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  • Dr. Ted Klontz


Someone spoke to me recently about their perception of my “obsession” with the Indigenous peoples of my world, and asked what I thought that was all about. Looking back, I think they were looking for a mental health diagnosis. They had one in mind. I learned that later.

But I digress. I swallowed the bait. I should have asked what he meant by “obsession,” but I took the bait and took off jabbering.

I prattled on about how I find it helpful to recognize that wherever I go in the world, I’m walking on the bones and in the blood of those humans sacrificed (some of them my ancestors). I am also walking on the remains of those my ancestors killed. I am also aware that to live my good life, my life of privilege, others are dying today. (I think of the children who are living a death style life today, so that I have the privilege of a cell phone and computer that I am using to write this missive.)

I said (without taking much of a breath) that it helps me walk with a sense of reverence, respect, awe, grief, timelessness, and wonder. I feel those things whether it be the cemetery where my parents, sister, aunts, uncles, and grandparents lay, or the mass grave of the workhouse in Ireland where my great-great grandparents perished, the grounds of Dachau, the beaches of Normandy, or Ford Island at Pearl Harbor. It helps me be a better person, somehow.

Maybe it reminds me that the elements that caused all these things are still present and could happen again and, this time, under the right conditions, I could very well be the perpetrator or the victim. Such awareness’s humble me (which is totally different than it humiliating me.)

With a big smile, he interrupted my soliloquy, (remember, I had assumed he was truly curious about what he had asked me) and said, “Oh, I get it, you suffer from a classic case of “OWMGS” (pronounced awwmmgas) and laughed. I realized he had made the point he was trying to make when he asked me the question. After I asked him what that meant, I went quiet. Then said, “I guess you could call it that.” And he laughed again.

When I recognize the price others have paid (losing their lives) to make my life possible, I feel it. In my bones. It informs my behavior so as to not intentionally do or blindly be part of sacrificing others again in order to provide me a better life. I like what a Lakota friend of mine said, “Our ancestors are not dead and gone, they are buried in every gene, every cell and thus in our very own DNA.” Science suggests this is true. Their name for it is Epigenetics. Which means I am as capable of doing as good and not so good as any of my (or your) ancestors.

Awareness works better for me and the world I live in than the world of denial and dismissal which apparently works better for some people. If awareness is bad, I’m guilty as charged. I have OWMGS. It did, as such moments often do, cause me to think more about it all.

I brought this incident up with a friend and he reminded me that authors I like (Francis Weller and Michael Lerner), suggest that my thoughts and behaviors, and “obsession about those who came before” may be fueled by my DNA (and ancestral Epigenetics). Grief of and for those who came before me, as well as that grief I have experienced myself. That feels right. Read more about that in Francis Weller’s book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow if you’d like to know more.

While I am on this subject, the word “woke” these days is experienced as a pejorative thing. So, being awake, and aware is a bad thing? Is the implication that “sleep,” dismissal, and denial is better? Preferred? Or is it ok, to be somewhat awake but, goodness gracious, not too much?

If I am described as “woke,” it is not considered a compliment, but an indictment by some. If a female friend is describe as a “Karen,” that’s not good either. Words like this are currently used to mock and judge others. Throw in “Liberal” or “Conservative” or “Despicable” or “Far Right,” or “Libertard’” or……and the walls go up. Amazing how words can build walls.

This is reminiscent of what many of us experienced in our families, on the playgrounds and schoolyards (and churches and….) of our childhoods. That 6-year-old part of our brain still dominates our words, thoughts, beliefs and behaviors at times today. Why? For the same reasons as back then. Power. Control. Fear.

The difference today is that those six-year-old bully brains are now all too often encased in adult bodies that possess life and death power and influence over those they target for bullying. Today it is decisions about whether the targeted literally live or die because unlike during those childhood years, there are no reliable powerful authority figures to step in and stop the bullying and taunting. These days, the ones in the ‘teacher’ or ‘principal’ role, those who used to step in and stop such nonsense are joining in, if not leading the taunts and ridicule. For the same reasons. Power. Control. Fear. Back in the days it was “just” sticks, stones, and words. Now it is all that, plus weapons capable of mass destruction and policies backed up by a legal system that supports such things. Now the bullying is sanctioned. And applauded. And cheered. Just like middle school.

Woke, or asleep? Virginia Woolf wrote “Life is a dream; it is the waking that kills us.” I believe that being asleep at the wheel can kill us (and others) just as easily.

I’m interested in hearing your perspective.

(by the way OWMGS is “Old White Man Guilt Syndrome”)


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