Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lion behaviour

Follows Alpha Behaviour
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There’s a postscript to l’affaire Bernie that either involves garden-variety rivalry or the true never-forgive-never-forget mentality that most people keep under wraps. Ellis was raised in a small town so I thought he might understand the mechanics of the secular service organizations that dot rural communities. I asked, “Are Lions Club members a bunch of vindictive bastards?” and while he suggested that rival groups might provide oversize stickers for the appliances they donate to the local community centre, it rarely goes much past that. I’ve never knowingly met a Lions Club member outside of Bernie (although I’ve got some Rotarians and Gyros among blood relations) and I’m not suggesting that their activities are anything less than entirely on the up-and-up. But given recent events, there might be some internal tensions between members that bleed through from time to time.

When somebody told me about Bernie stretching the truth in 2003 on a Lions Club online forum (with a helpful suggestion that I might want to share the news with my former Ministry compatriots), I ignored it. I wasn't adding fuel to a fire I wanted nothing to do with and hadn't started in the first place. But I'm not saying that Bernie's online missive wasn't an all-out lie. It was reported to me as something along the lines of I’ve stood on the deck of a ship and felt the spray of the northwest passage more times than my fingers and toes could count (in the real world, he'd visited once). So what? Bernie was free to embarrass himself or be proud of his actions on his own time. I wasn’t interested in his motivations and wasn’t about to register to that forum to read it myself.

Seven years later, a different co-worker from the Ministry (and fellow Lion, I assume) was nice (?) enough to send me a PDF of that forum page “so you can see it for yourself.” It’s nothing earth-shattering. The original report had been pretty accurate. Again: so what? My life hasn't been enhanced by seeing the original material. And the statute of limitations on any potential embarrassment over the entire affair expired moments after Bernie’s inevitable response of “Maybe I did exaggerate a bit, but the bigger issue is…” to his wife or whomever dropped the dime on him way back when.
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These bigger issues brought out so often by Bernie were on my mind when he invited me to dinner. He’d left the ministry a few weeks earlier, willingly but not without incident. He'd recently been part of a heated discussion at an office lunch about a colleague who had suffered a stroke. Bernie and he had never seen eye-to-eye: the phrase "It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy" was dropped and whether it was intended ironically (Bernie’s first defense) or simply a poor choice of words (his second take) or just a stupid thing to say (something he tried to laugh with, or laugh off) was irrelevant. It went over badly. He eventually apologized to everyone (save for the stroke victim) via text message, declared himself forgiven after flirting with declaring himself persecuted and spun the whole event as something we all could learn from. Somehow. The logic was a bit shaky.

His dinner invite to me was almost straightforward. “Claire and I are heading to Sarnia and the cottage,” said Bernie between sips of a rum and coke, “it might be a good opportunity for dinner if you and Abby are willing to dine with us.”

I didn't mind having a drink with Bernie: I didn't want dinner. ‘Willing to dine’ carried a faint whiff of burning martyr to it that I didn’t want to burst into flame. Given past precedent, I was relatively sure that any dinner would involve a store-bought entrée (from a proudly Canadian-owned retailer) and a long discussion about the value and the need for free markets and the inherent virtue in pull-up-your-socks determination and how tax cuts make jobs for everyone and perhaps a few slightly weepy asides about the truth of Gordon Lightfoot songs and a friendly reminder that Ralph Klein did just fine as far as Albertans were concerned, maybe the rest of Canada had better take notice.

Gordon Lightfoot tracks on the repeat-all setting did nothing for me (although far be it from me to judge another’s iPod fodder) and the tax cut/free market sermon gets tiresome (although hardcore, you-gotta-listen-to-me Socialists are just as boring as hardcore I’m-giving-you-the-straight-talk Capitalists in close quarters) and I’m sure dinner would have been tasty and the Niagara wine poured often and the rancor aimed at a generic them rather than me. I would have been welcome to contest their points as I wished; their evening of political theatre required some give-and-take after all. But it was going to be their theatre, their script, their schedule and Bernie & Claire would act as Producer, Director and Dramaturge. My involvement was destined to be something between spectator and parishioner as they delivered the Good News about whatever policy announcements were nearest and dearest to their hearts.

I didn’t have anything against Claire. And Bernie had shown himself to be a stand-up guy in the past. But I didn’t want to be politely reminded of the other side by a couple who were otherwise fiercely proud of their own one-side-fits-all approach to living. They were experts on changing topics if you questioned them too closely, becoming quite emotional from time to time, revealing their depths of devotion. When dinner becomes a call to action or, more manipulatively, a ‘we’ve got a lot we can offer’ meeting that ends in a gift of position papers and invitations to fundraisers and information sessions for investment opportunities…the event ceases to be a dinner.

I declined politely. He accepted politely and presumably went onto other potential guests.
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The forum post was reported to me a few weeks later by somebody convinced the world had to know. It meant little to me in 2003 and significantly less in 2010. But somebody’s held onto it for reasons I don’t want to think about. Fill in your own lions den joke on your own time if you must. I just report whatever finds its way to my inbox.

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