Saturday, December 22, 2012


Popeye the Sailor had a couple of catchy lines:  “Ja’ think I’m a cowboy?” (His first line ever) and “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam” (Thimble Theatre Comic Strip, 1933).

Each of us has an identity which is often determined by our circumstance (e.g., I’m a middle-aged white guy who controls the Western world), our behavior (e.g., I’m a busker), our position (e.g., I’m a counselor).   Social Psychologists would inform us that it is comforting to wrap ourselves in these self-sought descriptors and so doing, however, we limit our personal growth. 

Some proof of this is when we become unwrapped we come undone. A change of our circumstance can certainly wreak havoc with our identity (e.g., Breaking from a marriage we become forlorn and broken; e.g., Ending a job either by firing or retiring we view ourselves unworthy or useless).
Some Social Psychologists insist that we are so latched to our descriptors that even our negative ones can be comforting; most of these being excuses for never having to stretch into activities even mildly discomforting (e.g., I’m not mechanically inclined; e.g.,  I can only sing in the shower).

Here is more of that you-are-not-what-you-do theory:  You’re not a teacher – You’re one who teaches.  You’re not a Republican – You just attach more to the Republican policies.  You’re not a Buddhist – You’re a practitioner of Buddhist doctrine. The real you, they claim, is distinguished and rises above all of these things. Your real essence, they claim, is much deeper than what is defined and observable from the outside view of you, from your observable behaviors, so to speak. 

Some advocates of this theory actually believe that our real self, that our essence, is completely detached from our circumstance, our behavior, our position. These people say they like the person, they just don’t like the behavior.  To those who insist that people are not really bad, that they happen to be people who just happen to do bad things, I say all of this is balderdash!  Contrarily I can say to them, people are never good then either, they only seem like good people because they just happen to do good things.

I believe that who we really are is determined by our self-assessed identities, and these self-assessed identities are guided by a sort of community compass.  We need only to look into our particular communities to see where we’ve positioned ourselves and understand who we truly are.  Our circumstances, our behaviors, and our positions are all determined by that compass needle that points towards our particular communities.

To help prove my point I shall employ some inductive reasoning; that is to state, I shall view everyone's identity choice by focusing an identity lens on myself.

My being a white guy in the Western world is my circumstance.  I had no choice in the matter.  I was born in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.  We moved west when I was young.  This was not my choice either.  I went to the University of Regina.  This was my choice.  The place of my current employ is Regina.  This, too, is my choice.

English Literature was my favorite subject in high school.  Literature and Reading were the only subjects I ever liked in school, no matter the grade level.  Even in my grade twelve year I only liked English.  I was one of those who would skip school to shoot pool every afternoon, but I never skipped English class.  This was my behavior.  When I decided to attend university, my logical choice for a major was English.  I completed a degree in English, and then did a graduate degree in Psychology. And now to me, English and Psychology have become synonyms, both disciplines purporting to be the study of the fictional and non-fictional aspects of our human condition, our human behavior.

My position seems very predictable, resulting directly from my chosen circumstance and chosen behavior.  I am a middle-age white guy, with three grown children, living in the western world. My family position seems biologically and evolutionary natural, continuing the species and all that.  My salaried position is that of a counselor (in both public and private practice) and that of a part-time university professor.  Considering my choice of circumstance and choice of behaviors, my choice of workplace, too, seems very predictable.

Over the years I’ve decided to register myself as a buskologist.  To become a buskologist was all me, all my choice.  As a buskologist I usually choose urban settings for my circumstance.  As a buskologist, I can be both a busker and a psychology consultant.  By choice, as a busker I practice, practice, practice on the public dime.  This is my behavior.  And also by choice, I’ve gained some respect as a psychology consultant.  This blog has a readership in 142 countries to date and … some people have identified me because of this blog.  Being a buskologist is truly a position of joy.

Now I shall discuss my community compass.  As a psychology consultant I quite like having a private counseling practice.  I have a shared office space in a renovated heritage building situated in downtown Regina.  All the other offices on our floor in this same building are used for private and clinical counseling.  All the other counselors and psychology consultants in the building are quite like me with regard to circumstance, behavior, and position.  All of us chose to lease similar offices.  All of us behave similarly; we book clients and we counsel them.  And all of us are considered to have middle class positions of some prestige, but only in the sense of having the gumption to establish for ourselves, a private and clinical workplace.

