Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Group Level Integrity


Goodbye, Norma Jean … a candle in the wind
Rock singer, Sir Elton John

Who killed Norma Jean?
Folk singer, Pete Seeger

Who killed Whitney Houston?

I’m still “getting it,” these questions of who did what.

What’s got me thinking is a passage from Book Three of a series about an ecological disaster, the Chtorr Wars, by a denizen of southern California, David Gerrold. The hero agrees to attend futuristic “human potential” training. There is a huge attendance, anonymous enough for guys to be tempted to wimp out and slack off, I guess. Friday night is “welcoming and orientation:” The students give their word that next morning they will be in their seats, ready to go, at nine a.m. Result? Some of them, about ten percent, “think so little of the words that fall out of their mouths” that they straggle out of their rooms late or don’t even show up and have to be summoned. The trainer is so angry. He explains this war won’t be won by accident; they will need “integrity,” which means: keeping their word and helping others to do the same.

So far, I get it; I try to have integrity too, not just because my favorite people do, but also as a consistent life style choice, even if I am in an anonymous crowd, or alone where no one will see me. The trainer continues—and let me say his anger is for emphasis, not for getting personal—and he says, looking unimpressed, to those who were on time, 

“So you think your integrity is handled because you were on time? Well, it’s not. Because there’s another whole level of it here that you’re not experiencing. It’s no accident,” Foreman said to him “that you’re in a group that can’t be trusted ten percent of the time. That’s you—that’s your integrity at the level of the group.”

As for me, well, at least I’m starting to get it, at least individually. My path to understanding began with my teacher, Mr. Thompson, playing folk records one day. He played for us Pete Seeger’s song for Marilyn Monroe, and another song of Seegar’s, Who Killed Davy Moore? “ “Not I…” said the manager, “Not I…” said the trainer…” They each had their reasons, rationales, excuses and so forth. What counts in the real world? Results! In fact, some business executives flatly refuse to hear excuses. I for one stopped trying to give “reasons” or to defend myself, after the first time some fool misinterpreted me as making an “excuse.” Ouch! So now I focus on results.

Mr. Thompson played those records only once. And so, down the many years, I have misremembered Pete as singing, “Who killed Marilyn Monroe?” (He actually said “Norma Jean”), years where I resolved not to wimp out if ever I came to be tested. (Although it’s too late for Marilyn) And never to say, “I’m only one man, behaving just like all the others want me to!”

And now, as I write this, my community is dealing with the untimely demise of yet another celebrity dying from over-doing drugs, however legal. Poor Whitney Houston. 

As part of our nation’s struggle to comprehend this, a British man on CNN interviewed two famous entertainers. Both were recovering addicts, one in a heavy metal band, and one in Hollywood. Both men said the group around Ms Houston, the “entourage,” failed her. The actor was so determined to publicly stay straight that he fired a man who knowingly offered him illegal drugs; the singer, married with children, finally went straight only after his manager was determined to walk away from all the cash, to quit, if the singer did not get clean. There will always be “reasons” to “enable” someone’s drug using… In my case, if I focus on having integrity, and accepting responsibility, then, I hope, I will “act as if” I am as brave as that metal singer’s blessed manager.

That manager set a fine example for me. We all set examples for our groups, in matters ranging from the life-and-death issues, to the small every-day ones; from a local business, to our national war on terror. A co-worker of mine, Lorna, told me about once being part of a group that traveled on business. As a lone voice, at first, Lorna persuaded all her colleagues not to fudge their expense accounts. In the long run, this surely meant a stronger, more effective group, a group with integrity, knowing they could all count on each other. At the national level the principle would surely apply too. I guess we are stronger, as a body politic, when we help each other do the right thing. The opposite would be, say, doing like folks in the Arab world, where they abdicate their citizen responsibility.

As for what we do, or don’t do, in our group lives… it all matters. For example: Today, if we are in an office, stationed overseas for counter-insurgency, where the “terrain” in which we are maneuvering is the “culture,” then at the very least, if we have given our word to understand that culture, we would stop a buddy when we see him carrying korans (bibles) down the hall to burn them. As you know, locals have found the ashes. As I write this, according to this morning’s newspaper, the riots are continuing, and the death toll is rising, without any regard for the public apology by President Barak Obama. The groundwork for giving the president’s apology a little credibility could have been started long ago. “Ugly Americans” could have encouraged each other to be respectful Americans. Ignorance is just not acceptable: The war will not be won by accident. Even more than in a conventional war, counter-insurgency requires individuals to be taking responsibility to have integrity.

