Halloween and the Road to Temptation

Seen Around Lincoln Center - Day 2 - Spring 2012 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

I was recently asked about the craziest thing I ever did. My answer? “Therapists aren’t known for being crazy.” Truth is, I couldn’t come up with much, but will acknowledge near-craziness a few times.

You might not think Halloween would provide the opportunity. Perhaps, then, you never went “trick-or-treating” for UNICEF. I did with my buddy Steve Henikoff in seventh grade, age 12.

The adventure began with an earnest and philanthropic gesture. Or only an excuse to go out on Halloween without the embarrassment of being too old for costumes. We heard about the possibility of a higher Halloween calling than accumulating piles of candy and looking like original sin.

UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund, originally created as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in 1946 to offer urgently needed healthcare and food to kids in countries turned inside out in World War II. An estimable enterprise still today.

Well, we wanted to do something fun. Noble, too? As noble as lower middle-class 12-year-old boys were capable of at the time. We sent away for the proper identifying materials and began a house-to-house pilgrimage as civilians. Never having done this before, we didn’t predict what kind of response might come from the adults who answered the door with candy in their hands. Well, except for “Get off my lawn!” old guys.

The UNICEF Halloween campaign started quietly in 1950, and was unknown to lots of the folks we met. Some people didn’t believe our explanation and challenged our honesty, despite our fresh-faced innocence. Others gave us coins. So it went, for as many hours as we stayed out. I remember the weather being a bit damp, but we didn’t quit because of rain or cold. My dad worked for the U.S. Post Office, so I knew what it meant to make the appointed rounds regardless of conditions.

Our charitable haul for the evening came to about $12. By today’s valuation we had 100 greenbacks. Think of giving two 12-year-olds with empty pockets $100. My younger brothers Ed and Jack were getting 10-cents for putting a just-ejected tooth under the pillow at night in those days. Thanks to the decades old ravages of the Great Depression on my folks, money remained a hard, heavy matter for them, much like the change we carried.

Temptation, friends, on a day devoted to child’s play, had paid me and Steve a visit.

These two young boys, cloistered in a safe neighborhood, watched over by decent parents, found themselves at a crossroads of sorts.

No one would know if we kept the money or held-back a high percentage and gave a small amount to UNICEF. In a certain sense, no one cared. The only consequence would be internal. What might we think of ourselves?

No one lives a temptation-free life. Money is an ever-present lure for some people, even those who have plenty. Lying comes in handy, as TV dramas demonstrate along with the shameless, fallen state of professional and governmental ethics. Sex? What can I say? The more illicit, the more inviting. But Steve and I didn’t grasp our adult future. Life was real, not abstract, we weren’t old enough to get sexy with anyone, and the coins were speaking to us.

The two buddies conversed briefly. Very briefly. It wasn’t in our DNA to do anything but what we did. In a certain sense, there was no choice. We were just being ourselves.

The dimes and quarters and nickels – every cent – went to UNICEF and those needy kids.

In another life what might have happened? What if I had 100 lives? I can’t say I wouldn’t visit so-called iniquity more often in at least one of them, just for the joy ride, the pitch-black thrill. We don’t get the chance, do we, unless reincarnation is real? Then, we are told, the wages of becoming your evil twin aren’t pleasant.

We usually keep our dark side in the shade, not acknowledging how much we’ve already lived there, making our self-image more virtuous than we deserve.

You say you don’t?

Then you are tormented.

But, imagine a slightly older version of yours truly on that ancient Halloween night and a same-aged Heidi Klum as my trick-or-treat date, encouraging me to keep the money and holding me tight. Ah, the flesh is weak.

Would Heidi then, like Socrates, have been accused of “corrupting the youth” of Talman Avenue, West Rogers Park, Chicago? Socrates faced a jury of a few hundred Athenian citizens, all men. Acquittal before such an audience would have been the only possible verdict for the “trick or treat” hottie. As for me, so long as Heidi was nearby, I’d have been – shall we say – preoccupied; categorizing the theft as an anomaly, rationalizing as needed. We do it all the time, the better to live with ourselves.

Hey, I was a young teenage male. Give me a break. Remember, it didn’t happen.

Temptation can often be avoided – at the risk of overregulating your life. Think USA VP Mike Pence, who won’t go to dinner with a woman unless his wife is beside him with a gun trained on his privates, thus simultaneously guaranteeing his fidelity and supporting the National Rifle Association.

