Cultural Givens and the View from Here

[Adapted from Chapter One of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

Listen to this post on Medium (3 minutes).

Everything we do or say arises through our worldview, which arises through our experiences, beliefs, values, relationships, aspirations, and development. It includes those aspects of ourselves of which we’re not yet aware — our Shadow. Each of us, in our earliest moments and years is given a view of the world — “cultural givens,” — direct experiences of and beliefs about the world that our family of origin holds to be true. These experiences and beliefs include everything from ethnicity to local community to religious belief (or lack thereof) to national citizenship to our parents’ personalities to geography, climate, and year of birth.

It is possible to embrace these givens and live our lives without ever questioning them. It is also possible, and advisable, from the perspective of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, to embrace these givens early on and then, most commonly in adolescence and beyond but sometimes earlier, to reflect on them, challenge them, and see how they hold up against our direct experience of life.

An example: my current worldview is not the one I was given at birth and began to accept in early childhood. That worldview held that I was living in the greatest country in history and tended to favor being Italian-American, Catholic, and a New Yorker, among other characteristics. Our intention here is not to criticize our cultural givens. Criticizing our earliest views and ways of being in the world makes as much sense as criticizing an acorn for not yet being an oak or an infant for not yet being an adult. There is, however, a time to wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up. In waking up, we commit to seeing ‘what is’ through various states of consciousness. In growing up, we develop by seeking and taking increasingly inclusive, comprehensive, complex, and balanced perspectives. In cleaning up, we recognize, own, and integrate Shadow. And in showing up, we live authentically and help others. You get the idea.

The obvious (and easy to forget) importance here is that every person born anywhere and at any time since humans first appeared has his, her, or their own set of givens — in every location on the planet, with or without religion, and in poverty and wealth. Makes sense, yes? Each of us has a given story — an initial set of givens — whether or not we are aware of it. Some of it is given in order to simplify a complex world for young children; some of it is given as literal truth by the adults who believe it; and each of us continues to be given more input through late childhood, adolescent, young adult, and adult experiences and observations. What we choose to accept, embrace, revise, or reject is up to us. Each of us is responsible for our choices, acceptances, embraces, revisions, and rejections. No one is exempt.

SOCIALISM,* Critical Race Theory, and Total Radical Left Control in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District

In mid-June a letter arrived in my mailbox addressed to someone who was assumed to be and has never been a “longtime, dedicated Connecticut Republican.” The letter was signed by George Logan, who’s “running to defeat liberal Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.”

*With the exception of the italicized book titles, the uppercase letters and underlined, italicized and bolded words in this post appear as they do in the in the letter.

Very little, if any, of the hyperbole, generalizations, and vague references that appear in the letter appear on Mr. Logan’s website. He is an engineer, husband, and father, and has served in the Connecticut State Senate. I have no way of knowing if he truly believes in and is 100% onboard with the content and form of the letter that bears his name, or if his campaign staff and others who would like to see him defeat Congresswoman Hayes make the strategic and tactical choices and require that he sign his name. Either way, this writing critiques the letter and not Mr. Logan.

What follows is grounded in the concepts discussed in the 2020 book Enough with the Talking Points, and is also informed by the exploration of America’s collective Shadow as explored in Healing America’s Narratives (forthcoming, October 2022). Stated briefly, George Logan’s June letter makes generalizations and assumptions that are not defined or backed up, it attempts to manipulate and/or scare prospective constituents while insulting their intelligence, and it subtly does to Congresswoman Hayes some of what he accuses her supporters of doing to him. Don’t take my word for it. Read the letter and decide for yourself. Candidate Logan is not the only candidate who behaves in this way; both Democrats and Republicans employ these tactics. Had his letter not arrived in my mailbox, I would not be writing this.

Some quotes from the letter, along with my commentary follow.

First quote:

“You’re NOT someone ready to just sit back and submit to total Radical Left control over your life by Democrats in DC and Hartford. You understand the importance of FIRING PELOSI. So I felt confident sending this Campaign Battle Plan to you.

“But before we dive into the details of the document, please keep in mind:

“1. This plan has some sensitive information. Nothing ‘top secret,’ but please don’t leave this lying around where just anyone could see it.

“2. After you’ve read it, please mail your entire Battle Plan Document back to me using the envelope provided.”

