Essays, Critical Thinking, and Observations

The Power of the Sting

I wrote a poem once called Hurt People Hurt People.  The wisdom of human experience has shown this dynamic to be true and authentic.  Human beings hurt others because they’ve been hurt by others.  This is perhaps one of the core pieces of the reason we have conflicts in ourselves, our families, our communities, our nations, and on the planet.

Recently I’ve been reading and contemplating why, in particular, men are conditioned to solve their problems and issues by means of violence.  This is why the U.S. goes to war—we feel threatened (even if we use the cover of doing it for the sake of U.S. citizens and the protection of Democracy), so we take our arms and go to war against whatever country we see as rogue.

In my research, I read a story by Gordon Murray, a vet and a psychotherapist, entitled Picking on the little guy:  in boyhood and on the battlefield.  I found Murray’s story in Boyhood, Growing up Male.  A Multicultural Anthology.  (1993).  Franklin Abbott (Ed.).  Freedom: The Crossing Press.

He refers to Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti.  Pardon the long quote from his book, but he describes a process that usually has a consequence of physical violence, but certainly inner violence for the one who still has a wound:

Those most beset by commands are children.  It is a miracle that they ever survive the pressure and do not collapse under the burden of commands laid on them by their parents and teachers.  That they in turn, and in an equally cruel form, should give identical commands to their children is as natural as mastication or speech.  What is surprising is the way in which commands are retained intact and unaltered from earliest childhood, ready to be used again as soon as the next generation provides victims….It is as though a man pulled out an arrow which had hit him, fitted that same arrow to his bow and shot it again.

The sting forms during the carrying out of the command.  It detaches itself from the command and, as an exact image, impinges itself on the performer….It remains isolated within the person concerned, a foreign body lodged in his flesh….It is very difficult to get rid of the sting….For this to happen there must be an exact repetition of the original command-situation, but in reverse (author’s italics).  This is what the sting waits for through months, years and decades….When this moment comes, and then the sting seizes its opportunity and hastens to fall on its victim.

The sting is the open or hidden wound, seeking a way to heal, and a way out of its prison.  The sting isn’t just a male thing, it’s also a female thing, too; in short, it’s a human thing.  If we walk in a fog of forgetfulness we have no awareness of the power of the sting, even though we can be aiming stings in all directions, like someone with amnesia shooting with an AK47.  “Healing isn’t the absence of suffering” (p. 58, Claude Anshin Thomas.  (2006). At Hell’s Gate: A Soldier’s Journey from War to Peace.  Boston: Shambhala Press).  You can’t just “wish away” the sting; just know its reality and how it feels in your life. The more mindful we are about the sting and its consequential pain, the more we can see that we have choices, regarding whether we pass on the sting to others.

Perhaps there’s a collective sting?  The day after President Johnson ordered the initial bombing of North Vietnam, he said, ‘”I didn’t just screw Ho Chi Minh, I cut his pecker off.”’  Continuing he said, ‘”Hell, he has to squat to piss.”’  Johnson really had no idea, I’m sure, of the metaphorical/felt-fact/impact he had uttered.  From his lips passed the archetype of the cyclical reality of command-and-sting.   Unfortunately we haven’t yet excavated the deep inroads in our culture of this cycle.  There has been some progress, even in the ranks of vets, who are mainly outside the mainstream edifice of the Military System.  Even for this small shift I’m grateful.

Clearly, there needs to be more in the moving awareness of disarming the power of the command and sting.  We can all reflect on our sphere of influence and ask if there are possibilities of discussing this dynamic, and bringing it out into the open.  Cycles only can keep repeating when they are kept in the crypt of silence and denial.

© Christopher Bear-Beam October 30, 2012

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KITCHEN TALK

After my discharge from the Army in ’71, the days were hard; re-entry was a struggle–such a vast gap between military life and civilian life
At times I felt like an alien, a freak–of course,  I also felt that before I went in –note that I was inducted in ’69, a time of flower power, demonstrations, and resistance; a time of flight from the family that felt like prison, one that I never thought I fit

