When an eviction notice is posted on my door, shocked is a word that does not adequately describe how I feel. It is more a feeling of deep despair to have the word of a representative of Manulife Financial disregarded by higher authority. No one from the executive office of Manulife will take my calls. In order to present the show, I must fine-tune myself to an unusual openness with audiences. There are no boundaries, nothing preventing me from feeling the raw emotions of what is being communicated – the state of Joker and Label Liberation. When Manulife Financial overrule the permission of the resident manager, my ecstatic openness and the energy that has given me joyful creative expression, vanish. There is nowhere I can go for refuge. I must face myself and an overwhelming sense of desperation. It had taken decades to overcome the hopelessness, melancholy, and gloom of the experience with Mr. Slade and my father and his new wife.
Having faced directly and worked at overcoming childhood and adolescent jealousy and envy of everyone, and having finally succeeded, I am surprisingly unprepared for the jealousy and envy of others who attempt to sabotage my efforts. Again, I feel the devastation that results from stepping out without the armor of constant vigilance.
I know that everyone faces challenges. This is a part of life. If the goal is to throw me off centre, and wipe the smile off my face, it works. I feel shattered. The anger covering the hurt floods me and seems to connect to every past hurt I once believed had been dissolved. Once more I have to ride all the emotions I am feeling and reeling from, including murderous thoughts and feelings, which are my response to the violent intimidation I have been enduring. I have no choice but to go wherever the feelings lead me. I am out of control with grief. Strangely, I have little anger for the neighbor, who initiated the eviction notice. Like my parents, before her, she reminds me of a person who pushes an innocent victim onto the subway track. But should the victim crawl back up onto the platform and see that the “pusher” is blind, the anger the person who was pushed would naturally feel is put into perspective. I realize that the neighbor is suffering beneath her destructiveness, and her behavior elicites only compassion from me.
This neighbor, who had told me she wanted to kill her mother and brother, and was trying with all her power to express that bitterness in my direction, and is symbolically trying to kill me. Encouraged by the eviction notice, she proceeds to collect tenant signatures to support my eviction. Many residents who know me, and are approached by her, write supportive letters claiming that they never hear any sound coming from my apartment, and want me to continue as a resident. Letters are also sent to the president of Manulife Financial speaking to the merits of my show and the aims of Label Liberation.
When a lawyer, upset enough at what Manulife Financial is doing, offers to represent me at no charge, and City Hall writes that it is within my rights to present my art in my studio, Manulife Financial backs down on their threat to evict me. But the damage is done. I don’t have the energy or heart to continue presenting the show. My spirit is broken.
Once again, I see how people are polarized. The senior editor at McClelland & Stewart had done everything she could, back in 1979, to suppress my book, which Jack McClelland had decided to publish after she had turned it down. When her boss took a leave of absence, the senior editor assumed control and – hocus pocus -the book was buried. Something was triggering certain emotions in these people, including my father and his new wife, Mr. Slade and Lawyer X, that would elicit such disdain for my work. This editor, the neighbor and the Manulife Financial executive might have benefited from the message of Label Liberation, but instead they did everything in their power to prevent me from delivering the message.
Was it because Label Liberation deconstructs identity to the point that the whole need for power over others disappears? Do these people really know me? No. I am just a symbol, but a symbol who is bursting out of the “winner-loser” dichotomy. I represent something that they are terrified of – a “death” of their identity, which is based on a polarization with others. It seems that I represent something that they detest, something that is really a part of themselves – the journey from identification with one group to universalizing one’s identity. My work is a threat to their sense of power, which is based on power over others. It feels as if their card-game mentality is so ingrained that my “winning” would be their “loss.” If they had only been able to stretch beyond their competitiveness and find their compassion. In so doing, they might recognize “the state of joker,” where everyone can be front-stage-center in their own lives, and welcome everyone else to be, too.
In all fairness to myself, my card-game mentality is also deeply ingrained. So beaten down was I for the first 20 years of my life, that when attacked with such intensity, I find myself losing what I had worked so hard to gain, a sense of equanimity and balance. I allow myself to be pushed back into the “loser” role.