My Commentary:

The language of “submit[ting] to Radical Left control over your life by Democrats” is a hyperbolic, sweeping generalization the only purpose of which might be to terrify prospective Republican voters who might be easily scared by such exaggeration. “You understand the importance of FIRING PELOSI” says nothing about Mr. Logan’s actually opponent, Congresswoman Hayes, and, in my reading, is condescending to any prospective voter who sees that the letter attempts to conflate the two women.

The condescension continues by first characterizing the enclosed “Campaign Battle Plan” as “nothing ‘top secret'” and then requesting that letter recipients “…don’t leave this lying around where just anyone could see it.” Nod, nod? Wink, wink? Sure, it makes sense to try to appeal to in-group bias and build a community of support, but respecting the intelligence of prospective voters would similarly appeal to the sense of belonging and build support.

I’ll provide several more quotes here, and comment immediately on each one:

“Your gift of $500 could pay for television ads holding Jahana Hayes accountable for the crushing inflation we’re all feeling across Connecticut thanks to her socialist overspending.” Really? It’s a bit more complex than that. Jahana Hayes is simply not responsible for the inflation in Connecticut (and throughout the country). Mr. Logan’s letter provides no evidence that she is, or what he would do to stop it. Regarding “socialist overspending,” throughout U.S. history, attempts to use government spending to help individuals in need has been characterized by those who oppose such help as socialist or socialism. Attempts to use government spending to support failing corporations deemed too big to fail is characterized as being in the national interest. Individuals, it seems, are deemed too small to help.

Mr. Logan’s letter makes it clear that the “key to victory is delivering my truthful message to the voters about who I am, where I stand, and what I will do on issues they care about, including [among others, these two]:”

“Fighting and winning for [sic] low taxes – NO MORE SOCIALISM” See above and below for more on this socialist bogeyman.

“Getting rid of Critical Race Theory and putting parents in charge of their kids’ educations” As I write this, neither the letter nor Mr. Logan’s website provides any evidence of what he thinks critical race theory is or why he’s against it. The letter doesn’t address that many parents see Critical Race Theory as helping them stay in charge of their children’s educations. Here’s an exploration of why most Americans never heard of Critical Race Theory until 2020 and why it’s become the flashpoint it is.

In attempts to discredit Congresswoman Hayes by association, Mr. Logan’s letter refers to “the Pelosi Dark Money Machine” — as though there is not a Republican dark money machine–this is Trumpian projection for sure. What I just did there attempts to associate George Logan with Donald Trump, just as he, in his letter attempts to associate Congresswoman Hayes with Speaker Pelosi and a variety of concepts and groups (bolded and capitalized throughout the letter, which goes on: The road to FIRING PELOSI runs through Western Connecticut, and [big money liberal donors all over the country] all know it. Hmmm. But what about your opponent? Why not speak directly to how and why you would better serve all of the people in the 5th Congressional District?

“Because of the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar socialist debt bombs, families are suffering under record-high inflation.” Blaming inflation solely on Democratic policies without providing evidence thereof is overly simplistic and dishonest; combining the words “socialist,” “debt,” and “bomb,” is clever and not original. It’s also misleading and falls again into the habit of calling anything that attempts to help those most in need in this country socialism, as noted above. As an aside, we have a socialized interstate highway system, locally socialized police, education, and fire departments, and a socialized military.

“Because of the ‘Defund the Police’ crowd, citizens across Connecticut and the whole country are enduring a nationwide crime wave that’s costing lives and livelihoods.” This sentence is simply a lie, and it will probably scare Mr. Logan’s least informed prospective supporters. The lie has nothing at all to do with his opponent, Congresswoman Hayes, whose husband is a police detective in the city of Waterbury. Neither of them has spoken out in favor of defunding the police, but Mr. Logan’s letter attempts to link defunding the police with the congresswoman.

Enough. Again, read the letter yourself. My point is to point to the generalizations and lack of substance and evidence in the letter, and I would have done the same had I received one from a Democratic or Independent candidate–I am not registered with either major political party, and I vote. I believe George Logan can and should do better than this, and Jahana Hayes deserves better than this from an opponent. I have had Enough with the Talking Points and remain committed to Healing America’s Narratives.

I suggest that the candidates discuss their positions on specific issues and that they provide specific, relevant evidence to support those positions in future mailings, conversations, and debates.