Others resist if they can. Resisting temptation is a bit like trying to stand straight-up and recite the Boy Scout Oath at the top of a perfect toboggan run on a cold winter’s day with the wind at your back. You are – whether you realize it or not – about to slide a long, slippery, perhaps injurious distance.

Life is probably more fun and more fraught if you don’t avoid or resist all the time and don’t think too much about who you are. When is creative risk-taking the road to a bad end? When is the straight-and-narrow the slow lane to a muted life?

If one evaluates one’s choices, much depends on when we take the measure: at the point the gambler wins his pot of gold or after he loses big-time? In youth, middle-age, or the end-of-the-line?

Still, when the tolling bell reminds us to change our lives, I don’t think it is encouraging a future in bank robbery.

I guess I was lucky never to meet Heidi Klum as a teen, who was born after Steve and I labored our single night for UNICEF.

Or, maybe, the luck would have been in meeting her.

There is always someone or something, in the domain where you are most vulnerable, that can make you want to do something crazy and enticing: becoming other than your usual self. A kind of moral Achilles heel or an invitation to freedom, depending on how you imagine it and the elasticity of your virtue.

Wanting and doing, however, are different things.

If imagination were action, we’d all be in jail.

The top two images come from UNICEF. Heidi Klum, pictured in the first one, was the 2011 Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF Ambassador.

32 thoughts on “Halloween and the Road to Temptation

  1. This was a sweet post, and funny with the Pence statement, as well as other things mentioned. Life is too short, and sometimes we’ve gotta live. Thank you for sharing! Question, however: What if a therapist or psychologist were asked that same question but had done some pretty “crazy” things in their past? I’m wondering how many psychology professionals get asked that, and what their responses would be. I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t say much to their clients or potential clients, but it would be interesting to see what they’d say to their peers. It would be cool to hear some (perhaps autonomous) stories about “life before I became a psychologist” – etc. It’s funny how education, a profession, or even marital status changes your behaviors and/or values in life. I can say that I’ve lived a very colorful life and had my thrills and spills here and there. It’s fascinating to hear people’s stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked it, PP. You’ve raised lots of issues, about which I can only say a little, short of writing several more essays. First, how does one define “crazy?” I didn’t offer any definition. I suspect therapists are in a particularly difficult position to define it, since we’ve heard just about everything. For example, I treated a woman who told me (and I believed her) that she had sex with a large dog, heard major stories of reckless endangerment (a teen who drove 60mph more than once down a street in a school zone, all without a thought), and treated prostitutes. I heard tales of physical and sexual extremity of all kinds, heroism, substance abuse of all types, crime (including murder), and lots of fun stuff, too. So, if a therapist is asked the question, his own life might seem pretty unremarkable in comparison with the stories he has heard. As you say, one must “live,” an essential point. What would another therapist answer to the same question about past craziness? Well, the standard response would be “why are you asking?” and “why is it important for you to have an answer?” Glad you survived your thrills and spills.

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      • Thank you, Dr. Stein. From what you replied, it sounds like your life as a therapist, in and of itself, is filled with heroic and interesting interactions; you need not be a risk-taker in order to fill fulfilled in life. You can hear others’ stories and help the most vulnerable minorities in society to heal – and that comes with enough risks of its own. “Crazy” is probably a term most clinicians/practitioners avoid using due to the stigmatizing label, but the word crazy is also used as an expression of sorts – kind of like “wildest” – as in “What is the most wildest thing you have ever done?” or “What is the most risky thing you’ve ever done?” The definition of “crazy” varies. But as one social psychologist once told me, “Life without risk is no life at all.” You’re an amazing man who has done amazing things, Dr. Stein. Your history with your clients is filled with enough risks and triumphs that could probably be transformed into books. Sometimes I think that both practitioners and researchers don’t realize how important their job is, and how rewarding it can be when one sees how much risk is involved. Thank you for your contributions, Dr. Stein. 🙂

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      • This is in response to your second comment, PP. You are very kind. I don’t think of my role as a therapist was particularly heroic, though it was enormously interesting to me. I guess there were a couple of times that I was threatened in session with weapons, but I was never afraid of this. Somehow I didn’t believe I’d be harmed. I tend to put risk and challenge in different categories. Thus, I’m not a person who has lived “on the edge,” but have taken on challenges to stand up to and for certain things, to overcome the personal limits I believed important to master, to be the person I wanted to be. I risked some failure and some humiliation, I suppose. Over time, I have come less and less to care what people think of me. The exceptions would mostly be my immediate family. If others applaud or disapprove, it matters much less, if at all.

