by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
An odd week, of moving between the emotional event of a friend’s dying, and returning nightly to intellectual discovery about the influence of the American theoconservatives”1 upon the dreadful event of the post 9/11 bombardment of Iraq – a immoral act I found gut-wrenching at the time and astonishing in this new light.
I will write more about this in future as I ponder and learn some more.
Transformation: the Switch from Left to Right
Now, I am looking at change. Several decades earlier these same “theocon”
men had been leaders of the American rebellion supporting racial integration,
lessening the influence of the military-industrial complex and the ultimately
successful protest against the Vietnam war. In the Canadian antiwar movement, I was a disciple and quite active, spending an obligatory several days in jail in Ottawa.
But, in the 40 years since then, these former lefties have shifted to the right, with an emphasis on the need for God to save a society that they now see as corrupt and dissolute, without purpose or moral fibre.
My fascination is with how such a transformation happens. What’s the rationale? [Tell me if you have some ideas.]
Another Kind of Transformation
Transformation is always interesting (the hero changes to a brute, gorgeous teenagers to vampires!)
I have at least one friend who doesn’t believe that people ever change (notwithstanding magic). Maybe in ‘cosmetic’ ways, but not fundamentally. Once self-absorbed, always self-absorbed. Once a drama queen, always that way. Well, in some respects, she’s probably right. I mention that because for the 30 years of
our friendship, I wondered if she was.
Now I think she is and she isn’t. In this blog, we’ve touched on the changes
that can we’ve learned can occur in the brain (explored by Norman Doidge, M.D.
in The Brain That Changes Itself. 2007). Yes, once the brain takes on certain patterns governing choices and behaviour, it’s a lot of work to alter the set patterns. But some key patterns can. The ones that interfere with our capacity to live life without fear and pain — if a decision is made to try to change, if help is found in identifying the debilitating triggers, and if time allows – they can be altered. Habits of thought and reaction can change.
This is wonderfully freeing and hopeful.
And in front of my eyes, have been many examples that my friend Peter’s death has brought home to me again.
A Difficult Eulogy
Being asked to provide the keynote eulogy – there will be others, which is significant – I didn’t find it difficult to think of good things about Peter. He had played a positive role in the community in the supportive housing for which I was responsible as my employment. He was one of many who contributed to the sense of teamwork and mutual support among staff and tenants.
But before I wrote any words down, his adult child asked to speak with me. He
was distressed. He did not have a close relationship with his father. It was not
a personality issue: it was the sheer weight of history. This man and his mother had truly suffered at the hands of his father during the prolonged years of Peter’s addiction to alcohol. He found it hard to bear the laudatory remarks and heartfelt sorrow expressed by Peter’s neighbours. That just wasn’t the father he hasknown. Would I be able to present a eulogy that had any kind of balance?
Pete was a graduate of the Dry House program for which I was also responsible (since closed). He had lived with four other men in a small old house in downtown, for two years. He told me he loved it there. A lot of kidding around, companionship, real support from each other in maintaining sobriety, a program based on the original AA approach: classic Twelve Steps plus continual cross-reference to the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament . He wasn’t a religious man but didn’t feel coerced and it all worked for him and the other men in the house (you had to leave if you slipped). He remained clean and sober for the rest of his life.
He did change.
There were still flashes of the shadow side. When threatened, he could lash
out. But he was able to retreat and apologize and largely avoided being the mean bastard he had been in previous years. (The story of just about each of the 60 men who moved through the program.)
It’s what some call The Miracle of Recovery.
But it is too late for his child. Too late for the people he loved and let down
Carl Jung (the Yin/Yang man who understood our universal mixture of light and dark) and Jesus Christ: ways toward understanding Pete’s really significant transformation. It’s what I’ll try out at the Memorial Service.
Damon Linker; The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. Doubleday, 2006.
Do you think people can change? Is it always a good thing? Hope you comment.