Thirty Things Your Therapist Couldn’t Tell You

Therapists live in a world of ideas and experience that has become their “common sense,” so familiar to them it constitutes the fabric of their being. Yet counselors hesitate to offer such knowledge at treatment’s start.

Were they to do so they’d not get the opportunity to find out who you are; and which of those considerations must be knit into the garment of treatment the two of you will share.

Beginnings are not managed best by giving you a lecture or assigning you a reading. Creation of a relationship and safety come first.

Here then are a few notions perhaps unfamiliar to you. No psychologist’s list but mine:

  1. We all edit ourselves, refine our self-presentation to suit conditions. Once we commence crossing out words, erasing opinions, using white-out on our outline, there may soon be nothing left of us. Whomever is the artificial creature created by hiding the ink-stained unsightliness, public applause for the fiction we’ve fashioned will be less satisfying than if we present truth and receive approval, at least from inside.
  2. The therapist not only discloses little about himself to avoid getting in the way of the transference. He retreats from imparting his own wisdom — an uncontestable opinion on everything. The patient must find his own. Note, I just violated that rule. Doctor/patient obligations don’t apply here. Neither are my opinions all unassailable.
  3. Counseling can make you worse.
  4. Your life won’t be ideal when you say goodbye to the clinician. Disappointment, stress, and death find everyone. Gridlock and rain foil your picnic plans. Your heart will break, desires go unfulfilled, the snow cancels your flight. But comes the day when summer marches in and hope may yet find a runway.
  5. No two will ever establish a perfect bond together, but much is possible between well-matched people who do the winning of their love over and over.
  6. Those among us who build ramparts against danger reduce the chance of growth and dazzling surprise. Injury is inescapable even in a lifetime of hiding. Homo sapiens learn to manage risk or else resemble ostriches: still vulnerable despite burying a part of their essence before they die.*
  7. Most of the planet is covered with average people. If, through natural talent or effort you can make something more of yourself, you will stand higher than your peers.
  8. Accept people whole or reject them whole. The majority change around the edges, inches at a time, if at all. Few (short of a profound course of personality remaking or a transformative life event) will alter more than moderately.
  9. No man or woman can be an expert surgeon who carves out unlikable parts of others and leaves the rest intact. Imitate the architect instead: one who recognizes a column of support, a load bearing beam essential to a building’s integrity. Remove such a part of a person you otherwise admire leaves sawdust and splinters, wreaking what made him admirable.
  10. The most heroic clients begin in pursuit of a wise man’s guidance and end by leading the way, overcoming everything.
  11. Life, not your counselor, demands metamorphosis. Each person develops adaptive styles to fit his early place and time. He comes to therapy older and off balance: like riding upon the tread of once useful tires now worn away, no longer holding the road. Without their replacement he will crash.
  12. Statis is not achievable or desirable. Each of us must adapt to a transforming world, a changing body, a different moment in history; a new set of relationships, situations, and requirements. Contentment requires getting used to not getting used to things.” (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain ).
  13. People are far more concerned with themselves than with you. Your embarrassing moments pass unnoticed or speed into forgetfulness. Of course, this was more true before everyone bought a camera phone.
  14. Few of us understand each other well. We peer at neighbors as if through sun glasses in the darkened room of our own experience alone. Most don’t take the time to acquire the psychological expertise to do better. In any case, we must start by understanding ourselves. People tend to believe they do — their first mistake.
  15. Therapists search for maladaptive behavior patterns patients are repeating. Repetition of your parents’ mistakes also happens. You might follow in their ill-placed footsteps to reach similar goals and befriend similar people. Beware. Their mission is not yours, no matter your genetic likeness.
  16. With each added excuse you give for your acts or utterances you betray more insecurity. Even if the excuses you give are to yourself.
  17. Silence is necessary. Quiet is the needed background for the words you wish to place in the foreground. Conversation is not a test of rapid response time. Eye contact serves better than talking too much.
  18. The more conventional you are, the more difficult to understand someone who is unconventional. The more unconventional you are the more you will be misunderstood.
  19. Words are limited. Words are also needed. Ludwig Wittgenstein described their limits this way: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” All that most matters in life is beyond verbalization. Thus, analysis of beauty and love take us only so far. Intuition comes nearest to the indescribable.
  20. The more logical you are, the harder to understand someone who is emotional. The more you believe you approximate complete rationality, the more you are wrong. The more you think humans are skin-covered computers, the more you misunderstand humanity. We often reach our decisions instinctively and emotionally. A heartbeat later reasons appear, but we credit the rationalized motives with authorship of the decisions.**
  21. Everyone prefers simple explanations. Conduct sometimes has a single cause, but much of what we do is multi-determined or overdetermined. That is, more than one factor influences our actions and attitudes. For example, you want money to live, but use it to impress. Perhaps it makes you more secure, improves your self-worth, and wins companionship, as well.
  22. Those who realize they (and their fellow-men) are not always rational own an advantage. They question superficial reasoning. This recognition is itself an important piece of knowledge.
  23. Be wary of intimate disclosure too soon — in or out of session. You might frighten someone away. Or be terrified by the naked feelings and thoughts you released . Reinvention involving affective expression is best done gradually.
  24. “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” (Friedrich Nietzche).
  25. On the other hand, ” To see something as a whole one must have two eyes, one of love and one of hate.” (Nietzche again).
  26. Living in the moment is dangerous, not living in the moment is torturous. Outside of the moment you will be lost too often in self-made agony: swallowed by regret, wrapped with trepidation, or worried what others think. Within a joyous instant, by contrast, self-consciousness disappears, clocks dissolve, and everything else falls away. Ego is abandoned to the eternity of an episode transcending time. The concern here, however, is that your alert system is also discarded, leaving you exposed.
  27. Master meditators suggest the solution to life distress is not to judge the circumstances (piling pain on pain), but accepting your condition as it is. Yet they spend lots of time meditating as opposed to existing in the arena, don’t they?
  28. The species to which we belong can rationalize anything. Consider your friends. Eyeball yourself in the mirror. Even if you have been tested and think you passed, remember who scored the exam: you did.
  29. Be an enemy of routine. Give the now everything you have, lest the slicing second-hand of the clock wastes you and your time.
  30. Move toward something, not just away. Be for something, not against everything.

