This morning my dog, Holly, was lucky. We met two of her best friends right at the beginning of our morning walk. For well over an hour, the three of them played together. They were so happy. A joy to behold. It was fascinating. Watching Holly and friends play. There was a fair amount of snarling, growling, baring of teeth, snapping jaws. At first they looked as if they were out to kill each other. But the aggression was very controlled. There were clearly rules to this play. No one got hurt. You could observe the ebb and flow. A doggy dynamic. They were using their play to test out what was acceptable behaviour. Adapting their style of play according to playmate. Big, soft Henry will stand for Holly leaping on his back. Ricksy will not. She is all snarl and snap – but it doesn’t signal danger. It is just her voice. If Henry speaks, you need listen. Dog of few words.
Dogs use play to work out how to live well with other dogs. They use play as a means to figure out what works. What is right behaviour. Then they transform their behaviour accordingly. Or get bitten. Holly has been lucky enough to meet several older and wiser dogs. They have been patient with her. Shown her how to behave. She is a good dog and has learned.
I think that it is not so different for humans. As we grow up, we need to have the chance to play with lots of different people. People who model to us different ways of living. So we can watch, try, test, play, learn. And transform.
Only, it’s a bit more complicated for us. We tend to live in communities. Which are much bigger and more complex than packs. These communities often have strong intrinsic value systems which are so powerfully written into the community that they are assumed to be “natural” or “common sense” when in fact they are actually adopted behaviours. They were once chosen but have become so ingrained that now there appears to be no choice. So, in our history there have been times when slavery was seen to be normal and natural. Few people questioned it. It was simply the way things are. Until a few brave souls stood up and said “Hang on a minute. This is not right ….” And they had to fight to make their voice heard. It is never easy to stand up and question the status quo. The establishment. But they were strong and together they were stronger. Once they met each other and began to exchange ideas. To imagine different futures. Then their power grew. And eventually, their ideas became the new norm. The world was transformed.
The establishment. The norm. The status quo. Always just a bunch of adopted behaviours. But very, very powerful. Because the establishment always seeks to control the Media. In doing so it seeks to control the public’s exposure to alternative behaviours. If you are never aware of alternatives, you will have no reason to question the way things are – even if the way things are makes you unhappy. In fact you may not even be aware that you are unhappy. Or could expect to be happier. Your level of mild unhappiness is just “normal”. You are told that it is unreasonable to want to be happier. Be satisfied. You ungrateful wretch.
Which is why the establishment seeks to control the Church. It needs to control our sense of morality. Establish a healthy Work Ethic. Healthy for the establishment as we work hard to line their pockets. Less healthy for us if we internalize the Work Ethic to such an extent that it becomes a moral law – work is good. Idle is bad. A law that keeps us grinding away at jobs we hate. Feeling guilty about taking rest. The establishment doesn’t want us to rest. Rest gives us time in which to think. And thinking can be dangerous.
Which is why the establishment seeks to control the Schools. Our Schools are there mainly to teach behaviours that benefit the establishment. Within them our children are taught to line up, dress in uniforms, follow rules, listen to the voice of authority. Work hard. Keep your head down. Aim for the targets we set for you. Behave. Then you will succeed. Succeed in what? In our schools, do we equip our children to lead happy lives? Do we enable them to understand themselves? Give them tools to explore the multitude of possible futures that lie before them? Or do we force them through an elaborate but narrow grading system that rewards compliance and is designed to maintain the status quo? Here in the UK, we even allow a system where we have special, select(ive) schools and universities specifically designed to maintain the establishment. You can only go to these schools if you are rich enough to pay the fees. You can only go to these universities if you go to these schools. You can only get the top jobs – the jobs that pay big money, the jobs that hold real power, the jobs that make you a member of the Establishment – if you have attended these universities. Sure, they allow some cracks in this carapace of privilege, allow a smattering of common folk to put a toe in the waters, but only to uphold the fiction that, if you work really hard, you too can enter the corridors of power. Be better. Like we are. Essentially the balance of power is all sewn up. Business as usual.
If you are fortunate in your Schooling, you may meet a teacher that makes a difference to you. A teacher that inspires you. Allows you to glimpse other possible worlds. A transformative teacher. They will rarely do so within the narrow confines of the curriculum. They will do so because of who they are. What they have seen and done. Places they have been. People they have met. Your soul will respond to something in their soul. They will embody something that speaks to you. If you are very fortunate they will point the way to other things – books, music, plays, galleries, sports, countries, buildings, museums – maps that will enable you to explore ways your life could be.
If you are lucky in your life, teachers like these will be the first of a number of people you will meet that will open up new paths for you. People that encourage you to be playful. To explore outside the limited menu of life options offered by the establishment. People that can change your life. I call these people Transformers.
Tomorrow I will explore this notion of Transformers a little further.