And if my readers think I shouldn’t, in the middle of an essay, suddenly mention the War that now occupies our minds, then perhaps, in reality, we don’t care about the words out of our mouths, or heard in our ears, or even feel responsible for the proper noun “war,” and then maybe, in reality, we don’t possess enough integrity to prosecute the War. And if so, then we should stop… and think about such a lack of commitment.

Perhaps, for individuals and groups, it is fear that keeps us from accepting, and acting, on our responsibilities. Gerrold considers such fears in a passage in his first Chtorr book, where the hero is in high school. I can still picture the hero sitting at his desk in global ethics class, with the teacher symbolically pressing his hand down hard on the kid’s shoulder, putting him on the spot, saying to the kid something like, “…Is that what you think responsibility is? Blame, shame, burden and guilt? Sounds like a law firm.” In time, the class decides that responsibility is not a burden, but instead is a “willingness to be a source.” Yes. For me this definition invokes lightness and empowerment. In other words, when I am acting on my perceived responsibilities I might become tired, but I won’t feel all twisted up. Not anymore.

As for the concept of “group level integrity,” I’m still thinking it through. Consider the death penalty. Up here in Canada, where a “life sentence” is at most 25 years, (even less with statutory release) a released killer might kill again. On the other hand, a death penalty means killing too. We-just-can’t-win! What I think now is we make our choice, and then, whichever we choose, I wear clothes of gray. As I see it, I’m a responsible, weathered adult. I’m not someone wearing virgin white robes who pins the blame for our “not having a death penalty” totally, and solely, on the government. Nor do I say sending peacekeepers to dusty barren Afghanistan is solely of the government. My feeling is this: Even if, say, I didn’t even vote in the last election, I am still not lily-white innocent. Living with this grayness, I think, is part of my responsibility at the level of the nation.

During my youth we lived in black-and-white, saying, “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Maybe that is true, while, as a paradox, I also live in a gray world. As for star entertainers, it seems to me that their plight is... living in a nation that puts intense pressures on them, and enables their drug use, despite contrasting ideals not to do so.

It's not easy, being in the real world. I’m trying to do the right thing, trying to have an awareness of my responsibility for the level of integrity in my group as a whole. I wonder: If I was associated with a woman’s luncheon group, would I mention the death of Ms Houston, and try to discourage us all from getting prescriptions from multiple (two or more) doctors; would I suggest bringing in a guest speaker to speak on housewives overdoing substances? Or would I wimp out of making the effort to speak truth to the power of peer pressure?

As I documented in my essay Better to Sow, I have strong recycling credentials, but I still don’t know if I would speak truth to power: If I was with some environmentalists, standing idly near a house that had been condemned for toxic mould, from a marijuana grow operation, and suddenly one of us pulled out a joint, then—? Would I say, “Stop!” while I pointed to that house and the enviro-damage? And then say that poor Whitney had been embedded in a society where some of us enabled drugging? Would I add that I, for one, just can’t be supporting the big drug machine? …Or would I be too afraid, and instead just patronize my peers, by rationalizing that they weren’t ready yet to be part of the solution?

I wonder.

… Goodbye, Norma Jean, …Goodbye…

Sean Crawford,
East of Eden,
February 2012
~As you know, the Greeks lied, falsified, covered up their debt status in order to be admitted into the euro-zone. Was the Greek government able to do this because they were embedded in a nation that believed in falsification and graft? Perhaps. And perhaps any “group” turn around, to finally produce "economic productivity through integrity," would have to be a “national” turn around. Where each and every one was participating. Or perhaps, instead, it will be easier for Greeks to endure years of poverty (over a decade) than to change. …Yes, I read about Greece in the current best seller Boomerang Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis.

~Integrity counts because things are connected: interesting quote from the above, p 202, "It's not just a coincidence that the debts of cities and states spun out of control at the same time as the debts of individual Americans."

~The Japanese may be encased in formality, yet their nation did a fine turn around, for the time being, to dress informally—no jacket and necktie—in business offices so as to save energy (from air conditioning) after losing some nuclear reactors to the tsunami.

~Here are the two songs.
~Better to Sow is archived under November 2011
~Focus and Commitment is archived under June 2011
~For things Chtorran, David Gerrold’s home page is here.
(I still don’t believe in doing links, especially for my own posts, but David’s a computer guy, so I guess he would want me to link to him)

No comments:

Post a Comment