It is so ludicrous that the official excuse by Manulife Financial is that I was not given permission to perform theatre. The fact is that I had been, without question, given permission to do the show. Ironically, I was not performing theatre. I wore a mirror mask and removed it, before completely unmasking, moving beyond all theatrics, being as real as I knew how.
What hurts and enrages me most is the manipulative way the senior Manulife executive exercised her power, and how her male managers at the top of the Manulife pecking order acquiesced to those manipulations, allowing themselves to abort all integrity and become putty in her hands. For a business not to honor its commitment is more than unethical. It reveals a soullessness in such an organization that I found ominous and chilling.
I try to make an appointment with the president of Manulife Financial to ask for an apology from the executive, in order to discharge my hurt. I have to break the spell I find myself in. Lower executives block my request, telling me the president is unavailable. In desperation, to move the weight of the feelings I now carry, I telephone the president of another insurance company. To his credit, that president is accessible and kind enough to meet with me for a lengthy period of time.
He listens thoughtfully and patiently. In detail, I describe how Manulife Financial’s top management allowed this senior executive to surreptitiously and maliciously join a disgruntled tenant and override a clear commitment made to me by the resident manager, to allow me to present my show, Driven Sane — a journey to Label Liberation.
I tell him that Manulife Financial’s actions were devastating to me. Their management had behaved in a ruthless manner. Then they hid, not having the courage and decency to talk with me when I telephoned. I say to the president that for a company to go back on their word brought home to me how so much suffering in the world is perpetuated by people heartlessly and thoughtlessly engaging in behaviour where power is the ultimate goal. It is as if they have been eaten and ground up by a machine, leaving them with no feelings, no heart and no soul. Was it a mere coincidence that my show was about reclaiming feelings, heart and soul?
When we begin to discuss why the other executives went along with her attack upon me, I suggest that it stems from men going from mother, to alma mater, to marriage, to mortuary, without understanding their mothers enough to step back and really see any woman with objectivity and clarity. I know from my own life experiences and all my research that many men can often and easily be influenced and manipulated by women, in spite of the general belief that men rule the roost.
I explain how the senior executive’s superiors don’t seem to be aware of how surreptitiously she pulls the strings. By observing her, I can see that the senior executive considers herself the puppeteer, and everyone else acquiesces as her puppets. Frequently, people are completely oblivious to what is being done to them. The show was about that manipulation and the trances people fall under, and how most of us go from birth to death either manipulating or being manipulated. And, if someone tries to hold up a mirror to what’s going on, look what happens to them.
We discuss how everyone has the challenge of self-reflecting enough to overcome the desire to manipulate both women and men. The truth for me came when I acknowledged to myself that I was a person first, not a man first. Women who recognized that they were persons first, not women first, did not have the need to manipulate anyone. Their relationships with men and other women were based on candour, and this inspired me. This concept applies to men, too. Admitting that one has been in a trance as far as gender roles are concerned and giving up manipulative power games takes tremendous integrity. Once people acknowledge and overcome their own desire to manipulate and hide behind a role, then it is less likely that the will be swept into anyone’s manipulative web, be it a woman’s or a man’s. Each generation unconsciously teaches the next to remain in a trance-like state and engage in manipulative power games, either actively or passively. This is rarely recognized and, therefore, is not stopped. It is all-pervasive and due to collective self-amnesia, starting when one child is being polarized against the other, and someone is placed “up” and someone is placed “down.”
I go on about the fact that fortunately there are women of wisdom who teach men about such subtleties and, therefore, lovingly free these men to genuinely know and value themselves, and, in the same loving way, understand and value women. Regrettably, there were no men in positions of power at Manulife awake enough to stop this particular executive, as well as my neighbor, from weaving their web of manipulation.