One more. Look up. At architectural wonders, at the powder blue sky. Down at all the small creatures and growing things. Watch the passing beauties of a world in motion. Do not allow your sophistication to impede perception. Hold fast to childlike wonder. Accept joy where it is given.

The chestnut by the eaves
In magnificent bloom
Passes unnoticed
By men of the world.***

Moral: do not allow the chestnut “in magnificent bloom” to go “unnoticed.”

—–

The top photo (untitled) is the work of the author, 2018.

*Ostriches have gotten a bad rap. They do not bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger or for any other reason. Asphyxiation would be the result. Rather, they dig underground using their head to fashion a nest for their eggs. Beyond this, they also stick their heads into the nest to turn the eggs.

** See Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

*** Haiku from Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Bashō, 1694.

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?'”

Are You Boring? Words You Should and Shouldn’t Say

I am about to make you self-conscious about what you say. Or, to improve your social stature. Following these guidelines might even make you a more engaging person. I hope the latter. After all, I am a therapist.

Counselors meet many with personal insecurity and low self-esteem. How often do we hear, “I’m so boring.” These oft times timid souls are self-effacing and therefore believed by others either uninteresting or conceited. Those who withdraw from the crowd risk the opinion that they think themselves “too good” to join in.

If you want to compel attention, first think about what you say. Many of us find a new person physically attractive from a distance. Since light travels faster than sound, he may appear bright until you hear him. Fresh ideas help you retain the outer magic.

I do not want to listen to the echo of past conversations. My brain needs dusting, along with scintillating talk as a cleanser.

Here are some words and sounds you ought not to make if you desire to enthrall:

  • Choose adverbs with care. Words like frankly, honestly, and very lose their strength with each additional use.
  • Say less rather than more. If your utterances intrigue, the other might follow-up with a question. This is called conversation.
  • Beware of the following lesson. The 20th-century composer John Cage created a piece entitled 4’33” consisting of a performer coming on stage, sitting down, and timing-out just over four-and-a-half minutes before taking his bows. As Cage wrote in a poem, “I have nothing to say and I’m saying it.”
  • Avoid overuse of superlatives: stunning, awesome, shattering .
  • Common words such as good or bad need explanation. What was good and in what way?
  • Such adjectives as unfair are overused. Another’s unfairness is your fairness. Explain yourself, but avoid whining.
  • The word hypocrite presents the same dilemma. All of us are hypocrites at some time in our lives. Maybe at any time.
  • Try to overcome beginning sentences with so or um or uh. Speaking is not a race. Your vocalization will stand in relief against the backdrop of stillness. Conceive of your voice as the foreground in a painting where silence serves as background.