As a busker the sidewalks and parks and parking lots are my office, which I share with anyone and everyone who happens by.  (The world is my oyster office.)  I don my  busker duds, white t’s, faded jeans, work boots, a blues harpoon and guitar.  As a consultant my work threads are very expensive; crisp long-sleeved shirts, brand name jeans, and polished black leather Doc Martens. When I’m busking, down-and-out vagrants toss me dimes and quarters and kids ask me to pull beer.  When I’m a counselor, clients write me cheques; kids pay me no heed whatsoever. Attired as a ne'er-do-well or e'er-do-well, I can be readily identified by where the needle on my community compass is pointing.

As a busker I stroll, oftentimes with an Americano decaf in hand.  As a busker I work wherever I want, on a sidewalk, in a park, at a mall.  As a counselor I drive my Acura to work.  I have an indoor office with my framed credentials placed in a line along a wall.  I’ve a security fob to let myself in and to keep the riffraff out.  Whether outside on my sidewalk office or inside beside a coffee table, I can be readily identified by to where my community compass needle is pointing.

Strangely I know, the needle of my community compass points 180 degrees toward the circumstance, behavior, and position of two different worlds, that of a psychology consultant and that of a busker. My compass needle of economics points to the desire, costume, and prestige of a buskologist; whereas, my compass needle of adventure points to busking.  As adults, we all have within us the power to change our locales.  As adults we all have within us the power to do good things and/or bad things.  And, as adults, we have the power to earn respect and/or disrespect.

The climbers at Khatmandu, the surfers at Huntington Beach, the boarders at Chamonix, the buskers at Barcelona; the Cardinals at Vatican City, the doomsday Mayans, the students at Bocconi; Goths, Hell's Angels, Jesus Freaks; the Talking Dead, the Beliebers, the Call of Duty gamers; the Nelson hippies, the East Hastings druggies, the Peggy's Cove fishers -- all members of these groups and every other group are following their community compass, some of which are bastion, whereas others are callithump; some of which are bright-lined, whereas others are Aesopian. Be it common belief, common activity, or common taste, pride paraders and glee club singers and guru followers are all guided by their self-constructed community compasses.

But what happens to those who have lost their community compasses?  What happens to those who, through no fault of their own, become consumers of the mental health system?

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association (NRA), insists that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  Wayne LaPierre insists that we place police and armed security in every one of our schools.  Wayne LaPierre insists that a gun is only a tool, and that video games and the media and the environment and the mental health system are complicit co-conspirators -- the real cause for mass shootings in America.

America is perceived as having a culture of violence because ...
Fact: People in America are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.
Fact:  Wayne LaPierre refers to mental health consumers as lunatics and monsters.
Fact:  People with mental health issues should not have access to guns.
Fact:  Ordinary folk (the ruck) of our citizenry should not have access to guns.
Fact: Schizophrenia does not increase the risk of violent crime.

Many people with Schizophrenia tend to wander through life, having lost their collegial, social, and familial community compasses as a direct result of their illness.  People with Schizophrenia suffer intensely from loneliness, emptiness, and solitude. Wayne LaPierre offers that if we think his ideas are crazy, then we can call him crazy.  To the gun-and-mud-slinging Wayne LaPierre ...
I am calling you CRAZY

I began this blog with reference to Popeye the Sailor.  Those who’ve read me before know my affinity for the sea (my father was a sailor) and my affinity for weight training (my favorite fitness shop is Popeye’s).  And those who've read me know my affinity for busking.  

Thus said, the idea for this particular blog was not prompted by Popeye the Sailor. Actually, the idea for this blog was prompted by my colleague and confident, Rick, and a mysterious late night caller.  Rick and I chit and chat every day about philosophy and snappy titles; in fact, Community Compass can be attributed to him.  

Within a day of him creating this phrase, phenomenology kicked in.  On the eve of the Mayan doomsday prediction a mysterious midnight caller left this message: 

Hey Neil, I just thought I’d call seeing how it’s the end of the world. So how ya doin’. My marriage has ended, I’ve two kids, and I just wanted to give you a call.  Whenever I think of you I think of scuba diving.  I think of our times in the deep end. I guess you’re retired from teaching now but I still think of you.  Sorry for calling so late; I’ll call again tomorrow or the next day.  You take care, Neil ..  You take care, Cowboy.   
And that’s my proof, my scumbled argy-bargy of inductive reasoning.  Further proof is that from my caller's perspective I was a teacher and a cowboy.   

I guess I yam what I did.  And I still yam what I hum (harp), thrum (guitar), and doo (didgeridoo).  I am still a teacher and I am still a cowboy (whichever one is my alterity is still being determined).  The needle on my community compass still points toward buskology, the mis-adventured e’er-do-wells and ne’er-do-wells of corporate America.   

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