very smart & packs one heck of a punch into a few short minutes’ viewing. Highly recommended!!

(2) Other posts have dealt with this 10,000 year idea:

(3) The way we so often make other people wrong is a key concept I took away from my Landmark Forum (LMF) experience. The blog posting ‘Landmark Experience is relevant here, but I think in that post I may have failed to mention this insight about how we make other people wrong, & how this really doesn’t help any of us a whole heck of a lot…

(4) I think both Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry have written about this. & they are (were, in Berry’s case) big, BIG thinkers…

Cases of Mistaken Identity

<Nov. 26/10>

Been meaning to write about this phenomenon for a while.

A dream I had last night made these thoughts come to the surface as soon as I woke up & recalled it. I’ll spare you the details, although it’s a rather oft-repeated theme in my personal dream life.

Everyone has heard about “cases of mistaken identity.” I think an awful lot of us are victims of the phenomenon, yet with little or no conscious awareness of it.

What I’m referring to, to cut to the chase, is that I think large numbers of us relate to our spouses/partners as though they are the mother or father with whom we had such vastly emotionally complex dealings as children. If you are one of the lucky few on the planet who had a “perfect” childhood, with “perfect” parents, in some lovely Waltonesque or ‘Leave it to Beaver’ family, well – hey, 2 things:

  1. Lucky you! You’re about as common, I suspect, as the long-extinct dodo bird!
  2. You probably won’t understand what the heck I’m talking about here.

I don’t really need to say a whole lot about this. I think we all have to wrestle with this in our own way, on our own time.

I personally seem to have a pretty intimate acquaintance with the phenomenon – from inside out & outside in & 6 ways to Sunday, as they say. I’m not going to share any particulars, because making this “personal” is not my point. I’m talking about it because of its seeming-universality. It seems to be something an awful lot of us are wrestling with, one way & another…

Most of us come from dysfunctional families. It seems a lot of us have lives in which there are a fair number of “elephants in the room.” I’ve had my own gutwrenching experiences with elephants – & I’ve lived with some… & I think there are plenty of them around.

I occasionally see folks whose elephants are so gigantic, they look to be squeezing the life out of the human beings who are trying really, really hard to skirt around them without winding up on a psychiatric ward (& I’ve seen enough of psychiatric wards, what with one job & another I’ve had over the years, to know that there isn’t liable to be much help found there).

It’s painful to watch this stuff from the sidelines (even more painful to be right in the midst of it, of course!!) – & I’m a much bigger fan of joy & possibility & singing & changing the world than I am of numbing pain & misery & scarcely being able to breathe for all the neurotic nonsense one is having to dance around on a daily basis.

So…good luck, everyone. All of us! Wouldn’t it be cool if we’d all work on creating a personal life (& world) in which, if there must be some “elephants in the room,” at least they are small ones? Here’s to baby elephants!


p.s. I guess you could say that one of the purposes of our lives is healing. Seeking (& working on) our own healing & all the while, as we work to heal ourselves, helping to heal everything & everyone around us. The planet itself too, of course – since we humans are maybe something like the planet’s eyes & ears & hands & legs (& consciousness, but…oh dear me, if I get going down that road, I’ll never get stopped!)

p.p.s. I was about to suggest some books I think can help couples who think they might want to understand & wrestle a little with the mistaken identity “elephant.” Two I can recommend are Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want & Martin Rovers’ Healing the Wounds in Couple Relationships. (John Gray’s Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is a pretty helpful read as well. & Byron Katie’s Loving What IsFour questions that can change your life is indeed potentially life-changing!)

p.p.p.s. Some fascinating authors on the subject of consciousness & perhaps the uniqueness of human beans – I mean beings – are:

  • Thomas Berry
  • Matthew Fox
  • Sister Miriam MacGillis
  • Tom Harpur
  • Eckhart Tolle

& oh yes, I could go on… (Check here for lots of great book recommendations.)

Since the personal is indeed political, there is lots of useful spillover from one to the other with all of these books, of course.

'Quote of the day' with this post: “It is not a sign of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.” – J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986)

Card Therapy (or Families: It’s All Relative!)

<March 24/10>


I just went shopping for a birthday card (yes, some environmental activists would no doubt frown on my “card habit.” It’s a fairly innocuous little addiction, seems to me, compared to some others I can think of).


