Part of the series God: from Magic to Motivation
And my head told my heart, ”Let love grow.”
But my heart told my head, ”This time no,
This time no.”
~ Winter Winds, Mumford & Sons
I’m calling the guy Tyler. I don’t know his name, but he might have been twenty, and the flat beak of his hat made me think he could have been named Tyler. Or maybe it was his teeth. I doubt that he’d ever been to an Atlanta Braves game, considering Atlanta is close to a thousand miles away from here, but maybe there is something significant about the good old team from Georgia. Maybe Tyler thinks their s%$t makes him look good. Maybe Tyler was never told the importance of seeing a dentist regularly. Maybe there is a lot about Tyler I don’t know.
After that night, I don’t want to know much about him. He could have destroyed my music equipment.
A friend and I were playing in a small pub in a small village of less than 3000 people. I lived in that village for a while, from Kindergarten to Grade 2. Today there is one Subway restaurant and one Home Hardware store and one IGA. I don’t think there is another franchise within the village limits. Everything else is Mom & Pop stuff. They do have a Family Dentistry Centre though.
The crowd is always great there when we play. Small in number, but they want to sing and they want to have a good time. The owner of the place sang a song with us. I think half the people in the place came up and sang something. Late in the evening the weekday cook came by and she took turns with an older couple in playing either the bongo or the tambourine we brought with us.
Tyler came in with his girlfriend and sat at a table for two. He drank. She texted. After a pitcher, Tyler seemed to realize there was live music, and that others were enjoying the music. A sociable guy in the crowd I’m going to call Jake introduced himself to the two and invited them to join his crowd at a bigger table. Jake is a regular and a good guy. He sells cars during the week and has won the heart of the weekday cook. He was sitting with my wife and some friends.
Tyler lost more and more of his balance over the night. His girlfriend lost more and more patience until she finally decided to disappear. Tyler didn’t mind if she went home, though. He thought he had new friends. And, he became more and more infatuated with a blond at the table. He was a man of persistence and repetition. Even after it was explained several times clearly and calmly that she was neither interested or available, he continued his pursuit. He was a young, motivated man.
When we took a break I learned that Tyler had been shuttled from foster home to foster home as a kid, and then group home to group home as an adolescent. He didn’t have much education, but he did have a three-year-old child that didn’t like him much and a girlfriend that he didn’t love. He was trying to do the right thing, be there for his kid and for the girlfriend. That’s what he’s supposed to do, isn’t it?
It’s amazing how easily personal information flows from the self-medicated. And don’t worry if you didn’t catch it the first time, because they will tell you again and again, just to make sure.
I told this story to a friend that’s a social-worker. Very quickly my friend said, “Don’t tell me his name! I might know more about him than you do.” Tyler might very well be one of my friend’s case files.
Tyler requested a song. After we played his song, he forgot and requested it again. We played it again but he quickly turned around and went outside for a smoke. At the end of the night, he came over to us while we were packing up and requested we play his song again. He was sorely upset that the night must come to an end and he turned to share his disappointment with his new friends at the bar. In that turn, he bumped a table, and let go of his glass of beer. It fell, all of it, into the crate I use for my electronic effects board and my cords. I watched as the liquid soaked into the crate padding, coating the metal casing of my effects board, obeying the demands of gravity and seeking the most efficient routes down and through, down and through.
I remember looking up at the guy. I remember wondering how often I’ve probably worn that same serene, self-medicated face. I remember going over everything I heard about his life, how he may have been the unfortunate loser in almost every possible lottery that life throws at us. He had no say in the genes he was given or in the level of intelligence he might have been born with. He had no say in the parents he was born to, and almost no say in the habits and values they instilled in him. He likely had very little control in the decision-making process that selected his foster homes or his group homes.
And yet he still had the power to drastically change one girl’s life. He had the power to create another life. And he had the power to dramatically threaten a complete stranger’s property. Each of these things probably needed mere seconds and the haphazard coordination of circumstances. Does he have his license and a car to drive too?
