a lymerick shared by Mel Gibson
There once was a Dane like no other
whose father was killed by his mother
his sister went mad
when they murdered her dad
and his cousin then poisoned his mother.
a lymerick shared by Mel Gibson
There once was a Dane like no other
whose father was killed by his mother
his sister went mad
when they murdered her dad
and his cousin then poisoned his mother.
When I switched my college major from engineering to clinical psychology, I was fortunate to have a new next-door neighbor, Al, who was a graduate student in clinical psychology. He was in the final months of an eleven-year saga to his PhD.
One day I asked him what the difference was between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. To my surprise he didn’t go into the differences in their education, or the focus of the practices, or any of the obvious distinctions. He took a very different approach. He told me a joke, and here it is.
A psychiatrist and psychologist were good friends. They had been for many years. They also both loved fly fishing, and often spent time together fishing on the banks of their favorite streams.
On one such outing, after spending a couple of hours fishing, they noticed that someone was coming down the middle of the river drowning. They quickly removed their shoes and wallets, and swam out to save the man. Fortunately, they got to him in time, and were able to revive him. Once they were sure he was going to be fine, they sent him on his way and went back to fishing.
A few minutes later, they saw a woman floating down the stream drowning. They immediately sprang into action. They swam out and rescued her, brought her back, revived her, and sent her on her way. Then they went back to fishing again.
Not 10 minutes later, yet a third person came floating down the river drowning. The psychiatrist was up to his waist in the water before he realized that his friend was not beside him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the psychologist walking up the bank of the stream.
“Hey, aren’t you going to help me save this guy?” he shouted at his friend.
The psychologist answer back, “No. You go save him. I’m going upstream to see who’s pushing everyone in.”
Al then explained to me how the story answered my question, and I was quite satisfied. However, as with many things I learned from him, this one taught me a lot more over the remainder of my life than was at first obvious.
Today this has become one of the most important lessons of my life, because it has shown me, in crystal clear terms, the difference between rescuing people from problems, and eliminating the problems themselves. Both have their place, of that there can be little doubt.
The trouble is that it seems much harder to prevent problems than to fix their consequences. At least that’s the way it appears to someone who doesn’t understand the nature of the problems and how they came to be there. Once that knowledge is available, it is child’s play to prevent virtually any kind of problem. But until that understanding is present, it will always seem easier to just limit the damage after the fact.
So our world is filled with groups of people who have taken it upon themselves to address the awful consequences of any number of problems. There seem no practical limits to the range and scope of tragedies, nor is there a limit to the kinds of people who want to help provide aid and comfort to the victims.
On the other hand, virtually no one seems to have the least interest in doing anything to prevent the problems from happening in the first place. Oh, some say they do, but one look at their idea of what will accomplish that shows just how little they really understand about what they are trying to prevent.
For instance, many people are sincerely and vehemently involved in “anti-war” actions of one kind or another. They have no idea whatsoever that simply by taking the position of hating war, they bind themselves to it. There is no recognition at all that the way to eliminate war is not by hating it, but by loving and promoting peace. It simply makes no sense to them.
The same applies to those who are “fighting” one kind of disease or another. They are so focused on the disease that they never even consider being pro-health, rather than anti-disease.
My own mother died of cancer that started in her breasts and eventually metastasized into her bones. No one can accuse me of not being “sensitive” to the plight of “cancer victims.” But I would no more join the “fight against breast cancer” than I would throw a gallon of gasoline on a fire in my living room to put it out.
What I would do is anything I can that will promote the free and unresisted expression of authentic self-hood in all people. It was the lack of that from which my mother suffered, that was eventually expressed as cancer, and that finally killed her in a most painful, humiliating, and horrible way.
Have I saved any lives? I don’t know. But I feel pretty sure that I have at least not added to the casualty list by refusing to join the crowds of protesters.
Am I saying that no one should ever rescue a drowning man? Absolutely not. What kind of stone heart would it take to sit by passively and watch someone drowning who could be saved?
But how can someone sit by quietly watching thousands upon thousands of people dying of wars and disease and all manner of pestilence and do nothing that has any chance of preventing those things? Yet humans today do precisely that by the billions on a daily basis, and no one seems to even notice.
So the answer is not which approach is right or wrong. The only sane answer is to do both at the same time. The folly is to do either exclusively, which is precisely the way it has always been done: rescue the victim, and let the true causes proliferate unobstructed.
I have nothing whatsoever against the causes of feeding children, or removing mine fields, or any of the countless other causes we hear about every day. But it is to me an outrage that I virtually never hear about anything being done on such a scale that offers any real chance of changing the minds of men and women in such a way that these unfortunate conditions die off of neglect and lack of interest.