I get a big kick out of looking at cards because I love laughing – & I came up with the phrase “card therapy” when I discovered some years ago now that I can cheer myself up lickety-split (& have a grand old time to boot) just spending 10 minutes looking at cards. My laughter generally even gets the store staff laughing too. (I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – I’m a pretty cheap date!)


So, I found a card that made me laugh out loud, & then think some about families. Well. They sure do come in all shapes, sizes & kinds, don’t they?? Every one of them unique, every one of them almost certainly not at all what they appear to be from the outside, looking in.


My own “birth family” was a wee bit on the dysfunctional side. Of course they all are, as we understand now – but when I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s I laboured under the grand illusion that everyone else had it all together. I always felt like an outsider &, I suppose, an imposter – walking around acting as though everything was A-OK, meanwhile holding down the lid on the … confusion … that was my family’s life.


(I was fortunate enough to marry into a family that seemed to me like the very Waltons incarnate – really a very darn fine crowd of people! – & that was very nice & kind of a privilege for me for quite a few years there. Divorce took care of that, in time, although I can say with gratitude that I am still close to a number of very lovely individuals in that family.)


As a result of all this family-related…how shall we say, experience, all my adult life I’ve been a keen observer of this strange human animal called the “nuclear” family. Love & divorce & new relationships & friends’ families: one is endlessly being offered glimpses of the infinite variety of family configurations, our love (& hate) of them, their closeness (or lack thereof), their internal power dynamics… & the degree to which we can each probably be understood by others just by reciting a 5-minute snapshot or history of our childhood/family life.


My own birth family (which has always seemed to me to be pretty markedly dysfunctional, but which according to my sister was not a big deal at all. ?????) could be compared to some & seen as almost Waltonesque. (There are some pretty…hmmm….shall we say, off-the-charts families out there!) Compared to others, we look(ed) like full-on disaster. That of course is why I jokingly say it’s all relative. Pun intended…


I guess all this is what has made me crave all my life to be part of a (yes, fictional) “normal” family – one in which everyone gets together semi-frequently for birthdays & Mothers’ Days & Fathers’ Days & Thanksgivings & Christmases & Easters – & don’t all hate one another and, by golly, even mostly like (even love!!) one another.


I haven’t entirely lucked out in that department. Negotiating families of divorce can be quite challenging. Slight understatement here, hmmm? I’ve had more related experience in this regard than a person might strictly care to have had, but…perhaps the less said, the better.




The birthday card I came across that made me laugh right out loud said, “I was thinking about getting the whole family together to celebrate your birthday” – with a picture of a motley collection of people on the front of the card. You open it up & it says “But then I thought you might want to do something fun.”


It sure tickled my funny bone!!


Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet who doesn’t belong to that mythical “perfect” family, hmmm?


Well. I guess we all “wrestle” all our lives with the peculiarities & particular wounds of our own childhood & family, hmm? I know I continue to do so. I keep getting insights about myself – about my particular neuroses & idiosyncrasies – still! – & every time I get knocked on my butt by a new relationship drama, I learn yet a little more. (It seems a bit like an archaeological dig; one keeps on excavating unexpected things…)


One great lesson I’ve picked up along the way is that, while we don’t get to choose our family (on a conscious level, at least), we can find, & choose, a community – a tribe.


The big thinkers say alienation is the central bedeviling problem of the human race. The only way to beat that is to find a sense of belonging. Our families cannot guarantee us that, unfortunately. Once upon a time, each of us was born into a tribe. Belonging was our birthright in those days, I’m pretty sure.


While finding my own tribe was definitely something I did not set out to do by becoming involved in environmental work 20 years ago, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.


And as I write down that thought, it comes to me that I didn’t just sort of miraculously find the buried treasure under the spot marked X, I’ve been helping build the tribe to which I now so joyfully, gratefully & proudly belong.


I read in the Utne Reader some years ago this statement attributed to Kalle Lasn & Bruce Grierson:

“Two centuries of philosophers stand in opposition to the modern American recipe for happiness and fulfillment. You can’t buy your way in. You can’t amuse yourself in. You can’t even expect falling in love to deliver you. The most promising way to happiness is, perhaps, through creativity, through literally creating a fulfilling life for yourself by identifying some unique talent or passion and devoting a good part of your energy to it, forever.”


Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”


For me, for sure, “following my bliss” has really paid off!! The road has been full of potholes & detours & has even led me off a cliff or two…but hey!


Here I am, now, leading (& loving) this unexpected life – a full, never-dull life adventure for which I am wildly, wildly grateful.