Now I had wounds of a different sort–battered, bruised, invisible, on the edge\between a rock and a hard place, so by the way, my friend, please don’t bogart that joint, pass it around so we can all feel nothing, you see, I was discharged under Honorable Conditions, which I guess meant I didn’t blow up any of the buildings on base/I came from no place to hide to No Man’s Land in a short space of time
My dad, whom I called Poppi, would come downstairs to the kitchen each morning; he turned on the heat if it was winter, and got the java started\sometimes it was so cold on those mornings that when I took off my jays, they fell to the floor and broke, but God it was good to feel the furnace’s hot breath emanating from the basement’s intestines
I felt extremely uncomfortable and anxious in the kitchen as we drank our coffee and ate our breakfast–I didn’t know what to say or how to act with him; in a way, it had always been that way, except when we went to the beach or swam at a pool, because then we laughed, rough housed, and had fun as dad and son….those days were now, and then,  a long way away
I remember the feeling when I first got free and left home; I wrote mom and dad a letter with a description of a hawk flying in the translucent sky\I told them that was now how I felt, the taste of freedom like an olive branch in my mouth, feeling no effort of the flight, but only a glide like two dancers on a shiny dance floor
Mostly he was silent sitting at the kitchen table, and I watched him do his spiritual practices of reading and Christian Science contemplation/there would be a tense and icy silence between us; this struck ironically: he was doing his spiritual silence, and I was feeling silenced by his rigidity and a system that had no bends in it
He believed in the Golden Rule and had taught me this growing up, so occasionally he’d do his best to show interest in me by asking me a question or making a comment, but it still seemed contrived and artificial to me\\I wanted to be authentic and transparent in my relations with others, especially and essentially with him, but it wasn’t happening for us–our words fell on the floor like opaque wax that wasn’t able to translate–for neither one of us
I knew him oh so well, and by this time I had spent twenty-two years under his roof\I knew when something was bothering him or getting him angry, but he had to be the perfect, composed person,so he stuffed these darker emotions, unlike me, the impulsive radical who would run off to any demonstration or fight the Military-Industrial-Techno-CorporateSlave-System most anyway I could
There was the crispy cracking of egg shells I walked on when around him, seeing his dark Bavarian eyes that gave off a colorless depression like the nights in our neighborhood when the bats would fly, shadowy, winged-creatures of the midnight blush, blanketed by unknown, mysterious, nocturnal identities–his dark mood suffused our home, so we never knew when he would explode, shattering the walls with emotional and verbal put-downs and verbal abuse–the eggs cooking on the skillet brought back the memory of having to walk on egg shells when he was under the spell of the down-pulling, depressive cycle
One morning he said to me, “I just can’t understand how you could be a CO, but not try to change what’s wrong about the country? You could be a part of a movement that attempts to change unjust laws that erode our civil rights.” I responded by saying that I was apolitical. I told him that deciding to be a CO on the inside was very much my own personal choice and decision. “Dad, it was not about a movement it was about me.” I thought to myself, yeah, you say you walk the walk and talk the talk, but stand in my boots for awhile
In the kitchen, the place where we eat to live, and we mix our meals that give us life, and chew our food as if it was a delicacy, I stood my ground with him. I stood down. There was no equivocation only a plain, clear yes\yet I also felt my guardedness and defensiveness rise from my heart to my throat–I wanted to lay him out, like a silver-tongued muscateer, who challenges the king, the kitchen utensils aborbed my vibes, but there was “no getting it” in his eyes or face
He had been King too long. He was a WWII Navy man, captain of a sub-chaser somewhere in the Caribbean. I was a Viet Nam Era Vet, just home from my own personal and dysfunctional River Styx, a different war fought in another land, a strange land of rice, paddies, people who played off that they were just farmers, but trained to kill, of heroin and fraggings, the final culmination of shell shock, battle fatigue and futuristic PTSD
The Military-Techno-Industrial-CorporateSlave System had its dirty finger prints all over Vietnam, slowly disintegrating the immune system of democracy with its virus, while dad served in the Navy prior to Eisenhower’s warning of being vigilant about the Military-Industrial-Complex
I said to him, “I respect your position, I respect your religion–why can’t you respect my position of being anti-war and pro-nonviolence. You weren’t there when they mocked me, trying to push my buttons, trying to seduce me to take a swing at them, giving me Article 15s and Court Martials, sentencing me to the base Stockade for four months, with the big seargent who ordered me to spend a month in solitary confinement–do you have any idea what being isolated in solitary confinement does to your psyche?, they tried very hard to steal my spirit, but one thing they can never lock up is your mind and spirit,
and standing in Federal Court before an old gray-haired judge who was retired military himself, and in the Reserves as well, who berated me for being disloyal and anti-American/dissenters aren’t patriots/so until you are able to visit my country, you will never know or understand why I did what I had to do, it’s beyond you, just as your experience is beyond my empathy or knowing, and most of all don’t non-verbally tell me I’m not a man, because I am, and I can……do”
And these were all the things I wished I had been able to tell him, because later on we were in separate galaxies, until the end, and then it was too late.

© Christopher Bear-Beam December 20 2012

 

The Courtroom Scene and White Privilege

She is a single, African American woman with five children.  She has a name, but few know it.  She is in a strange place that she doesn’t know.  She came from New Orleans during Katrina.  She sits beside me in the courtroom. She is fair-skinned, with blondish, brown hair, sitting there next to me, in her scrubs.

We sit together for awhile before court begins. Finally I ask her if she is there because she is being evicted.  She begins her story by telling me that she has moved from New Orleans, and has always worked hard.  She has two degrees and works in the healthcare industry.  She wants me to know, emphatically, that she is intelligent and can see what’s happening to her.  She sits vulnerable, however, in this new state, with a raw state of mind.

