“Baby I was wrong to ever let you down.
But I did what I did before love came to town.”
By the time I made it to high school the surface of my dresser had become a shrine to my youth. Among the rock star and sports paraphernalia was a miniature portrait of Benito Mussolini played by George C. Scott from the 1985 t.v. miniseries, “Benito Mussolini: The Untold Story“. How did the image of a megalomaniac make it to that sacred space? Indeed my grandmother was known to tell stories of “all he did for Italy.” I like to think it was George’s acting that caught my attention. Either way, none of us escape the legacy of patriarchs, monarchs, nor modern archenemies that have ruled the world. What they got right was that strong defenses are part of safety. Where they have missed the mark was replacing friends with defenses and making enemies, well, enemies (see “Machine or Man?”).
World War II was ending and Italy decided to switch teams and join up with the Allies. My infant father was living in a small village on the Adriatic coast of Italy. A British bomber flew over his village and mistakenly targeted it. My grandmother ran into the fields with her baby in her apron, taking a piece of shrapnel in the side on the way. Despite the choice of the roundel for the royal air force’s bomber icon, every archer will miss a target here or there. Love didn’t come to town that day.
The word arch means chief or principle. Like in the adjective archest. “Hey, that is the archest role in the play, I think I’ll try out for it!” While archest might not be cool to use today, archery is full of excellent metaphors that have survived the test of time. Right next door to the word arch is the world rogue. They share etymological roots. Rogue refers to a “dishonorable or unprincipled man”. “Hey, I like villains, I’ll play the rogue!” In the world of elephants, a rogue elephant is a male elephant that is cast out of the herd and becomes increasingly barbaric and savage. The legacy of patriarchal wars has left it unclear who is fighting for freedom and who is just another rogue (see “Has the Fox Come Home to Roost?“). This is a story about how we carry this confusion in our nervous system and magnify it in our culture.
Was he a rogue pilot? Or did he just miss the mark? Maybe he intended to bomb an innocent village. Was he led by villainous heads of state or were the Allies to be trusted? No generation has escaped the need to process the reverberations of war and the history of patriarchs plundering their neighbors goods only to live in fear of retribution. On occasion a die hard rogue comes to power giving us an opportunity to exercise healthy defenses. We pretend that love will come to town when he is eliminated. However, his vile ways justify punishment and ultimately death. We don’t learn much from the dead. Could ending the story with killing the rogue gone wild belie deeper truths we need to discover (see “Shoot the Messenger? Now!“). Punitive styles of relating are a shadow of the hey day of patriarchy, the Dark Ages, still casting over our post modern sensibilities.
When we place modern day heads of church and state full of toxic shame and the fear of social isolation in charge we allow the pattern of self-sabotage well known to psychotherapy, to play out on the global theater (see “Frozen in the Name of Love“). Taking without asking and then isolating your competition sets up the dynamics of systems that punish scapegoats for fear of the truth surfacing. When love comes to town, rather than punish scapegoats and stand by wondering why things don’t change we repair and restore. We hold ourselves and each other accountable without threat of character assassination or being cast out of the herd. We maintain safety by learning how to repair and restore more and fortify defenses less. We do this by maintaining relationships that optimize the emergence of reliable information (see “Being in Time“). Then when someone goes rogue we are clear what we are fighting for. We make the world a place where each of us can do what we have come here to do for each other.
Establishing patterns of meeting our needs as families and nations can be wrought with the tendency to punish and blame others when frustrated. Patterns of violence erode human bonds, but beyond violence lurks a more menacing legacy of the tyrant. Current neuroscience has confirmed what many of us intuit in childhood from playground culture, that social isolation can be just as physically painful as physical abuse. Emerging evidence from a variety of fields that suggests neglect may even be more painful and damaging than physical abuse. Being cast out of the herd is damaging and has lasting effects on individuals and their progeny. We come into the world vulnerable to being traumatized by social isolation. This is why the history of prejudice and discrimination is woven into the history of human exploitation. A bully can get a lot of leverage out of casting images of their target as shameful and worthy of rejection.
Any act of abuse is an act of omission as well as commission (see “What’s in a Zero Anyway?“). The combination of abuse, neglect, and a culture that fosters both adds up to an undercurrent fear of abandonment in a community. In the absence of a skilled, non-judgmental community to help resolve these fears, sturdy psychological defenses will develop to keep them at bay while we cope with the stress of everyday life. We develop what I like to call, “rogue memory networks”, that lie in the recesses of our brains and bend our mind toward misanthropic thinking. Not unlike a rogue elephant they guide our attention to signs of danger, distracting us from signs of safety. They make ourselves and others look more dangerous than we are. They promote policies in favor of personal isolation that can really get in the way of establishing meaningful relationships with with others.
“If you don’t eat your meat,
how can you have any pudding laddie!
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!!!”
If you remember Pink Floyd’s album, (1979) “The Wall” and subsequent film (1982), you will know what I’m talking about. Roger Waters and the band close out “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” with an ad lib of an enraged headmaster triggered by some internal disturbance. While his lesson about saving dessert for after the meal may have some merit, he conveys much more (see “From need to NEED and Back Again!”) that will undermine any hope of securing a bond with his pupils. Like, “If you eat pudding before meat, bombs will fall out of the sky and destroy your village!”. Indeed two tracks later in “Goodbye Blue Sky” the rumble of a bomber and the voice of a small child saying, “Look Mummy, there’s a little plane up in the sky…” give us a peek at the trauma that was locked into brains of the adults in the community where “Pink” grew up.