I didn’t (& couldn’t, & can’t) re-create the Humpty Dumpty life I once had (that perfect family, perfect marriage I’d wanted so badly to last forever). Instead, I’ve become a member of a wonderful, wonderful ever-expanding tribe (with members, btw, who are often just as kooky & “dysfunctional” as everything & everyone else on the planet, myself included).


“Perfection” is just an illusion, hmmm?


I know what Kurt Vonnegut would say about it all: “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”




‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The return from your work must be the satisfaction that work brings you and the world’s need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get.” – W.E.B. DuBois

I’m not Okay – YOU’RE Okay

<April 1/10>

I’ve been doing environmental work for 20 years now. (Before that I did all kinds of other community-oriented volunteer work & was also a full-time Mom/homemaker, & before that I had a brief “career” in corrections & a short stint in the psychiatric world, & before that, I got a B.A. in Psychology at a very very lovely vine-covered Canadian university.)

What I actually set out to do, as a teen-ager, was “save the world” (we humans sure like to think big, don’t we?) and, as I like to joke, my career seems to have been a bit of a bust. Heh heh.

For sure my life – all the way along – has been one of privilege, although as a child in an unhappy home, “perks” like a big house & Yacht & Golf & Country Club membership didn’t bring the satisfaction one might have supposed. (As an adult looking back now, I can see that, as a kid, I took such privileges for granted. Privilege & entitlement: an interesting topic to muse upon…)

I assume I developed the “save the world” complex because I didn’t (still don’t) like to see people suffer. Seems as though on this gloriously beautiful & abundant Earth there ought to be enough for everyone. Oh dear – subject for another essay, hmmm? I heard on the radio today of a woman who did not have enough money to bury her stillborn babies. Yesterday I’d heard about Ontario government employees who “earn” (ahem) close to a million dollars a year. Income disparities like that have always made me want to scream. But I digress…

Okay. Mixed-up childhood, “save the world” complex, a pull to environmental activism, a broken marriage. Meanwhile, an obsessive reader, I’ve gobbled more books about the environmental crisis – & self-help books – than would comfortably fit in a canoe. (An old boyfriend used to say he wanted to be able to put everything he owned in a canoe. Resonates for me somewhat. My books won’t make it, though.)

There have been some mighty outstanding books along the way. Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit and In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations and My name is Chellis and I’m in recovery from western civilization(1) convinced me that the problems of the human race date back to our decision 10,000 years ago to abandon the gathering & hunting lifestyle.(2)

When we stopped living in tribes, things gradually changed. From living with the constant support & encouragement of our fellow humans, we moved gradually toward separation from others. (Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates” & that also resonates for me.) “Nuclear” families (love that adjective, eh?) cannot give us what a tribe can.

We evolved to be communal creatures. Creatures who need the company & support & collective help & wisdom of others. We simply did not evolve to function in the individualistic fashion we now take so much for granted (that “Everything is all about ME,” heads-up-our-own-arses lifestyle so wonderfully nourished by the world of advertising & consumption, hmm?).

Okay. So. Life in a nuclear family often sucks. Two parents simply cannot do the job properly (especially if, as is likely, they were improperly nourished in their own dysfunctional families with shoot! Maybe war & dislocation & sexual abuse & violence involved in the mix. Geez. No wonder parents screw up, hmmm?).

So, mostly, they don’t do so very very well.

A lot of us grow up feeling pretty mighty darn inadequate. To put it mildly. Without the love & affirmation we need & crave, we come to believe (I suggest) on some unconscious level, that “I am not okay. You are okay.”

We put other people up on pedestals – especially celebrities of any & all kinds. As long as they have lots of money & “look good,” we worship them & want to be like them.

And we amass, if we are able (since it’s a very inequitable world we live in, many or most are not able) lots of things. Houses, cars, cottages, boats. Expensive vacations. Etc. Theoretically at least, these things (& experiences) make us “happy.” Often, of course, they don’t do this at all. (In many cases, they just isolate us even more.)

Why? Because we are hollow inside. All that “stuff” we put in just pretty much falls out the other side.

So. What’s missing?