  • Some phrases are empty of distinction. “At the end of the day,” comes to mind; “bottom line” is another. I attended a six-hour seminar in which the speaker, otherwise an intelligent and competent woman, used “bottom line” a few dozen times. Had she repeated those words once more I might have rushed the podium.
  • “You guys” is a frequent reference made to mixed gender groups. “You guys” might include women. “Ladies” or “ladies and gentlemen” will get you some notice and show respect. You may dislike the formality I’m suggesting. Remember, I want you to stand out.
  • Pronoun problems occur when using he, she, they, and so on. The listener might not realize to whom you are referring lest you specify the person.
  • Skip the uptalk or upspeak : try not to transform your declarative statements into questions by raising your voice at a sentence’s end. You succeed only in sounding insecure when you uptalk regularly.
  • If you believe something, say so. Feeling is not believing. One is an emotional state, the other intellectual.
  • When you don’t know a word, consult the dictionary and write the meaning down.
  • What words might you substitute for the ordinary ones? Instead of great, consider considerable, significantnotable, important, valuable or major, among others.
  • Listen to recordings of famous orators for guidance. I’m thinking of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Churchill, and Adlai Stevenson II.
  • For shock value, be honest. Unless you are a counselor, you might not recognize how much we humans hide.

As noted up top, much as I wish you more security, excessive concentration on what you are saying is a symptom of ill-confidence. Rehearse alone. Consult a thesaurus, too. Both will make real-time socialization easier.

Once you employ a few of the suggestions above, you’ll be better able to put your focus where it belongs: on the words of the other.

Consume works of the finest authors. Mark Twain, one such writer, said: “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

Twain’s implicit suggestion to read is essential. Unless the people you wish to associate with haven’t a thought in their heads, you need to have a few and a knowledge base they lack.

All this will take effort. Courage, too. Speech is the oral gift of portraiture, like a brush placed in the hand of a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh. Think of your voice as the voice of one who sings art-songs. If you do, you will already have become more worthy of respect — both understood and remembered.

——-

Both of the pictures above are called Triple Self Portrait. The first is by Norman Rockwell, the second by Egon Schiele. They were sourced from Wikiart.org.

Letting Go of Your Therapist and Other Losses

What shall we do about the people beyond reach? I’m talking about those we’ve lost through broken friendship and fractured romance; death and the end of therapy.

September is now autumn. Never a fan of descending leaves, I’m not a fall guy in any sense, nature’s signal of the close of things.

Soon comes the small tragedy of every baseball season’s autumn-end, a loss to mimic all the others. No less than a Yale English Professor, Bart Giamatti, captured this untimely time of year:

Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

Our species loses much of value: parents, friends, and youthful bloom; the cartilage in our knees, favorite pens, and jewelry. Therapists who helped us and with whom we had an erotic transference so much like love it might have been an early-stage, “too good to be true” version of the thing itself.

Thoughts return to the peopled world more than mislaid writing tools and bracelets. Here are the ones we meet and speak with and those who live in memory. Let’s talk about the latter, persistent missing partners in imaginary conversations.

Their posthumous life is in us because it is not outside of us. Were the beloved nearby we could touch and share. We could watch, know. An internet search offers little. Some are living, but estranged or unavailable; occupied elsewhere. Others no longer of this world. Why are they often so difficult to get over?

Therapeutic wisdom — a knowledge I relied upon — points to insufficient or postponed grieving of normal losses. Counselors also deal with a specialized version of this problem when erotic transference refuses to disappear. They help the client to recognize their affection and idealization of the counselor as a kind of mistaken identity. He is not their father and, by working out the feelings about the dead parent, the therapist becomes the smaller man he is, not a stand-in on a parental pedestal. The spell breaks, a solution that works except when it doesn’t.