The rock star carried the fears of the adults dealing post WWII Great Britain through these everyday interactions. “The walls” that became erected in his mind to help him cope with the amplified fear reinforced by his own punitive psycho-dynamics while he tried to stay bonded to his wife. As he sequestered his self and could no longer recognize human care, addiction became his source of positive feeling (see “It’s a Walk in the Park! Or is it?“). Punitive environments, addiction, and protective mental barriers go hand in hand.
Where did punitive styles of relating come from such that they took such a hold on institutions like schools, the criminal justice system, and the military? My father’s family made it to America where I’m happy to say I escaped developing in the midst of military strikes. My schooling was supportive and full of resources that allowed me to prosper. Yet, America has struggled to make ends meet without slavery or oppression of minorities following our own civil war. Punitive systems allow for short cuts to learning how to collaborate to meet everyone’s needs. They are a response to dealing with the frustrations of living. Those short cuts leave a social environment fertile for the development of psychological trauma.
An enduring gift of my older brother has been sharing his musical interests with me. The Wall had transformed from something of a horror film to something akin to a security blanket as I left the nest. Roger and the band were helping us understand something profoundly real about oppression, trauma, and staying connected at home in a world reeling from the effects of war. Something real, ubiquitous, and disturbing lingered in my experience despite my advantages. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was all there in a brilliantly conceived rock and roll musical. “All you have to do is follow the worms!” Those mental bread crumbs that connect us not only to ourselves but to those who have gone before us who have struggled with succumbing to misanthropic tendencies (see “Exterminate, Alleviate, try not to Hate“) in the wake of managing toxic shame and panic.
“I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
I was under the waves
Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
Now I stand accused of the things I’ve said”
Impermeable walls are not necessary if we keep in mind how flexible and resilient the human nervous system is. We are not meant to be rigid on the inside. But we need the right environment to soften up without losing our protective defenses (see “It’s Alive!“). After the fight we need time for repair and restoration which comes from understanding how we came to blows again.
Author and child of American pioneers in New York State, James Fenimore Cooper, captures the dynamics of a cultural practice that promotes the adaptive processing of the past (see “The Geometry of Love“). In “The Last of the Mohicans” we hear the last chief of the Mohican tribe, Chingachgook, observe how the culture of the Europeans is to write in solitude about history while the Native American tradition of reporting on important events is oral and requires that the warrior present himself before a group of women who review his account with any other information that had hitherto made it’s way to the tribe. In this way there was a built in check against false reporting.
Inherent in a process that emphasizes the salience of reliable information is an awareness that repair and restoration is not possible without it. If defenses are to be used without exhausting resources and causing more confusion, future enmity, and all manner of collateral damage, then planning based on accurate accounts of the past are essential. The structure of a punitive environment involves a unilateral arbiter fearful of toxic shame and panic who is unconsciously invested in preventing the whole truth from emerging (see “Aslan, Wonder Woman, and the Vanishing Cabinet“) and willing to blame a likely scapegoat.
Having a strong defense is only part of solving problems and achieving goals. It helps us establish boundaries that allow us the freedom to be (see “Freedom To“). We can’t do what we have to do on the planet if it’s not possible to address danger. But part of good security is using our time when there is not a present danger to repair, restore, and understand. We do this through play, celebration, education, working on projects together, and setting things right. Difficult things come up when we relax our defenses and connect. When love comes to town it’s not always a comfy and cozy experience at first.
” I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar scream
The notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dream
As the music played I saw my life turn around
That was the day before love came to town”
So, the day before love comes to town we had better brush up on our guitar picking and dust off those drum kits. Rosin up our bows and stretch those vocal chords. Repair and restoration is rough and requires places to sing, dance, draw, and cook! The stories that come out aren’t always so pretty and we are going to have to deal with panic and shame. Whether you “held the scabbard” or “drew the sword” you get a place at the table in a restorative environment. Or in the car.
I don’t know the members of U2, but somehow through their music I do. This group of four young Irish men have managed to create together in relative peace for many years. They were more or less high school sweethearts. I remember driving around with 3 dear friends in high school in a Dodge Dart we called the “Banana Boat”. It took us to the movies while we played air guitar to our favorite tunes and told stories about where we came from, what we were struggling with, and where we thought we were going.
While U2 was rising to the top of the music scene in 1988 I was graduating from high school. They had just released “Rattle and Hum” one of my favorite albums of all time. It helped power me through those early years of independence and bring down my own walls. I was nearly sent directly to heaven when I heard the tune “When Love Comes to Town”. A collaboration between U2 and the undisputed king of the blues, B.B. King. I remember belting that song out, hollering, and crying as I zipped through undergrad and graduate school with that album at the top of my playlist.
My first job out of graduate school included a mobile family therapy program where I put over 20K miles in 6 months on my little Toyota Corolla in one of the largest counties in New York State. I met families of all races, socio-economic backgrounds, and political beliefs. Plenty of families were trying to restore themselves in the wake of trauma, abuse, neglect, and war that came home with them from foreign lands. They talked about things that had been done to them and things they had done. While not everyone was focused on pulling together a life of meaning, everyone wanted to. Those who seemed most stuck hadn’t found the right mix of non-judgment and accountability that a community of restoration and repair provides. While I agree with Bono that “rock and roll won’t really change the world”, I think that music is a medium within which we can be moved to do so (see “Things Come Together“).
When love comes to town it might feel Earth shattering at first. Working through the fear of panic and shame that keeps what we’ve done and what’s been done to us hidden can feel like running through a field with your baby in your arms while some clueless pilot bombs your village. So, it’s good to have a good reason to take that ride. What’s going to make it worth it? Who are you going to take that journey with? What’s it all for?
“When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that train
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town.”