  1. Gratitude. Gratitude is – or ought to be – the very basis of our existence. When we are regularly & actively grateful for this very beautiful Earth & the particular blessings of our own life (yes, this may take work & practice; see ‘Gratitude: A How To'), a major shift gradually takes place inside us. We begin to lay aside customary preoccupations such as greed & envy & endless consumption & comparisons that leave us feeling inadequate. We begin to feel…full. Content. (I only suggest a regular gratitude practice to anyone who wants to be happy or help change the world, though; if you like things just the way they are, better not take it up!)
  2. Community. Tribe. Belonging. When we feel we belong – when we feel supported, appreciated & affirmed – well, there’s really no limit to what we can achieve! We also “get” that the stupid game of “S/he who dies with the most toys wins” is not one we’re even vaguely interested in playing. The neurotic game of always doing our best to “look good” also tones itself down considerably.

There is still our self-loathing to deal with, hmm? I think self-loathing runs all too deep in most of us. Mostly unconsciously, I suspect…

This essay was in fact motivated by an attack of my own. I had sort of a personal little meltdown last night. Folks who know me well may suppose my self-esteem is rock solid – & it is relatively firm. But I have my demons, & my “holes,” & I can go down into a Very Deep Pit(3) just like anyone else.

The world is in quite a state, hmm? I’m not even sure why I keep up all this infernal writing. I should probably be off somewhere constructing an off-grid house, & gardening, & hunkering down to get ready for the apocalypse that seems to be heading fairly rapidly in our direction.

I suppose I hope that, the more I write & the more I help encourage others to pay attention, the bigger the tribe of us actually caring & doing things there will be. And the more of us behaving like the members of a caring & supportive tribe there are, the saner, perhaps, the outcome will be.

And the more like a party! I’m always up for a good party as much as anyone!!


p.s. Since I drafted this essay, I picked up 2 books by Alice Miller: From Rage to Courage – Answers to Readers’ Letters & The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting. Hooey! This is the psychotherapist whose brilliant insight “The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our lives” rocked my own little world when I heard it. You may want to visit her Web site at www.alice-miller.com Ms. Miller doesn’t write about the environmental crisis or the pivotal need for the things I am always emphasizing so much (gratitude & belonging or community), but she sure does help us understand essential lessons about the roots of our individual (& thus societal) neuroses/psychoses.

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” (more JC quotes here)

(1) All of these referenced in the blog posting “Recommended Reading.

(2) Yes, it used to be referred to as hunting & gathering; now the 2 words have been reversed to indicate that the meat part of our diet was, shall we say, a tad sporadic

(3) Very Deep Pit is a Winnie-the-Pooh reference. Winnie-the-Pooh stories are high on my list of life’s essential (reading) treasures.

Dysfunctional Families 101, & Apologies...

<March 2009>

Dysfunctional families… Holy smokes. I could write a book.

I was going to claim I’m a graduate of Dysfunctional Families 101, but I’ve realized that’s a bit … premature. I’m still merely a student of that very long & extensive curriculum.

And no doubt I risk offending people close to me with these (& various other of my) scribblings. So sorry, everyone.

So, I’ll just leave it at that, now, okay?

Certainly the whole idea of a course called “Dysfunctional Families 101” has a lot of resonance for me. It gives me a good chuckle, anyway.

How about you??

Later same day:


I think today I offended both of my daughters, possibly a brother or two (I only have two, so that’s doing well, hmm?) – & who knows how many readers.

I’m sure some of my ideas are a wee bit…“radical”…to some folks I know, & some I know much less well (or not at all).

If it’s any comfort, everyone, I sometimes offend myself! Or disagree with myself.

I think one thing on Tuesday, & quite another on Wednesday (or even Tuesday evening).

Do you always agree with yourself?? More power to you if you do.

Me, I’m always thinking new thoughts – trying to think “outside the box” – & I’m bound to ruffle feathers. Especially the ones that belong to the people who know me best (even my own, on occasion).

“Familiarity breeds contempt” & all that.

‘Nuff said.

I’ll end with a quote: “In any case, community is not about perfect people. It is about people who are bonded to each other, each of whom is a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, love and hate.” (Jean Vanier)


p.s. When I meet someone who’s perfect, I plan to send up a flare…

Why Am I an Activist? (part II)

Isn’t it neat the way we keep learning more & more about ourselves as we get older? I’m 56 & still getting to know myself – having insights about myself all the time. I guess it’s a life-long deal, hmm??

I sort of put something together for myself the other day (I ought to add too that this was twigged as the result of something someone had said to me; in other words, as a result of conversation – that great unpredictable, uncontrollable but magical phenomenon that ties us all together & makes us all ever so so much smarter than we are all on our own…).