Mourning is essential for everyone, but for many an imprint of the departed remains. We are creatures whose flesh craves the tattoo artist’s needle, a polished steel stylus inscribing a name on the heart.

Take grieving for what it is: an emotional expression of bereavement intended to reconnect us with the world. Not a resumption of life with all wholeness restored. The ache dissipates, but not every wound vanishes.

Recognize this. On the killing fields of today’s wartime, dying soldiers cry for the same person their distant predecessors did before the walls of Troy: mother.

Were mourning 100% successful in erasing the hurt, some of our memories would also disappear. In effective lamentation they diminish, blur, or fade; unless you are so gifted or cursed to relive the bygone like a video rerun.

Bloggers and their readers write about the long-abiding soft-spot for the therapist or an inability to find a love comparable to the idealized counselor. And how many carry a hope of reunion with the absent romantic other (at least in heaven); another chance or a final meeting with a mother or brother or misplaced-lover to say what was unsaid, receive what was never heard, or listen to what was heard before — once more: a “last moment” last moment memory designed to be lasting — beating the door to its bang.

Who would turn down another day with a beloved parent, long deceased? What would happen? I can tell you my imagination of such an opportunity with my dad.

I’d break down hearing his reanimated voice. Seeing him “alive,” the same. Embracing him and on and on. The two of us said everything we needed to say in his lifetime. We shared in words the love we shared in life. There would be no extra closure of something already accomplished, as might occur with sentiments unspoken by you or to you in a past relationship.

But what then, beyond the intensity and wonderful/horrible delight as the seconds ticked away? My grief might reopen. Months after Milt Stein died 18-years-ago, the kids asked my wife, “When will dad be himself again?” Not the single time I also asked the question of myself.

If you were mourning someone still living? Another meeting risks delay or disruption of the needed recovery. Perhaps a desire for renewal, restart. More to remember and sustain one party might bring exquisite pain to the other.

Back to enamored clients again. Consider the stirring inside you — still entranced by the transference — if you talked to the doc every six months post-treatment. Is the offer of such an opportunity a kindness or an obstacle to your 100% focus on your current life partner? Or the quest for one?

Would shared phone reunions be a balm? No answers here, only questions. Many other potential problems exist in post-treatment friendship. Each of you is different and no two of us come through the process or away from it in a unison of emotion.

Perchance you, in the sorrow of ended association or love, will yet be surprised to find someone as important to you, as well-fit to your temperament and interests — to your unique experience of life — as the departed one. Perhaps you won’t, but do you need to put your effort into a new soul despite his inevitable shortfalls — to give yourself whatever chance you have for intimacy? And, if he is not found, then your energy must go somewhere external, be it grandchildren, work, creating a better world, painting, friendship, healing the sick, or educating the young; all beyond the boundaries of your own skin.

Part of what we are dealing with is not (or not only) the casualty of passionate competition or obligation, our unique imperfections or human kindness, but the nature of life. Our time is short. We stretch to grasp and hold tight selected loves. Nothing lasts, as Bart Giamatti knew.

I did not make these rules. Neither did he.

Yet even in fall-fueled dystopic moments, I’m drawn to life’s poetry. The rhythm and rhyme bind me to those I love: those who brought me laughter, beauty, and generosity; past or present. So let Giamatti’s poetic sensibility speak once more of the bittersweet game of ball he did not wish to get over:

It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time For Paradise: Americans And Their Games

——————–

Bart Giamatti was not only a university professor, but spent his last few months as the Commissioner of Baseball.

The first image is A Water Drop by José Manuel Suárez from Spain. The following three are by Roger McLassus: Impact of a Water Drop on a Water Surface, Impact of a Drop of Water, and A Water Drop Detaching from a Water Tap. All were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

To Hide or Be Seen: That Is the Question

A therapist claims a special talent in performance of a common, but elusive function: penetration of another’s makeup. For counselor and client both, however, the obstacle to understanding each other is the same: they look at each other through the lens of their own psychology.

Be careful.

Think of the psychologist as a perfected version of yourself at the job life requires of everyone, every day: making sense of the social world. A friend or neighbor, if comparable to you in nature, presents no challenge. The likeness to you makes the task of “getting inside his head” effortless. “He is not so different from me,” so you say.