        I’d also say that “crazy” might depend on where and when you were born. By the standard of teenager in the 1950s, the things the teens of the ’60s (my generation) did would seem crazy. Today, they’d just be business-as-usual. As to the risks I have taken, the ones I’m most proud of were risks of standing up in public for certain ideas where there was push-back, in effect, being willing to do “battle” in professional contexts (say, being an expert witness in court which I did a few dozen times or telling the General Manager of a professional sports team (who had hired me to help in player-selection) that I thought his decision to employ a particular player wasn’t going to work — things like that. And, in case you are wondering about the latter example, I was right about the player, but I didn’t get rehired by the GM either!). I could give quite a few similar examples. Again, thanks for being concerned for me.

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      • Dr. S, I just noticed your reply on my app. You’re very welcome, and thank you for replying. You have amazing stories to share, which is encouraging to me. You have definitely had your share of battles in the field! I like your stance on not caring what people think. I am working on trying to do that myself, but it is hard because I do care what certain people think – but those are typically bosses and other people in positions of power. I admire the strength and openness in your replies and posts.

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  2. Ah yes, the temporary enjoyment of sin. Pleasurable until the consequences hit. The thing with consequences is that they don’t discriminate, they don’t say ‘ oh you poor thing, you didn’t realise,I’ll take pity and bypass you’ or you are to young, sick, old, had a traumatic childhood, no one told you, etc. one scripture that can’t be bypassed because it’s a life lesson. Galatians 6:7 Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap. Sooner or later the consequences will catch up with you. Or a quote from Dr Phil,if you choose the behaviour you choose the consequences.
    Even within the boundaries there is still scope for a lot of good clean fun in life, it doesn’t have to be dull.

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  3. Dr. Stein, with all respect, if this is your near-craziness story….. I think you oughtta get out there and do a few crazy things, before it’s too late! 😀

    Liked by 4 people

    • In light of your comment, Mary Ann, I’ve decided to go sky-diving today. Of course, I’ve given my next-of-kin your name, just in case things don’t work out as planned. 😉 You might want to read the unexpurgated version of my blog, which is available in book form for $39.95. Mick Jagger called it “astonishing” and Keith Richards wrote “It makes me sound like a choir boy.” It comes in a plain brown wrapper so not even your neighbors and postman will know!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s a lovely story, but I must admit, there was a part of me whilst reading this, that thought the outcome was going to be different! I wonder if that’s just my perception of people in this world, or something else? I get a strong feeling that if you had allowed yourself to succumb to the evils of greed, I think you would have been unable to live with yourself. I do wonder however, because you remember this incident so vividly, whether there was a part of you that did consider the alternative? I also praise that little 12 year old boy, who took the right path.

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    • Thanks, Joanna. As I wrote, Steve and I did consider the alternative for a few seconds. Yes, I wouldn’t have felt good about it if we took the money. But before you applaud me too much, some of what we do is based just on our genetic stuff and history/training/the moment in which we live, etc. Indeed, neuroscientists these days are arguing about whether there is any such thing as “free will.” That is, some think that if we knew enough about a person’s brain and his life experiences, we could predict how he would behave, depending on the situation. For example, there is some genetic evidence for certain gene configurations to be associated with “novelty seeking.” All that said, it sure does seem like we have choices to make, so I will take responsibility, for better or worse. Thanks again for your comment.

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  5. HI Dr. Stein, I hope all is well. I wrote you a few emails, however I didn’t get a direct responseThe response was just the blog and newsletter. Again I hope all is well. Steven Turbow 949-857-4820 home phone landline

    >

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    • Thanks, Steve. I did received two emails from you and responded briefly to one. Generally, I try to respond to comments on the blog itself. Best wishes.

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    • Excellent article, Dr. Stein! I am concerned Mr. Turbow’s landline phone number is posted publicly here on the internet. It was his choice, but I wonder if he realizes the potential conquences.

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  6. Did you see the movie “Radio Days” about Woody Allen’s childhood?
    There is a segment in that movie which is very similar to the experience you related in your story.