Now, the “reasons” for my becoming an environmental activist are numerous, & there are some “smoking guns” or rather obvious things (e.g., the way the lake I lived on & swam in as a small child became “polluted” & un-swimmable by the time I was 6).

There may even be things in my genetic make-up that added to the inevitability of my becoming an activist.

But I think what happened to me as a child (in addition to what’s already been mentioned) is that I always felt kind of like an alien – an outsider. My family was a tad…dysfunctional, shall we just politely say – & I of course assumed (as we children of the 50’s & 60’s did) that all the other families had it all together. We were the only oddballs – imposters, essentially – & between that & the other things (genetic endowment, my father’s composting & abhorrence of waste, plus a pivotal experience I had as a 14-year old in Barbados) – what grew up in me was a very potent “save the world” complex.

In the first part of my life, this took the form of wanting to do social work – social service-type work. Once I’d had my children (with whom I stayed home as a full-time wife/homemaker in the early 1980’s) & spent several years focused on motherhood & locally-focused community (volunteer) work, I seemed to hear a “call” to environmental work.

What came to me the other day was simply that my “save the world” complex was nothing more than some sort of powerful pull out of myself – my own puny little life – into work that was/is a whole lot bigger than myself.

In other words, years & years before I read & then really understood that human beings spent most of our history living in small groups(1), highly tied to our fellow tribe members, I discovered in a not-really-conscious way that I needed to be part of something “bigger than myself.”

For whatever reason, I never wanted to have a job or career just for the sake of making money. I wanted to help – to be immersed in work/a career that “mattered.”

And of course, you see, I’ve had such utterly fantastic experiences all the way along! I always-always-always get far more out of my volunteer (& paid work) endeavours than I put in, or than I anticipate at the start. So the energy to keep on with them just keeps recycling itself, over & over & over…

It also simultaneously brings new friends, experiences & a sense of community – & so, while the path of my life has detoured way off any “plans” I had made for it, it’s all been quite surprisingly grand & wondrous!

I guess I just want to share with readers the insight that it may often be the lives lived outside the “lines” – or out at the borders – or off the 9-5 treadmill – that may provide the biggest rewards & satisfactions.

Feeling part of something vastly bigger than ourselves is what we all crave, if I’m not very much mistaken…


p.s. Why Am I an Activist, Part I was posted on March 29/09.

p.p.s. I've been saying for years now that activism is its own reward. Because it is!

p.p.p.s. Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates,” & I think that’s an assertion worth pondering on….

(1) which I learned by reading In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations, Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 1992 & Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn, Bantam/Turner, 1992; 2 books I highly recommend to any & everyone!! The book People of the Lake – Mankind & Its Beginnings, by Richard E. Leakey & Roger Lewin (Avon, 1978) was also useful to me in understanding why early human beings lived in social groups.


Raise Your VOICE!

What a world! What a culture! It’s so noisy – & we’re all so polite. Well – maybe not polite, exactly – many of us are actually pretty rude & inconsiderate – & certainly many of us are almost fatally self-absorbed. (1)

I think most of us are terrified of silence – & of solitude. Yet if we don’t insist on some silence & solitude in our lives, we seem to behave like nothing so much as hysterical little rodents, running-running-running pointlessly in circles on that crazy little wheel inside the bars of our cage (all the time unaware that, not only are we on a wheel, inside a cage, but that there is a whole world outside the cage!).

I was listening to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio on May 18th & heard an interview with hip hop musician Emmanuel Jal on the Jian Ghomeshi show. (2)

Jal has written both a book & a song called 'War Child.' He was born in Sudan & has lived through unbelievable trials & experiences, losing family members to war & spending time as a child soldier. (If you are wondering what the war is about, I’ll give you one guess. Yes, oil. What else??)

He was eventually rescued by an aid worker & wound up in Canada. He now believes he survived in order to tell his story.

It’s notable that he did survive because a heroine of sorts (whose name I don’t know, but I expect it’s in his book) chose to be a person of action & use her life to help & serve people.

I was moved to tears, listening to the interview. This young man is using his voice as his vehicle &working very very hard to help the children of his native land.

A few thoughts came to mind as I listened. One was that I am eternally grateful to the wonderful CBC for its fantastic programming & interviews. Another was that I think we should never discount the power of our own actions & our own voice to make a difference in this world.

I know I try hard to use my voice. I’m not heroic like Emmanuel Jal – but like him, I do recognize the power of the individual human voice to make change happen in this very mixed-up world of ours.