Should the essence of the acquaintance not match your own, on the other hand, you don’t “get him.” His extraversion collides with your introversion, talkativeness with your thoughtfulness, risk-taking with your risk-aversion. The behavior strikes you as unpredictable, inconsistent with your standard for thought and action. The man might still be attractive to you, perhaps because of his dissimilarity. No matter, misunderstandings and conflicts follow.

In the end, you shake your head, wonder what you are missing, and can’t explain “why he is like that.”

Individual life experience and the basic, inherited stuff in our brain limits us.

“Oh, you’ll have fun. Come on,” one says.

“What is he thinking? Who does he think I am?”

Both parties are at a loss.

A competent mental health professional received the trained-advantage of getting outside himself, to search into and through the eyes of the other; to imagine himself as the other. The doc discards inadequate evaluations as he would blurry glasses. Ego-driven attachment to initial assumptions and impressions cannot be permitted. The counselor must be willing to start over: to trash, revise, or rebuild the faulty conception he created for replacement by a new one.

Here is a crucial truth about true understanding: you will never grasp everything about the other.

Add one more, perhaps more important: your perspective of the other is your invention, neither the other as he is or as he thinks he is. The drawing you made of him is like an  antique map of creation; inexact at best.

My therapeutic peers and I never lived in a patient’s shoes despite his resemblance to predecessors who sat in the same office. We could not claim precise insight even if we traveled through terrain similar to his life’s path.

“You don’t know me,” is always a true statement whether spoken by a friend or client, though we might discern qualities he does not admit to himself.

Each of us wears blinders. We screen off part of life. Emotional survival depends on it. Secrets from our friends and loved ones are dwarfed by our veiled sense of ourselves. Those who live astonishing lives of travel, accomplishment, and courage, still do not fathom the entire world, the world of every other person, nor the world of their truest self; not just revealed under the pressure of every imaginable test, but the self of everyday life.

Do not say, “If I’d been in that situation I would have behaved this way!” Imagined bravery and principle offer comforting self-delusions employed by those who pay nothing for a ticket to a game they never played.

The keeper of a quiet life, alone in a studio apartment next to a floor mate with the identical window view, does not share his neighbor’s every idea and emotion. His sensibilities, intellect, and history create divergence from his counterpart’s meeting with the passing time.

Even when nothing is happening, his internal confrontation with himself is not yours, not knowable to you.

The hurdle to comprehension is high, in part, because most of humanity is not psychologically-minded, a few therapists included. If we are to come close to a workable relationship with our buddy, spouse, parent, or child, — together with our patients — we must work and rework. The job is like that of an eye-glass grinder, refining the shape through which we take on the world of the other. And, if those we meet are rare types, we hope they perceive our dilemma and gamble more self-revelation than ever before; self-exposure coupled with the display of the tender, still hurting places beneath their raised guard and penetrable skin.

The potential reward is to be known as best we can, despite the isolating entrapment by our sausage casing enclosures and inevitable insecurities. Praying, too, the one who said “It will be fun,” recognizes our less than enthusiastic answer is not so peculiar. Out of such mutual effort we might, on occasion, walk through life hand-in-hand; imperfectly fit as we are, knowing with confidence the other is expending — not just money, attention, patience or passion — but the ceaseless labor to improve the lens with which to see us.

And to see himself.

Might this be one definition of a devoted and talented therapist? A friend? An ideal beloved?

Maybe all three.

A Therapist’s Heroes

I met a personal hero in my early 30s. A dim recording of our 40-year-old 40-minutes still exists.

My life has been lucky, in part, because of unexpected encounters such as this, and for other reasons, too. I grew up in a time when the world of little boys overflowed with heroic TV and movie figures. Most displayed physical bravery, but there was right in what they stood for: as the Superman television series told it, “truth, justice, and the American Way.”

I’m not the only serious kid who took the message seriously. Our fathers fought in World War II and Korea. Duty and sacrifice were expected of us, as well. The boundaries of acceptable behavior were clearer then. Now exhibitionism and self-congratulations — characteristics once frowned upon — squirm and twist themselves into chest-beating greatness. Meaningful apology is absent in much of public life.

