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Max Roytenberg

Max Roytenberg: Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow's Ear

by Max Roytenberg, February 2014, Phoenix, Arizona

I am now four-score in years and reappraising my perspectives on life. Trying to get a handle on where I came from, where I got to, where I am, and what I am leaving behind. I don't claim to be a seer, but I think it is useful to look at this stuff. Maybe it has something to do with just surviving when so many of my contemporaries have passed from the scene. I read about that in the paper nearly every day.


Don't we all do that once in a while, look back at where we came from? Maybe that's what we generate as a mid-life crisis, sometimes. We just can't help ourselves, picking over those bones, assessing the rolling numbers in that machine. The numbers keep clicking in our heads whether we like it or not. We'd like them to come up all sevens-they rarely do-and we'd like to do some special pleading when they don't come out the way we'd like them to. Maybe, we even lie to ourselves a bit-that wasn't all that bad, look at the positives! But in the end,, if we are honest with ourselves, we know what the numbers say. Sometimes we just can't bear to face that truth. Many of us know some of those stories.


Isn't it the truth, though, that we don't all start out from the same place? And isn't it the truth that the luck of the draw can be cruel? Don't we make a big fuss about the guy or gal who made it big starting out from scratch? And isn't it a big deal just making it to the good life with what some of us had to cope with? Or even staying alive in some of the places where fate deposited us! It's not special pleading to recognize that no matter what the hard cases say.


Imagine what it must have been like growing up, even in North America, in dysfunctional family situations. Looking around today we know so much more about what it takes to rear children in a healthy environment. We get it thrown at us from all sides, in the media, the schools, in our religious institutions, sometimes even from our neighbours. When I was growing up, in my neighbourhood, it was all about getting bread on the table. Our parents had run away from places where arriving here meant they had found a place where they and their children would have a better chance to stay alive. The only thing they did know about was that their kids had to get an education. Only the very wise among us thought about modeling, positive re-enforcement, and the implications of such things for their own personal behaviour.


So, often, the raw material we came into the game with was not of the highest grade. With the best of will, education varied widely, as did the ability of our parents to cope with the radically different environments than the ones they grew up with, not to mention the language barriers they had to overcome. The offspring, born in these new environments, could often become intermediaries for the parent in identifying the parameters of survival. And parents, poorly equipped educationally, and lacking mentoring, often failed the challenges of successful interpersonal relations with partners and family members, not to mention their children, ensuring that many of the new generation emerged with indelible scars which could affect their capacities to achieve success in the adult cosmos they would inevitably have to enter.


So, fast forward to the miracle of the New World. Where did so many of the young find the resources to throw off the shackles of their deficient backgrounds to conquer the obstacles they faced?  Somehow, from somewhere, they drew together the wherewithal to fashion servicable personas. They scraped together the focus to get an education, learn a rewarding trade, and impress an indifferent world into an acceptance that they were worthy of their hire, indeed, were someone to admire, as in successfully attracting partners. From sow's ears they fashioned highly- desired silk purses.


Isn't that the story for most of us?


Just can't keep a good man/woman down.

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