I’m not sure why some of us use our voices, while so many of us are seemingly so afraid to do so.

Well, that’s not true; I suppose I do understand. It’s all about our dysfunctional families & behaviour & our dysfunctional culture & the thousands of years of damaging patriarchy & the endless specter of fear that hold us ALL back...

At any rate, I recall how powerful I’ve found the voice of singer Jewel, singing at the end of her song ‘Hands,’ “We are God’s eyes. We are God’s hands.”

We are also, surely, God’s voice – or at the very least, have the potential to use our voice for good.

Please, raise your voice. In a positive, life-affirming sort of way. Not with anger, I think – although I know we do have anger, & sometimes even rage, & that there are reasonable explanations for our anger & rage & pain. I think if we can work on transmuting the anger/rage into compassion & caring – & action – that is ever so much better for our own health, and, of course, for the health of our world.

Raise your voice, please! For your own sake, & for everyone’s…


P.S. As I wrote in another essay (one of the Earth Day 2009 ones), activism is its own reward. One need not know what the outcome of one’s actions/activism will be – indeed, we cannot! – but as Joanna Macy says, “Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” It’s true.

P.P.S. I was in Toronto just this past weekend, and as always, had a small stash of loonies & twoonies ($1 & $2 coins) in my pocket to give out to folks I saw on the street, begging. There was a man at the corner of University & Dundas, & as I passed by him on my way to the bus station, we made eye contact, & both smiled. (I’ve always thought it rather wonderful the way we smile not just with our mouths, but also with our eyes.) I then dug into my pocket & went back & put a loonie in his cap. We smiled at one another again, & he thanked me for the money. I think I must have had about a thousand dollars’ worth of joy out of that encounter! I wish I’d given him more money. His smile alone made my day. I’ve decided next time I’m in the city I’ll only give out twoonies.

But here’s the point, readers: supposedly my giving money to beggars is to benefit them. For sure, though, I get at least as much out of it as the people I am supposedly “helping.” This is equally true of all the volunteer work I do (& the charitable donations I make). I don’t do it for me - or at least, that is not my original intention. I want to help. Then I do it, & I get so very, very much satisfaction & benefit from it, one way & another. I recall hearing when I was a child, “Virtue is its own reward.” It surely does seem to be so…

P.P.P.S. Joanna Macy says in her book World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal “…you also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” I choose to believe that this is so.

‘Quote for the day’ w. this post: “We are privileged, and the duty of privilege is absolute integrity.” – John O’Donohue, Irish poet, philosopher & former priest

(1) I’ve come to think of this as terminal “heads-up-our-own-arses” disease.

(2) You can find an article about & podcast of that show here


Dysfunctional Families, Dysfunctional World…

<June 2007>

Most of us come from dysfunctional families, hmmm? I reckon every family is dysfunctional in one aspect or another. For sure I’ve heard it said (by a professional in the counselling world) that at least 85% of families are dysfunctional.

Family dysfunctionality is a matter of degree. Some are mildly dysfunctional, some are kind of “medium” dysfunctional, & some, unhappily, are wildly, drastically dysfunctional (six years in the psychiatric & correctional fields exposed me to a fair range of experiences in this regard).

I have a hard time placing my own “family of origin” on the Dysfunctionality Scale. Compared to the Waltons (that fictional “perfect family” of TV life in the 1960’s), & to some families I’ve met & know fairly well, we were pretty terrible.

On the other hand, compared to other families I’ve met in which the dysfunctionalities were more numerous, more extreme & considerably more nasty, mine was the Waltons (& trust me, we were a long way from the Waltons!).

Some of us believe we’ve “transcended” our families. “I’ve dealt with all that,” we say, & many of us have! We’ve had counselling of all kinds & on more than one occasion, even, & of course also a wide variety of life experiences that have helped us grow, evolve, change & improve. And heal.

But you know what? I think a lot of us (probably most of us), are still hauling around so much garbage from our childhoods that we don’t have a clue how much those experiences in our formative years continue to shape our thoughts, attitudes & behaviour decades & decades & decades later.

I have a suspicion too that many of today’s families (the ones still engaged in raising children) are dysfunctional in ways my parents’ generation hadn’t yet thought up. I don’t think the current divorce epidemic is helping our children any too darn much, for one not-so-tiny example (& as a person who has been within sneezing distance of an awful lot of divorces, once again I do speak, unfortunately, from plenty of experience).