We choose our heroes uncritically as kids. Most parents bask for a while in the admiring gaze of their children. Adulthood brings a more nuanced view. Today’s media offer few people with the purity of The Rifleman, Paladin, and The Lone Ranger — the principled Westerners my generation of boys watched in the ’50s and ’60s.

That world, as it enlarged, compromised us all and we compromised ourselves. Some of this is inescapable and doesn’t involve the loss of your soul. Still, there are things I wish I hadn’t done, adult times when I wasn’t my best self. Regarding other actions and inactions, I’ve made a quiet peace; grateful for the knowledge, humility, and experience the shortfalls brought me. Not to excuse moments of cruelty, failing resolve, or license, but as I look around the globe I notice some company. So it is that I try to do better.

I wonder if we are poorer for the missing simplicity of the remarkable characters TV paraded past the mid-twentieth-century optic nerves of my generation, as we search today’s narrow daily world for models in matters of living.

*****

Who was the hero who greeted me on March 18, 1978? A gorgeous man and a great one. Not outsized, as POW John McCain was, because of refusing a chance to free himself from continuing torture. Preferential treatment and desertion of his comrades meant cowardice, and the airman suffered for his steadfast valor.

Carlo Maria Giulini, instead, was a symphony conductor/hero, who also knew what mattered. He exemplified virtue in action and his art. Unlike Giulini, few of us are both good and great, a combination irresistible to his admirers.

Integrity is a always a pricey thing. The Italian musician said no to rather different opportunities than the combat pilot: promotion of his career and financial gain because he convinced himself full readiness to honor men like Bach and Tchaikovsky was more important.

The Maestro believed love for the music was not sufficient, but required understanding of the intention of every note on the page. Only upon fulfillment of both demands did he permit his private search for beauty to become public in performance. Years would go by even if it meant — as it did — never leading compositions he loved. “I’d rather be three years too late, than three minutes too soon,” he said. Here was a gentle man made of steel.

*****

We lost an extraordinary person in John McCain on August 25, 2018, a statesman saluted by sham mourners whose expensive clothing disguises a lack of character, and others who recognize what they lost and attempt to improve themselves because of his example.

Late in life, McCain might have uttered the words Tennyson put in the mouth of the aged Ulysses to his surviving companions of the Trojan War, before they embarked on their final voyage:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

John McCain’s daughter Meghan gave a distinguished eulogy. Such sadness is common enough at funerals, but not by itself a reason to view it. Listen to her devotion and private knowledge of the Senator who was her dad, her eloquence in describing what made him special and necessary. Those qualities compel our attention and respect as a kind of civic duty.

Such men as the congressman lift us by the standard they set. Imperfect, but noble. They reach beyond themselves in service of a greater cause. The best among us do not rate self-interest as the dominating value in their lives.

Here is her speech. I hope you will watch and try to do better, as we all must if our world and that of our children and grandchildren is to be better:

——

The top photo is of Carlo Maria Giulini. The second image is from an Interview with John McCain done on April 24, 1973. Thomas J. O’Halloran was the photographer. It comes from the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

“I’m Beautiful and Smart, but I Always Wind Up with the Wrong Person”

P came to therapy with sadness and anger, as though she carried them in her backpack before unloading them on the low table between us. The surface was covered, her combination of feelings familiar to me. I already imagined difficulties. She’d be challenging, but I was not about to give up before I started.

P believed the world had been unfair. Boyfriends expected too much. They tired of her or betrayed her. A therapist doesn’t dispute this, but lives in hope the client will grieve to the point of readiness for self-reflection: consideration of his part in the staging, acting, and dialogue of life’s drama.

We try to aid in the process. A counselor asks about patterns of relationships. I wanted to know if P recognized the resemblances among her romantic adventures. “How do you explain it?” I asked.

They all seemed so nice at the beginning and then — and then they turned on me. I never, never thought …

With such people as P — and there are many Ps in any crowd — the “turning on me” takes several forms. The other becomes prone to anger or alcohol abuse or infidelity. That inconstant soul begins to spend more time with friends or starts to work too many hours; or changes into someone who finds his sweetie dull. He transforms.

He was not this way before.