I ask the president of this other insurance company to consider if it is true that, when we wonder why women are mistreated, we shut our ears when a realistic answer is given. I tell him that Senator Anne Cools was quoted in the newspapers as saying, “Behind every man who abuses a woman is a mother who has abused that man.” I remember meeting Senator Cools and learning that certain women were furious with her for sharing her observations so candidly, even though she had personal experience working with abused women, and meeting male abusers. For some people, this truth seems to lack relevance and is simply ignored. To go into one’s past and evolve beyond one’s gender takes the same effort as it does for a person brought up in a particular family, tribe, race, religion, culture, or country to overcome the bias of blaming others of another group and seeing them as strangers. To believe that members of different religions are born inherently different is a delusion. This belief is the result of programming and is sustained by one’s own lack of personal psychological growth. Once we “wake up” to the fact that there are far more similarities than differences between members of different groups, including gender groups, then we can develop the will and skill of a diamond cutter, who pinpoints the exact place in which to focus, and then takes action in such a way that all that is irrelevant falls away.
I read to the president something I have written for the president of Manulife Financial, but hadn’t sent. I feel that it might help to explain why, after the eviction notice, no one would respond to my call.
We wonder why, with all the buried hurt feelings children have been subjected to, with some children elevated and while others are degraded or simply ignored, that when we grow older we have such high levels of apathy, crime, suicide, murder, terrorism, war. Under such circumstances, where women and men deaden their hurt feelings, it is not difficult to teach boys to kill some imagined ‘enemy.’ The very same applies to girls. When feeling powerless in a ‘winner’ or ‘loser’ polarity with other siblings, is it not an understandable vengeful act for a young girl to grow up to be a woman who gains her only sense of power through the manipulation of anyone – men or other women? Breaking the cycle of such abuse and violence happens when an individual wakes up from all the indoctrinations, and peels away, one by one, every label making up their identity. When we discover that we’re “nothing” and “everything,” we are able to stand alone, label-free.
I tell the president of the other company that I am trying to exorcise all the emotions I am feeling, and I am grateful to him for hearing me out. “Frankly,” I say, “the eviction notice felt like a death blow, a terrorist act, and I had to figure out what possessed them to do what they did, so that I could let go of all the hurt.”
He replies, “Your card-game analogy is appropriate here. The concept of Label Liberation threatens some people’s power constructs.”
I tell him that I understand that the Manulife Financial executives are probably not much different than a lot of other people working in large corporations. But God help us if this heartless, machine-like behavior passes as an acceptable and normal way for humans to relate to each other.
Most people don’t recognize how all their motivation is based on the money they earn, and they will turn themselves upside down and inside out, doing whatever they do to make a living. Artists, on the other hand, and other creative individuals who set the monetary aside and create with no other goal but the purity of what’s being created, glimpse a world beyond deadly taxi-meter thinking. If people never awaken to a sense of self that is free from mother and “mother” figures, and father and “father” figures, and learn to see their parents objectively as persons first, then such people are never released from the spells cast upon them by their intergenerational scripting. Anyone who seeks deeper understanding, and makes known the fact that they are in the process of awakening, is at risk of being shunned by those who are resisting deeper levels of understanding. The question is, is the price of experiencing reality worth the cost?
I also tell the president of the insurance company that I believe that the actions of the Manulife Financial executive were personal. Even so, I have to take personal responsibility for the fact that I was not quick enough to detach myself from the situation. The Manulife Financial executive’s looks of smugness, and her male friend’s glare when we’d pass each other, gave me a sense that, even though she would pretend to be above gloating, she was taking pleasure in feeling her power to thwart my creative efforts. The neighbor was also gloating, rushing around trying to get names on the list to oust me.
I have spent years of my life trying to express appreciation to those who have shown me kindness and love by assisting those who are in need of crisis intervention. In 1960, I began to try to get to the core of human conflict. (For a description of my early research, see Variety, May 9, 1962, page 20, “…Probing Barriers Hindering Human Communication.”) I find it interesting that those who are most identified with their positions of power seemed to be terrified of others discovering a freedom beyond all dichotomies, leaving access to power open to all. Those who have an identity based only on such positions of power have no real identity beyond their attachments. Is it any wonder that, those who cling to the illusions of their ‘card-game hand’ treat me like a pariah?
