Most of us have hoped, early or late in life, for someone to “make it better.” Children want this when they fall. They need to believe instant magic is possible, and often it is. A smile, a hug, or a kiss can be enough. We are social creatures looking for connection, sensual and emotional.
When illness is serious, medical professionals are asked for their form of hocus pocus. Those people possess specialized knowledge. The name for it is “health care.” A proper physician communicates his expertise, but the care, as well.
Those with injuries to the soul seek a specific category of treatment: psychotherapy. You might be the perfect physical being, beautiful and whole except for the unseen pain of twisting emotion and turbulent thought. But, you ask, how much can another human do when no surgery or potion fixes what isn’t working?
Should the attempt to help succeed, admiration for the one who helped tends to follow. Sometimes before aid occurs.
The idea of a protector is potent and easily sexualized. “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the old Gershwin song goes. There are moments in life when we call out for such a knight or sorceress to summon the daylight.
The problem, though, is that life’s manufacture of dilemmas doesn’t stop. The factory assembly line can be unkind. Joys and sorrows are randomly generated. Nor does love offer a permanent cure-all.
The nourishment given by passionate and abiding affection helps with many problems, within limits. The lover (or potential partner) can offer only one hand when you find yourself in the soup of struggle. The other he needs to keep himself afloat. Lasting sorcery available 24/7 is in short supply.
If the therapy client searches for a deliverer or a romance in the counselor’s office, desire gets in the way of the best the therapist can provide: for the patient to rescue himself with expert and sensitive help.
The doctor’s assistance does not demand his becoming a brawny stretcher-bearer throughout the client’s life. Instead, the latter learns to take on present challenges and get past his past to make his way.
To do so, our wounded hero must allow (in small doses) uncomfortable emotions access to his heart. Similarly, he begins to permit uneasy topics and memories admittance to his thoughts. Taking responsibility for recovery requires behavioral changes, too; actions he hesitates to try. New and more workable ideas will disentangle the ones binding him if he recognizes their mirage of false security and unties them.
Some argue there is a benign supernatural healer in an afterlife, but I don’t know anyone who claims he now walks the earth. Some of us do, however, mistake mortal beings for more than they are. Thus, no matter the gifts of the therapist, he is not, by himself, the answer.
Current politics reflects this problem. Close to half of the United States thinks they’ve found their savior, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Nothing short of a no-holds-barred holy terror will save them, they believe.
The other 50% hopes a nobler protector is yet to come. The latter group has been disappointed in people with names like Mueller and fears there is no other metaphorical wolf-slayer at hand.
Here, as well, many who wait and dream make the same error as some counseling clients. The hoped-for wizard in the office is like the fictional Wizard of Oz, just another man. The heavy lifting of well-being will require the muscle of those who lift themselves. The psychologist might suggest a path and a pace, display encouragement and understanding, but no more.
Neither a passive role in counseling nor remaining inactive until election day will accomplish a rescue, whether it be from personal despair or a case of national turmoil.
In 1867 John Stuart Mill put the governmental situation this way:
Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
It is often quoted in these words:
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
Whether the worthy man or woman is a therapy patient or a nervous citizen in a shaky republic, he is tasked with principled action to effect the change he wants.
Postcard and letter writing, marching and registering voters, phone calls and donations wait for us only for a while. Energy enacted creates its own source of energy, confidence, hope, and a sense of control: steps in the defeat of passivity, dependency, and worry.
Walt Kelly’s old Pogo comic strip told us “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
If the cartoonist were working today he might prefer this, a remedy of which each of us should remind ourselves:
I have met my rescuer and I am he.