I was talking to a man about ‘truth’. He was a senior manager in a local government department. Incredibly straight, sensible, ambitious, a real eye for detail. A born bureaucrat. Always in a suit. Yet without a sense of humour or personal warmth, a real cold fish. A man with a great gaping hole in his belly. A man of our times. A management man. A meetings man.
It was early on in our working relationship and I was referring to the contents of a letter that had been sent out by another manager to a member of the public which contained information about me that was inaccurate. That I considered to be inaccurately critical of me. I had instituted a grievance against the author of this letter seeking the letter to be withdrawn and was discussing this in my supervision session.
‘So what do you want to get out of this?’ He asked me. I was puzzled by the question.
‘I don’t want to get anything out of it. I just want to be clear about what is true and what isn’t.’
He looked at me closely. I remember vividly his somewhat dull eyes scanning me for some clue as to what I meant. Finding none his expression changed to one of pity. I realised with a shock that this man whom I considered morally undeveloped actually pitied me.
‘Truth’ he explained ‘is relative, it depends on your perspective.’ I was confused.
‘But the letter was inaccurate and false. The things it said happened did not, in fact, happen, and the interpretations put upon those things that did not happen are necessarily false. Surely that makes it untrue?’
He shook his head sadly and stared at me as if I were a particularly dense child .
‘You have a lot to learn.’
I thought ‘this man lives in the World as if he is immortal. Yet one day the cold hand of his death will be upon him and nothing will be relative and even if it were it will not matter. All that will matter in that moment is what he has done with his life. One day he will understand this. One day you will understand it too and me and all of us. That question-WHAT HAVE YOU MADE WITH THE RAW MATERIAL OF YOUR LIFE? will be demanded. For now this poor fool has created a moral code that demands nothing of him and can legitimise any failure to live the moral life. These moral relativists have created a bland landscape for the soul. Anything is equal to anything else. As we concluded our discussion he called me a crusader, meaning, I presume, that I am carried away by my own outrage, that my emotions get out of proportion. Yet a part of me responds to this and senses the truth of it.
There is the story of the Comanche, the tribe of horse warriors pushed down from the great plains to the harsh deserts of South West America by the inexorable spread of the white people. The tribe would elect a chief whose role was to lead the men in time of war. In the heat of battle the war chief must go to the centre of the battlefield and thrust a spear into the ground. A cord is attached from the spear to the war chiefs ankle. There he must stay until the battle is won or he is dead. What a profound action that is when we meditate upon it.
It is a metaphor upon which I based my life. Be clear. Be honest. Stand up for something!
So I say YES to life! There is a position. If you tell a lie then you are wrong. It is simple. All that is required is courage. Courage mon Coeur! That shall be my motto and were I ever foolish enough to possess a coat of arms, that is what shall be written upon it, probably against a background of a hand making the two fingered gesture.
Boldness is required for such an active philosophy and wisdom comes in knowing when to bend with the wind. Humility too is needed in order to accept our mistakes as gifts. These are the tools of life. We are not here to be managed. We are not in this World to respond to market fluctuations. We are not given this life to accumulate more and more THINGS!
We are here to obey the rushing torrent of our Heart. We are here to listen to the song of our blood merging with the cosmic pulse of the Universe! Ah! There I go again getting carried away!
But then why not?
Of course there is risk. Where there is belief, commitment and faith to inform the lived life, there is always the risk of dogma, rigidity and prejudice towards the different. But Christ! Life is surely meant to be a great adventure and the dead hand of the corporate is upon us. I say-TO HELL WITH THEM!
I was relaying the story of the War Chief and the spear one night to a friend in a pub. He smiled at the story and said:
“Bloody hell, sometimes I’d want to pick up that spear and get the hell out of there!’ We both laughed and then the truth of what he had just said came crashing into my consciousness. Sometimes you have to pick the spear up and get the hell out of there. It offers flexibility and the ability to flow. It offers the possibility of forgiveness. Where there is the choice to stand firm there is always the option to run like hell. There must be. It is life.
I would have found it easy to die for something, it’s living for something that takes such effort. The alienation of men in Western society I feel is in no small part due to the absence of a war in our lifetimes. It is all so beautifully simple in a time of war-we are over here, they are over there..C’mon boys let’s kill the bastards! Deriving meaning in a time of peace and living a life of honour is not easy. Enemies are no longer identifiable. It is easier to demonise the opposition than to see ourselves in their monstrosities. Do you think the Serbs in Kosovo were aliens? What we watched on our TV sets with horrified fascination was the obverse side of compassionate masculinity. It is only when we own and take responsibility for the seeds of our own being in the actions of the ‘enemy’ that we become real. Only when we understand that the torturer breathes the same stardust as ourselves do we understand. The simple tenets of faith become too self evidently phony otherwise.
And yet...and yet there are examples of noble men to be found everywhere. Indeed I find myself at times surrounded by them. We all struggle with our masculinity in a world which would castrate us. Castrated men are easy to control. They work themselves to death willingly and fight when directed. They do as they are told. They are relieved of the madness of passion and ecstasy. But the warrior poets, the intellectual explorers surfing the edges of the current paradigms, the questing mystics-they are really dangerous assassins of the 'taken-for-granted'. They unroll maps of the real at the feet of the sleepwalkers.
From 'Letter to a Father Unknown'