There are reasons why it is so difficult to make such changes. The main reason is that from war to illness to starvation, all problems are created and sustained by the ways in which the principle players in the dramas think. And those thoughts are formed and guided by their beliefs, which are in turn derived from some kind of cultural tradition. most commonly religious in nature. People do not give up those kinds of centuries-long traditions easily. It is almost always a multi-generational process even when it’s highly motivated and in the fast lane.
A case in point is the so-called “racial prejudice” in America. We made it illegal almost 150 years ago, but we didn’t even get serious about it until the last 50 years, and it took until 2008 to elect a president of these United States who carried African blood in noticeable amounts. As a people, including all races, we have been highly motivated to end this once and for all, yet it has taken this long to get this far, and I don’t know of anyone who things it’s all over now. (Read this for a more thorough examination of the whole American racial issue.)
So any approach to preventing things like war or HIV/AIDS or starvation or global warming or any of the other high-profile plagues of our planet must deal directly and effectively with the multi-generational nature of the beast itself. Anything less can be at best little more than “busywork,” offering plausible deniability: “I did everything I could. The problems is just too big.”
If we were really serious about elimination of these tragedies–you know, the ones everyone looks at, shaking their heads sadly and asks, “Why?” without waiting for a answer–if we really meant it, we’d be pursuing answers to the questions that at least could provide answers (click here for more).
Inconvenient questions. Questions that would force us to reach a higher level of honesty with ourselves. Questions that demand more integrity than we have thus far, as a species, been able to muster. Questions like, “How and why do these things really happen? And how am I helping to create them? And what can I do (or stop doing) that will make the most different now and in the future? How important is it to me that these changes occur? And why?” Now those are some questions worth answering, and they’re a hell of a lot more productive, not to mention inconvenient, than “Where do I send the check?”
So go ahead. Send your money to Save the Children. Salve your conscience (if you think it really will). And try to ignore the incontrovertible fact on April 15th, when you sign that other check, that it is your money that is being used to bomb children who never did you any harm. And that calling them “acceptable casualties” or “collateral damage” doesn’t change a damn thing.
Al Gore thinks he’s got an “Inconvenient Truth” with global warming. And he probably does. But the real inconvenient truth is a lot closer to home than that. And it’s not decades or centuries away. The real and far more inconvenient truth is right here, right now, right in your own heart and mind: Are you going to keep feeding the problems and saving the “victims?” Or are you going to make sure that someone goes upstream, if not yourself, to see who’s pushing everyone it and do something to put a stop to it?
Regardless of what you choose, at least have the integrity to own the choice and its full consequence.
This famous opening line from Ayn Rand’s best selling novel Atlas Shrugged comes to mind every time a new tragedy explodes on the scene and people ask “Why?” I am now convinced that before they ask the question, they have already decided that the answer is either nonexistent or at least unknowable. I don’t believe that is true. There are answers and they are readily available to anyone who chooses to see them. They may not be complete answers. They may not be simple answers. They most certainly are not popular answers. But they do exist, and if taken seriously by enough people, they would produce the changes so desperately desired by so many.
The basic answer to all these questions can be summed up in a single four-letter word: fear. Not just the fear of those who are attacked, or who feel vulnerable to attack. I am also speaking of fear on the part of the attackers. The simple fact that a person commits an act of violence such as we have seen in Littleton, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere tells me that the perpetrators were scared stupid. Almost anyone could do these things if they’re scared enough. The question is what can be done about it? To answer that, we must look for the roots of those fears and the process that elevated them to such gargantuan proportions.
Everyone who kills was once some mother’s baby. How do they get from the cradle to the killing fields? They develop a belief system that leaves them little choice. This is not easily done, or we would all be out there killing for our own reasons. It requires a lifetime to craft a system of beliefs that lead ultimately to such acts.
It may begin with a family who thinks of themselves as doing the best they can to prepare their child for the world. But the world they see is a fearful one in which the individual is perceived as powerless. They may prove it to their children by acts of senseless violence themselves, or they may choose the role of passive victims who are trod upon by anyone and everyone. Sometimes it’s both. But in the end, the child learns the lesson well.
Another cornerstone of this mentality is that you are never to blame: others are. It is often irresistibly convenient to focus this blame on certain ethnic, religious, cultural, national, or other groups. “The (fill in the blank)s are out to get us. If it weren’t for them, life would be safe.”
Taken together, these beliefs provide a fertile bed in which to grow all manner of fear and the craziness that comes from it.
Later in their lives the individuals have to carry the torch themselves, reinforcing these basic beliefs with experiences of their own. They often seek out like-minded individuals with whom to explore and express their fears and growing hatred. This consensual validation provides needed fuel for the fires of fear. Some individuals, like Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber, withdraw into their own private world of terror, but they appear to be in the minority.
All that is needed to bring them to the flash point is some event, real or imagined, that seems to draw together all their fear, hatred, and anger. The trigger can be a deeply personal experience like rejection by a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal tragedy. Or it can be based on their interpretation of a larger, more abstract event such as a political election or the rise of a famous person who is seen as “one of them.” Regardless, the trigger is pulled on their fear, and they in turn pull the trigger on “the enemy.”