The world around us, in fact, seems to be going pretty much to hell in a hand basket – have you noticed?

I don’t believe this is a coincidence.

Dysfunctional world / dysfunctional families / dysfunctional world – bit of a chicken & egg scenario, wouldn’t you say?

One thing that’s interesting & rather poignant for me is to witness some of my own unfortunate neuroses in other people who also grew up in troubled families.

Things like thinking “everyone else” has it all figured out. (They don’t! Most of us are in the same darn neurotic, mixed-up, insecure boat.)

Things like putting some people – some families – some whole professions, even – on a pedestal & assuming they’ve got the world by the tail. (They don’t. Some of them put on a pretty fine show, though, don’t they?)

Things like seeing others who’ve put one parent on an impossibly high pedestal because the other was such a huge disaster (for some reason, we seemingly had to deify one while the other was – rather deservedly, I might add – assigned more or less devil status). Oh dear me, how I did this myself, & how I see it in others…

Things like thinking that having pots & pots of money would solve all of our problems. (It wouldn’t. We need only look at those “movie stars” & assorted other public figures whose lives are filled with plenty of dollars & loads of dysfunctionality to see how illusory that “money will solve everything” notion is).

Things like being huge control freaks with our loved ones in the present, because we’re still holding onto crud from the past – from our childhoods – & acting as though (& believing so, on an unconscious level), if we “control” everything in rigid, military fashion today (our families, our spouses, our children, the way our houses & lawns look, etc.), this will somehow “make everything alright.”

But you know what? There’s no such thing as “making everything alright,” or having everything be “just so.”

Life is a mixture. It’s good times & bad times, wonderful moments with our loved ones & yukkily horrid ones too. It’s out-of-control joy & exuberance – & out-of-control grief, sadness & despair at times, too. For all of us. None of it lasts forever. Nobody has the one “perfect” life or the one “perfect recipe” for general wonderfulness, 24/7/365.

Life is messy. A big messy, uncontrollable ball of wax that becomes a lot more joyful if we can do ourselves a really big favour & put a stop to those (mostly negative) childhood scripts that echo around inside our heads pretty much all of the time.

I read a very interesting horoscope recently. It doesn’t matter which sign it was for, or when, because I think it applies to all of us, to some degree at least. It said:

“America's former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky addressed an assembly at my daughter's high school. He read from his translation of Dante's Inferno and took questions from students. After hearing Dante's description of the nether regions, one boy asked Pinsky what his personal version of hell was. The poet said that each of us creates our own hell. The fearful and negative interpretations of reality with which we infect our imaginations constitute curses that we cast on ourselves. They terrify and enslave us so thoroughly that most of the difficult outer circumstances we encounter are mild in comparison. Your next assignment is to work on dissolving the hell you carry around in your own mind.” (1) (I read Rob Brezsny’s brilliant, amusing, insightful, challenging and sometimes eerily prescient horoscopes every week here – you may want take up this habit also!)

So what?

Well, I’ve said this elsewhere, but I think it’s a really good idea for each of us to “connect the dots.” About our own personalities, our own selves, our own neuroses, etc.

There are lots of really useful books we can read,& we can get some counselling, too, if that might help. I’m told cognitive therapy can help us re-route negative mental pathways we tend to go down inside our heads,& with only a few brief sessions, not years & years, or even months & months.

The way I see it, reading books & getting some counselling are not likely to hurt, & as I often say to myself when contemplating something scary, challenging or awkward, “What the heck do I have to lose?” Usually, nine times out of ten, the answer is “Nothing” – not a single, blessed darn thing… We need to heal this very, very hurting world…& if we’re going to do that, we also need to heal our very, very hurting selves – & I’m pretty sure we need to work on these things simultaneously.

Let’s graduate from our dysfunctional families/dysfunctional selves, shall we? Instead of lugging them around with us, 24/7/365, for the rest of our lives…


P.S. I’m just as neurotic & screwed-up as anyone else on the planet, by the way; I’m entirely aware of this. It must also be said that my childhood was not nearly as horrendous as many others have had to endure; this too I do fully understand...