Before I leave the president, I tell him that the efforts to break my spirit succeeded. I am unable to continue sharing Driven Sane, a journey to Label Liberation. All I can do is try to cope with the sudden anxiety I am feeling. There is a fury I dare not let myself act on, for fear of doing something regrettable. I choose to live with the excruciating hurt that has surfaced, and refuse to act out on them as they have acted out on me.
Due chest pains and hyperventilation, I had canceled a scheduled booking in New York to present the show. I know how Humpty Dumpty felt and wonder if I can ever put all the pieces back together again, this time around. The president says, “If their efforts to break your spirit had really succeeded, you would not be here talking with me.” He suggests I speak to some of the employees who have left Manulife Financial. He believes I might get an overview of the condoned hostility that others have said emanates from the very top executive on down. I wonder if they are really any different from chicken in a pecking order, who pick on one chicken at the bottom, who is usually pecked to death?
I head home after the meeting, feeling lighter for having been understood.
After some time, a senior executive of the Manulife Centre, who is the supervisor of the woman executive, comes to my apartment, where we have a lengthy discussion. He apologizes for the trauma I have suffered as a result of the eviction notice placed on my door, informing me that the woman executive whom I believed was responsible had in fact persuaded him to take the action he did.
His openness and obvious deep regret about having allowed her to influence him is healing for me. He explains that because she has been with Manulife Financial for many years longer than he has, that he felt compelled to follow her advice without really understanding the situation and consequences.
I tell him that I feel her actions were evil, and the complicity of the other executives to shun me was barbaric. I make it clear that I am most grateful to him for his visit and his understanding. Gradually, I begin to come out of a state of shock. Truth and a sense of reciprocity and fair play can set us free.
It takes me several years to feel whole once again and to no longer be hurt by the incident. One person, who attended the show several times, refers to the two women’s actions, and the original corporate decision to shut down my synthesis of art forms, as attempted “soul murder.” At least now I very clearly understand the symbolism of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” and of death and rebirth. I am relieved to see the irony in life’s situations – that I had to face such obstacles once again- this time with feeling – to more fully reclaim my past.
Manulife Financial now sponsors The Manulife Walk for Memories, a charitable effort for the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. With its slogan aimed at reclaiming lost memories, I wonder about the childhood memories of the Manulife Financial executive, her management team and the neighbor. Why would they try so desperately to overrule their colleague’s decision and to deny my sharing a healing way to awaken to one’s own recovered memories.
My maternal grandmother had died of Alzheimer’s disease, and while working on my doctorate, related to stress and identity, I had investigated the issues that contribute to Alzheimer’s, as well as high blood pressure, heart problems and cancer. My findings corroborated studies that indicate that Alzheimer’s and other diseases may be activated by deep levels of childhood stress, which become buried memories. How fascinating for Manulife Financial to go out of their way to undermine my show, which communicates ways to reclaim stressful memories and heal the stress, and then make a public display of encouraging everyone to join The Manulife Walk for Memories. If psychiatrist R.D. Laing were alive today, he would not be at all surprised at such a conundrum, as his books The Politics of Experience and Knots suggest.
On November 11, 1998, I venture out of my self-imposed isolation, finding enough energy to visit Mike Bullard’s popular television talk show. Mr. Bullard recognizes me in the audience. After on-camera banter, during which I give him an “I’m a person first” button and a hug, Mr. Bullard says to the audience:
Justin Thomas filled the studio with so much love that in a few moments he made up for all the rejection that I ever got from my parents. The place I usually come from when interacting with an audience was completely blown away by Justin’s love. He’s a voodoo man. I had to give him another hug.
Mike Bullard is awake enough to receive me so spontaneously, so fully, that the love he is capable of sharing helps to further awaken mine. By his remarks, I know I am once again healing.
Richard Brodie, author of Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme, appears on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I take notice when he talks about memes, defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “an element of a culture or system of behaviour that is passed from one individual to another, by no genetic means, especially imitation.”
I leave a message for Mr. Brodie and he returns my call. When I tell him about my journey leading to Label Liberation, he says, “Amazing. You’ve got to get your research out there. By working so hard to come out of your childhood trance, you have broken new ground in the new science of the meme.”