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    • Thanks, Joseph. I did see the film, but so long ago that I don’t recall the scene. There is a neat documentary on Woody Allen, by the way, in which several of his coworkers and friends use the world “compartmentalized” or some variant, to describe how he orders his life. That word goes some way, perhaps, to explaining his apparent blind-spot to why a group of his former fans (to this day) remain upset with his relationship with his wife. For me, however, it is easier to separate his work from his private life. Quite a genius. I’ve long since given up expecting people to be consistent in every aspect of their existence. As I once heard the symphony conductor Sir Georg Solti say, “If we only played the music of composers who lived moral lives, we’d have no music to play!”

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  7. A great post. I had a Heidi Klum encouraging me to do something “crazy” with a promise that I just couldn’t resist right then in my fragile state of mind. I became that someone else. There have been plenty of other instances in my life however, where I resisted overwhelming temptation. I’m still sometimes haunted by that moment where I gave in to temptation, and wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t. But what’s done is done, and I can’t change that, only learn from it. Which, thankfully, I have. When I feel the shame come, I try to tell myself “I’m human after all”.

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  8. How about crazy thoughts a la Freud? The wish is equivalent to the deed 😉

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  9. Dr. Stein, I laughed out loud at your comment about Mike Pence :0 Hey, when the flesh is weak, we need all the help we can get.

    I’ve done a lot of risky-crazy things over the years. But an incident that always comes to mind when asked the question occurred on a Friday night on a beach in Fortaleza, Brazil, among a group of four female work colleagues. Under the clear night sky, with the ocean waves washing the sandy shore, I lifted my head skywards and joined them in howling at the reigning full moon. What a liberating moment!

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    • Pence is an easy target. Thanks, Rosaliene. I think Mary Ann has to weigh in on whether the howling qualifies as crazy enough, unless, of course, the wolves (non-human kind) joined you in the howl. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Okay, it would be an honor to weigh in….. 🙂
        Yup, in my books, Rosaliene’s howling at the full moon on a sandy beach in Brazil, along with three other women, certainly counts as “crazy enough”. Not so much the risky, daredevil, dangerous kind of crazy…. but that other kind of crazy…. the running-with-the-wolves kind of crazy, the singing-the-song-of-night kind of crazy. The BEST kind of crazy! (The kind of crazy I’d like more of, myself.)

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      • No wolves, Dr. Stein 🙂

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  10. “Ourself behind ourself, concealed—
    Should startle most—”
    Emily Dickinson

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    • The complete poem follows. I suppose this is broadly appropriate in the context of a Halloween haunting or a haunted soul, though I’m not sure how it fits with this particular essay. Please enlighten, if you care to, Brewdun: In any case, the spooky poem:

      One need not be a Chamber—to be Haunted—
      One need not be a House—
      The Brain has Corridors—surpassing
      Material Place—

      Far safer, of a midnight meeting
      External Ghost
      Than its interior confronting—
      That Cooler Host—

      Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
      The Stones a’chase—
      Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter—
      In lonesome Place—

      Ourself behind ourself, concealed—
      Should startle most—
      Assassin hid in our Apartment
      Be Horror’s least.

      The Body—borrows a Revolver—
      He bolts the Door—
      O’erlooking a superior spectre—
      Or More—

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      • I’m familiar with the entire poem, however, I only quoted the two specific lines because those two spoke (at least in my interpretation) to your theme of temptation. “Ourself behind ourself, concealed”…am I the person everyone sees and thinks I am, or will temptation show the “concealed” person that I hide from others. “Should startle most”…temptation forces a difficult and character telling decision which may “startle most” depending on how they perceive the persona I put forth as compared to my response to temptation. I definitely did not intend to comment on any “Halloween haunting or haunted souls.” You’re right, that in no way fits the subject matter.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, Brewdun. I read it a bit differently: that the protagonist is, in effect, haunting himself; not with temptation, but by whatever is internally troubling to him. Indeed, looking at the whole of the poem, the narrator seems to be saying that we are more endangered by the haunting we create for ourselves than by any possible external danger. We can bolt the door from the dangers outside, but not inside of us. Thanks for offering this, Brewdun. I’m glad to have had the chance to read a fine poem I didn’t know.

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    • “We can bolt the door from the dangers outside, but not inside of us.” You put it much better than me, but that is exactly how Dickinson’s poem reads to me as well, and those 2 lines in my original comment somehow encapsulated the essence of your essay.

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