How much of Tyler’s life was Tyler responsible for, when he didn’t have either the genetic tools or the nurturing environment to inspire in him a desire to change? What would make him want something more in his life? Even if it is just a dang shame, and society has provided him every opportunity to shape up and value what all the rest of us value, it doesn’t matter. He still has the power to fuck up our shit, by his mere presence!
My brain went out to him, thinking his life was little more than a determined series of events set in motion by things of which he has only ever had partial (maybe illusory) control. My heart said, “Get this guy away from everything you hold dear.”
In environmental terms, the guy is toxic, a stumbling bag of entropy. In religious terms, he was evil – evil by ignorance more than by intent, but still dangerous enough to bring complete disorder. In psychological terms, he was not properly motivated, not adequately socialized to function positively or take on responsibility. But all that doesn’t matter! He nearly broke my stuff!
Andrew Coyne had an article in Maclean’s Magazine a while ago on the differences between the Canadian and the American Occupy Wall Street movements. He suggests the elite classes have a lot of upward and downward mobility when it comes to finances. The lowest 10% of society, however, have practically no mobility and no resources to change that, except maybe their own motivation. According to the stats he collected, getting the poor out of the poor house wouldn’t actually take that much money, relatively speaking. If we increased the personal income taxes of our supposed super-elite class by 10%, that would be only enough to take care of 1/3 of the problem (ignoring other consequences for now). This option is obviously ludicrous, considering a hike that huge could start a civil war in the luxury class. If we increased the federal retail tax by 2% (that means on most consumer purchases of goods and services), that would likely bring in enough funds to move all the country’s poverty-stricken into respectable, safe lifestyles… for one year… conditionally. Changing the corporate tax levels would have too many other consequences, short and long term, that it’s just best to find better alternatives.
The problem is, the poor would still be poor, no matter how we juggle the numbers. People don’t change when money is thrown at them. They just make more expensive mistakes. And maybe most important to me, Tyler would still have the same power and ignorant inclination to mess up the lives of those around him. Even if he does mean to do the right thing.
Strangely, religions have always had an obsession with the Tylers of the world. Religions spend a great deal of energy and effort on either changing the motivations and minds of those that drain society, or at least minimizing the problems they do create. It’s something we need to pay attention to, since this the western world seems to be trending away from religious involvement and participation. The greedy, the ambitious and the rich take care of themselves. They always have, whether we want them to or not. They have to the tools to do it.
If we don’t take care of the religious, then the religious don’t take care of Tyler, and surprise surprise, he doesn’t go away. Instead, we still foot the bill (and my social worker friend has a job through a government agency). It seems like no matter what we do, we’re stuck paying for Tyler and for the person that tries to change Tyler into something more benign or productive. Otherwise, Tyler will find a way into our daughter’s pants.
I’ve spent most of my life in “economically depressed” places. Due to a couple of personal shortcomings and “unforeseen circumstances” (read: not facing my dragons), I’ve failed to sustain my entrance into the middle class. A lot of that has to do with my motivations though.
I want to feel for Tyler. I really do. But I have to admit, with some shame, that even now when I think of him, I can only see somebody else’s problem…
Stephen Colbert once said about America:
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.
I don’t think this is just a problem for “Christian nations” (if there is such a thing), and I don’t think that Jesus is the answer either. If it was, well wouldn’t the problem of Tyler be fixed by now, or at least faced up to?
(After all, Jesus didn’t inspire every troubled person he came across. But he did hang out with them and recognized them as part of his community.)
I think too much discussion is around who is right, or who has got it all correct. I think we need to start by asking, “Who has what power, and what are they motivated to do?” Tyler has the power to impregnate our daughters and destroy the things we hold dear. Moving away from Tyler or depriving Tyler of education and opportunities doesn’t seem to do the trick. He’s not changing. If Tyler is rich or ambitious, our daughters might actually be taken care of. Maybe that’s the only way we are going to understand how Tyler could be part of our family? That is, if Tyler thinks he should do the right thing.
Let’s find a better way to motivate him.
I’m starting to believe that the only religions I can trust are like the Tylers of the world (and even the ambitious of the world for that matter):
limited to benign pursuits,
able to keep their hands out of our children’s pants,
and mindful enough to not spill their drinks on my stuff when I am enjoying the rituals of song and fellowship.
What do you think?