Sunday, September 20, 2009


Things have changed, and I'm not sure when it happened.

I had a conversation with my best friend M. the other day about relationships and it occurred to me that things have changed. Now, I'm about to use a phrase I always hated when my mother used it, but here goes anyway: I'm old enough to remember the sixties, those heady times when there nearly was a revolution, when young people, full of idealism thought that a new world order was possible, a new world order based on love instead of money and power.

Grant you, a lot of the parading about and speechy-fying was done by the fellas and the meals were put together by women in the background. And then there were even a few men who started taking on more of the "caring" roles. There was talk of real equality and the sexual revolution followed.

However things changed. The pendulum swung back and the majority of those fellas who talked of love and community, sexual equality, soon became even more materialistic and power-hungry than perhaps their fathers had ever been.

What happened to the idea that "all you need is love"?

Somehow, it seems we have fallen into a terrible pit of narcissism, greed and fear. We feed our feelings of isolation, loneliness and shame with material things, and the ideas of social justice and the principle of the equality of all human beings have taken a back seat to our fight for supremacy. If we cannot subdue those we fear, we will keep them out with walls and homeland security. Disappointed by love, we have replaced connection to other beings with collecting things and protecting those things, with violence if need be. And as the desire for possessing things has grown, the value system that placed life before things has crumbled away.

A fantasy of love is out there, an attitude that treats people like objects, to be discarded when they don't meet our needs, still thrill, or fail to meet some criterion or another.

Without an understanding of the divine power of love, we have all too willingly become party to governments who spend a pittance on social welfare services while pursuing policies of economical and military aggression. The social activitist of the 60's now easily defines himself as a social liberal AND a fiscal conservative.

Marianne Williamson in The Healing of America says: "There is so much injustice in America, and such a conspiracy not to discuss it; and so much suffering, and so much deflection lest we notice. We are told that these problems are secondary, or that it would cost too much to fix them -- as though money is what matters most. Greed is considered legitimate now, while brotherly love is not."

I am always struck when I return from travels to countries in the Third World by the response of people to my decision to travel to those places, as if there are no difficult issues, no poverty, no starving children in the First World. The statistics that describe horrific poverty in Canada do nothing to help us see the face of poverty because we turn our backs. Sometimes, travel forces us out of our comfort zone, but not if we can help it, not if we can hide away in gated resorts, hotel developments that are surreal islands of self-indulgence in the middle of frightening poverty and hardship.

The social activists of the 60's have abandoned their commitment to social justice because love of their fellow man would have demanded the hard work of changing and reorganizing the social and political systems that perpetuate the inequalities. The resulting backlash against welfare in America today, Williamson contends, "is not really a backlash against welfare abuse, so much as it is a backlash against compassion in the public sphere."

And to support greed and materialism, one must support domination. And being back to domination, we are back to a world without love.

Many in our country like to call it a Christian country, founded by people who held Christian ideals. If God is love, and love gives life, why do our governments uphold policies that value money over love, the progress of commerce and industry over the value of life (either by destroying the natural environment that supports life or treating human beings as statistics: a "market" or a source of labour, etc.)

I am horrified by the man in India who killed his wife because he suspects that she was cheating on him. Why? Because he believes women are inherently inferior and dangerous creatures. However, I experience this attitude of domination still in our supposedly socially advanced culture.

It is terribly commonplace now for women(and men too) to have "something done", ie surgically or chemically, in an effort to be more appealing as...what, a commodity? While few men say they want this, most men on internet dating sites want a picture first. And the odd, horribly-honest man even admits that he is looking for a Barbie who has had "work done", as incredible as that may seem!

Most profiles on internet dating sites describe a love of walking hand in hand on beaches, or cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, wine and candles. How unrealistic is that? Little talk of chores, dirty dishes, juggling working lives, managing money, sharing values and goals, beliefs, politics, social activism...

In the workplace, it is still commonplace for men (usually in a position of power)to be angry and verbally abusive and expect that an apology (if offered) exonerates them ( it should be understood that they are under stress, etc., while a subordinate who responds with violence or verbal abuse is much more often reprimanded for un-professional behavior).

It is still not unheard of that women complain that the stuff of caring for a house and children is still their territory (often of their own choosing because they do not trust a man to do a good enough job). Relationships also seem to be women's territory as the social niceties often fall to a woman: planning and preparing for the holidays, the sending of cards, flowers or gifts to note the events in the lives of people around them.

Even though we (on the tail-end of the 60's generation) hopefully entered marriages that we stated we wanted to be equal partnerships, we quickly found ourselves falling into the habits we had learned in our homes. Women resorted to feminine wiles to get men to do what they wanted. Men easily gave over the care of children to women. Men expected women to cook and clean and care for them, to nourish them and take care of their needs. Women complained, but did not relinquish these roles that defined them, because they felt their high standards would not be met(rightly or wrongly). Men who might have made the effort to be emotionally available, caring and responsible husbands and fathers succumbed to the pressures of their peers' vision of what manhood was, and abandoned their children and wives, becoming emotionally and physically unavailable, in order to preserve their self-image of power. And with no idea of how to be loving, men and women left unhappy marriages, hoping to at the very least, escape the misery and loneliness, hoping to find true love somewhere else. We taught our children to be cynical, to wonder if true love even exists. Our friends who remain married, also cynical, advise those of us who are no longer are married, not to get married again -- love isn't possible, it's just too hard to "train another man", or to marry for money this time vs love, etc.,etc.!

We tried to redefine "man and woman", but fell back on a simplistic re-working of the same stereotypes we remained invested in: men are from Mars and women from Venus; men are strong and silent, while women are nurturing and verbal; yin and yang; women are mature caregivers, while men are childish idiots, etc., etc. Instinctively, we recognize the caricature and are amused by it. It provides endless fodder for comedians and sitcoms. But it has not been fundamentally challenged or reworked, for all we pretend to be so much more socially progressive than say the Muslim world, or traditional caste-bound India.

However, despite all that, I believe love is possible. I believe love is the only thing that is possible if we hope to survive as a species. Without love, we will continue to despoil the world, violently suppress anyone we encounter that we fear threatens our comfort, sustain our unhealthy narcissism with our greed, and continue to blindly tolerate every injustice.

And on a personal level, without love, we will continue to live tiny, narrow lives of lazy, childish self-indulgence, and never experience what love might work in our lives and through our lives to inspire personal growth and to better the lives of those we touch. We will just have to open our hearts, become vulnerable to love and have the courage to step into it, become the expression of loving-kindness to ourselves, our families and everybody we encounter, if we hope to truly live lives of meaning, even to save our world.
'Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.'
~~His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
some further ideas:

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