A Partial Antidote to Our Distress

If you are in distress — suffering from the world without or the world within — remember the words of Robert F. Kennedy:

*Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’

Whatever the source, we live in a difficult moment. The therapists I know tell me they are hearing the just-mentioned external troubles bleed into their clients’ individual and personal sense of fighting against forces larger than themselves. The American Psychological Association confirms the difficulties from survey data.

It is hard not to agree.

Yesterday, however, I met with an acquaintance of uncommon bravery and resilience, who lost her husband of half-a-century two years ago. Not so long before she said permanent goodbye to seven kin, one after another. Seven is not always a lucky number.

What now?

Listen to another brave soul; another person then in the midst of both exclusive and national distress. My country in 1968 was a cauldron of frustration created by a war going nowhere (Vietnam), a failing and not always honest President (Johnson), racial discrimination, the murder of good men (Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy) and friendships torn over whether you took the side of the hawks or the doves.

Sounds familiar.

The words I’m about to offer you are also 50-years-old. They come from a man, Ted Kennedy, whose spirit was tried by these circumstances, by the loss of other siblings before Robert to violence, including two brothers and a sister. You can hear it all in his breaking voice.

Yet the five-minute eulogy is uplifting as well as touching. And when it is over, perhaps borrow for your own challenges the partial antidote I referred to earlier: begin to “dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'”


The top painting is Emil Nolde’s 1940 Colored Sky Above the Marais. It was sourced from Wikiart.org.

*Robert Kennedy borrowed these words from George Bernard Shaw’s Methuselah: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?'”

8 thoughts on “A Partial Antidote to Our Distress

  1. Dr. Stein, thanks for addressing the growing distress of many of us in this nation. Indeed, Americans have walked this path before. The difference today, as I see it, is that those collective dreams are now being devalued, one by one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene. To me, the jury is out. To take still another example of a bad time, for example, one might go back to the Great Depression which coincided with the Dust Bowl. The latter was described by Tim Egan in a wonderful book called “The Worst Hard Time.” I heard many Great Depression stories from my folks. My mom essentially starved and got TB. My dad went one year without getting a job until he was offered one at the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair. He was so overjoyed that when he was told he could, only if he wanted to, work every day, he did, for about 160 consecutive days. I agree that our values are being challenged, but, as I say, I’d like to think the game isn’t over.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I continue to try to limit my exposure to the news but find myself reading articles and opinions on the web, and at times getting myself wound-up. I have to tread lightly in order to keep myself peaceful. My parents were Great Depression children also and I think my mother was traumatized by it, as many people were. I was a child during the awful 60’s and 70’s and my fear is that we are heading in that direction, but I must not over-think this, and let it be. I need to remind myself that my day-to-day life has not yet been affected by our government and to keep myself focused on this, and yes…this is a frequent topic in therapy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The painting you used for this post is beautiful. I always appreciate the art you share as well as your posts. The current economic climate (both of what I witness in the US and my own country of South Africa) can make even the most resilient and strong person lose heart. But that’s the way of our world. It’s how it’s always been, mostly because we humans aren’t that skilled in not repeating the mistakes of the past. All we can do is keep going, and know that everything changes, even the bad. Even when it feels like things are going from bad to worse, the tides will eventually change, bringing both other struggles and challenges, as well as hope and a semblance of peace.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rayne. I’m glad you liked the Nolde painting. I suppose one of the unstated subtexts of my writing, especially when it is illustrated with great art, is that there is beauty in the world. Nolde was an interesting figure. He was a German/Danish artist who supported the Nazi Party in Germany and (therefore not surprisingly) was anti-semitic. The irony was, because he was a modernist, over 1000 of his works were removed (against his protests) from German museums. The human race is complicated, isn’t it?

      Liked by 3 people

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