Waking Up to and Canceling ‘Woke’ and ‘Cancel’ Cultures (and the Implicitly Woke Critics Who Try to Cancel Them)

Woke and Canceling: A Quick Look

In its healthiest manifestation nowadays, being and/or staying ‘woke’ refers to an attunement to or an awareness of social justice issues that need to be addressed, and ideally, taking action that addresses them. More generally being woke involves being increasingly able to see “what is” (not just around social issues) beyond the limitations of one’s personal, familial, cultural, etc. biases. No one (that I’ve met, read, listened to, heard of or been) does this 100% successfully. In its least healthy manifestation, being woke refers to an attitude of superiority – being more woke, seeing more than someone or some other group: I’m (or we’re) better than you are. So there. Currently, most folks accused of being, or claiming to be woke are characterized as being more liberal (among other things); most of their opponents and accusers are characterized as being more conservative. These characterizations tend to do more harm than good despite any partial truths they may contain.

A casual review of history demonstrates 1) that the general concept of being or staying ‘woke’ has been around since at least the mid-1800’s in the United States – as in the “Wide Awakes” abolitionist supporters of Abraham Lincoln (and elsewhere at least since Siddhartha Gautama famously woke c. 500 BCE); 2) the specific use of the word ‘woke’ (as opposed to “awoke”) has been around since at least the 1930’s – as in Lead Belly’s (aka Leadbelly) commentary at the end of his song, “Scottsboro Boys”; 3) many folks whose behavior embodies wokeness don’t talk about it or posture as being superior; they simply live as exemplars for the rest of us – the late Congressman John Lewis comes to mind, among others; and 4) as above, some folks who talk about their alleged wokeness wield it as a weapon to point to the shortcomings of others. They (we) can be found everywhere – in the media, government, our neighborhoods, our kitchen tables and even peering back from our bathroom mirrors. Uh oh.

The allegedly woke folks (not the actually woke folks) who wield their wokeness as a weapon of superiority, whom we’ll call unskillful, publicly judge and attempt to ostracize or ‘cancel’ the inferior sleepyheads – pointing out their inferiority, silencing them, and symbolically or literally canceling their membership in whatever they had previously belonged to. Woke critics work at canceling woke people, essentially practicing what they’re allegedly opposed to. If a government agent or agency does this, it’s a First Amendment issue; if anyone else does it, it’s inherently contradictory: if I’m truly woke, I don’t need to judge, shame, silence or cancel you. In fact, I’ll probably model my wokeness by engaging you, when possible, in a conversation that does more good than harm, beyond the talking points, so we can both be woke. Buddha and John Lewis, among others, engaged in such modeling and conversation. The late Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia regularly engaged each other in this way.

The Problem with Wielding Wokeness as a Weapon

The words and behaviors of these unskillful woke folks – again, those who are allegedly woke and behave as though they are superior and right, imply a binary “woke/not woke” universe. One problem with their implication is that they never mention (perhaps because they haven’t woke to them yet) numerous other “awakenings” that are available to us, awakenings that have been researched, identified and studied longitudinally for decades.

The current woke folks’ particular wokeness, whether skillful or unskillful, seems to refer to some of the perspectives that may accompany awakening from a modern to a postmodern worldview, such as a commitment to equal rights for all in practice – which would be the not-yet-realized promise of the U.S. Constitution, its Amendments and other legislation, which emerged in an awakening from a traditional to a modern worldview. Said differently, the framers’ documents outlined a move from “traditional” monarchy to a “modern” representative democracy. It was written by, for and about landowning white men (emphasis on landowning, white, and men). Modernity woke us up to the possibility of democracy, which is more inclusive, balanced and complex than traditional monarchy (Having to do what the king or queen says is waaay more exclusive, imbalanced and simple than electing some people to represent us and letting them tell us what to do). Postmodernity, among other things, woke (some of) us up to notice those pesky landowning (or otherwise wealthy/powerful), white and men traits, and asked where the freedom and equality were for everyone else. Again, modernity gave us the Constitution; postmodernity continues to demand that it apply equally to everyone, and that it be amended as necessary to reflect the realities of the times in which we live. Why would anyone want to cancel this particular wokeness?

There may be anywhere from two, to as many as six (as far as the research shows right now) awakenings available after postmodernity, and some four or five available leading up to it.So those of us who would wield our postmodern wokeness today as a criticism of others are not at the cutting edge of anything (in fairness though, whatever awakening is next for any one of us is our personal cutting edge). When we’re unskillful, we know what we know, we’re oblivious to what we don’t know, and we consider those who are “other” as less than or wrong – just as any fundamentalist or unhealthily reformed _____ (pick your own) does. How I hold my wokeness, not its content, is the issue. If I believe in and behave every day in ways that work toward equality and freedom for all, how much sense does it make to treat as unequal or limit the freedom of those who do not yet so believe or behave? A bit contradictory, yes?

