Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Thursday, June 18, 2020

Relationships make us human

As a song says, what a difference a day makes!

            On the last Sunday in May, my daughter called after church, to say that she might have found me a dog. She worries about me living alone since my wife died. Especially when Covid-19 isolation restricts me from visiting others, or having them visit me.

            By 3:00 that afternoon, I had a dog named Pippin.

            After three months of isolation, I feel like a February groundhog emerging into the brightness of a new day.

            I am no longer alone.

            I have someone who needs me.

            What a difference a dog makes.


Yearning for community

            The experience of the last two weeks confirms my conviction that we humans are social beings. Deprived of social relationships, we become a little less human.

            That’s why nations all around the world have condemned solitary confinement as “cruel and inhumane punishment”– even if some of them still practice it. Because being solitary runs counter to our basic human nature.

            We humans were never solitary creatures. Even in our hunter-gatherer beginnings, we formed clusters. Communities. A solitary biped hunter couldn’t run down a rabbit, let alone a deer. Couldn’t drive off an elephant.

            But together, humans could.

            Nothing wrong with solitude. I need it too, sometimes. But I would go so far as to argue that a truly solitary person is human only in the sense of having a human body.

            When we can’t associate with other humans, we build relationships with animals. Even with plants.

            Remember Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves? A lonely man and a lonely animal needed each other.

            Now, I won’t suggest that I was as isolated as Costner’s character in the movie -- alone, at an abandoned fort, where no one even knew he was there. 

            I don’t take kindly to authority – social, medical, or theological-- so while I honoured the principle of Covid-19 separation, I did an occasional end run around the details. I stayed safe. But I didn’t always stay home. I went for walks. I chatted with anyone I met, at a safe distance. I did a lot of talking on the telephone.

            And like everyone else, I stared at postage-stamp-sized faces on Zoom screens.

            Zoom is better than no contact at all, but it’s no substitute for meeting in person. On Zoom, I can’t touch a hand. Cry on someone’s shoulder. Feel the warmth of a hug.

            And I doubt if anyone will ever fall in love via Zoom.


Somebody, or not

            Isolation was a two-edged sword. It saved lives; it destroyed lives.

            Two stories surface for me.

            A friend’s father once managed the CNR line across northern Ontario. After he retired, a new bank teller requested identification. As he handed it over, he commented, “I used to be somebody, once.”

            The other story appeared in the New York Times, about B.C.’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. At a clinic she ran in San Diego, an armed man burst in, distraught, waving a gun, demanding to speak to somebody.

            Dr. Henry quietly stepped out. “I’m somebody,” she said. “Let’s talk.”

            They did. And they resolved his problem.

            Conversation is the foundation of being somebody.


Transcending individuality

            We all search for intimacy. At least I do – although I’m sure some people are afraid of intimacy, and want to keep every conversation on a safely superficial level.

            Intimacy usually gets treated as sexual intimacy. For men, entering someone else’s body; for women, I guess, allowing someone else inside your body.

            But there’s more to intimacy than sex. Intimacy involves letting someone else into thoughts, your emotions, your experiences. When – if only for a few seconds – two become one.

            Indeed, to get philosophical about this subject, it seems to me that intimacy is the way in which we attempt to transcend the limitations of being individuals.

            Arthur Koestler coined the term “holon”; Ken Wilber popularized it. Both describe it as a universal pattern. An electron is part of a molecule, is part of an atom, is part of an element, is part of a chemical compound… Aa cell is part of a body, is part of a species, is part of a phylum… A planet is part of a solar system, is part of a galaxy… Everything is part of something bigger.

            Sentient beings, uniquely, want to be, need to be, part of something bigger.

            That’s why we need relationships. Why we need to belong. To something. Or to someone.

            Relationships make us what we are, and what we can be.

            And I now have a relationship with a dog named Pippin.

            Indeed, what a difference a day makes!


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Clare Neufeld responded to last week’s column about the systemic racism within police services by commenting, “It’s increasingly difficult to know what’s true, reliable, specious, or otherwise, in these matters. 

            “Yesterday, a dear friend of nearly 40 years sent me a picture of George Floyd, overlaid with printed information which denigrated his character, and a list of legal infractions, a “rap sheet” of offences.

            “At his request, I did some fact checking via the Snopes.com site. They had not received any such info prior to my query. 

            “No reference to sources.”


Gloria Jorgenson questioned my basic premise “that police services (they prefer not to be called ‘forces’) are racist because they seek to protect the interests of the ruling class, which is mainly old white men. Does this, then, make them sexist and ageist as well? 

