Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Continuity, community, and change

I found this article posted in Commondreams by Mary Catherine Bateson really got my neurons firing, in a good way, of course. She weaves together a lot of threads but the one that resonated with me was the importance of understanding the narratives of one's life.

As she clearly notes with the example of her dad, this entails the task of self-awareness, not easy nor obvious in the moment. The discontinuities in our life usually don't easily point to the larger picture. I believe uncovering the mystery of one's discontinuities holds the key to living a life filled with meaning and connection.

Obviously, this article spoke to my life directly. You see, I'm deliberately placing myself in the middle of transition, as I begin seriously to look for part-time work. Since my kid is, in my opinion, far from prepared to have a working mom, I find this task to be heart-wrenching.

The question I come back to over and over again: am I using my child's dependence on me as an excuse or am I honoring my child's true needs?

The question really morphs into this emotional task: how do I balance my needs for career with my child's need to not feel abandoned and lost by ones' own parents?

In the middle of this muddling of mine, one tiny detail of the Red Lake shooting incident stays with me as I deal with my child's own abandonment issues: I have no doubt the teen felt utterly and completely abandoned by his parents. His mother was unavailable, lying comatose in bed; his father was dead, having offed himself.

What would this teen have in his life experiences to help him cope with these huge lossses? Note, I am in no way making excuses for his actions since I think he must bear full responsibility for what he did. But I wonder how he made sense of his world, with both his parents no longer there for him. Maybe they were never there for him; maybe they were. I don't know. But it says a lot to me that he latched on to the teachings of self-hatred and violence. I'm wondering if these were the narratives that made the most emotional sense to him.

And, to be sure, we need to factor in thousands of other threads to completely gain a sense of the whole tragedy. But knowing my (sensitive) child, who has two living parents, feels utterly abandoned by my job hunting efforts makes me wonder more keenly how this teen coped with abandonment.

I don't have answers or solutions. It feels as though the current society I live in doesn't provide much support for the vulnerable and the dependent. In fact, the narrative I hear more and more, per the right wing extremist cult, comes straight from the primitive place that there isn't enough in this world and we must endorse extreme measures of self-preservation else we will not survive in this world of scarcity. Let's live on an island away from a scary world where nasty liberals want to steal as much of our money as possible to squander on those who don't deserve it.

Television, radio, and its handmaiden, advertising, now too easily supplants personal narrative in our lives.

Obviously, I need to provide narrative and an emotional translation for my own child. That way my child can make sense of change such that there is continuity and meaning in pain and discomfort.

While I'm not sure how to do this at the moment, I think that being aware of the process is the first step.

By now, I'm sure I veered way off-topic from the original piece by Bateson. Be sure to check it out if you have a moment. Lots of good places to get lost in including these thoughts:

Much of coping with discontinuity has to do with discovering threads of continuity. You cannot adjust to change unless you can recognize some analogy between your old situation and your new situation. Without that analogy you cannot transfer learning. You cannot apply skills. If you can recognize a problem that you've solved before, in however different a guise, you have a much greater chance of solving that problem in a new situation. That recognition is critical to the transfer of learning. If you create continuity by freezing some superficial variable, the result, very often, is to create deep change.

In evolution, the deeper continuity is survival. For the tightrope walker, it's staying on the high wire. Among the people I've talked to, it's clear that those who stay the course with their commitments are those who are able to ride the changes and to adapt. At some fundamental level, they are able to bridge all the superficial changes, and to say, "My commitment is the same commitment that brought me here in the first place." They are people with an extraordinary capacity to translate.
End of rant. Can you tell I feel guilty? I find it hard to see my kid suffering.