A description of Susan Blackmore’s book, The Meme Machine, says,
Uniquely, among animals, humans are capable of imitation, and can copy from one another ideas, habits, skills, behaviours, inventions, songs and stories. These are all memes, a term first coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, at the end of his book, The Selfish Gene.
Like genes, memes are replicators, competing to get into as many brains as possible, and this memetic competition has fashioned our minds and cultures, just as natural selection has designed our bodies. We are what the memes have made us: we are all of us meme machines.
I realize that Label Liberation is an antidote to what Richard Brodie calls “the virus of the mind,” and all of us are infected with the virus. It is clear to me that most of us are too indoctrinated by this very programming of Simon Says, this habit of imitation, to realize our dilemma. We have already caught the imitation bug and have become prisoners of conformity, or we rebel in such a way that we conform to being a polar opposite of what is expected of us. No wonder I am either instantly embraced with tremendous relief and deep affection, or am considered a terrifying threat and avoided like the plague. Ironically, the “conformity plague,” of which they are so fearful, has already infected them. They are fleeing what has been for me, and many others, a potential cure – Label Liberation.
If someone’s whole identity is based on fabrication and imitation, then to have to go back to the very beginning and unravel identity, as I had to do with my “retard” label, is quite an undertaking.
People are either trying to find their own way out of their trance, and are inspired by my quest for the state of joker, or they choose to stay in the precarious card-game mentality of competing and imitating that spawns all personal and social conflict, including prejudice, violence, terrorism and wars. People can cling to a “winning” hand and, in order to stay on “top,” do everything possible to step on others and keep them at the “bottom,” holding a “losing” hand. If “winning” is dependant on others “losing,” and the imbalance spills over and creates havoc for others, then who really wins?
Often apes, when they have been held in captivity for a long time, do not venture outside when the cages are opened. If we have been dealt a “losing” hand from infancy on, breaking the spell can be for any of us a monumental task. Who will be brave enough to listen when such an antidote is discovered and the cage door is opened? Who will leave all the restrictive labels behind when the disease itself fights its own cure?
Since the research behind Label Liberation gets to the heart of the new science of the meme, I am no longer shocked, surprised, amazed, mortified, devastated or intimidated by the close-minded behavior those whose job it is in government, education and the helping professions to assist society in contending with its issues. Many of these professionals are lost in apathy, alienation and fear of change or taking risks. Those who are in a position to help resolve violence of all sorts, from gender and family conflict to suicide and terrorism, frequently avoid an opportunity to discuss a wake-up call for the people for whom they are responsible. Why? As frightening as it may be to contemplate, they, too, are in a deep trance. The car is moving but the driver is asleep at the wheel. It is easier to avoid concern for others when seeing a person as a symbol instead of a person first.
In 2002, I have gained enough distance from the events described to be amused to find that Lawyer X has now risen to greater heights in Canadian politics. In a letter he wrote to the Canadian Council, dated 26-11-76, written before he had me come to his home, he states,
The programme of label liberation appears to fulfil a deep-seated need in today’s society, and may well help to bring a new awareness of the humanity of the individual in our ever-increasingly impersonal communities. The concept addresses itself to the root cause of much of the malaise that is prevalent particularly in communities and, while on the surface, it may appear naive, it is, in fact, a simple expression of a wise and useful precept whose application is equally valid in daily life as in the field of mental health where it has been so enthusiastically adopted.
Justin Thomas is the originator of this idea and has had the tenacity and determination to develop it, and being it to the point where it must now receive greater public diffusion, if it is going to have any significant impact.
I have no doubt that he will persist and carry his project out; funds from a source like the Canada Council are, however, the only way in which he and his idea can receive the degree of public exposure that the idea merits.
Ironically, in 1976, as others have experienced when attempting something innovative, the decision-makers at the Explorations Program of Canada Council turned down the request for funding.
Someone recently gave me a bookmark with a quote from Einstein: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” I appreciate the message. Somehow a tenacious part of me, that seems to identify with everyone, still believes that, once awakened from the trance, anyone can realize their infinite human potential.