            “Suppose a country like, say China, that is ruled by racially Chinese people with a predominantly Chinese police service, is being challenged by mainly Chinese youth protesting some law that they think unfair. Where is the racial bias there? 

            “I don't think most police officers are racist but some probably are. A black fellow in our city has said that often when he's out driving, he will get pulled over just for a check. My grandson, as a young driver, made the same assertion. He's as white as snow but some cops don't like young guys either. 

            “Cops aren't saints; they're people doing a sometimes-difficult job. Derek Chauvin, I think, was an idiot trying to show how tough he was. The other officers who didn't pull him off, may have thought he was the senior man there so he knew what he was doing.


Jane Wallbrown suggested, “You might want to check your stats on our U.S. Congress. I'm reacting to your ‘old white men.’ 25% of the Senate are women as are 23.6% of the House of Representatives. There are blacks, Latinas, American Indians, Middle Eastern, African, multi-racial. 

            “My definition of ‘old’ changes with time. Average age of the two parts of Congress is 57 and 61. I, myself was most productive at those ages.”


Tom Watson agreed that “to change systemic racism the culture has to be changed. You're speaking about culture in its broad societal terms. There is another culture at play, too, and that's the culture that seems to exist within some police forces. In Buffalo, a 76-year-old man was shoved to the ground by policemen and left lying on the ground bleeding from one ear. The whole troop of officers went on by. Nobody stopped to help. When two officers were suspended, 57 fellow officers resigned in protest. That suggests a culture within the force itself.”


“Unfortunately it is not just the police who are racist,” wrote Kerry Brewer.” I learned in a book by Malcolm Gladwell that racism plagues almost all of us whether we are conscious of it or not. Children exhibit signs of discrimination from a very young age. I recall a minister describing a situation in a grocery store line-up with her 3-year old daughter. There was a black person in the line and her daughter loudly stated ‘I don't like that man’. The minister was mortified; she couldn't imagine where her child had acquired that attitude. 

            “I googled ‘test of racial prejudice’ and came up with the Implicit Association Test on implicit.harvard.edu regarding hidden biases. I consider myself to be anything but prejudiced; however the test results suggested a strong automatic preference to white people compared to black people. This was not a surprise given the information I gained from Gladwell's book, but it was still shocking.

            “While what happened to George Floyd is reprehensible, sickening, and unwarranted, the police may be acting out of a deep-seated bias which comes to the fore in situations like this. I am not trying to legitimize their actions, but I have found no information on how we can ‘fix’ such biases. Recognising that we all have them does not seem like enough. And it begs the question, ‘What would I do in that situation?’”


Fran Ota agreed “about the systemic racism which is of course built into the systems of policing. Even with attempts to make good change, it somehow doesn’t and won’t work. Yet. In the case of Minneapolis police and Derek Chauvin, a similar episode a couple of years ago prompted Minneapolis police to make a change -- that any officer who observed another officer using excessive force was required to intervene. That’s why the other three were also arrested in the end. They could have stopped Chauvin but chose not to. One was an Asian...who stood and looked on. 

            “People of colour are co-opted into those systems, even though it may in the long run be against their own interests. How can we stop that?”


But Steve Roney doesn’t believe racism can be systemic: “In pointing out that many individual police chiefs have expressed support for the protests, but there is nevertheless systemic racism, you might also have mentioned that the Minneapolis chief of police, Medaria Arradondo, is black. You’d think he was in charge of the system, at least locally. Same situation in Baltimore, where the police force is also supposedly anti-black, accused of the racist murder of Freddie Gray. These are also black-majority cities, where blacks elect the mayor. Who in the cases of Baltimore, was also black. Toronto also has a black police chief, yet people were in the street last weekend calling that police force racist.

“How can a system be anti-black that is run by blacks?”


Finally, Bob Rollwagen argued, “Taking dollars away from Police budgets does not deal with racism, that is a diversion. We need law enforcement. Creating equity commissions have been tried for women equality. Ask them if it has changed the game.  Poverty is at the base. Fund schools, provide social opportunities for all, tax private groups to a point that creates equality of access to all services. Make police forces responsible for safety and create a separate law enforcement group to deal with criminals, not street protesting. 

            “Canada’s has systemic racism almost at the same level as the U.S. I have sat on Boards and witnessed it. Those same racists hide behind organizations….” 






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: relationships, COVID-19, isolation



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