We’ve Been Assuming Wokeness and Canceling Others for Centuries

The Europeans who kidnapped, transported and enslaved Africans, and eventually the Americans who continued and fought for the right to continue that enslavement, encountered cultures they did not understand, believed they were superior to (more woke than), and literally worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through both legal and extralegal means such as slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, unequal protections and voter suppression, initially in the name of the economic advantages of unpaid forced labor and later (and still) in a bewildering embrace of white supremacy. The Europeans who bumped into the indigenous peoples on the continents now known as the Americas, and the Americans some of these Europeans chose to become – making that 18th-century monarchy-to-democracy move, believed they were more woke than these peoples whose land they coveted, and literally worked, and in some cases still work, to cancel these cultures through a history of trespass, theft, betrayal and slaughter (in the name of helping them be more like us). To take one example, “Indian” killer and remover, slaveholder, President, and fading face of the $20 bill, Andrew Jackson, stands out as an exceptional ‘woke canceler’, who as President remarked that he had “done his duty to his red children,” and that he would “now leave the poor deluded creeks & cherokees to their fate, and their annihilation.”

From about 1954 through 1974 four U.S. presidents tried to cancel Vietnam’s sleepy insistence on self-determination. Using espionage, bullets and bombs, and despite the experiences of the Chinese, Japanese and French before us, we attempted to impose our bipartisan woke democracy on the Vietnamese (in the name of helping them be more like us). In 2003 we tried it again in Iraq. More recently almost every Republican in the U.S. Congress, led by the 45th President, attempted to cancel the 2020 election results, resulting in an attack on the U.S. Capitol. More examples exist; these will suffice.

While political, media and personal clamoring about “woke” and “cancel” culture is currently popular, it is not new, although its motivations, tools, language and tactics shift with the times. Nat Hentoff’s 1992 volume, Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other, clearly captured our dysfunction and attempts at mutually canceling censorship. Today, elected officials, news commentators, family and friends don’t know how, or choose not, to disagree (or even agree) in respectful, civil conversation. We point our fingers and wring our hands, on average we kill others with guns 39 times a day, we commit suicide 63 times a day with guns, and another 62 times daily by other means, we terrorize American citizens of Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and other Asian ancestries because we blame the Chinese for a pandemic, we are disengaged or not engaged, anxious and depressed at work (and were before the pandemic). And yes, that’s a selective and limited catalog of issues. We have so much that we need to awaken to and that really does need to be canceled, so to speak, and yet we play on social media trying to cancel voices we don’t like or understand or both. Freedom, equality and justice for all, indeed.

Wherever and however each of us is, another awakening awaits. It doesn’t require (or desire) that we cancel anyone, not even the paradoxically grave and goofy current version of our one precious self, who is longing for an increasingly inclusive, balanced and complex way of being in the world.

_____

Copyright © 2021 by Reggie Marra

Parts of this essay are based on excerpts from Healing America’s Narratives: Owning and Integrating Our National Shadow (forthcoming in 2022).

Notes and Selected Resources

“…characterizations not very useful”: See my Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation (2020).

Lead Belly’s “Scottsboro Boys”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrXfkPViFIE&t=181s

“Postmodern to modern awakening” among numerous others:  Some folks who make the transition from one developmental worldview to another wield their new perspective as a weapon in this manner. The postmodern-to-modern “woke” move mentioned in the text is one example.

Useful notes: levels of development can manifest in healthy or unhealthy ways (would you rather live in a healthy monarchy or an unhealthy democracy?); later levels of development are more inclusive, balanced and complex than earlier levels (as in our monarchy-to-democracy example above).

    Knowing about development and actually developing are different and neither makes problems disappear, but actually developing does help clarify patterns and differentiate perspectives. Not knowing about development doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. An over-simplified example of earlier through later development can be expressed in the following way, (less woke to more woke): Self-centric (it’s all about me) >> Group-centric (it’s all about us, where “us” can be anything from a couple, to a family, to a team, to a branch of the military to an ethnic group to a corporation to a religion to a nation, etc.) >> World-centric (it’s all about all of us – aka “human-centric”) >> Kosmos-centric (it’s all about all that is – both exterior and interior realms). A significant majority of humans on the planet live through group- and ego-centric perspectives. Some of us can understand what “world-centric” means, and even espouse that view, but we don’t live there. Caring about “all of us” does not mean that we no longer care about specific groups or ourselves; it means that the groups and the self are no longer primary.

