Siege Diaries 5/17/2020

A little hope, a little understanding.

Yesterday, a friend posted the following on Facebook:


As one of my friends stated when I posted, “Bam.”

North American society is inherently grounded in both transactional and relational (or communal) culture–although it’s the former that gets all the glory and press, to the detriment of the latter.  We get a job, we go to work, we get paid, and then we take that pay and trade it for not just consumer goods, but the basic needs all of us have–food and shelter.  There is this unstated belief that this kind of culture is the morally superior kind. Those who are “better” have better jobs, and so can afford more expensive goods and “luxuries” such as the arts or hobbies.  Those who are lesser have “less skilled” jobs, and, the thinking goes, should content themselves with living paycheque-to-paycheque.  But yet relational culture is the underlying basis for all of society.  Not only is there the unpaid labour based on one’s family (biological or choice) requirements–parents caring for children, for example–there are also the larger structure of community, including the way we govern ourselves and provide services that benefit more than one person or small group.   And this pandemic has revealed how important relational culture is to the success of transactional culture–but that the reverse isn’t necessarily true.

For the segment of society mentioned above, however, they have been taught to denigrate or disregard relational culture as lesser.  (Does it even bear mentioning that the weight of relational culture often falls upon women and their unpaid labour?)  So in a pandemic, when people step up to help each other, when governments support those in need without a moral judgement–this suddenly flies in the face of everything they’ve been taught is right and good.

My circle of friends, almost by definition, are deeply steeped in relational/communal culture.  There isn’t a single one of them that is not a member of one or more clubs or organizations devoted to education or service.  And a lot of us are deeply involved in the arts–either at a hobby level or as a profession.   We play games together.  We go to museums and concerts and the theatre; some of us even work in these museums, or play concerts, or are involved in the theatre arts.  Even our solitary pursuits–reading, doing research, even meditating–are things that draw us closer to humanity. All of us have found time in our lives to pursue these things, even though some of us struggle to make ends meet financially.

So when the pandemic hit, we had stuff to do.  Even those of us who are essential workers are going home and finding an outlet in the things we have always done to find joy and destress.  And we’re less worried about the cancelled play or concert than we are about whether the actors and musicians will be supported through this tough time.  Music, visual arts, theatre, dance, all the humanities–they haven’t suddenly disappeared.  They’re still there (even though, still too often, access to them remains a privilege.)

But the type of person mentioned in the quote above is suddenly asea.  When everyone’s stuck at home, no one cares that you drive a Mercedes.  Your money suddenly won’t buy you the passive kinds of entertainment you thrive on.  You can’t even buy a haircut.  While those of us with strong community ties are laughing with each other over Zoom about how shaggy we look and our “skunk stripes”, they’re in an existential crisis because for them, the monthly visits to the hair salon or the nail salon are the just rewards of the work they (or a spouse) have done, separating them from the great unwashed.

So what do you do about people like the one in the story?  As I mentioned earlier, some of them are just learning how to function in a society that does not cater to their needs. Some of them will learn that lesson–some easier than others.  But some will not. If you can’t just disengage with someone, personally I’ve always been a fan of asking “why?”  repeatedly.   It’s a technique I learned in my process improvement training, and it may sound a little disingenuous, but it does have a way of surfacing the underlying concerns.  Instead of defending continued lockdown or physical distancing measures, ask those who would loosen them, “why?”  And keep asking.  And listen.  And ask again.  You may learn something, and maybe, just maybe, so will they.

Today in history:  One for Canadians.  The first Tim Horton’s opened in 1964 under the name “Tim Horton Donuts” right here in Hamilton, ON at the corner of Ottawa and Dunsmure Sts. That actual store was replaced in 2015 by a two-story structure that includes a small museum.  I drove by it on Thursday, in fact, and perhaps once this current crisis is over, I’ll stop in to take a look.