P.P.S. The book Brain Sex – The Real Difference Between Men & Women, by Anne Moir & David Jessel is a good (& quick!) read on the subject of female/male brain differences. Some of the mental/emotional challenges that can plague us are due to brain chemistry, or to put it perhaps more accurately, are exacerbated by brain chemistry. Male & female brains are not constructed the same way. I think it is most helpful – even essential – to understand this…

P.P.P.S. Under the ‘Recommended’ tab on this blog, you’ll find a post entitled ‘Books I Most Heartily Recommend.’ There’s also one called ‘3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth.’

(1) Rob Brezsny - quoted with permission

Pulling Down the Pedestals

<January 2009> Putting people up on pedestals seems to be an irresistible pastime among us humans, doesn’t it?

I’ve done entirely too much of it in my own life, for sure – but I know I’m far from alone in what I now see as this very unfortunate tendency. I really believe this pedestal business is something we need to put a stop to.

We put people up on pedestals in a (likely completely unconscious) way, as if to say, “Wow. You’re so good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished…and I could never be so (take your pick) good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished… and so, I’m not maybe even going to try very hard to be as (again, take your pick) good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished as I can be.

Or something like that. I don’t really understand it myself, dear Reader – I’m still wrestling with it, okay?

I think it’s tied up with the widespread tendency to have rather low regard for ourselves, no matter how good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished we may happen to be. As in, I think too many of us feel inside, really, that “I’m not OK; YOU’re OK" (‘cos you are so much more good/smart/pretty/talented/virtuous/accomplished than I am).

I think the roots run pretty deep… I’ve written elsewhere about how I believe most of our pathologies go back about 10,000 years – and I suspect this pedestal business can trace its roots to the same loss – the loss of our feeling connected (deeply and inextricably connected) to a whole tribe of people, the loss of which led to that horrible scourge of human life – alienation.

Well. This little rant is about pedestals, not alienation…

I think lots of us come from families in which the dysfunctions were numerous and in some cases raging, and we grew up looking around us thinking “everybody else” had it all together (at the very least, this certainly holds true for my own pedestal-creating tendencies…).

If we could just get a fabulous job and make tons of money and really, really succeed at “looking good” (which most “big shots” and celebrities do, hmm?), we’d finally fill up that inner hole of insufficiency, insecurity and need…right??

And meanwhile, we go around firing other people up onto pedestals.

In my own life, I’ve at one time or another had scientists, academics, couples with intact marriages, mothers of many children, certain individuals and certain families way up there on lofty pedestals.

Eventually, of course, they’ve all come crashing down under the weight of their mere… humanness.

Turns out we are ALL merely human, and terribly fallible. Academics can sometimes be not exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer about 101 things – brilliant, perhaps, in their own narrow way, yet utterly clueless in so many others. Scientists? Same story. Very often brilliant in a tiny area of expertise, but incapable of seeing the big picture, or the forest for the trees, you might say… (this of course does not apply to all academics, or all scientists…but enough of them to have made me realize that the one-size-fits-all pedestal had to go…).

And all those individuals and the families I’ve hoisted up so high, well, they’ve all turned out to be about as fallible as I myself am – which is pretty goshdarn fallible, I’m afraid.

Shoot, I’m aware that a few people have put me up on some kind of pedestal – poor unfortunate, misguided souls! My ex-husband and children (and all the people who know me really well) would certainly have a grand belly laugh at the thought of anyone elevating me onto a pedestal; to them, my faults, neuroses, problems and shortcomings are so glaringly numerous and obvious that pedestal-occupying is an utterly nonsensical concept.

Here’s the thing, you see: as my sister Elizabeth once said to me, “There’s only one way to go off a pedestal, isn’t there?”

She got that so right…

We’re all kinda the same, is the deal.

We all have our faults, neuroses, problems, challenges – and sure, some of us are so damaged (I’ve worked in the psychiatric and correctional fields, so have seen some kind of extreme things) that recovery seems pretty darn unlikely – but anyone reading this little rant has enough intelligence and perception and resilience and sheer gumption to do some reading and meditating and self-healing (counsellors can sometimes be mighty helpful too) to clear away some of those internal cobwebs that get in our way so readily.

You can also let this wonderful, inspiring Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation fill you up with hope:

“What lies behind us and what lies ahead are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

We are capable of awesome feats, dear Reader; yes! Each and every single one of us.

Instead of using up our energy to put ourselves down & elevate others unrealistically, let’s each acknowledge & then act on our very own awesome potential for greatness.

What are we waiting for??


P.S. I wrote this before encountering Elizabeth Lesser, with her lovely insights about "bozos on the bus." We are ALL just "bozos on the bus," for sure...