P had done nothing to cause the Jekyll/Hyde malformation, “I swear,” she claimed. To me, her psychologist, it was not so simple. In her view, the lover was now a minor league version of the devil. Her Magic Mirror, a family heirloom, told her every day:

You are pure, you are grand; in this you had no hand.

Six relationships in 10 years, all with the same beginning and the same end.

In fact, P made at least one mistake, maybe two:

  • Either her judgment of human nature (companion variety) was poor and she kept picking similar types of unsatisfactory men or
  • The lady added some sour ingredients to the relationship formula, influencing if not inducing the unhappiness she reported, however little her contribution.

I asked Socratic questions to no avail. “What attracted you to the man?” “What did your friends think of him before you moved in together?” “Was there anything valid in his excuses or complaints about you?”

Nothing.

We are imperfect evaluators of our fellow-man, every one of us. Our unconscious affections and dislikes are drawn from resemblance to other important figures in our life, instinctive attractions or repulsions, interests and aspirations shared or opposed. Everyone makes mistakes in evaluating others. Friendship and love often founder on differences unknown in first moments.

Less frequently character is the issue, but this too takes time to reveal itself. Courage and morality don’t exist until tested by temptation, fear, or conflict. Most new acquaintances offer their best behavior. Routine daily experiences don’t require us to be brave souls or saints in order to display dutiful goodness. Almost all of us are pretty good at that.

Still, we must evaluate potential employers and friends, politicians and lovers without enough data, usually based on first impressions and behavior in periods of unchallenging normalcy. The lonely look for the perfect match for their imperfect selves. Instead they find another struggling human who fits less well than they hoped; or a honey who is ideal for a while, but not always in all ways. The same applies to the aforementioned bosses and friends.

The world of gauging the personal equation is forever in motion, done on the run. We do the best we can.

—–

P would leave treatment having grieved her broken heart, but without learning much or changing much. One’s personal inertia assumes he possesses every answer to life’s secrets. I’ve yet to meet such a one, but know several who tell me life is in the dance, not in stasis.

—–

I anticipated P’s merging with another man like the others, one who would turn her on and then turn on her. A therapist is not like a can opener, capable of piercing the defensive metal container enclosing his patients. He builds relationships, hopes to engender trust, but his tools are subtle, not surgical.

We ask our clients to give up one self-image for another, to murder the one and create a replacement. Counselors offer something better than dissolving the patient’s befogged understanding of himself, but harder. Some prefer their long familiar selves and want the world to change for them.

It never does.

If instruction would have made a difference, I’d have said this to my story’s troubled young heroine:

There is one constant in all the relationships you describe: you.
Do not mistake rage or hurt for infallible righteousness, no matter how they make you feel.

Imperfection and self-knowledge are hard to bear. Nearly all of us think we understand ourselves well, but perfect self-awareness would bring us to our knees. Instead of the full truth, we drew the outlines of our lives a while ago (with help from parents), marking what was acceptable, healthy, or necessary. For some, this meant a large life, for others a narrow one

If we were poor in our original self-creation — too much license here, too little assertiveness there, or avoidance everywhere — Personality Flaws crept into and colored the picture. They persist without effort; as if living, invisible masters of our existence. Time and repetition mean nothing to them, they last and last until the last, internal holes in the sidewalk of our being. Fall into them or repair the hazards as you wish. Waiting for you to wise-up is their comfort zone.

Many shortfalls reside inside, even for those who — like P — believe recurring dilemmas to be outside of themselves and their control.

A shame.

Remember what Cassius said in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar?

Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Those words are harsh medicine. While Cassius’s judgement does not account for the external, invasive tragedies we suffer, they are an accurate understanding of the cause of many frustrations. His truth can be denied, but we cannot avoid the consequences except by work on the single aspect of life most in our control: what is inside us.

Then comes a better life.

The top photo is of the Spiral Staircase in City Hall, London, by Colin. Next comes Citadel of Qaitbay by Ahmed Younis Sit Saad. Chicago’s Rookery Building’s interior is represented in the third photo and the final one. The first shot is its Central Staircase, by Ken Lund. The other is another Staircase view, this one by Velvet. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. In between the Rookery shots, I’ve placed an Inside-outside Innovation picture, taken from Innovation Management.