Now, having answered the why? question, we can ask the real question: “What can be done about it?” In a general sense, we have to stop raising children who believe that the world is a dangerous place, that they are personally powerless to protect themselves from those dangers, and that others are to blame. If this were somehow done, the results would be miraculous. Unfortunately, this is one of those things for which the phrase “easier said than done” was invented. Every parent likes to believe that they and they alone know what is best for their children. Some of them, of course, are proven unequivocally mistaken in the end. But by that time, the damage is done. Should we pass laws that require people to get a license to have children and issue those licenses only to those whose beliefs about life are acceptable? Imagine trying to get that one through committee.
Regrettably, I have no silver bullet to offer here. What I do know is that if we spent a fraction of the time, money, words, and effort looking for effective answers at this level as we do on cleaning up the mess left afterward, something good would most certainly come of it. But it is not popular to examine root causes. It is far easier to build prisons than to deal with child-rearing. It is more comfortable to blame “them,” than to take ourselves to task over our own errant beliefs, thoughts, and feelings. It is easier to ask “why,” not waiting for the answer, than to ask where it really begins and do everything we can to change it.
At the end of the day we are left with the original question, “Who is John Galt?” The answer is as simple as the question: he is us.
Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent oppostion from mediocre minds.” Over forty years before I read that, I expressed a similar observation at a deeply personal level in this poem:
In dead of night I skulk about
my secret to pursue.
This lonly place will hide my fac
as well as what I do.
I’ve come alone to come alive
and I shall come again,
in hope that on tomorrow’s morn
a brighter sun might spin.
But I wonder at the justice
that seems to be my fate,
that makes me hide
deny the pride
Richard Bach, “Illusions”
It is always a matter of perspective. Perception, if you like. But what it really comes down to is that anything that can be called a failure, can just as easily be called a success if you stand in the right place to look at it. So…
There’s no such thing as failure: only success that goes unrecognized.
If you assume–which I do–that we create our own reality according to our thoughts and beliefs, not partially, but 100% of the time, then your life and everything in it is just the evidence of your thinking. In that sense, you are always, by definition, 100% successful at creating precisely what you set out, by choosing your own thoughts, to create. No exceptions. Ever.
The trouble is that we are so seldom aware of all of our thoughts. So when the aftereffects of some of them show up in our lives, we say, “Where the hell did that come from???” And we are totally righteous about it, because our conscious mind really has no idea that it ever entertained any thought like that. But it does. All the time. We just don’t enter it in our Personal History File. You don’t know about that file? Okay. Let me explain.
See, our minds are constantly thinking (except during certain kinds of meditation). There is a steady stream of thoughts rushing past. Sometimes the pace is faster than other, but it is constant nonetheless. Now you’ve seen video cameras in public locations, right? I’m talking about stores and gas stations and such. Well, do you think for one moment that they save every image forever? Hardly. Most of them recycle every 24 hours or so. If not, they would wind up with the mother of all trivia collections, because the vast majority of the time nothing happens that is the least bit memorable or even slightly interesting. It’s just padding between the real dramas. Our minds are much the same situation.
Your conscious mind hops from thought to thought most of the time, looking for one worth paying serious attention to, and maybe even developing and acting on. Most of those thoughts end up on the cutting room floor. But among that refuse are examples of a class of thoughts that are neither waste or meaningless. These are the thoughts that are on autopilot from what some would call our subconscious. (I prefer to think of it not as sub-conscious at all, but rather so profoundly and unutterably conscious that our ordinary awareness can’t even see it. But that’s another story).
Many of these thoughts are quite negative and limiting, because they are based on beliefs we picked up when we were far too young and stupid to be doing any such thing. They are based on our fearful reactions to percieved (and in point of fact nonexistant) threats. No one likes to be thinking fearful things constantly, so we just push them aside and let them run in the background on autopilot. Oh yes. That feels much better, thank you very much.
The problem is that they just keep pouring out these negative thoughts, because they don’t “officially” even exist. And if that weren’t enough, those thoughts are intermixed with our more current conscious ones and the result is that they are all trying to become real. It’s just like Pinocchio wanting to be a real boy. And they do. They are like an IV drip of negativity until turned off.
So next time you are walking down the street, and you run headlong into something that is ugly, painful, frightening, sad, depressing, outrageous (in the literal sense), or anything like those, know three things:
And here’s the really good news. Everything you create that way, the worst things in your life, all have two things built in: they give you the incentive and the opportunity to regain your sanity about that particular thing. What’s more, until you take them off of autopilot and get rid of them, they will keep doing that forever. It’s just one of the miraculous things about the way we’re all made.
“There’s no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. We seek out problems, because we need their gifts.”
Richar Bach. “Illusions”