A brief sampling of books related to adult development:

Fowler, James. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1981.

Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993 (1982).

Kegan, Robert. In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994.

Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009 (pp 11-30).

Plotkin, Bill. Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. Novato CA: New World Library, 2008.

Wilber, Ken. The Religion of Tomorrow: A Vision for the Future of the Great Traditions. Boulder: Shambhala, 2017 (especially pp. 180-250 / charts pp.190-95).

“bewildering embrace of white supremacy”
Some would argue that “states’ rights” and not white supremacy were and are the real issue. The states that historically make that argument all fought to keep slavery, and then to terrorize freed African American slaves. Implicitly inherent in each, and often explicitly expressed, is a belief in white supremacy.

“‘done his duty to his red children’” In Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic, p. 97. Saunt cites The Papers of Andrew Jackson Digital Edition, ed. Daniel Feller (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press: 2015). I generally don’t endorse the imposition of current values and perspectives on people of the past, who often did not yet have access to what the present allows us to understand. In this case not everyone thought killing Native Americans was honorable, and there were plenty, albeit not enough, abolitionists during Jackson’s “Indian”-killing and slaveholding days.

“kill others…we commit suicide…” These numbers are based on five-year averages from 2014-2018:

2014-2018: 14,307 gun deaths/year avg. (not suicide) = 39/day; 22,925 suicide by gun = 63/day / 37,232 total annual gun deaths = 102/day: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ Accessed April 21, 2021.

2014-2018: 45,500 suicides/year avg. = 125/day: https://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcause.html Accessed April 21, 2021. Search criteria = 2014-2018 / all causes, races, genders and ages.

we are disengaged or not engaged…at work”: https://news.gallup.com/poll/241649/employee-engagement-rise.aspx (e.g. “34% of U.S. workers are engaged, tying highest in Gallup’s history”)

Among many sources on suicide, depression and anxiety:

Suicide: https://afsp.org/suicide-statistics/

Depression: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression

Anxiety: https://nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Additional works cited:

Hentoff, Nat. Free Speech for Me but Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Saunt, Claudio. Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020.

“Enough with the…Talking Points” Chapter One: Who (You Think) You Are – The Culture Thing

In this interview, Reggie and Kent explore the role of “cultural givens” in how we engage in conversation.

“Enough with the…Talking Points: Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation” Chapter 1 – Kent Frazier interviews Reggie Marra.

Click on the book for a direct link to Amazon.
Front Cover

Grave & Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2

Welcome back!

In this 12-minute video, we’ll work with imagery – using sensory, concrete language that appeals to the senses.

If you’d like a brief overview of what we’re doing here, please check out Episode 1, March 25, 2020.

Enjoy!

Grave and Goofy Poems: Narrative Healing in Uncertain Times – Episode 2 / Imagery 4.1.20 from Reggie Marra on Vimeo.

Fillet of Soul With a Dark Night Glaze

This video, from Wainwright House in Rye, NY, is a recent presentation of the poem, preceded by about 4 minutes of the story behind the poem.

If you’d like to read the poem on the page, the best way (for both of us) is for you to purchase a copy of And Now, Still: Grave and Goofy Poemswhich is available on Amazon, and also available here, at a 30% discount if you use this code when you check out: ADXSKKVR.

Buy the book and you’ll get 44 additional poems and help feed me. Great deal!

Enjoy!

 

If, of course, you’d like to read the poem without supporting the arts by buying a book that helps feed a poet, you can click on the right sidebar photo of me dressed in black and talking with my hands. A PDF will appear. And I’ll still need to be fed.

Grief and Healing

Some months ago I was asked to write a “healing narrative” as part of a larger project with some Integral Coaching® colleagues. Through our work together, which is ongoing, I came to see that I have negotiated, and continue to negotiate, grief and healing in my life through 5 practices or modalities – writing, meditation, physical exercise, being/wandering in nature, and relationship/conversation.

More recently, I was invited by Dr. Robert Wright, Jr. and Christine Wright to explore grief and healing in an interview as part of their ongoing series for Stress Free Now.

The interview is just under 33 minutes, downloadable, and accessible by clicking here.

In upcoming blogs, I will explore each of the 5 healing modalities individually.

Thanks for staying tuned.