She asks me if I mind a question?  I tell her no.  She explains that the owner is taking her to court for unpaid rent, and that the judge has been buying what the owner says.  Is there anything she can do?  I tell her about Advocacy, Inc. and Lonestar Legal.  I relate to her that I don’t have their phone numbers.  Later, I realize I have them in my calendar, and feel really lousy about forgetting this fact.  She thinks the rental situation is a fraud and so do I.

She feels she has a “crooked” landlord, because she has done the math, and it just don’t add up.  I share the story of the eighty-two year old widow from New Orleans that lives in senior housing in Texas City.  For eight months now she has felt that FEMA was paying her rent because she got a voucher.  All the rest of her family went back home.  One day, about a month ago, she got an eviction notice on her door, and this has happened every week or so.   Apparently, the landlords in her place never activated her housing voucher, yet the money has been going somewhere.  The question is where.

The  mother next to me (not yet knowing her name) looks at me knowingly, like we’re from the same hometown, and says, “exactly.”  Then she shows me some documented paperwork from Section 8 that lists the record of how her rent has been paid each month.  Yet the owner says he’s gotten nothing.  “He’s keeping the checks, and not cashing them,” she tells me, “and he’s waiting for a judgment against me, then he’ll cash them.  He’s crooked.”  As she’s telling me this she keeps looking at a man a couple of rows in front of us.  After all, he’s in the courtroom, right?

“And who is going to rent an apartment to someone who has gotten kicked out of their place because they couldn’t pay their rent?”  she asks.

Lastly she tells me a story, the kind of story that you think you’ll never hear in our sophisticated, civilized, progressive times.  Yet our times just have different, more subtle motifs at work, when it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.  She says the last time she was in court, the judge said a few things for the whole courtroom to hear.  He said, ‘Well, why should I pay taxes to help a bunch of folks who just don’t want to work.”  This really pissed her off, because this wasn’t her he was talking about.  It was his own inside stereotype peaking out for the whole courtroom to hear.

Then he said, “You’ve got children, and your problem is that you aren’t taking care of them.”   This is the stereotypical thinking of White Privilege, with the ironic twist, as stated above, ‘poor us, those of us who have money and are working hard for it, are paying for all the deadbeats (many just happen to be non-white).’  This is because we as whites have a deep wound of our privilege and power, and when we look at those who are disadvantaged, we see our own wound.  We don’t want to feel it, and we don’t want to look at it, so we cry on our ‘pitty pot’ as the victims of this prize we call the Land of Manifest Destiny.  We brought this land to surrender, we conquered lands that weren’t our’s, because the land wasn’t being tended to like we would tend to it.  And, by the way, we’re doing it for God, so this is unfair, and we moan and groan to others like us, get worked up, and continue our emotionally-charged victim hood based on our ignorance.  This is our fear masquerading as bravado.

How would you feel if you were the object of this stereotype, and someone in authority tells the whole room you’re the problem, when the judge knows nothing about you, doesn’t know any of your experiences, where you came from, what you believe or think, and then in one or two sentences comes out with a verbalized verdict like Paul Ann (yes, that’s her name) heard.  Don’t you think it would dismiss your dignity in one fell swoop, and wrap you up in the invisibility of how you sometimes feel when these daily ‘micro-aggressions’ are served up?

The deep sadness for me in working with folks dislocated by Katrina (almost all non-whites) is that they have grown up and lived on the “down side” of a system of privilege, power, and prejudice, have suffered many stress-related reactions due to the natural disaster, and come to a new place to live.  This is almost unthinkable anyway.  Then to come into a court of law, a symbol of the UnitedState’s form of government and democracy, and have the officiant make a short statement that is worse than a bullet in the stomach.   It is these ‘micro-aggressions’ (in the words of one author) that wound at a far more intense level even than certain racist behaviors.  Because it hits the bull’s eye with an arrow to the middle of one’s being, the core of the spirit, and the root of the soul.

So in this way, Katrina is very different and unique in that we see many levels of the systemic side of White Privilege.  And when I, as a white male, look into the life of a non-white person who came from New Orleans, I see these deep wounds, and if I’m brave enough to look, I have to see my own wound, too.  Katrina is about natural disaster, unpreparedness, heroism, people-helping-people, classism, racism, White Prvilege, the economics of the poor and the rich, the indifference and incompetence of government, and the need of those with the privilege to always be in control.  A disaster of this magnitude wipes out most all of the control we thought we had; when the control goes all of us have a chance to look at our wounds.  I hope that many whites look at their wounds, because it is White Privilege that is the engine of racism and all other “isms” in our nation today.   Only when we look at the wound,  can we begin to heal.

©  2006 Christopher Bear Beam

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